Wrecks in the Dee Estuary

Chris Michael

Sections: Railway Bridge accident; Ferries; Unknown; Audrey Patricia; Lord Delamere; Baron Hill; Aircraft; King George; Parkgate Packets; Duke of Lancaster; Ant ; Leisure Yachts; Lifeboat Rescues; Dee Estuary Losses; Unknown; Entrance Channels; Deux Amis (Prize captured by Privateer Knight).

Some highlights: Sands of Dee ; Dee Rail Bridge Collapse ; Loss of over 100 aboard Packet King George ; Parkgate Packets (Passenger Service to Dublin); Pirate Gold.

The natural head of navigation of the Dee is Chester. Here there was a bridge over the river and an important town. Chester was a port from Roman times on. The original port anchorage was where the Rodee (racecourse) is now - close, as you would expect, to Water Gate. Even in Roman times, an "outport" was maintained - at Meols on the north Wirral shore. By 1855, the port of Chester was alongside the river at Crane Wharf with the Dee Branch canal basin acting as a dock for barges and flats: see here. As the Dee gradually silted up, ports such as Parkgate became more important. They could be reached, given favourable winds, on one tide from the open sea and provided reasonable shelter.

Exports from Chester included cheese, and linen imports from Ireland were significant. The nearby Fflint area provided lead ore which was carried as ballast in sailing vessels. Coal was available from Ness (near Parkgate) and also, later, from mines on the Welsh side of the estuary. There was a significant trade carrying coal to Ireland.

The Dee provided a convenient base for military expeditions to Ireland.
  From 1600, substantial numbers of troops, provisions and equipment were sent to Ireland. For example in early 1600, 800 men were transported to Loch Foyle from the Dee.
  On 16 November 1643, about 2,500 troops (4 regiments of foot and one of horse) landed at Mostyn from Ireland to suport the Royalist cause in the Civil War.
  The Cromwellian invasion of Ireland of 1649-1650 was initially mounted from Milford Haven, but a huge number of sailing vessels were needed to transport troops and their equipemnt. There were complaints from inhabitants of the Wirral about the rapacious conduct of troops waiting to be transported from the Parkgate area.
  In April 1690 King William III (William of Orange) left Hoylake [then a deep water anchorage - the Hyle Lake] with a force of 10,000 troops for Ireland. The King, himself, stayed at Gayton Manor (near Heswall) while waiting for suitable weather to depart from Hoylake. His departure from Hoylake is commemorated by the "King's Gap" - now an area of Hoylake.

The channel in the Dee Estuary has changed considerably over the centuries. The sand (and mud) banks have shifted and built up too. The deep channel used to run near the Wirral coast with ports at Shotwick, Neston, Parkgate, Heswall and Dawpool. Parkgate was a busy port with regular services to Ireland and a ferry crossing to Bagillt. After the new cut was made in 1737 to straighten and canalise the Dee from just below Chester to near Fflint, the deep channel moved over to the Welsh side with quays and ports at Sandycroft, Queensferry, Connahs Quay, Shotton, Fflint, Bagillt, Greenfield, Mostyn and Talacre.

See here for some historic images of shipping in the Dee Estuary.

See here for some old charts from 1697, 1771, 1800, 1840 and from 1850.

See here for some old sailing directions to the Dee Estuary: from 1840 and 1870.

The channel is still changing: so wrecks get covered and old wrecks get exposed. Here I list the best known wrecks.

Wrecks are presented starting from the SE (upriver) working outwards.
Back to top

Dee Rail Bridge Collapse 1847

The first "wreck" is actually not a ship at all - rather a railway accident that precipitated coaches and people into the Dee. The Rail bridge near Chester (just downriver from the Roodee) was opened in 1846. It failed on 24 May 1847 as a passenger train was crossing and some coaches fell (with iron girders from the bridge) into the river Dee. Of the 24 people aboard, there were 5 fatalities.

The bridge had been designed by Robert Stephenson, the son of George Stephenson, for the accommodation of the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway (Shrewsbury to Chester Line). It was built using cast iron girders produced by the Horseley Ironworks, each of which was made of three large castings dovetailed together and bolted to a raised reinforcing piece. Each girder was strengthened by wrought iron bars along the length. It was finished in September 1846, and opened for local traffic after approval by the first Railway Inspector, General Charles Pasley.

On 24 May 1847, the carriages of a local passenger train from Chester to Ruabon, going at about 30 miles per hour, fell through one of the 98 ft cast-iron spans of the bridge into the river. The engine and its tender got across but the coaches fell with the girders into the river Dee. The engine was actually able to proceed (without tender) and so warn other approaching trains. The accident resulted in five deaths (three passengers, the train guard and the locomotive fireman) and nine serious injuries.

Image of the aftermath of the accident (showing derailed tender and carriages in the river):

Image of Dee railway bridge a few years later(at far upper left).

Fuller Reports into the Accident

Robert Stephenson was accused at a local inquest of negligence. Although strong in compression, cast iron was known to be brittle in tension or bending, yet the bridge deck was covered with track ballast on the day of the accident, to prevent the oak beams supporting the track from catching fire. Stephenson took that precaution because of a recent fire on the Great Western Railway at Hanwell, in which a bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel had caught fire and collapsed. The Dee bridge disaster was a traumatic event which led to the demise of cast iron beam bridges reinforced by wrought iron tie bars.

The bridge was fully rebuilt in 1870-1 using bricks and wrought iron. Bridge in 2014.

