Early steamship losses: Isle of Man

Early steamship losses: Isle of Man

The harbour at Douglas was exposed to wind direction from NE to SE - as it still is. Before the breakwaters were built, there was less protection for vessels and some early steamships were wrecked on the rocks off the harbour mouth.

One of the important pioneers of a lifeboat service was Sir William Hillary. He was born in Yorkshire but moved to the Isle of Man in 1808 (aged 37). He was appalled by the loss of life when ships were wrecked on the coast. He campaigned nation-wide for a well organised lifeboat service and he is regarded as the father of the National Lifeboat Institution (later RNLI) which was founded in 1824. He remained active in lifeboat rescue - being awarded three gold medals by the NLI (one for the service described below).

Jump to City of Glasgow 1825;   Earl of Roden 1828 ;   St George 1830

Wreck of CITY of GLASGOW

Built 1822 Scott & Sons, Greenock
Engines side lever (simple) 100 hp, built David Napier
191.3 grt, 123.5 ft long, 22.0 ft beam.
Captain Carlyle
Wrecked 20 October 1825 on rocks in Douglas Bay.

City of Glasgow, image:

[from Glasgow Herald - Friday 12 April 1822]: Greenock April 9. Today a fine new Steam Packet of about 300 tons register, named the City of Glasgow, to be commanded by Capt. Chaplin, formerly of the Talbot Holyhead Paeket, and destined to ply between this and LiverpooL was launched from the same yard [Messrs John Scott & Sons]. This is a very fine vesseL and fitted with cabins, &c., in a handsome marnier. Her engines are made by Mr. David Napier of Glasgow, on an improved construction, and it is expected she will be propelled faster than any boat yet built. The entire cost of this vessel, with her machinery and other equipments, is calculated at about £15000, no expense having been spared in fitting her out on the most approved plan.

The City of Glasgow left Greenock about one o'clock on Tuesday, and after encountering the violent storm of that night, arrived in Douglas Bay on Wednesday [19 Oct 1825], about four o'clock, with her machinery considerably injured, part of which was sent on shore to be repaired. About midnight, she attempted to proceed on her voyage to Liverpool, but owing to the machinery not being property put in order, her engine would not work, her anchors were let go, but such was the violence of the wind (which veering from the N. W. to S. E and blew for about two hours from that point, a complete hurricane) that the vessel drifted upon the rock at the entrance of the harbour, where she sustained very considerable damage.

The packet immediately after listed to port; and her side was stove in. Just before she struck, Sir William Hillary, apprehending the danger to which she would be exposed, and which has been, unhappily, verified, offered twenty pounds to any one of the boats that would go out, and take a line to her, but such was the sea, at the mouth of the harbour, that no one dared to venture out. A line was, after some time, got on shore, but all attempts to get her off proved fruitless; hopes, however, are entertained that she will be got into port on this evening's tide. It was with great difficulty that the passengers were landed from the packet; one of the boats being upset on reaching the shore, owing to the violence of the surf, but, happily, no lives were lost.

The following letter, containing some additional particulars, is from a passenger on board the vessel, which it appears will be a total wreck:
  - I write in haste to inform you of the wreck of the City of Glasgow, last night. We struck on a rock at half past eleven, and remained in the most perilous situation till five this morning. Passengers all safe - vessel total wreck. I write this principally to say no blame can be imputed to Captain Carlyle; nor can too much praise be given to Sir William Hillary, who himself came in a boat, when no boatman would stir to rescue the suffering passengers, who, in that situation, were exposed, every moment expecting our last, till five o'clock this morning. I can scarcely hold my pen.
YOURS, etc. R. S. GORE, Passenger,
5 Dover-St, Liverpool.
Thursday Oct. 20, 1825:

The City of Glasgow appears to have been repaired, and is advertised as providing a Liverpool-Glasgow service from June 1826 with the Majestic, but it is described as converted to cargo use after 1836 and broken up in 1855.


Wooden paddle steamer, built Dawson and Pearson, Liverpool 1822
Length 135'; beam 22'; 183 tons; engines 110 HP Fawcett & Littledale.
Owned: St George Steam Packet Company, Liverpool.
More history
Commanded by LIEUTENANT TUDOR, R, N.
Aground in Douglas Bay, on the 20th of November, 1830.

