Elizabeth Buckham

Brig, 242 tons, built 1837 Whitehaven, 28.7m x 7.4m x 4.9m.
Owned J Thompson, Whitehaven.
Wrecked 26 November 1866 on Burbo Bank
Captain Wylie and all crew (10) lost
Voyage Demerara to Liverpool, cargo raw cotton, rum, sugar.
Two "wreckers" lost.

Reports from contemporary newspapers.

GALE OFF LIVERPOOL AND LOSS OF LIFE: LIVERPOOL, TUESDAY [26 November 1866]: Last night, and up to an early hour this morning, a severe gale from the north-west (force 10) prevailed outside this port, the town itself being almost free from the effects of the storm. At Holyhead, however, and other stations on the Welsh coast, the gale was felt with much severity, and it is feared that numerous shipping disasters will be reported.

Wreck One disastrous wreck was announced here today. The brig Elizabeth Buckham, Captain Wylie, bound from Demerara to this port[Liverpool], with a cargo of rum, sugar, and cocoanuts, has been totally wrecked on the Great Burbo Bank, at the entrance to the port, and all on board have perished. It appears that about ten o'clock last night, as the steam tug Rattler was returning to port, the captain saw a brig drifting down upon the Great Burbo Bank, and almost immediately afterwards she struck with a tremendous crash on one of the elbows of the Burbo. The steam tug attempted to reach the distressed vessel, but all endeavours were in vain, owing to the fearful sea which broke continually over the bank. After lying to for some time, during which the foremast was observed to 'go', and cries for assistance were heard, the Rattler at once made for port [Liverpool].

At 12:30 a.m. she started back to the scene of the calamity with one of the lifeboats in tow. On reaching the vicinity of the wreck, the boat was cast adrift, and after searching the bank for several hours, no human being was to be seen - the quantity of wreck, etc. floating about showing too clearly that the work of destruction must have been very rapid. After a fruitless search, the Rattler and the lifeboat returned to port. Immediately afterwards, two other steam tugs, the Talbot and the Warrior, arrived here from Preston, and both vessels reported having passed through a great quantity of wreck in the Formby Channel.
  The brig Elizabeth Buckham was built in Whitehaven in 1837. Initially she sailed between England and Australia, setting a new record of 118 days for the voyage in 1844. Her last voyage to Australia was in 1853 and she was then employed by Messrs Booker and Co for use on their Liverpool to West Indies routes.
  A singular coincidence in connection with the wreck of the Elizabeth Buckham has transpired. About a year ago [22 November 1865], a similar vessel called the Favourite (also belonging to J Richardson Thompson of Whitehaven and consigned to Messrs Booker and Co), bound for Liverpool from the tropics, was totally wrecked on the same coast [near Blackpool] with the loss of all 10 crew.
  The Elizabeth Buckham's last port of call, two days previously, was at Queenstown[Cobh] for water, etc. For several miles along the Welsh coast, large quantities of wreck, cocoanuts, and other articles belonging to the brig, strew the beach. One of the boats of the brig has been found at Hoylake, and in the same neighbourhood several puncheons of rum have also been picked up. No bodies came ashore from the wreck, nor did any of her timbers for several months after.

Wrecking On Wednesday [27 November 1866] at New Brighton, the well known watering place on the Mersey, was a scene of great excitement, in consequence of a large portion of the cargo of the brig Elizabeth Buckham having been washed ashore near that place. Upwards of 130 puncheons of rum and several bales of cotton, together with some empty sugar hogsheads, lay close to the Ferry Hotel, guarded by the Customs officers. Many of the rum casks had been tapped before they fell into the hands of the Coastguard men; and the rum, which had been drunk by those who procured it, had caused a scene of debauchery totally indescribable.
  One youth named Foulds managed to get some of the rum, drank it, and such were the consequences, notwithstanding every medical attention, that he succumbed to the fatal effects of the drink.
  A painter emptied his paint can, wiped it with some grass, filled it with rum, took a draught, fell on his head in a pool of water, and, had it not been for some passers by, would no doubt bave lost his life. As it is, he at present lies very ill from the effects of the rum.
  Hundreds of similar cases might have been mentioned. All through Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, men and women, and even children, were found in a state of unconscious intoxication among the sand hills, and were removed as soon as possible to their different homes, where they were operated on by the stomach pump.
 These are not the only disgraceful features connected with the wreck of the Elizabeth Buckham. Several females - one especially who is very respectably connected - went down to see the remnants of the wreck. They were induced to drink some rum, which appeared to be the order of the night. They soon became helpless, and while in that state were treated in a most foul and atrocious manner.