Back to top

River Dee Ferry Crossings

Before the Queensferry road bridge (Blue, opening, built in 1897 and rebuilt in 1927) and nearby opening rail bridge (built 1889), the first bridge over the Dee was at Chester. Ferry services were available at several locations. After the new cut was made in 1737, a ferry service was established at Lower Ferry (later called King's Ferry and then Queen's Ferry) - located exactly where the blue Queensferry Bridge is now.
  Aston Quay (referred to in the report below as Aston Stage) was located on the Fflint side of the river just up-river of the location of the A55 road bridge.
  Here I first record one of the largest losses of life associated with these ferry services:

DROWNING OF ELEVEN PERSONS IN THE DEE. BY UPSET OF A BOAT. 1824

It is with feelings of extreme regret; we [contemporary newspaper North Wales Gazette] have to record a most frightful accident, by which eleven human beings have been deprived of life, and which occurred on Monday night week [29 June 1824], at the Lower Ferry, about 6 miles down the Dee from Chester. On the above day, a great number of people, chiefly from the Flintshire side, had collected together, at the Ferry-house, which is also an ale-house, kept by Arthur Gregory, to witness a sort of rowing matches, and after the close of the day had retired to the house, to enjoy themselves with good cheer and a dance. Soon after ten o'clock, some of the company, who had to cross the river, were on the move and the moment was extremely unpropitious. The first of the flood, or what is commonly called the head of the tide, passed up the river at this place about half-past ten, when the ferry-boat for the first time crossed full of women.

Our informant, who was at the landing-place on the opposite side, saw them make the shore with the greatest difficulty. The boat returned, and brought over another load, who were in the greatest danger, the boat being so full as not to allow the passengers to sit down. The young men who managed the boat then said, they would not bring any more over till high water. However, at about twenty minutes before that, they again attempted - but having advanced nearly to the middle of the river, the obvious danger arising from the impetuosity of the current, determined the young men who had the management of the boat, to return. A contest now commenced which terminated in the fatal catastrophe; several of the head strong young men who composed a portion of the passengers, and who it seems had sacrificed too freely to the Bacchanalian god, insisted upon being put over, and two of them, Robert Bartington and William Davidson, forcibly seized the oars from the boatmen, and heedlessly dashed into the stream. The boat now contained at least fifteen individuals, among whom were three females, we say at least, because some doubt exists whether another female with an infant in her arms, was not also in the boat. With such a load, the boat could not be more than four inches out of the water; the tide, running from seven to eight knots an hour, swept the boat with the greatest rapidity up to Aston stage, where it struck the stern or bows of the sloop Thetis, with a violence which instantly upset the boat, and plunged the passengers into the watery element. The shrieks of the unhappy people were at this moment most appalling but they presently subsided, the poor creatures bring driven under and against four other vessels lying in the river near the spot. The hands on board these vessels lost no time in manning their boats, but comparatively little help could be afforded, the tide passing, to use the sailors' words, like lightning.

Through their indefatigable exertions, however, four individuals were rescued from a watery grave, - viz. Thomas Latham, one of the ferry boys, and Robert Price, of Kelsterton, taken in on board the Thetis: and Frank Toliett, of Shotton, and Benjamin Bethell, the other ferry boy, on board the Speedwell. These were the only persons who escaped the melancholy fate of drowning. As soon us the catastrophe could be known, the boatmen of the sloops were joined by fishermen in the immediate neighbourhood, who continued during the whole of the night searching for the missing bodies, and by seven o'clock in the morning, four had been taken out of the water, dead. Since then, the body only of a female has been discovered, which was found on Tuesday evening on one of the grinds on the Flintshire side, nearly five miles further up the river from the spot were the fatal accident happened, and which was left there on the receding of the tide.

The names of the persons whose dead bodies have been rescued from the river, are as follows:
William Roberts of Buckley,
Robert Bartington of Saltney,
Ellen Hulse, of Saltney,
Ann Hulse, of ditto,
Sarah Lewis, of ditto.
  The two Hulses were sisters, and with Sarah Lewis, lived under the same roof. Roberts has left a wife and seven children, and she is also near her confinement of the eighth; and Bartington an aged father and mother, who were in a great measure dependant upon him for subsistence. It is impossible to describe the heart-rending scene which the shores of the Dee presented on the morning of Tuesday. The news of the accident had brought numbers together, among whom were groups of the friends and relatives of the unfortunate sufferers, making solicitous enquiries after their fate. There are known to be six still missing, independent of the woman and infant, concerning whom as before noticed, there are some doubts. Their names are,
Abel Ball, of Wepre,
Thomas Read, of Mancott, farmer,
William Davidson, ship-carpenter, Ewloe.
Joseph Jones, of Buckley.
Robert Jones, of Shotton,
Edward Jones, of Shotton.
  Thus has perished from intemperate indiscretion eleven individuals, respectable and useful members of society.

The drags of the humane society, and muscle[sic] and fluke rakes have been employed from Chester to Connah's Quay, in search of the remaining six missing bodies, but without success, and it is feared the tides may have sanded them. Many of the fishermen and other individuals deserve great praise for their exertions on this occasion; but considering the number of opulent individuals, who reside in the neighbourhood, and the interest which the River Dee Company ought to feel in so melancholy an event, it is to be lamented that more prompt and early efforts were not made to discover the bodies, by offering such premiums as would have induced a more active and efficient search. The condition of the boat, and the mutilated state of the oars, have been represented as highly defective. Of this, however, we know nothing but by vague report, but we have no doubt, if such be the fact, the humane agent of the Dee Company will feel it to be his duty to pay a proper regard to them for the future. We have learnt that a subscription has been set on foot, commenced by the highly respectable Rector of Hawarden, to remunerate the labours of men to be employed to search for the remainder of the dead bodies.

Further fatal accidents in crossing the Dee Estuary

There was, for many years, a ferry service from Parkgate to Fflint (or to Bagillt) on the Welsh shore. Also, at low tide, it was possible to cross on foot. Here I collect contemporary newspaper reports of several fatal accidents.

Another Dee Ferry accident 1799
  Wednesday the 18th December 1799: the Friends passage-boat was, in consequence of carrying too much sail in a gale of wind, overset on her passage from Flint to Parkgate, by which accident two women (passengers) were unfortunately drowned: two boatmen, by clinging to the mast, were fortunately saved, and taken up. There was another passage boat in company with the Friends, but at too great a distance to save the unfortunate sufferers, one of which, an industrious widow, has left a family of six children; the other passenger was a young woman, going into service. This fatal accident, it is hoped, will in future be a caution to the carrying of too much sail, as has been the case for some time past, in consequence of the Flint and Parkgate boats endeavouring to out-sail each other, to the great danger and terror of the passengers.