At that date, mail was carried, in the Irish sea area, for the Post Office in Steamers often commanded by Royal Navy officers. The Isle of Man received mail mainly from Liverpool.
  A new company (forerunner of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company) was set up in 1830 and their vessel Mona's Isle raced the St George vessels (Sophia Jane and then St George) and eventually established herself as the premier vessel on the Liverpool-Douglas route.

[from Liverpool Mercury - Friday 19 April 1822]:
We understand, that a most superb steam packet, to be called the St. Patrick, is to be launched from Messrs. Mottershead and Heyes's yard, on Monday next, at half-past ten o'clock, and, on the following day, another, to be named the St. George, from the yard of Messrs. Dawson and Pearson, at half-past eleven o'clock. The first is intended for the route from hence to Dublin and Bristol, and the other from the Isle of Man and Greenock. They are said to be built upon the most approved principle, and to be fitted with the largest marine engines yet made.

On Friday, the 19th Nov., the St. George, a steam packet of the first class, commanded by Lieutenant Tudor, R, N. arrived with the mail at Douglas, and continued in the bay. The night was stormy, with heavy gusts of wind from the S. W., which towards morning came to the S. E. blowing direct in, and soon increased to a tremendous storm. About 5 o'clock a. m., the chain cable of the St. George gave way, when she began to drive in between the Pollock and St. Mary's (or Conister) two equally dangerous rocks, under her lee.

The steam had been kept up all the night, with the men at their stations, but the vessel was so near to the rocks, and the force of the waves so overwhelming, that in attempting to reverse her out, she struck violently upon St. Mary's, immediately filled, and settled down forward, with her head to the land, laying broadside to the most rugged part of that fatal rock, from which few vessels that once strike ever escape.

Lieut. Tudor immediately ordered the foremast to be cut away, with the view of forming a raft, by means of which the people might gain the rock, and from thence, though covered at high water, he hoped, when the day dawned, they might be rescued off the lee side by boats from the shore; but this was found impracticable. Signals of distress were also made.

Sir Wm. Hillary, receiving speedy intimation of her danger, proceeded to the pier, and immediately put off in the life boat, accompanied by Lieut. Robinson, R. N., Mr. Wm. Corlett, agent to the St. George's Company, his coxswain, Isaac Vondy, and a volunteer crew of 11 men. On approaching the St. George. the anchor of the life boat was let go to windward, and by veering down upon the wreck, an attempt was made to take off the people from the weather quarter, but the surf was found to be so violent as to render that plan impracticable. It was therefore resolved, at all hazards, to back the boat between the St. George and the rocks; when Lieut. Tudor, with the self-devotedness of a British seaman, entreated with them not to attempt his rescue by means which he feared would be attended with inevitable destruction - it was, however, persevered with, and with great difficulty accomplished - but the sea inside rolled so heavily, that the boat was in danger of being instantly demolished - her rudder was beaten off, six out of her ten oars broken or lost, some of her air-tight cases and her upper works much injured; and Sir Wm. Hillary, Mr. Corlett, and two boat-men washed overboard. Mr Corlett and the two men were fortunately soon got into the boat, but Sir Wm. Hillary, being unable to swim, providentially seized a rope which hung from the vessel's side, by which he supported himself in the waves until Lieut. Tudor, assisted by Lieut. Robinson who had gained the wreck, with much difficulty, got him also on board, considerably bruised and hurt.

From the disabled state of the boat, and the loss of the oars, it became impossible to take off the people and extricate themselves to windward, by hauling up to her anchor, as was originally intended. All passage to leeward was obstructed by the rigging of the mast which had been cut away. Thus hemmed in between the wreck and St. Mary's rock, on which the surf broke tremendously, and by a point of rock, which ran out beyond it, the situation of the crew of the St. George, and of the life boat alongside, remained, for nearly two hours, equally critical and perilous.

At length, by much labour and hazard to the men employed, the rigging of the fallen mast was cut away, by means of knives and an axe which fortunately were in the boat. As the tide rose, the sea increased, and every wave now swept the decks of the St. George, and nearly buried the life boat; it therefore became requisite to make a last effort to extricate themselves from a situation where, longer to have remained, must have proved fatal to all.

