The Drogheda steamer Grana Uile was built on the Clyde in 1835 by John Scott and Sons of Greenock for the Drogheda Steam Packet Company. She had a wooden hull of length 148.0 ft and beam 24.0 ft and side-lever steam engines (of 190nhp built by Scott, Sinclair & Co., Greenock) driving paddles. Grana Uile is the name (anglicised to Grace O'Malley) of a "pirate queen" with a castle [Granuaile's castle] on Clare Island on the west coast of Ireland.
The Grana Uile had recently been involved in a rescue herself, when she had towed the disabled paddle steamer Nottingham to Liverpool - after the collision between the Nottingham and the Governor Fenner off Holyhead on 20 Feb 1841.
The Grana Uile sailed from Liverpool for Drogheda on Tuesday evening 13th April 1847 about eight o'clock. There were on board about 43 regular passengers, a crew of 24 persons and a few other individuals making in all, nearly as can be calculated, about 90 souls. The Grana Uile was 245 tons register and was commanded by Captain Thomas Rawdon [Rawden in another report]. The cargo was chiefly grain but she had on board a number of bales of flax which were stowed with care and covered with a tarpauling[sic] in the lower hold. About six am on following morning [Wednesday 14th April 1847], after pasing north of Holyhead and when about 30 miles off Lambay [an island off the coast of Ireland, south of Drogheda], all on board were roused by the cry "Fire, fire". For a length of time, every exertion was made to subdue the flames caused by the bunkers or coal holds having ignited: but in vain. When the first alarm of fire was given, one of the steamer's boats was lowered, but the rush of people into her was so great, that she swamped, and almost all aboard that boat perished.
The vessel kept her course till about seven o'clock when she was observed in distress by a fishing smack, the Bessy of Ringsend [now part of Dublin]. The captain, Mr William Pullen, with his crew of three, immediately proceeded to rescue the crew and passengers. On nearing her, they found her on fire, the people on board screaming, and many of them clinging to her sides. At the time Pullen came up, the flames had not burst out, but were still confined in the interior. He and his crew took sixty-nine persons on board, by the aid of boats - the smack standing off lest the fire might be communicated. All who had the good fortune to stay by the vessel were saved, except the commander who vowed that he would not stir until passengers and crew were all safe, a determination which cost him his life, for, in the last extremity, he took a life-buoy and jumped overboard and was picked up in the steamer's wake dreadfully burnt. They took him below, and used every means in their power to restore him, but all to no use, though he showed signs of life when first taken out of the water. The fire by this time had burst forth above with great fury, and seemed likely soon to effect the destruction of the vessel. The heat emitted was almost unendurable, and the bellowings of an unfortunate bull on board, as the flames surrounded him, were described as terrific.
All who were on deck, or clinging to the vessel when the Bessy reached them, were saved, including forty five passengers and all twenty-four of the crew; in all sixty-nine. One man had his leg broken jumping into the boat with a child in his arms - three women were injured, and a child scalded. The crew of the smack, seeing all hope of saving the vessel at an end, bore straight for Dublin (where she arrived about 6 o'clock on Wednesday evening) and soon lost sight of the steamer. No one on board saw her sink and the general impression was that she still continued to float when they lost sight of her. Those who are lost are supposed to number 22 persons although there is much uncertainty since many passengers had a free ticket and were not recorded.
There was no property belonging to the passengers or crew saved, except, whatever money they had about them and the clothes they wore. The passengers were mostly poor people, many of them were persons who had gone to Liverpool with the view of emigrating to America but, being unable to find vessels in Liverpool, were returning again. Many of the others were cattle jobbers and, with a generosity characteristic of true Irish feeling, they subscribed a sum of £6, as a token to their deliverers: Mr. Pullen and his gallant crew.
Illustration of the burning of the Grana Uile (from the Ilustrated London News):
An inquest has been held upon the body of captain, when the mate stated in evidence that, if the passengers had been calm and taken the captain's advice, every one might have been saved; that from 15 to 20 were certainly lost; and that a signal was hoisted on seeing the fishing smack, Frederick, of which they took no notice; this, he thought, disheartened the captain and produced fright amongst all on board.
The Coroner, after highly lauding the conduct of the crew of the Bessy, detailed the evidence to the Jury who found a verdict to the effect that: the captain accidentally drowned; there were no means of ascertaining how the fire originated and that no blame or want of precaution were attributable to the owners, captain or crew.
The Jury expressed their high admiration of the spirited conduct of Captain Pullen and the crew of the Bessy and recommended them to the favorable consideration of the owners of the steamer, also, to the notice of the Humane Society. They also censured the crew of the Frederick.