From contemporary newspaper reports:
We regret announce the loss of the Sheffield, one of the Dublin Company's finest steam boats. The Sheffield sailed from Liverpool, Monday, at half three o clock, with valuable cargo, and seventeen steerage and four cabin passengers; besides the crew of the vessel. She had made rapid passage, in consequence of the wind being favourable; indeed it is probable that the wind and the tide had driven her nearer to the Irish coast than Captain Richards was warranted in supposing. About five o'clock Tuesday morning [30 December 1828], the vessel struck with her bows on a sunken rock; and, in a few minutes, the rudder, wheel, etc. were shattered to pieces. At this time it was quite dark and foggy. But in so awful and trying a situation everyone behaved with the greatest composure and propriety. Not a complaint or a murmur issued from a person on board; even the women calmly resigned themselves to the consequences which might follow. The Captain was not exactly aware of what part the coast they were on; and this circumstance, of course, added to the general consternation that prevailed onboard. In this situation, the vessel continued to hang by the head, with heavy surf breaking over her, till little past eight, when Captain Richards found they had struck on the Scull-Martin Rocks [Skullmartin Rock dries 1.2m; 1m SE of Ballywalter], off about mile and half from land.
Immediately on the accident occurring, blue lights were hoisted, so
that the people on shore were prepared to put off to their relief at
day-break. About half-past eight, the coast-guard boat, and others
belonging to the shore, appeared off the rock on which the Sheffield was
now firmly wedged. The coxwain of the water-guard, in a gallant manner,
flung himself into the boiling surf, swam to the rocks, and clambered
over the rugged surface, till he reached the vessel. Other boats
had also arrived from Ballywalter, and arrangements were speedily made
for getting the passengers ashore. A spar was rigged to reach from the
vessel to the rock; and hawsers were carried out and passed over the
numerous gulleys, the sea dashing frightfully through the ravines which
intersected its surface. The females were buckled on the backs of the
men, and each passenger swung himself by the rope, and thus struggled
through gulley after gulley, till all reached the boats. The Captain,
and part of the crew, remained on board till the boats returned from
landing the entire passengers; who were kindly and hospitably received
by the good people of Ballywalter.
Captain Heron of Killyleagh, and two other Gentlemen from Belfast, were cabin passengers, and were among the last in leaving the wreck.
A little boy, who was on board with his father was laid hold of by the
chief mate, who tied him on his back and attempted to swim with him to the
nearest rock, but on plunging into the water, the tying loosed and the boy
fell into the sea; fortunately at that moment a boatman who was near caught
hold of the boy. The boy's father offered the mate some sovereigns for his
humane exertions, but the mate declined accepting any reward. We hope some
means will be adopted to reward the brave and gallant boats' crew, of
Ballywalter, whose exertions were the means of saving so many lives. The yawl,
belonging to Major Matthews, arrived speedily at the scene of distress and
afforded great assistance to save the sufferers.
In noticing the admirable presence of mind evinced by Capt. Richards, and every noble fellow of his crew, under one of the most trying circumstances in which brave men could be placed; it would be unjust not to mention the conduct of the Steward - heedless of himself, he used the most extraordinary exertions to look out for every article of property that belonged to both passengers and crew; then, and not till then, did the poor fellow recollect that he was exposing himself to all the horrors of the storm bareheaded! His conduct is worthy of the highest commendation.
We have been assured that there is not the slightest blame to be attached to Capt. Richards, nor any on board, for want of nautical skill; they behaved gallantly, and like brave seamen. The morning was foggy, and the vessel had most assuredly outrun her calculations.
Soon after the vessel struck; the blue lights gave notice to those on shore that a vessel was on the rooks; and a messenger was instantly despatched to Belfast, with intelligence of the event to the agent for Lloyd's. The agent for the Steam-boat Company, however, immediately proceeded to Ballywalter, and arrived there about two o'clock. Before leaving Belfast he ordered that the Shamrock [from the Belfast-Dublin packet service] should proceed, the moment she had sufficient water, to the spot on which the Sheffield was wrecked, to render every assistance in picking up the goods.
The vessel is an
entire wreck, and we fear but little of her valuable cargo will be saved. The
cabin passengers lost all their luggage; the deck passengers had little but
what they were able to wrap about their persons.
During the following days, wreckage was reported along the nearby Scottish coast from Port Patrick to the Mull of Galloway. Part of the hull was driven ashore in Barncorkrie Bay and some bags of cotton were salvaged. The PS Shamrock was diverted from her regular service to the wreck on Skullmartin Rock and picked up "cotton yarns, woollen cloths, haberdashery, crates of earthenware, etc". Also reports state that the engines were recovered. Since a bell marked "P S Sheffield 1826" was recovered from the wreck (which occured in 1852) of the Leeds (a sister ship), it is likely that the bell was also salvaged and was then used on the Leeds.
I planned to dive Skullmartin Rock at low water, some years ago, and the rock appeared as a mussel-covered rounded obstacle. The underwater visibility was so poor on that occasion, that we did not proceed to dive.