Accident crossing the Dee 1821
  Early on Friday morning[10th August], a man and his wife, with a young child, ventured on an attempt to cross the sands from Parkgate to Flint with a horse and cart loaded with herrings. This is something done at low water by persons who are particularly conversant with the track, though at the best an hazardous undertaking. In this present instance, it proved fatally disastrous to the whole party who were all drowned.

Inspiration for "Mary called the cattle home"?

Charles Kingsley's 1850 Novel Alton Locke contains words created to accompany a melancholy air:

  Mary, go and call the cattle home, And call the cattle home, And call the cattle home, Across the sands of Dee; The western wind was wild and dank with foam, And all alone went she.
  The western tide crept up along the sand, And o'er and o'er the sand, And round and round the sand, As far as eye could see. The rolling mist came down and hid the land: And never home came she.
  Oh! is it weed, or fish, or floating hair? A tress of golden hair, A drowned maiden's hair, Above the nets at sea? Was never salmon yet that shone so fair, Among the stakes on Dee.
  They rowed her in across the rolling foam, The cruel crawling foam, The cruel hungry foam, To her grave beside the sea: But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home, Across the sands of Dee.

This poem (it has no title) became better known from a silent film of 1912 called "Sands of Dee". In the book Alton Locke, the inspiration is said to be "a beautiful sketch by Copley Fielding, if I recollect rightly, which hung on the wall - a wild waste of tidal sands, with here and there a line of stake-nets fluttering in the wind" and overhearing others discussing it "One of them had seen the spot represented, at the mouth of the Dee, and began telling wild stories of salmon-fishing, and wildfowl shooting - and then a tale of a girl, who, in bringing her father's cattle home across the sands, had been caught by a sudden flow of the tide, and found next day a corpse hanging around the stake-nets far below".
  The most likely
sketch is actually of "A View of Snowdon from the Sands of Traeth Mawr, taken at the Ford Between Pont Aberglaslyn and Tremadoc" by Copley Fielding in 1834. This was transposed by Kingsley to the Dee Estuary. Although Kingsley was a Canon of Chester Cathedral from 1870, there is no direct evidence that he was familiar with the Dee Estuary at the time he wrote the poem in 1850, but the Kingsley family was originally from Cheshire [the village of Kingsley is a few miles SE of Frodsham].

However, it is plausible that it was based on a real tragedy: Cattle were grazed on the salt marshes near Parkgate and Neston. The fishermen would have retrieved the body. Although, no record of such a loss has been found. In the book, the inspiration is quoted as "that picture of the Cheshire sands, and the story of the drowned girl".

Boat Accident at Parkgate 1864

At twelve o'clock on Friday night last[27 May 1864], a distressing boat accident occurred at Parkgate, which has cast a complete gloom all over the district and thrown several highly respectable families into mourning.
  It appears that at ten o'clock on Friday morning a party of five [plus the boatman] took an excursion into Wales, crossing the river Dee from Parkgate to Bagillt, in Flintshire. The party consisted of Mr Thomas Johnson, proprietor of the Pengwern Arms Hotel, or Boathouse, at Parkgate; his brother Mr Joseph Johnston, a landing-waiter belonging to her Majesty's customs at Liverpool; Mr J. F. Grossman, secretary to the Liverpool Licensed Victuallers' Association and Mr J. H. Holland and Mr Frederick Holland (brothers), of Chester, who had been staying at Parkgate during the last fortnight making a Survey of the channels of the Dee.
  Their intention was, if possible, to return with the same tide. The weather was, however, so calm that upwards of an hour and a half was occupied in crossing; and finding that they could not return by that tide, the party landed at Bagillt and walked to Holywell, where they spent the day. At ten o'clock the company left Bagillt in the boat on their return to Parkgate. It was moonlight, with a steady breeze, and a pleasant voyage was anticipated. The boat made a rapid passage, but on arriving within a short distance of the Cheshire side it was found that the jetty was covered with the tide, which was just beginning to ebb, and the wind having freshened considerably a heavy swell rendered it imprudent to attempt to get alongside the river wall. The boat accordingly lay-to for an hour, awaiting the receding of the tide. It was then determined to endeavour to effect a landing in a small boat or punt which lay at anchor a short distance from the shore, and which, it was thought, would be more manageable. One of the gentlemen, it is said, called out that the punt would not carry them all with safety; but this intimation of danger seems to have been disregarded, and five persons, including Richard Evans, the boatman, got on board. Mr. Thomas Johnson, who was a stout, heavy man, was the last to leave the larger vessel, and no sooner had he placed his feet on the side of the punt than the little craft capsized, and the whole party were precipitated into the water.
  Thomas Johnson, a young man about 20 years of age, eldest son of Mr Thomas Johnson, was standing on the esplanade waiting the arrival of his father and his friends, and witnessed the melancholy accident, but, in consequence of the strong current that was running, could render little or no assistance to the unfortunate persons who were struggling for their lives in the water. Mr J. H. Holland, who had remained in the large boat, being a good swimmer, immediately stripped and jumped into the water and swam to the assistance of one of his unfortunate comrades. He was unable to reach him, however, and after several ineffectual attempts he made for the shore, which he succeeded in reaching in a very exhausted state. Mr Frederick Holland also managed with difficulty to reach the shore. Mr Crossman, although not a swimmer, struck out in the best way he could, and fortunately gained the land in safety; he afterwards received very kind attention from the landlady of the Union Hotel, and a gentleman who happened to be staying at the house. Richard Evans was taken out of the water in an exhausted state. Mr Thomas Johnson was also taken out of the water alive, and was removed to the cottage of Evans (that being the nearest house), but he was so much exhausted that be never rallied, and death ensued before the arrival of a medical man. Mr Joseph Johnson was carried down with the current and was drowned. His body was found near Heswall - fully a mile from where the disaster occurred - at five o'clock in the morning, and removed to the Pengwern Arms Hotel, where it was placed in the same apartment with the corpse of his brother. The boatman, Evans, was so much exhausted by his immersion that he was not considered out of danger until late on Saturday.
  Mr Thomas Johnson was about 50 years of age, and was highly respected at Parkgate and in the Hundred of Wirral generally. Besides being the owner and landlord of the Pengwern Arms Hotel, he was proprietor of the omnibuses plying between Parkgate, Hooton, and Birkenhead Ferry. He has left a widow and eight children. His brother, Mr Joseph Johnson, as has been already stated, was a landing-waiter belonging to the Liverpool customs, and resided in Crown-street. He has left a widow and four children.
  The catastrophe has produced quite a mournful sensation at Parkgate and Neston, and on Saturday and Sunday the blinds were drawn in a great number of the houses in the locality.
  At the inquest, on Monday, the jury returned a verdict to the effect that deceased were accidentally drowned, the verdict being accompanied with a presentment that in the opinion of the jury the landing stage opposite the Pengwern Arms was too low, too short, and quite insufficient for the landing of passengers at certain states of the tide.

