Belfast 1822


Wooden paddle steamer, built 1820 by Ritchie of Belfast.
190t, 120' x 18', 60 hp engines by Napier.
Aground near Alt river (north of Liverpool) 5 December 1822
Passage Liverpool to Belfast, all crew and passengers saved.
Captain Charles Stewart.

The first steamer to arrive in Liverpool from Ireland was the Waterloo from Belfast (owned Langtry & Co. of Belfast). She had been built by Scotts of Greenock in 1819 and was a schooner-rigged paddle steamer with two engines by James Cook of Glasgow of 30hp each, 210t (om:130t), 106' x 21'. She arrived in the Mersey on 22 July 1819. She was soon joined by the paddle steamer Belfast. Between them, these two paddle steamers provided a regular service from Liverpool to Dublin (a departure every other day).

During the hurricane of 5 December 1822, when many vessels were driven aground around the coasts of Liverpool and North Wales, the Belfast steam-packet, on a passage from Liverpool to Belfast (where she was to have spent the winter) turned back and was driven ashore near the mouth of the River Alt (North of Bootle). All the passengers and crew were saved, but the shore was covered with wreckage, furniture, etc. She was expected to be refloated.
  More on the 1822 Hurricane.

This narrative was given by a lady from a party of females who had just landed from the Belfast steam-packet:

The packet sailed, about two o'clock on the preceding day, for Dublin. Towards evening, said the lady, the storm blew with considerable violence, and continued to increase during the night, until it became a perfect hurricane. The captain, some time in the night, and when he supposed we were off the Calf of Man, thought the only way to preserve the lives of the crew and passengers would be to get back to Liverpool as quickly as possible. The vessel was accordingly put about, and every possible exertion made to bear up for Liverpool - Captain Stewart, who had, during the night, made every exertion and still continued to animate all around him, came down into the state-room, about five o'clock in the morning. The sea was then rolling dreadfully, and I had just been put out of my birth to the opposite side of the cabin, by which I received a wound on my forehead (pointing her finger to the mark). "Ladies" said he, "I have done all in my power, and it becomes my duty to tell you, that the night is so awfully dark, that I know not exactly where we are. I have been at sea for thirty years, but never a night equal to this", "Ah Captain Stewart", replied the narrator, "you have, we know you have, done all that human industry, skill, and judgment can effect, and our wonder is, that you did not make this awful truth known that never did we expect reach the shore alive".

All was now dreadful suspense; soon after, the vessel struck, and we thought that all was over. Several minutes elapsed without any communication from the deck - judge our situation! Sometime after the captain came down, and informed us, he had reason to suppose that we were not so far from the main land as he had at first thought, and, as the tide was then taking off, he hoped that daylight would discover to the possibility of walking ashore. What were our feelings at this piece. Happily for all, his hopes were realised; and, thank God! we are all here.

In addition to the preceding narrative, we have collected the following from authentic sources:

The Belfast, Captain Stewart commander, sailed from this port on Thursday last about half-past two o'clock, and had proceeded far as the Calf of Man when the gale came on from the northwest, the wind having been previously from the southward. Captain Stewart would then have returned, but for the fact that, before he could reach the Channel, it would be low water, and his entrance, consequently, impossible. His only resource was, therefore, the endeavour to keep her to windward until the following tide which should enable him enter the harbour with daylight. This alternative was a dreadful one, the sea so tremendous to render foundering almost inevitable; but, the other hand, to have then borne up, would have been certain destruction. By the greatest exertions on the part of the master and crew, they succeeded in weathering the hurricane, but at last were compelled to bear up for Liverpool, and made the port about high-water: that circumstance only and the vessel's light draught of water, it being perfectly dark and no lights distinguishable, resting their whole hope of safety. About six o'clock she struck within a short distance of the main land, between Formby Point and Crosby, and, the tide receding, left the passengers with daylight, at liberty to walk safely on shore. We are happy to hear, in addition to the gratifying circumstance of no lives being lost, that neither the vessel nor engines have sustained any injury, excepting that caused to the upper-works of the former, previous to her bearing up, the extent of that being only the loss of her paddle-boxes and waste boards. During the whole time, the machinery remained in good order, and worked admirably; and this circumstance, with the able conduct of the commander and the exertions of the crew, may attribute the ultimate salvation of lives and property. Of Captain Stewart's conduct, gentlemanly behaviour, and attention to his passengers, under such dreadful circumstances, they speak the highest terms; and we think too much cannot be said in his praise.

These pioneering vessels were soon supplanted by larger vessels, designed to cross in winter, operated by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Co. and by the St. George Steam Packet Company.

Postscript. The Belfast steamer (said to be old and in poor condition) was hired to take a party of 29 Portuguese exiles from Falmouth to land at Matosinhos on 26 June 1828 near Oporto to lead the challenge by supporters of Dom Pedro to oppose the take-over of power by Dom Miguel. Although the Dom Pedro supporters were initially welcomed, they soon faced assault by soldiers supporting Dom Miguel, and chose to retreat to the Belfast and escape. This fiasco was called the "Belfastada". Some years later, in 1832, a better organised landing near Oporto was successful and, evenually, the Dom Pedro supporters won the day. See also here.

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