The Tayleur was a full rigged iron ship built at Bank Quay, Warrington in 1853. She was 1,750 tons, 230 feet in length and 40 feet in breadth, with a cargo hold of 28 feet depth. Reportedly she was the largest merchant vessel that had been built in England at that time. Built for the White Star Line, like her famous successor the Titanic she was lost on her maiden voyage with great loss of life.
The Tayleur had to be towed very carefully down the Mersey, particular care being needed to get her past the sandbanks at Fiddler's Ferry. She was destined for the passenger trade to Australia, and her owners boasted that she had been built expressly for speed, and would prove to be faster than any of her prospective rivals. The Tayleur. left Liverpool on the 26th January, 1854, bound for Melbourne with 581 passengers and 71 crew. Her compasses were faulty, her steering defective and the vessel undermanned, her inadequate crew inexperienced. Encountering fog off the Irish coast, the vessel stranded on Lambay Island and 380 people were drowned. The following newspaper articles reveal the story :
From "The Illustrated London News", 28th January, 1854.
The Tayleur was designed expressly for the Australian passenger trade, to form one of Messrs. Pilkington and Wilsons celebrated White Star Line. She was 2500 tons new measurement, and was capable of carrying 4000 tons of cargo. No expense had been spared in her construction and fitting up, and the general opinion was that she would prove a fast and safe sailer. Had justice been done to so fine a vessel, these expectations would, probably, have been realised but, if the prevailing statements are correct, the ship was undermanned when she left Liverpool, and to that fatal error the sad catastrophe we have this week to relate, must be mainly attributed.From 'The Illustrated London News', 4th February, 1854.
The Tayleur sailed from Liverpool for Melbourne, at five minutes to twelve, on Thursday, January 26th, with 652 persons on board, including the crew, and about eight p.m. was off Holyhead. After nightfall it began to blow strongly and during all next day the ship struggled with an adverse wind. By that time the more intelligent of the passengers became alarmed on account of the evident incompetence of the crew to manage the vessel. A number of the men were Chinese and Lascars, who hardly knew the English language, and were consequently unable to understand the orders given by the captain. Throughout the whole of Friday the weather was thick and hazy also, so that no observations could be taken. Early on Saturday morning the ship was under full sail, for which the captain was blamed by some of the passengers, who remarked that the crew could not take in so much sail on an emergency. As the day wore on the weather became boisterous, and about ten a.m. land was in sight. In order to avoid any possible danger the ships course was altered about half-past eleven, and she was hauled up two points to windward. It was whilst on this course, and in about half an hour after, that the man in the bows on the lookout cried out, Breakers on the starboard bow! It was then blowing heavily, and a high sea running. The helm was put hard to starboard, the sheets of the headsails let go, and every means taken to bring the ship round on a course free from the threatened danger. It was then impossible to see a cable's length from the vessel, and in about twenty minutes more she struck with great violence on a reef of rocks running out from a creek right to the eastward bluff of Lambay Island. The shock was tremendous, shaking the vessel from stem to stern. She rose on the next wave, and drove in rather broadside on; and when she struck again still heaving, the sea made a clean breach over her amidships, setting everything on deck afloat. After two or three more shocks, the ship began to sink by the stern, and the scene of confusion and dismay that ensued baffles all description; the passengers rushing up the hatchway, husbands carrying their children, and women lying prostrate on the deck with their infants, screaming and imploring help. The ship's quarter drifted on towards one side of the creek; and one of the cook's assistants (a black man), two Lascars, and three seamen, contrived to jump across on shore, and thus saved their lives. A rope and a spar were afterwards got across, and by this means a number of lives were rescued, chiefly through the activity and devoted gallantry of two or three young men, passengers, whose exertions in saving the lives of their fellow-sufferers deserve the highest praise. Those who attempted to escape by the bows of the vessel all, or nearly, met a miserable fate: the moment they fell into the water, the waves caught them, and dashed them violently against the rocks; and the survivors on shore could perceive the unfortunate creatures, with their heads bruised and cut open, struggling amidst the waves, and one by one sinking under them. A first-cabin passenger, who managed to get on shore, gives the following account of the sad scenes which followed:
Among some of the earliest of the females who attempted to get on shore were some young Irishwomen. Most of them lost their hold of the rope, and fell into the sea. The doctor of the ship, a most noble fellow, struggled hard to save his wife and child, he had succeeded in getting about half-way to the shore on a rope holding his child by its clothes in his teeth, but just then the ship lurched outwards, by which the rope was dragged from the hands of those who held it on the lower rocks, and was held only by those above, thus running him high in the air, so that the brave fellow could not drop on the rock. Word was now given to lower the rope gently; but those who held it above let it go by the run, and the poor fellow, with his child, was buried in the waves; but in a short time he again appeared above the water, manfully battling with the waves and the portions of the wreck that now floated about him. He at length swam to a ladder hanging by a rope alongside the ship, and got upon it. After he had been there a minute or two his wife floated close to him; he immediately took bold of her, and dragged her on the ladder, tenderly parted the hair from her face, and appeared to be encouraging her; but in another minute she was washed from his hold, and sank almost immediately. He then got up again into the ship and tried to get his wife on shore, but they both perished. He deserved a better fate. The scene was now most truly awful. The most desperate struggles for life