Boating Disaster on the Dee. A Family of 3 Drowned. 1884
  A sad boating accident occurred on the Dee, at Queensferry, late on Saturday night [20 December 1884], which cast a gloom over the inhabitants of Hawarden, Queensferry, and district, and which resulted in the loss of three lives. It appears that a Christmas draw was being held at the Ferry House, a public-house kept by Miss Gregory, on the Cheshire side of the river. The draw was attended by a number of persons from the Flintshire side, and at about a quarter past ten, most of the party started across the river on the return journey. The party included Robert Jackson, a cooper, together with his wife and his son, three years of age; Robert Catherall; John Catherall, a porter at Queensferry Station; Henry Hough, weighing-machine clerk at Ashton Hall Colliery; Samuel Roberts, a labourer at Sandycroft Foundry; Joseph Latham, labourer at Connah's Quay Chemical Works; John Massey, labourer at Turner's Chemical Works; John Davies, labourer at the same works; Samuel Edwards, coachman and gardener, in the employ of Mr. Rowley, Dee Bank and John Jones, the boatman.
  At the point of crossing, the river is about 100 yards wide, and when the party had accomplished half the distance, John Catherall stated to Jones that the boat was filling with water. Almost immediately after he made the remark, the boat sank, and twelve persons were struggling in the water. The shouts for assistance proceeding from the men, and, above all, the piteous cries of the drowning woman are described as heartrending. Most of the party, several of whom could not swim, succeeded in gaining the shore by the aid of the two oars. Robert Catherall's escape was marvellous. The poor fellow has only one arm, but during his struggle in the water he seized the boatman's coat tail with his only hand, and was so towed safely ashore. John Catherall, owing to the darkness, swam a long distance in the direction of the sea, and it was almost too late when he found out his mistake, for he reached the shore in a perfectly exhausted state. The Jackson family, however - father, mother, and only child - were drowned, and though the river was dragged throughout Sunday, not one body has yet been found. A woman's bonnet, supposed to be Mrs. Jackson's, was discovered on Sunday morning. The boat belongs to the River Dee Company, and is described by the survivors, who were ignorant of its condition before they embarked, as unfit to carry such a number of passengers.
Back to top

Unknown Wooden Wreck

Wreck of wooden vessel alongside staging in canalised portion of River Dee

This view shows the wreck of a 20th-century timber coastal vessel registered at Peterhead, Scotland. She now lies aground next to a substantial timber landing stage on north-east bank of the River Dee, at Hawarden Bridge, above Connahs Quay at 53° 13.179'N, 3° 2.329'W.

Back to top

Audrey Patricia

Wreck of 13.5m Fishing Vessel AUDREY PATRICIA alongside the scrapyard berth at Connahs Quay.

Image of
Audrey Patricia afloat.

She was reported to have sunk at her moorings on 2 Dec 2012 in position 53° 13.332' N, 3° 3.589' W with about 50 litres of diesel released. She was registered as LN486 with shellfish licence, 30 tons register, steel hull, 216 hp, built 2008. The wreck is scheduled to be removed on 1 Oct 2018.
Back to top

Lord Delamere

Wreck of steam barge Lord Delamere 131 tons. Wooden hull, length 86 ft, width 20ft, draught 9ft. Owned Salt Union then Joseph Forster of Liverpool. Built Ann Deakin, Winsford. Engines 2cyl, 1 boiler, 24 h.p., screw by G. Deakin. Crew 3.

For more detail of the circumstances of the loss, see here .

From Flintshire Observer 16 Oct 1913

AGROUND IN THE DEE. Mishap to Steam Barge.
The steam barge, "Lord Delamere," hailing from Liverpool, grounded on Tuesday [13 October 1913] opposite the North Wales Paper Mills, Flint [at Oakenholt]. It was heavily laden with grain for the Cobden Flour Mills, Wrexham, and was proceeding to Connah's Quay. During high water only the masts are seen, but at, low water yesterday some of the grain was unloaded by smaller vessels. It is feared that the barge will become a total wreck, having been badly strained.

Her grain cargo swelled which burst her hull and she was a total loss. She is on the SW bank opposite the North training wall. She had been under the charge of a Dee Pilot (William Taylor) and a court case was initiated against the Dee Conservancy, but not followed up.

This wreck was marked by a buoy in the 1930s which was discontinued. A mast was visible in the 1980s. Because of changes to the channel which is shifting SW, it was marked again from 2013 by an Isolated Danger Buoy (red+black) at 53° 14.31' N, 3° 5.32' W near the wreck position.
Back to top

Baron Hill


Brigantine Baron Hill 224gt, 198nt, registered Liverpool.
Built William Thomas, Amlwch, 1876 224gt, 198nt;
119ft length x 25ft breadth x 13ft 4in depth; 1 deck, 3 masts
Owned William Postlethwaite of Millom.
  The three-masted schooner BARON HILL (named after an estate near Beaumaris) was built at Amlwch in April 1876 and was owned by Millom's William Postlethwaite from 1876 until her loss on the 26th March 1898. Travelling from Flint to Newcastle with a cargo of salt cake, the Baron Hill was towed out and then stranded and lost in wind conditions ENE Force 6 in the Dee estuary 2 miles from Flint. The master was Capt. L. Hughes and there was a crew of six. Her crew managed to get safely ashore. Within two days she was a total wreck and being stripped.

