Loss of Royal Charter 1859

Royal Charter
Steam clipper: 2719 tons, 306 ft long, 41 ft beam, draught 20 ft.
Built: William Patterson, Sandy Croft, near Chester, 1855.
Engines: 200 hp.
Owned: Liverpool and Australian Navigation Co.
Date of wreck: 26 October 1859.
Location: 53° 21.50' N 4° 14.30' W.
Depth: 10 m seabed.

Captain Thomas Taylor was very proud of the Royal Charter and was nearing his destination of Liverpool with every intention of making good time, having left Melbourne on 26 August. She was a fast vessel under sail and had auxiliary engines to allow her to keep going whatever the weather. She had aboard many passengers from Australia and a quantity of gold coins, bar, ingots and dust extracted from the Australian goldfields. The weather on the night of 25 October was exceptionally bad and many vessels were lost around the coast of Britain. The greatest loss of life was from the Royal Charter.

As she rounded Point Lynas at 8pm she signalled for a pilot but the conditions were too stormy for a pilot to board her. With an easterly wind of force 10 or more, she was making very little headway as the screw was often out of the water in the huge waves. By 11 pm she was riding to her two anchors. As the wind strengthened further, at 1.30 am the port cable snapped at the hawse pipe and, an hour later, the starboard anchor cable parted. She was driven against the shore just north of Ynys Moelfre at about 3 am. She was broadside to the shore with her bows just 6 metres from a rock on shore. The tide was ebbing and the crew hoped to be able to walk ashore later on. Their signals of distress were not seen for a while because of the noise of the storm. The mainmast was cut down but it did not fall so as to reach the shore. The sea state was atrocious with huge waves and confused seas. A Maltese sailor, Joseph Rogers, obtained permission to make for the shore with a rope. He was dropped overboard and was swept back and forth in the waves. After being hurled on the rocks, he was grabbed by men on shore and the rope was secured. A ten inch Manila hawser was led ashore and secured to rocks as a bridge. Sixteen passengers were passed along it in a chair arrangement, although with delays as one female passenger would not dare to go. After low water at 4 am, the sea level rose and by 5 am the whole vessel was bumping against the seabed in the violent waves. In the panic, many passengers jumped overboard and most were lost. At 7.30 am the waves broke her side and she split into two parts. This also broke the hawser linking the wreck to the shore, casting three men who were on it as it broke into the water. The sea swept over the wreck and none of those left on board were to survive. Captain Taylor was one of the last seen alive on board - he was lashed to a spar but the sea picked up one of the ship's boats and it fell on him, crushing him.

 
Royal Charter wreck.

Of the 371 passengers and 112 crew aboard, only 21 passengers and 18 crew survived: 16 by the rope hawser and 23 who were washed or swam ashore. No women or children were among those who reached safety. Many of the passengers had valuable gold in bags and belts and this weight reduced any chance they had of getting ashore alive. As debris was swept ashore, those on the rocky shore searched for any gold. The coastguards and later the marines kept order and limited any plunder. At an inquiry into the wreck, it was mentioned that the Captain might have run to Holyhead for shelter and that the masts might have been cut away sooner. The Captain, however, was exonerated. The Maltese seaman, Joseph Rodgers, was awarded a silver medal by the Mercantile Marine Fund for his heroism.

With such a valuable cargo, divers salvaged the wreck as soon as the weather improved. Many other attempts have been made to recover valuables from the wreck, most recently in 1985 and then again in 1997. The seabed of sand is around 10m deep with metal plates sticking out of it. Using air lifts the seabed was excavated another few metres and many items were recovered. The site is just off the shore near the memorial which was erected on the cliff top in 1935.

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