were made by the wretched passengers, great numbers of women jumped overboard, in the vain hope of reaching land; and the ropes were crowded by hundreds who, in their eagerness, terror, and confusion, frustrated each others efforts for self-preservation. Many of the females would get half way, and then become unable to proceed further; and, after clinging to the rope for a short time, would be forced from their hold by those who came after them. Three women only, out of 200, were saved. One of those had got part of the way across when her legs fell, and she hung for some time by her two hands over the foaming waves; her husband then came on the rope, and managed to assist her to the shore. Two men came on shore with children tied to their backs but of the whole who fell into the water not above five were saved. I saw one fine girl, who, after falling from the rope managed to get hold of another one, which was hanging from the side of the ship, and which she held on to for more than a quarter of an hour, the sea every moment dashing her against the side of the ship: but it was impossible for us to lend her any assistance. Someone got a spar out, by which several got on shore; but it soon broke; and now might be seen hundreds hanging on to the bulwarks of the ship, each struggling to get on shore. I saw one young woman hanging on the middle of the rope for some time by her two hands, but those pushing to get on shore soon sent her to her doom. The ships stern now began to sink; the ship made a lurch, and all the ropes were snapped asunder. The scene now was most harrowing. Every wave washed off scores at a time. We could see them struggle for a moment, then, tossing their arms, sink to rise no more. At length the whole of the ship sunk under water. There was a fearful struggle for a moment, and all, except two who were in the rigging, were gone. The coastguard, who had been appraised of the wreck, now came up; but all they could do was to attempt to save the two who were in the rigging. They managed to get a line to one of them, by fastening two lines, at the end of each of which was a piece of wood, to a single line, and guiding it from the rock to the spot where the poor fellow was, so that he could reach it. They then dragged him ashore. There was one fine young man left on the top, but they could not reach him, and when he saw them going away his cries were heartrending. About two o'clock the next morning the coastguard managed to reach him, after he had been in the top fourteen hours: you may fancy the poor fellow's joy at his deliverance. We found we were on Lambay Island, three miles from Rush, and about thirteen miles from Dublin.
Out of the entire number of persons on board only 282 individuals were saved, so that 370 lives must have been lost altogether. News of the wreck having been taken to Dublin, the steam-packet Prince was sent to Lambay Island on Sunday afternoon; and next morning the whole of the passengers and crew who had been rescued were taken to Dublin, where comfortable accommodation was provided for them.
Later accounts state that nearly 50 bodies have been found, and that an inquest is to be held. The Liverpool Mercury adds the following statement:
We learn that a letter has been received from Captain Noble, but it conveys nothing like an accurate account of the cause of the disaster. It appears that he had two sails blown away in the gale of Friday and Saturday morning. His rudder, a patent one, is complained of as difficult to work, and his compasses were wrong. This is the sum of his statement. It appears that there were a little over 100 females on board, only three of whom are said to have been saved. The vessel still holds together and, as there is a large quantity of timber on board, she may continue to do so.
A subscription list has been opened in Liverpool in aid of the unfortunate sufferers by this deplorable wreck. It is headed by Mr. Charles Moore, one of the owners, with £ 150, followed by the names of Messrs. Pilkington and Wilson (the Liverpool agents), £ 100; Mr. James Baines (of the Black Ball line of Australian packets), £ 100, &c.
An inquiry into the causes of the wreck the Tayleur commenced yesterday week, January 27th, at Malahide, before the Dublin County coroner. From the evidence, it appeared that the entire crew - including captain, stewards, cooks, clerk, and apprentices - consisted of 71 persons. Of these, however, only 26 were able seamen and 11 ordinary seamen. Of the former, 12 were foreigners; all of whom, except two Chinese sailors, could speak English.From "The Illustrated London News", 4th March, 1854.
The compliment of seamen required by the Emigration Commissioners is three men to each 100 tonnes register. The tonnage of the Tayleur was 1077; so that according to this calculation, the number of men ought to have been 60. Government ships have generally four men to every 100 tonnes, even when carrying ship stores. The captain stated that he had engaged the crew himself about a week before the vessel sailed. The whole of the crew, with the exception of the mate, were strangers to him. He had not experienced any obstruction from the want or inefficiency of hands. The inquest was brought to a conclusion on Monday evening, when the jury returned the following verdict:
That the parties were drowned by the sinking of the said ship off Lambay Island, and that this deplorable accident occurred in consequence of the highly culpable neglect of the owners in permitting the vessel to leave port without compasses properly adjusted, or a sufficient trial having taken place to learn whether she was under control of the helm or not; and we find that Captain Noble did not take sufficient precaution to ensure the safety of the vessel by rounding-to after he found the compasses were in error; but we consider, from the time the vessel came in sight of land, he acted with coolness and courage and used every exertion in his power to save the lives of the passengers.
It is said that it is the intention of the Liverpool Marine Board to institute an inquiry into the conduct of Captain Noble in connection with the loss of the unfortunate Tayleur.From "The Illustrated London News", 3rd June, 1854.
The wreck of the Tayleur was sold at Liverpool, the other day, by auction, for £ 480. The ship originally cost £ 20,000.Sources :
- "Schooner Port" by H.F.Starkey.
- Wreck reported in Lloyd's List, 22nd January 1854.
- Extracts from "The Illustrated London News" transcribed and submitted to the Rootsweb Mariners-L List by Tony Dalton.