Contemporary newspaper report:

On Thursday a severe gale from a north-easterly direction commenced to blow at this port [Connahs Quay], and continued throughout Friday and Saturday. On the wharves the full violence of the storm was felt, the cold being intense and snow falling at intervals. During high water at the docks on Thursday the river presented a turbulent appearance, and ships that had completed loading were quite unable to move out. The same difficulty was experienced on Friday, but steam tugs were employed, and a few of the ships succeeded in getting into the river after a most exciting time. On Friday's tide a large schooner, named the Baron Hill (350 tons burthen), loaded with a cargo of salt cake from Flint to Newcastle-on-Tyne, left the former place in tow of the steam tug Manxman in the teeth of the gale in the hope of safely reaching deep water in the Wild Roads. She had not proceeded far when she grounded in the river, and all efforts during the following night's tide to get her off proved unavailing. It is said that during Sunday a large amount of water was in the hold, and the crew had to leave the ship. One of the masts has been carried away, and it is feared the ship will break up and become a total wreck.

 A court case was later brought in respect of the damages sustained by the steamer[sic] Baron Hill, of Liverpool, in a collision[sic] with plaintiffs' tug Manxman. The casualty occurred on March 25th last, in the river Dee, when the Manxman was towing the Baron Hill from Flint to Wild Roads, and the result was that the latter vessel took the ground, and both she and her cargo had subsequently to be abandoned. The plaintiff admitted that the collision was brought about by the negligent navigation of their tug.

The wreck was shown on the HO chart (1978) until the 2000s in position 53° 16.65' N, 3° 8.45'W (OSGB36 datum). This is about 2 miles North of Fflint. She was marked by a wreck buoy until 2002. After inspection at LW, the wreck is now classified as "dead". The wreck buoy was marked "Barron Hill" - a different spelling.
Back to top

Aircraft Wrecks

Several aircraft were recorded as lost in the Dee river and estuary in the Second World War. There were nearby airfields at Sealand and Hawarden and many training flights, some of which ended badly.

A Hurricane aircraft from Hawarden OTU was wrecked in the Dee off Fflint on 31 December 1944 [RAF records as in Scotland!].
Citation: Nussey, Douglas Richard Kyrke F/O(P) J43333/R207038 From Hudson Heights, Quebec. Killed Dec 31 1944 age 20. #41 Operational Training Unit. F/O Nussey lost his life when his Hurricane aircraft #LF369 crashed four hundred yards off shore, one mile north of Flint. Flying Officer Pilot Nussey has no known grave, his name is inscribed on the Runnymede War Memorial, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey, England.2

A German He111 (No. 2874) was shot down and the wreckage landed on Bagillt marshes on 4-5-1941. Image of wreckage:

This area is now covered in mud.

RAF records of losses:
Spitfire 12-9-1940 forced landing in River Dee near Flint, written off
Master 24-9-1940 abandoned in a spin and crashed into Dee estuary
Spitfire 21-9-1941 hit mudflats in Dee Estuary
Spitfire 15-8-1942 forced landing near Holywell, pilot killed
Spitfire 26-7-1943 crashed at Talacre
Spitfire 19-5-1944 crashed at Talacre
Spitfire 24-7-1944 hit drogue, crashed SW of West Kirby.
Mustang 5-2-1946 crashed into Welsh Channel, pilot killed.
Spitfire 21-5-1950 hit sandbank 3 miles east of Point of Ayr
Chipmunk 20-7-1954 hit Bagillt sandbank 1 mile west of Flint

RNLI and rescue boat records list rescues to several aircraft crashes in the sea:
near the Dee Buoy 9-1-1943 4 airmen were recovered by the Hoylake Lifeboat after spending a night afloat in their small dinghy
at Llanerych-y-mor (one mile SE) 17-7-1944 a Martinet HP242 (two rescued)
off Talacre 24-7-1944 a Spitfire BM113 (hit drogue during firing practice, sank, crew lost).
at Llanerch-y-mor (300 yards off) 15-3-1945 Anson EG186 ditched, crew saved, airframe later salvaged.
Back to top

Parkgate Packets

Parkgate was an important point of departure for passenger ships travelling to Dublin. The Parkgate Packets were sailing ships (mostly two masted) that could take the ground. A Packet service meant a regular (as weather allowed) service which took passengers (it did not carry mails in this case). They also took cargo. There was a good road link from London to Chester and a coach service from there to Parkgate which had hotels and other facilities. Many famous people: Handel (returning from Dublin in August 1742); Rev John Wesley (many times), Jonathan Swift (from Dublin 1707, return 1709), etc used this service. Parkgate was an anchorage and the packet vessels were loaded and unloaded using boats from two wooden piers.

Image of Parkgate-Dublin Packet ship Royal Yacht Dorset leaving Dublin, 1788.

The Dee Estuary up to Parkgate in 1771 (South up) from Burdett's Chart:

Initially the Royal Navy provided a service, using Royal Yachts. Subsequently John Bibby of Liverpool (among others) had ships in this trade. A crossing took at least 14 hours. In 1795-6 about 80 such voyages a year were recorded (in vessels Prince of Wales, Princess Royal, King, Queen, Lady Fitzgibbon). The service was at its peak around 1790 and had dwindled by 1830 when a good road to Holyhead (with a much shorter sea crossing); steamship service from Liverpool and the silting up of the Dee, all curtailed activities.

