Loss of Emigrant ship Tayleur 1854

Tayleur Emigrant Ship.
Designed by William Rennie of Liverpool and built 1853 for owners Charles Moore & Company in Warrington.
Iron clipper sailing vessel - full riggeed.
displacement 1,750 tons, 230 feet in length with a 40 foot beam.
4,000 tons of cargo was carried in holds 28 feet deep below three decks.
Captain John Noble; 71 crew.
581 passengers. (between 330-380 crew and pasengers lost)

The Tayleur was designed by William Rennie of Liverpool and built for owners Charles Moore and Company. She was launched in Warrington on the River Mersey on 4 October 1853 - it had taken just 6 months to build her. She was named after Charles Tayleur, founder of the Vulcan Engineering Works, Bank Quay, Warrington.

The new ship was chartered by White Star to serve the booming Australian trade routes, as transport to and from the colony was in high demand due to the discovery of gold there.

Tayleur left Liverpool on 19 January 1854, on her maiden voyage, for Melbourne, Australia, with a complement of 652 passengers and crew. She was commanded by 29-year-old Captain John Noble. During the inquiry, it was determined that her crew of 71 had only 37 trained seamen amongst them, and of these, 10 could not speak English. It was reported in newspaper accounts that many of the crew were seeking free passage to Australia. Most of the crew were able to survive.

Her compasses did not work properly because of the Iron Hull. The crew believed that they were sailing south through the Irish Sea, but were actually travelling west towards Ireland. On 21 January 1854, within 48 hours of sailing, Tayleur found herself in a fog and a storm, heading straight for the isle of Lambay. The rudder was undersized for her tonnage, so that she was unable to tack around the island. The rigging was also faulty; the ropes had not been properly stretched, so that they became slack, making it nearly impossible to control the sails. Despite dropping both anchors as soon as rocks were sighted, she ran aground on the east coast of Lambay Island, about 5 miles from Dublin Bay.

Wreck of the Tayleur on Lambay Island.

Initially, attempts were made to lower the ship's Lifeboats, but when the first one was smashed on the rocks, launching further boats was deemed unsafe. Tayleur was so close to land that the crew was able to collapse a mast onto the shore, and some people aboard were able to jump onto land by clambering along the collapsed mast. Some that reached shore had carried ropes from the ship, allowing others to pull themselves to safety on the ropes. Captain Noble waited on board Tayleur until the last minute, then jumped towards shore, being rescued by one of the passengers. With the storm and high seas continuing, the ship was then washed into deeper water. She sank to the bottom with only the tops of her masts showing.

A surviving passenger alerted the coastguard station on the island. This passenger and 4 coast guards launched the coastguard galley. When they reached the wreck they found the last survivor, William Vivers, who had climbed to the tops of the rigging, and had spent 14 hours there. He was rescued by the coastguards. On 2 March 1854, George Finlay, the chief boatman, was awarded a silver medal for this rescue.

Newspaper accounts blamed the crew for negligence, but the official Coroner's Inquest absolved Captain Noble and placed the blame on the ship's owners, accusing them of neglect for allowing the ship to depart without its compasses being properly adjusted. The Board of Trade, however, did fault the captain for not taking soundings, a standard practice when sailing in low visibility.

The wreck was sold for salvage, but part of it still lies on the SE corner of Lambay Island with least depth 9 metres at low water.

The Tayleur has been compared with the Titanic. They shared similarities in their separate times. Both were RMS ships and White Star (although these were different companies), and both went down on their maiden voyages. Inadequate or faulty equipment contributed to both disasters.

Numbers of lives lost vary, as do the numbers given as to how many were on board. The latter are between 528 and 680, while the dead are supposed to be at least 297, and up to 380, depending on source. Out of over 100 women on board, only three survived, possibly because of the difficulty with the clothing of that era. The survivors were then faced with having to get up an almost sheer 80 foot (24m) cliff to get to shelter. When word of the disaster reached the Irish mainland, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company sent the steamer Prince to look for survivors. Recent research by Dr Edward J Bourke names 662 on board.

Possible causes of loss:

  Tayleur was the largest of 11 iron ships built by the Bank Quay Foundry during a short-lived programme of shipbuilding lasting from 1852 to 1855. Prior to the commencement of this programme, the company was more noted for its proficiency in heavy castings and iron working. The ship was designed by the renowned clipper designer William Rennie of Rennie and Johnston, Liverpool, who had just begun to develop an interest in iron shipbuilding. The ship was originally designed as a screw steamer but, whilst on the blocks, its form was changed to that of a Clipper, owing to the lack of availability of a suitable engine. One consequence of this modification of the ship form, was an increase in the ship's dimensions; from 204 ft x 36 ft x 23 ft (62.22 m x 10.98 m x 7m) to 225 ft x 39.4 ft x 27.6 ft (68.62 m x 12 m x 8.4 m). The ship was built at breakneck speed and on 5 October 1853 it was launched, just 6 months after its keel was laid. The Tayleur was then towed down the Mersey River to Liverpool where it was fitted out for its journey. Getting her from Bank Quay to Liverpool was tricky - she was towed by 3 tugs and had to stop half way at Runcorn overnight to stem the tide. The fitting out was also undertaken with considerable speed and on 14 January 1854 the ship was taken to the anchorage in the Mersey Channel to await passengers and crew.