Another newspaper report: There was chaos at New Brighton, where an estimated two hundred people, of what the Liverpool Mercury described as from the "lower order", fought over the washed up rum. The whole police force of Wallasey (five in number), was quite inadequate to cope with the tumult. Women were said to have been seen drinking from their boots and policemen had to drag many to safety above high-water mark to prevent their being drowned by the rising tide, after they passed out on the beach.
  The paper described the scenes as of "indescribable disorder and depravity" and reported that many of the "helpless inebriates" had their stomachs pumped after being found in states of "beastly intoxication" before being taken before magistrates in Birkenhead and fined. However there was no such leniency for two people, one of whom was said to be respectably connected (the boot-man) and related to the owner of The Victoria Hotel, as they were washed away by the tide and were presumed drowned.

A Board of Trade enquiry subsequently seemed to give more consideration to the lost excise revenue than that of human life. Rather than focus on how the shipwreck could have been avoided, more attention was given to the lack of customs officers in Wirral and the fact only five police officers were assigned to Wallasey.

Report (from Liverpool Mercury - Monday 18 March 1867).

  On Saturday an inquiry, instituted by the Board of Trade, was commenced at the Liscard court house into the circumstances connected with the wreck of the Elizabeth Buckham, which occurred near the mouth of the Mersey on the night of the 26th of November last[1866].
  The vessel, it will be remembered, was laden chiefly with rum, which went ashore on the Cheshire coast at New Brighton and in the direction of Hoylake, and was plundered by a number of persons who drank of the liquor and became insensibly drunk, death resulting in one or more cases. The scenes of drunkenness and debauchery which took place on the shore on the day the cargo of the ill-fated vessel was washed on the beach were described in the current issues of the Mercury.
  The inquiry took place before Mr. N. Hughes and Captain N. D. Grant R.N., Board of Trade inspectors. According to the official circular, "although, in the main, the inquiry will have reference to the case of the wreck of the Elizabeth Buckham, it will be extended by a thorough and searching inquiry with reference to the nature of wreck matters generally on the Cheshire coast, with the view, if possible, of devising same plan likely to ensure better protection to wrecked property, and a more efficient co-operation between the local authorities and officers."
  Some of the magistrates also attended the inquiry, including: Sir Edward Cust, Mr. J. C. Ewart, and Mr. Booker, the owner of the Elizabeth Buckham. Captain Smith, the head-constable of the county constabulary, was also present during a portion of the inquiry.
  Mr. Hughes. having stated the object of the investigation and cited the law as to the way in which wrecked property should be dealt with; said they should be glad to hear any observations the magistrates present had to make on the subject.
  Sir Edward Curt then described what he saw of the wreck of Elizabeth Buckham, and the rum casks coming ashore. He had instructed his gardener to collect all the men he could to assist in protecting the property. Afterwards he saw some of the coastguard men, and told them his men would give all the assistance in their power; and he also communicated with Mr. Superintendent Hammond. Unfortunately, the police and the coastguard could not act together. He had lived in the neighbourhood 40 years, and had said whenever there was a wreck, use might be made of his farmyard, where the property should be properly taken care of and given up to the right parties. He had also promised that the interests of the owners should be properly looked after. He thought proper instructions should be issued by the Board of Trade, and made public, as to the mode in which wrecked goods should be secured, and the rights of the salvors maintained. It was generally known amongst the people that they ought to take the wreck to the coastguard, but they did not know sufficiently that they would receive remuneration. People had been so long in the habit of going on the shore, when there was a wreck, and picking up anything they could, thinking they had a right to it, that it had led to a great deal of immorality and improper conduct. People saving wrecked property ought to be more liberally treated by the authorities, and the duties of persons with regard to such property ought to be better published. He also thought there should be a larger coastguard force.
  Mr. J. C. Ewart, who had also witnessed some of the proceedings on the coast when the rum casks came ashore, described what he had seen, and said he agreed with Sir Edward Cust that there should be a larger coastguard force. Some years ago there was a larger force, the object of which then was to prevent smuggling; but since the reduction of the duties, the force had been reduced.
  Mr. Hughes remarked that there were three coastguardmen at New Brighton and seven at Hoylake.
  Mr. Ewart said that was not a sufficient force. He also thought people ought to be better paid for salvage. Lately the inhabitants had much improved in their morals with regard to the right in wrecked property.
  Mr. Martin Byrne, assistant-receiver of wrecks, was then called, and gave evidence as to the time he received information of the wreck of the vessel, and also the means that were adopted to prevent the cargo being plundered when it came ashore. For the number of men that where at command, he thought everything was done that was possible to prevent the cargo being plundered. He had never experienced any difficulty in getting assistance from the constabulary, and also from the coastguard, when any vessel was wrecked. He could not suggest any number of men that would have prevented the cargo being plundered because he had seen when casks had been placed on the quays for the purpose of being gauged, while an officer was stooping, gauging the contents of one, a man would be dipping into the bunghole of the next cask before the officer had time to raise his head. He hardly knew an instance where casks, either on the beach or on the quays, had not been tampered with.