There were several significant shipwrecks in this service. Only one (King George) occurred wholly within the Dee estuary; while two were on the Hoyle Bank which is at the entrance to the Dee Estuary. Note that a wreck within the Dee Estuary (at Hilbre Island) is recorded for a sailing packet (also named Dublin) on the Dublin-Liverpool service in 1759.
  Unknown 1637; Anglesey, many lost
  Mary 1675; Skerries, over 35 lost
  Neptune 1748; Hoyle bank, over 100 lost
  Dublin 1758; Irish Sea, up to 50 lost
  Eagle 1766; Irish Sea, more than 10 lost
  Nonpareil 1775; Hoyle bank, over 100 lost
  Trevor 1775; off Blackpool, over 30 lost
  Charlemont 1790; Holyhead, 110 lost
  Queen 1796; off Birkdale, 0 lost
  King George 1805; Dee, 125 lost
  Prince of Wales 1807; Dublin, 120 lost

A Packet(name unknown) from the Dee Estuary (starting location named as Chester) to Dublin was lost on 10 August 1637. It was carrying Edward King, aged 25, a fellow of Christ's College Cambridge, an acquaintance (and previously a fellow student) of the poet John Milton. King was travelling to visit his brother and two sisters in Ireland. The vessel was coasting in weather [variously described as calm and as stormy] along the Welsh shore, when it struck on a rock, was stove in by the shock and foundered. The most likely area, where rocks would be close to the vessel's route, is the north coast of Anglesey. With the exception of a few who managed to get into a boat, all on board perished.
  King is said to have behaved with calm heroism; after a vain endeavour to prevail upon him to enter the boat, he was left on board, and was last seen kneeling on deck in the act of prayer. His body was not recovered. John Milton wrote a poem, Lycidas, published in a collection of elegies in memory of Edward King. This poem is regarded by many as one of the finest in the English language.

The (ex - Royal Yacht) Mary was used to carry dignitaries between the Dee to Dublin. She was wrecked on the Skerries (low lying rocky island on the NW corner of Anglesey) in 1675 with 35 lost. This wreck has been located by divers and is now a protected wreck.
  More details:
Loss of Mary 1675

One of the first to be documented by newspapers was the loss of the Neptune (Capt. Whittle) on 19 January 1748. She left Parkgate with over 100 on board and reached Chester Bar where the weather forced her to turn back. She struck on the West Hoyle Bank with the loss of all aboard. Two other passenger-carrying vessels left at the same time, but they managed to get back safely to Parkgate.
  More details:
Loss of Neptune 1748

Another wreck occured in October 1758 when the Dublin (Captain White; also called Dublin Trader; Dublin Merchant and Chester Trader) foundered on a voyage from Dublin to Parkgate carrying 40-70 passengers. There was citicism at the time about the seaworthiness of the Neptune and of the Dublin.
  More details:
Loss of Dublin 1758

In 1766 the Eagle (Captain Sugars) from Dublin to Parkgate foundered in the Irish sea. Some passengers and crew survived in her boat after 36 hours at sea. Some distinguished passengers were lost.
  More details:
Loss of Eagle 1766

In a letter dated 12 Nov 1771; the masters of 11 ships warn of coal ships, trading from Ness[near Parkgate] to Dublin, claiming to be Parkgate Traders. Those ships which claimed to be "proper" passenger packets were: Royal Charlotte; Alexander; Britannia; Kildare; King George; Hibernia; Nonpareil; Venus; Polly; Smith; Fly.
  Note that this list does not include the Trevor - which indeed is listed as carrying coal in ship arrival/departure lists.

On October 19 1775 the Nonpareil(Capt. Samuel Davies) and the Trevor(Capt. William Tottie) were both wrecked in a severe storm while sailing from Parkgate to Dublin. They reached a position close to Holyhead when the wind increased to hurricane force from the west. This drove them back - the Nonpareil was lost on Hoyle Bank with the loss of everyone aboard while the Trevor was lost off the shore near Rossall (North of Blackpool) with only one sailor surviving (who managed to transfer to another vessel, Charming Molly, being driven towards the shore at the same time). Passenger and crew losses were 143 in total (200 in some reports): allocated as 113 on the Nonpareil and 30 on the Trevor.
  One of the distinguished passengers lost aboard the Nonpareil was Major Francis Caulfield (brother of Lord Charlemont) who - ironically - had been pressing the captain to leave, even though the Captain was reluctant because of the weather, and, indeed, only succeeded in getting out from Parkgate at the third attempt.
  These vessels were carrying items valued at £30,000 comprising rich silks, raw and thrown silks, gold and silver watches, silver plate, plated goods, thread and silk laces, jewellery, haberdashery wares, woollen cloth, and other valuable effects. The Nonpareil was carrying a coach which was washed up on the north Wirral shore with a number of silver candlesticks stowed in it. Adverts were put in local newspapers warning that plunderers would be prosecuted and offering a 10% reward for any items retrieved.
 
More details of loss of Trevor and Nonpareil (including information on shipping damaged in the Dee Estuary).
  In 1785, two Parkgate-built vessels (King and Queen) were launched to replace the two lost - they were reported as of 100 tons burthen. One of them was subsequently lost on the coast near Southport:

Loss of Queen 1796; Parkgate - Dublin Packet
Wooden sailing vessel, b Parkgate 1785; 100 tons
Captain Miller; voyage Parkgate to Dublin; all crew and passengers saved.
Ashore Birkdale (near Southport) 3 Dec 1796.

Local newspapers describe the Queen Packet, Captain Miller, with passengers from Parkgate to Dublin, as totally lost on the Lancashire Coast, near Formby.
  A later report specifies the site as Birkdale Beach on the evening of 3 Dec 1796. The Captain was highly complimented by the passengers for his abilities and humane attention, from the time she foundered, till they and the crew, by means of the boat, had with much difficulty escaped the fury of the waves, and were safely landed.

Image of Parkgate Packets:

A substantial loss of life occured on Sunday 19 December 1790. The Packet Charlemont from Parkgate was unable to dock at Dublin because of adverse weather. Scared and seasick passengers pleaded to be put ashore at Holyhead, but the captain and crew were unfamiliar with the coastline there. In attempting to seek shelter at Holyhead, she was wrecked on the north side of Salt Island in the entrance to the harbour with the loss of 110 lives. Only 16 people survived.
  More details of Charlemont Loss.