The crew or the St, George consisted of 22 persons, that of the life boat of 18; they were all got into the boat, the water was bailed out by buckets obtained from the vessel, and the remaining oars manned; the boat was then cast off, and the cable veered away; but she struck violently on the low ridge of rock, filled, and striking again, was at length, by the violence of the breakers, washed over, the people holding on by ropes. The cable was then cut, and the sea coming round the bow of the St. George, drove the boat broadside on, upon the sheltered side of St. Mary's, being thus, through a merciful Providence, delivered from the awful situation in which they had been so long placed. - They then proceeded for the shore, about a quarter of a mile distant. They were met by two boats which had put off from the pier, passed through the sound, and approached them under the shelter of the lee of the rock, one boat relieving them from some of the people, the other, brought out by Lieut. Sleigh, R. N., promptly gave a towline to the life boat, and assisted her in making the beach, which she reached in a shattered condition, when the whole of the forty persons, with whom on board this large and superior boat had surmounted such difficulties, were all happily landed without the loss of a single life - a circumstance beyond the hope of the most sanguine spectator, when it is considered that the oldest sailors declare they have never witnessed a heavier sea in this channel.

Memorial of the rescue: Commemorative plaque on Douglas Promenade

Painting of the rescue (Manx National Heritage)

Sir William Hillary, Bart,
Lieut. Robert Robinson, R. N.
Wm. Corlett, Esq. Agent to St. George's Company.
Isaac Vondy, Coxswain.
BOATMEN. Wm. Connor, John Inch, Thomas Carran, Thomas Cannell, William Gill, George Thompson, Henry Clagne, Robert Kewley, Richard Harvey, Philip Cottley, John Callow, Richard Cowle, and another boatman.

Lieut. John Tudor, R. N. Commander,
Joseph Owen, Second Officer,
Officer, Engineers, Seamen, etc. - 20,
22 Persons in all saved - not any lives lost.

Letter of Thanks

Copy of a letter from Lieutenant Tudor to Sir William Hillary, Bart.
Douglas, November 21, 1830.

My Dear Sir, - Allow me to return you (in the name of the crew of the St. George and myself) our most grateful thanks for the very great personal exertions of yourself, Lieut. Robinson, R. N., Mr. Wim. Corlett, and the Life Boat's Crew, during the gale of yesterday morning.

I want words, Sir, to express to you what we then felt, and what we shall ever feel, for the noble and determined manner in which you persevered in coming to our assistance, after we had considered it our duty to warn you off, for, from the vessel having bilged, the severity of the gale, the position of the wind, and the time of tide, there did not appear to us (amongst the heavy breakers then rolling upon Conister) the slightest chance of escape for you, and which, from the crippled state of the Life Boat, when she afterwards left the wreck, was so nearly proving to be the case.

Trusting, Sir, that you may long live to preside over an establishment your philanthropy gave birth to, and in which your humanity has always placed you amongst the foremost and most active of its members - I have the honour to remain
Your obliged, grateful. and Most obedient Servant JOHN TUDOR, R. N.

Report to National Lifeboat Institution

At a Meeting of the Committee of the Isle of Man District Association of the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, held in the Court House, Douglas, 27th November 1830, JAS. QUIRK Esq. High-Bailiff, in the chair. The foregoing report having been laid before this meeting, corroborated by Sir Wm. Hillary, Bart., Lieut Robinson, R. N and Mr. W. Corlett, and the same being confirmed in every particular. It was resolved, that the said report be transmitted, by the chairman, to the Secretary of the Royal National Institution.

Moved from the Chair, seconded by John Quane Esq. and unanimously resolved.
That the thanks of this meeting be presented to Sir Wm. Hillary, Lieut. Robinson, Wm. Corlett, Esq. and the crew of the boat, for their very gallant and meritorious exertions in saving the lives of the crew of the St. George.
By order of the meeting.     JAS. QUIRK Chairman.

  It was reported that the engines of the St. George were salvaged. The Liverpool Shipyard of J Wilson launched a wooden paddle steamer called St George for the St George Steam Packet Company in November 1831: 157 tons; 135' x 20' with 55hp engines by Fawcett and Preston. This suggests that a new replacement was obtained. This later St George was sold to Canada in 1842.
  Note that Sir William Hillary was aged 60 when he participated in this lifeboat rescue; for which he was awarded a gold medal by the NLI; and Corlett and Vondy were awarded silver medals.
  This incident prompted Hillary to set up a scheme to build the Tower of Refuge for shipwrecked mariners on Conister Rock. The structure, designed by architect John Welch, was completed in 1832 and still stands at the entrance to Douglas harbour.
  The Douglas lifeboat is (2018) called the Sir William Hillary.