Ulloa 1904

Iron Steamship b Napier, Glasgow 1880, 1049 gt,
Registered Barcelona, voyage Alicante to Liverpool with fruit and wine.
2 cyl comp engines, screw, 87 hp.
Ashore Burbo Bank 10 December 1904.
Captain Vincent de Berrojain, crew 20, all saved.

Contemporary newspaper and lifeboat reports: The ULLOA, was bound for Liverpool with fruit and wine from Barcelona. It was a wild night, and a blizzard blowing, when the vessel struck on Saturday 10 December, on the treacherous Burbo bank. The Captain requested at noon that the lifeboat take the 2nd Officer ashore to report to the Agents. It was blowing strongly from NNE but the crew declined offers to leave, hoping to save the ship. On Sunday, the gale had increased. The ULLOA, swaying like a cradle, drove her keel deeper and deeper into the sand, while the sea poured over her and penetrated the second hatch. Several members of the crew put off at the risk of their lives in the ship's boats and were picked up, but the rest stood by the captain. As evening approached the whole channel became lashed up into foam and presented a terrible sight. About 10 pm, in response to signals of distress, the New Brighton lifeboat went to the rescue, and the remaining 10 members of the crew were, with great difficulty, taken off by the lifeboat.

Captain Vincent Berrojain [written Besrojoen in some reports], however, declined to leave the ship. Had he done so, it would have become a derelict in the eyes of the Salvage Association, and although conscious of the personal risk he ran, he preferred to stay the awful night onboard, in the tumultuous channel in a ship that threatened to break up. He backed, with his life, faith in the vessel that he had commanded so long. Once he tried to lighten the vessel by throwing many boxes of oranges overboard, but still she stuck, immovable, and the cargo in the hold floated in a cauldron of red wine and sea water. To all but the engineer he gave permission to leave the ship, and the engineer escaped only by strategy. "You stay with me, Nicholas," commanded the captain in Spanish. "But you must come off, captain. She'll break up to-night. You must come," the engineer pleaded, taking the captain by the arm. The crew were preparing to depart, the lifeboat was dancing up and down in dangerous proximity to the ULLOA, and the shrill voices of the lifeboatmen were heard by Berrojain. He was still obdurate. "She will not break up and I'm sticking to her, you cowards!" he yelled in rage. Then the sturdy captain backed into his cabin, and, whipping out a revolver, threatened to shoot the first man who laid a hand upon him.

With a painful feeling that they were leaving the brave man to his death, the lifeboatmen at last turned away. At daybreak next morning, an officer of the Salvage Association visited the ULLOA on the steam-tug Reaper. The waves were breaking hard against the vessel, but she was still apparently intact. A lonely figure, that of a sturdy, well-built man of about fifty, was patrolling the deck. When hailed, however, he again declined to forsake his vessel. There was some parleying, and at last the captain promised that if the salvage officer could prove that he had the authority of the owner's Liverpool agents to leave the boat, he would come ashore. This the officer promised to obtain, and later in the afternoon he appeared on the scene with a letter from the firm. Seeing this, Berrojain reluctantly left the ship and went ashore.

The following is an account from Edward "Bev" Brown (retired RNLI cox from New Brighton), and gives a flavour of what life was like well over a century ago on this wild bit of coast. It was a chapter in the Wallasey story as wild as the great storm that caused it. It happened over a century ago; it brought vast crowds; it brought skirmishes with the forces of law and order. This was a massive public grab at harvest from the sea. A rich harvest that came floating into town on the waves of the Mersey. A ship broke its back, and a town broke loose!

It was in the early hours of December 10 1904, that the ULLOA from Barcelona failed to pick up a Mersey Pilot and was swept onto the treacherous Burbo bank. She remained there until the gale in late December (Thursday 29th) which broke her apart and from her holds, fruit and wine floated shorewards, and the calm life of Wallasey was shattered in much the same way as the gale had taken the ULLOA apart. Dawn visitors, on Friday 30th December, to the sands at New Brighton and Leasowe found cases and boxes of oranges and lemons plus hundreds of casks of wine that were piled up in heaps from the Red Noses to Moreton. News of the wreck spread like wildfire, with scavengers coming from Liverpool and Birkenhead. They brought with them containers of every kind, and, according to the local news reports "Some people walked, some hobbled, while others ran." They brought handcarts and wheelbarrows; baskets and boxes. "The wind howled, and so did the great crowd at the sight of all that fruit and fine wine." The scene was a fantastic one; gushing fountains of wine were transferred in an instant to all sorts of containers. Even empty orange skins were utilised, and it was no uncommon sight to see the mouth of a pillowcase yawning with the fruits of the Earth which were scattered on the sand in such profusion.

Contemporary accounts describe the washed up cases of grapes, onions, oranges, and lemons as "uncountable". They represented well over half the ship's total cargo. A local newspaper observed; There were beatific expressions on the faces of everyone who gained the shore, and cast a longing glance at the quantity of the spoil washed up by the sea for their delectation! In between the gusts of wind, could be heard sounds of revelry as the boxes and casks rolled ashore like a miniature invading army. Some of the "wreckers" were so impatient they waded into the surf so they could drag the cargo ashore.

As the wine disappeared down the many throats, so the rowdyism grew. There was dancing, there were fights, and the reporter noted "It was somewhat Bacchanalian" with the sands dyed a blood red in the vicinity of the casks. This continued through Saturday and into the early hours of Sunday, when finally the police and coastguards arrived. All was hurry and scurry. Scuffles broke out, truncheons were used on the more unruly until eventually the crowd was dispersed. But not for long. Under the cover of darkness another small army of men, women, and children invaded the sand and raided the banks of citrus fruits still left on the shore. There was "Much Carousing" and "Scenes of great merriment interspersed with further brawls". The town, he said, had completely broken loose, with several arrests and summonses for "unlawful seizure".
By Monday morning, it was all over, with very little left on the shore. After the huge storm finally broke the ULLOA into pieces, the only things left of her were a few iron plates, the solid, rusted mass of her anchor chain, and the memories of a town gone mad for plunder.

Postcript The remains of the ULLOA were dispersed by blasting by MDHB during January 1905. The position was listed as 53° 27' 10"N, 3° 5' 10"W (OSGB datum) which corresponds to 53°27.15'N, 3 °5.25'W in WGS84 datum. The wrecksite was described as having no sign of wreckage in 1975 and is not shown on the current chart. This location is about 0.22 nm north of the charted "gun" wreck (drying 3.9 metres; for image see Wrecks of Liverpool Bay Volume 2) and some have speculated that the gun wreck may be the Ulloa. However, MDHB list both the gun wreck (as "unknown iron wreck") and the Ulloa. So they consider these locations to be different wrecks. I have suggested that the gun wreck is the Superb, a wooden paddle steamer lost in 1835.