Yet another loss of a Parkgate Packet was in 1807 when the Prince of Wales was chartered to bring troops from Dublin to Liverpool. Along with another vessel, Rochdale, employed similarly; they were both wrecked on the shore between Dun Laoghaire and Dublin with a huge loss of life.
  More details of loss of Prince of Wales and Rochdale.
  Note that the Prince of Wales had been involved in an earlier accident in 1787 when John Wesley was aboard.
Back to top

King George

The largest loss of life in the Dee Estuary was when the Parkgate to Dublin Packet Ship King George stranded and was lost on 14 September 1806 on the Salisbury Bank. There were 125 (106 in some reports) fatalities and only 6 were saved. One report is that 118 out of 119 passengers were lost.
Very approximate position 53° 19.5N, 3° 12.0W.

Chart of Dee from 1800 (not north up) showing Salisbury Bank:

Local comment was that the ship had too fine a bow - so would not take the ground in a stable way. She had previously been a privateer and then a Harwich Packet, and was on only her second crossing to Dublin. Many of the bodies of survivors washed up on the Wirral shore and were buried at Neston Church.
There is a record of the Hoylake Lifeboat (operated by the Liverpool Dock Board at that time; from 1803) being called out - but unable to help.

From the Cambrian Newspaper 27 Sep 1806 [warning: rather racist account]:

AFFECTING SHIPWRECK. The King George packet, Captain Walker, bound from Parkgate to Dublin, sailed from Parkgate at twelve o'clock on Sunday, with a flag at her topmast-head, full tide, weather hazy, and drizzling rain, with the wind nearly directly south. At half past one she struck on the Salisbury Sand Bank, and remained nearly four hours dry, with part of her crew on the sands, waiting for the next tide. No apprehensions were then entertained of her having received any injury. On the return of the tide, the wind veered round to the west, and she received the wind and tide right on her side, resting against her anchor. As the tide came in, she filled, rapidly with water; the night was dark, with rain.

Her passengers, mostly Irish harvest-men, above a hundred in number, who were going home with the pittances of their labours to their families, were under hatches. The pumps were soon choaked, and the water came so fast on the Irishmen in the hold, that they drew their large pocket harvest knives, and with a desperation that a dread of death alone inspires, slew one another to make their way upon deck. The wind and waves beating hard upon her side, her cable broke, and she was drifted round with her head towards the tide, and lay upon her side. They were three miles from any vessel, and could not, or at least did not, give any signal that was heard.

The boat was launched, and ten of the crew, among which was the Captain and an Irish gentleman, got into it. It was nearly full of water, and death on all sides stared them in the face. Her Captain seeing some of his best sailors still with the vessel, and falsely hoping she might remain the tide, which had nearly an hour and a half to flow, went again on board; the Irish gentleman and three others followed him. One of the sailors in the boat, seeing a poor Irish sailor boy clinging to the side of the vessel, pulled him by the hair of the head into the boat, cut the rope that fastened it to the vessel, and the tide drove them away.

At this time great numbers ran screaming up the mast; a woman with her child fastened to her back, was at the top-mast-head: the masts broke, the vessel being on her side, and they were all precipitated into the waves! Only five men and the poor Irish sailor boy have escaped; the remainder, 125 in number, among which were seven cabin passengers, perished. The boat and her little crew were driven up by this tide to within a quarter of a mile of Parkgate. They heard the cries of the sufferers distinctly for half an hour. The ebb tide washed the vessel down into the deep water, and she was seen no more till the next tide drove her up. She lies on her side, with her keel towards Parkgate, and her head to the Welsh coast; her lower masts and rigging out of water.


Back to top

Duke of Lancaster

The ferry Duke of Lancaster was intentionally run aground at Llanerych-y-mor (53° 18.393'N, 3° 14.139'W) to provide a "Fun ship" in 1979. She is now (2017) abandoned and fenced off and has recently been painted a dark colour(2018 image) to be less of an eyesore. There is a barge aground nearby (53° 18.394'N, 3° 14.116'W).

Duke of Lancaster: info here

Photos of ship and barge.

Back to top

Ant

Wooden sailing barge (Mersey Flat), ketch-rigged (also called jigger).
b 1863 (possibly by Clare at Sankey Bridges who built the ketch Mayfly in 1869)
47 tons [110 tons deadweight], owned Clare's Lighterage Co.
Port Dinorwic to Sankey Bridges with roofing slates.
Captain John Waterworth of Runcorn and mate Richard Wainwright of Widnes: both saved
19 February 1907; sank by collision of SS Jane while anchored
in Wild Road (Dee Estuary), off Mostyn (53°19'N, 3°15'W OSGB)

The Ant [unusual name - maybe to economise on signage?] with a crew of two [this is less than the usual 3-4 crew for Mersey Flats when in the open sea] was bringing roofing slates from Port Dinorwic [in Menai Straits] to Sankey Bridges [up the Sankey Canal accessed from the Mersey by locks at Widnes or Fidler's Ferry]. Owing to the rough weather (wind force 7), the Ant was taken into the shelter of the Dee Estuary and anchored in Wild Road off Mostyn.

While her crew were asleep, at about 3:30am, the Ant was struck by the SS Jane (Liverpool registered, owned Monk and Co.) which caused her to sink in a few minutes. The two on board the Ant were picked up by the boat of the Jane and landed at Llanerch y Mor.

A buoy was put to mark the wreck and was withdrawn by 1919 as the site was covered in sand. The site is now not shown on the HO chart and is listed as "dead".

