Dunmail 1873

From Wrecks of Liverpool Bay Volume 2, by Chris Michael, with permission.

One example of the service provided by lifeboats in Liverpool Bay is the sinking of the Australia bound clipper Dunmail. Trade to Australia was important and, in the 1870's, this was still dominated by fast sailing vessels. They were specially designed and built, carrying passengers and cargo. The Dunmail was a new iron clipper built at Whitehaven for this trade to Australia. She was under the command of Captain James Fisher who was her joint owner with his brothers. He was an experienced mariner who had been at sea 24 years without being involved in any disaster. He was planning to retire after this voyage to Australia. She left Liverpool bound for Melbourne at high tide in the early hours of Saturday morning on 9 August 1873 with 28 passengers, a pilot and a valuable general cargo aboard. The steam tug Cruizer under the command of Captain Melville took her in tow to get her into the open sea. As they left the river Mersey, the wind was strong from the North West and many vessels had anchored off New Brighton to await better conditions. The pilot aboard the Dunmail assured her master that they could get safely across the bar. By the time they reached the bar in the Queens channel, it was blowing at gale force and the conditions were such that the pilot was becoming alarmed. Now, however, the option of anchoring was not possible as it was unlikely that her anchors would hold. The NW wind against the ebbing tide caused large steep waves at the bar. The tow rope parted and the Dunmail struck ground close to the Q1 Black buoy on the North side of the Queens channel. In the huge waves, she hit the sea bed so violently that her mainmast was forced through her hull. She settled onto the sand bar and was at the mercy of the waves.

Captain Melville at once returned to Liverpool to alert the lifeboat. He arrived at the Landing Stage at 5am and the Liverpool lifeboat, under the command of James Martin, with full crew was quickly ready. Towed by the steam tug Retriever, they reached the stricken vessel around 8am. A little later the New Brighton lifeboat arrived to help, having been towed out by the steam tug Spindrift. What were described as superhuman efforts were made to rescue the passengers and crew of the Dunmail. The Liverpool lifeboat took off 52 while the remaining eight were rescued by the New Brighton lifeboat. There were nine women aboard and they were taken off first. Some were so exhausted that they needed hospital treatment. There were some narrow escapes: one passenger fell into the sea but was recovered, while another hurt his head and leg falling 4 metres from the poop down into the lifeboat. The passengers and crew lost all they possessed but at least no life was lost because of the bravery of the lifeboat crews. For repeated gallantry in saving life, especially on this occasion, the master of the Liverpool lifeboat, James Martin, was awarded a silver clasp to his silver medal by the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society.

The ship commenced to break up. Timber and parts of the cargo were washed ashore. Two large ship's boats were recovered almost intact. Anchors, cables and sails were salvaged. The wreck was left in place.

The Candida which was a similar sailing ship to the Dunmail and was built at the same yard at about the same time and destined for a similar trade.

Wreckage of Dunmail today

Iron clipper 1337 tons net, 242 ft long, 36 ft beam, 22 ft draught.
Built: Iron and Steel Works, Whitehaven 1872.
Owners: Fisher & Sprott, registered Liverpool.
Date of wreck: 9 August 1873
Location: 53° 32.16' N, 3° 14.41' W.
Distance from New Brighton: 10 nautical miles.
Depth at low water: 11 m seabed, 12 m scour, 6 m to top of wreck.

Since she was obstructing the shipping channel, the Dock Board used explosives to disperse the wreck. The Queens channel has moved somewhat in the intervening years and the site of the wreck is now over 0.6 mile north of the channel. This area is also north of the training wall and so has less current and better visibility than the channel itself. The wreck covers a large area and piles of iron plating stand proud of the seabed by 2 metres or so with the highest part rising 4.5 metres. There are prominent masts and spars lying across the sand, but there is no sign of any engine components which is to be expected since the Dunmail was a sailing ship. She lies SW - NE on the sea bed. Visibility can be several metres and there is a lot of marine life on the wreck.