Tayleur Sailing:
  On the recommendation of Captain Townson, the Examiner of Masters and Mates for the Port of Liverpool, 29-year-old Captain James Noble was specifically chosen by the owners of the Tayleur, Moore and Company, for the task of commanding their new ship. Prior to this, Noble had had a distinguished career with the clipper trade to Australia, making a number of swift passages, However, from the outset, Noble appeared to have been at odds with his new command. During the early stages of the ship's construction, he accidentally fell into the main hold and was nearly killed.
  On Thursday, 18 January Tayleur was taken in tow by the steam tug Victory to be led into the Irish Sea from where they would begin their voyage. All went well during this journey except that the Liverpool Port Pilot noticed one point of difference between the ship's 3 compasses. It was not until the tow was cast off that the true nature of the ship became apparent. Not only were the ship's compasses erroneous but the vessel handled very badly. Captain Noble was later to recount how it took up to one hour to change tack and the ship would loose up to 5 miles; normally a ship should take 15 minutes to change tack and loose one mile. As the voyage progressed, the ship encountered bad weather and dense cloud cover negated the possibility of obtaining astral observations. On the morning of Sunday, 21st, land was sighted. It was attempted to wear [turn] the ship from this danger, but difficulties in manoeuvrability made this impossible. The two forward anchors were dropped but their cables almost immediately broke and the ship slammed into the Nose of Lambay Island where it sank within 20 minutes of the impact, with the loss of over 400 people.

  The Board of Trade enquiry into the loss of the vessel concluded that compass error was partially to blame for the sinking. Compass deviation caused by the proximity of the compass to ferrous material was a well-known phenomenon in the 1850s. As far back as the 16th century, the effect of iron on the ship's compass was recorded by the famous Portuguese navigator Joao de Castro. In sailing ships, the iron (from guns, ballast, etc) was usually relatively far from the compass - so the deviation caused was not too large.
  The 3 main compasses on board Tayleur were fitted by John Grey - "Compass maker to Her Majesty". He fitted and compensated the ship's 3 compasses, 2 months before the sailing of the vessel, and prior to the loading of the ship's cargo. The Coroner's inquest into the sinking of the ship records that whilst the ship was being steered out of the Mersey estuary into the Irish Sea, the pilot noticed a point of difference between the compasses. Later in the journey, further discursion of up to 1.5 points [about 17°] was recorded.
  The phenomenon of compass deviation was well known by mariners and several experiments had been undertaken to investigate its cause. The effect was especially large in iron ships compared to wooden ones. It is now understood that ships have two kinds of magnetic effect; induced and permanent. In iron ships, the induced magnetism is brought about by the effect of the earth's magnetic field on the soft iron of the ship. This form of magnetism is altered as the ship changes course or moves to an area of differing magnetic field. The second form, permanent magnetism, is induced by the vibration of hammering and riveting on the ship's metal. It aligns the molecules permanently in a way that is determined by the lie of the ship during the construction; although it can change slowly as the ship voyages.
  These two effects are nowadays compensated by placing permanent magnets and soft iron spheres (or bars) in suitable positions around the compass. The essential method to achieve this compensation is to "swing the ship" - sail slowly in a circle so that deviations can be recorded - and then compensated. So, again, the lack of a sea trial of the Tayleur meant her compass was unreliable.

  Although the Board of Trade and Coroner's enquiries make little mention of the rigging affecting the efficiency of the ship, there are indications as to how it affected the handling of Tayleur. Passenger testimony would appear to indicate that the contribution it played was quite significant. Robert Davison, a steerage passenger and seaman of 26 years, is recorded as being surprised when he found riggers still completing their work the day before the ship was due to sail. He also noted that the natural-fibre running-rigging ropes had not been properly stretched. Before natural fibre ropes are fitted as part of rigging, they first need to be stretched. In doing so the rope becomes less elastic as the strands bind together and combine to produce a rope of greater breaking strain. In addition to this, the number of frayed rope filaments, which often affect the smooth running of the rope through pulley blocks, are reduced.
  By neglecting to properly stretch the newly applied running-rigging ropes, the riggers severely affected the handling of the ship. Not only were the ropes difficult to handle, and snagging in the pulley blocks, but also they were quite elastic which made setting of the ship's sails very difficult. In the Coroners' Enquiry, Captain Noble stated that he stood for 14 hours on the same tack despite the fact that there was a "heavy wind" blowing. The fact that the master of the ship stood on the same tack for so long, coupled with passenger reports of the crew having difficulty in reefing the sails (3 hours to reef a topsail), appeared to indicate that there were problems with the new running-rigging and this was adversely affecting the ship's handling.

Sea trials:
  The final and probably, one of the most significant, oversights of merchant mariners at the time was the absence of sea trials. Whilst sea trials were always completed by the navy, prior to the commissioning of a ship; in the merchant navy, time restraints, economics and low crew numbers did not always permit such activities. In the case of the Tayleur, the ship was readied at incredible speed (2 months after its launch) then sat in the Mersey Channel for only 1 week awaiting the arrival of crew and passengers. Given the speed at which it was readied for sea, it appears that even if sea trials were a common occurrence, Captain Noble and his crew would not have had time to undertake them. This was a very unfortunate case. Captain Noble had already been at odds with his new command and, had he been able to sail the ship for even the shortest time, he would undoubtedly have been made aware of its defective handling and, possibly, been able to rectify some of the more obvious flaws.

Tayleur Sinking
  The sinking of Tayleur and the loss of over 400 lives was a very unfortunate event. To many at the time it cast a shadow of doubt over the suitability of iron as a material in the construction of ships. To others it further highlighted the need to properly assess the influence of iron on ships' compasses. Some people accused Captain Noble of neglect, whilst others blamed the foreign crew, claiming they could not understand the Captain. Both were later proven to be untrue. Most significantly, it appears that the failure of all parties involved to conduct sea trials prior to the commencement of the journey was the gravest error. Had such trials been conducted, they would almost immediately have become aware of the inherent flaws of the ship, its masts placed too far aft, the improper state of the running and standing rigging, the unsuitability of the rudder and the substantial compass errors.

More details see book: The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic by Gill Hoff.

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