  Mr. W. E. Maude, merchant, New Brighton, said on the afternoon of the 27th of November last, he saw several of the rum casks come ashore at New Brighton. A good deal of the rum was lost owing to some of the casks being stove when they came ashore. The atmosphere was tainted with the smell of rum. He was particularly struck with the lawless character of the mob. He saw a great many partially drunken people, and one man was so deplorably drunk that he got a person to place him in a cart and take him away. Witness was much afraid some of the people would be drowned when the tide came up, and he encouraged the police to do all they could to save the people.
  Mr. Hughes: Did you see any females in a state of intoxication?
  Witness: To the best of my recollection, I saw some females in a very talkative state. I left the shore about five o'clock and saw nothing of it afterwards. I should think there would be 200 or 300 people there. There were not many women.
  Mr. Hughes: Are there any suggestions you can make to us?
  Witness said, in his opinion, a dozen policemen, and especially two or three mounted policemen; would have had great influence in preserving order, but they would not have succeeded entirely.
  Mr. W. Watson, inspector of constabulary for the parish of Wallasey, said he had ten policemen under his charge, and they were all present on the beach on the afternoon the wrecked property came ashore. Witness got home from Liverpool between half -past five and six o'clock in the evening, and drove to New Brighton as fast as he could. When he got there, he found great disorder, men were drunk, and were taking the rum away in cans and in bottles.
  Mr. Hughes: Did you in the course of the evening see one or two females in a very bad state, not only of intoxication, but something worse?
  Witness: I did, sir; it was disgraceful. Witness then went on to say that one person, to his knowledge, lost his life, another was sent to the Birkenhead hospital, and another was carried away helplessly drunk and placed under a shed. He thought there was a large quantity of rum carried away, but he did not estimate it. People were drawing it in buckets and cans from gimlet holes made in the casks. Four casks were plundered at Egremont; and while this was going on, there were no coastguardmen nearer New Brighton. When witness got down to the beach, Sergeant Hindley told him that one of the coastguardmen, named Thomas, said they (the police) had no business there. Thomas afterwards went to witness and was very abusive. Witness told Thomas he was in drink and that he would report I him, upon which Thomas challenged him out to a fight, and pushed him. He reported him to Mr. Springett, chief boatman, who also said Thomas was in drink. Witness told Mr. Springett that they were acting to protect life and property. Mr. Springett thanked him for the assistance. If he had had more men he should have sent them. They were drinking from pools of rum in the sand like pigs. If they had had double the force in the forepart of the day, a great portion of the plundering could have been prevented, but not the whole of it.
  Police-constable 167 (James Bowden) and Police-constable 163 ( Bohan), both stationed at New Brighton, also gave evidence. Bowden said: some children were there from 9 to 16 or 18 years of age. He saw several boys drunk, and one child about twelve years of age who had had some to drink.
  Captain Smith then made some remarks as to the number of men required to meet such an emergency as the one in question. The Cheshire constabulary, numbering 240 men, were scattered over an area of four or five square miles each man, and there was only one officer to 1300 of the population. Within about two hours he thought he might get together between 40 and 60 of the county constabulary. He thought, however, the accounts about the scenes at New Brighton had been overdrawn.
  Mr. Hughes said they had had it before them that there were a great deal of drunkenness and large crowds of lawless people prepared to go to any length. He was confident that the police had done all that men in their position could have done. Had the assistant receiver of wrecks been at home and received information earlier, no doubt a considerable assistance of policemen and coastguard men might have been obtained, and a great deal of demoralisation prevented. Apart from drunkenness being demoralising, he considered to give 200 or 300 people a sense of right that they should plunder the waste of the sea was demoralising, and they should try and prevent it.
  Captain Smith said, in this instance, the circumstances were most exceptional, and the amount of thieving and drunkenness was not more than might have been expected. During the ten years he had been chief constable, only two wrecks of this sort had occurred.
  Mr. Hughes said he was perfectly aware of the exceptional circumstances of this particular case, but he felt satisfied that with arrangements which might have been very simple, nearly the whole of this matter would never have arisen at all. What they wanted to ascertain was what occurred, and especially to see whether they could suggest something to the Government that would meet the difficulty, and check it at the earliest moment, not only in that locality, but in other localities where similar things occurred.
  After some further conversation as to what means of prevention should be adopted, the inquiry was adjourned until Monday. During the investigation, Mr. Booker stated that the quantity of rum shipped in the wrecked vessel was 138 puncheons, 19 hogsheads and 13 barrels, of that were saved 103 puncheons 17 hogsheads and 10 barrels. If the cargo had been safely landed, the revenue to the Government would have been £6888, in place of £1100 only on that which was saved from the wreck.

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