Record of court case to establish responsibility for the collision:
DEE ESTUARY COLLISION     BARGE OWNERS' CLAIM:
  Before his Honour Judge Shand, sitting under Admiralty jurisdiction in the Liverpool County Court, on Friday, assisted by Captains Thomas Pardy and John Trenery, as nautical assessors, the owners of the barge Ant sought to recover from the owners of the screw steamer Jane, £300 in respect of the sinking of the Ant by collision with the Jane in Mostyn Roads, on the 19th February last. Mr. Segar appeared for the owners of the Ant, and Mr. Alec Bateson for the owners of the Jane.
  The plaintiffs' case was that the Ant, which was a ketch rigged vessel of 110 tons dead-weight, anchored through stress of weather in Mostyn Roads, Dee estuary, on the 18th February. The Ant's captain, John Waterworth, put out his riding light, but could not keep it alight, on account of the violence of the wind. About half past one in the morning, however, the master saw that the light was burning, and retired below with the mate - the only other member of the crew - and went to sleep. The Jane struck the Ant about half-past three. The latter sank, and both, the captain and the mate, were rescued by the crew of the Jane.
  Captain Waterworth also maintained that the Jane was to blame for the collision for having attempted to leave her anchorage in the roads by a course which afforded very little room, when she could have gone by a wider and, therefore, safer course.
  The allegation of improper lookout was strongly denied by Captain David Monks, master of the Jane, and he also asserted that the course he took in leaving the roads was a perfectly safe one. The Ant had no light burning, and was not visible to the lookout on the Jane.
  The court expressed the opinion that, having regard to the fact that the light on the Ant had blown out several times, and that those on board had been unable to keep it alight, it was a highly unseamanlike proceeding for the master and mate of the Ant to go below and sleep, leaving nobody on deck with a light to warn any vessel on emergency. The court found that a sufficient and proper look-out was kept on board the Jane, to whose crew, they were of opinion that no blame was attachable, and they gave judgment for the defendants, with costs.
Back to top

Leisure Yachts

There are yachts moored at West Kirby and at Thurstaston during summer months. The moorings are protected by sandbanks but at Spring High Tide, with strong NW wind, considerable waves build up and can cause vessels to break free. They are then dashed against the rocks on the Wirral shore.
    Wrecks of leisure yachts driven ashore near Caldy by a storm on 4 Oct 2009:

Now (2017) there is almost no sign of any wreckage in the sand below the rocks near 53° 21.33'N, 3° 10.26'W.

Back to top

Lifeboat Rescues

The approaches to the Mersey and Dee are strewn with sandbanks and in onshore winds there are breaking waves along the edges of the banks. Ships that were driven onto the banks were at the mercy of the waves and many lives were lost. The strong currents running between the sandbanks caused problems for sailing ships and when wind and tide were in different directions, steep waves build up in the channel. The approaches to the Mersey are especially dangerous in Northwesterly gales. The best way to rescue shipwrecked sailors was recognised to be by using small boats that could venture into the shallow waters around a stranded vessel. If such a boat could get upwind of the wreck and then anchor, by veering out line it would be possible to come to her assistance in a controlled way. The small boats used were of the type used as local fishing boats and gigs. They had sails that could be set when conditions allowed but they relied on a number of men aboard with oars. The men were usually local fishermen with experience of such boats and of the local conditions. To be out in storm conditions in these small open boats must have been terrifying but men to crew them were readily found.

The boats would have to be based at places where a boat could be launched from the shore in strong winds. In the Liverpool Bay area, this implied from within the more sheltered waters of the Mersey itself or from Hoylake, Formby or Point of Ayr which each had an inshore channel protected by an offshore sandbank except at the top of the tide. Such rescue attempts were not conducted by dedicated lifeboats until experience showed that this was the best and safest way.

Liverpool was the site of the first dedicated lifeboat station to be established anywhere in the world. This was at Formby in 1776 and was funded by the Dock Trustees. Subsequently a lifeboat station was established at Hoylake around 1803 and a lifeboat was kept at the mouth of the Mersey itself. The Dock Trustees were charged with responsibility for safety in the approaches to the Port of Liverpool. As a result of a formal inquiry into the state of lifeboats in 1823, it was recommended that four boats be provided: at Formby, Hoylake, Point of Ayr and the Magazines (near New Brighton). The lifeboat at the Magazines was established around 1827.

After the poor showing of the lifeboat service during the hurricane of 1839, the arrangements were changed and a later report in 1843 gave the situation as 9 lifeboats: namely 2 at Liverpool, 2 at the Magazines, 2 at Hoylake, 2 at Point of Ayr and one at Formby. The lifeboat service was now very efficient and saved very many lives. This was recognised in 1851 when the RNLI (named National Institute for Preservation of Life from Shipwreck at that time) awarded silver medals for outstanding bravery to the coxswains of all of these lifeboats. Each station had a permanent crew of about 10 men and boats were launched by carriage pulled by horses kept nearby. The crew were summoned by gun and it was claimed that the lifeboat could be under way in 17 or 18 minutes from receiving the signal of distress. The lifeboats had oars and sails, but to speed up rescue, an arrangement existed with the Steam Tug Company that as soon as a signal of distress was received, one of their tugs would proceed immediately and take the first available lifeboat from within the Mersey (i.e. Dock Board or Steam Tug Company lifeboat) in tow.

In 1858 the Mersey Docks and Habour Board took over from the Dock Trustees the provision of 8 lifeboats at Liverpool, New Brighton, Hoylake, Formby, Southport and Point of Ayr. From 1848 one of the Hoylake lifeboats had been stationed at Hilbre Island. This provided a direct access by a ramp to deep water at all tides.
  Since the Liverpool Bay area was divided into small numbered squares - the location of a wreck could be communicated quickly to the lifeboat stations which were located close to the semaphore signal stations at Gronant (Voel Nant); Hilbre Island; Bidston Hill and Liverpool. The optical system of communication was replaced by an electric telegraph from 1861.

The Dee Estuary is mostly quite sheltered and vessels would anchor in Wild Road (off Mostyn) or off Hilbre to wait for better weather. In a NW gale, at high water on spring tides, substantial waves can build up in the Dee and vessels can be driven from their anchors onto the sandbanks.
  The entrance to the Dee Estuary had three lifeboat stations: at Point of Ayr (beach launched from Gronant, then Talacre from 1894); ramp launched from Hilbre Island and a beach launched lifeboat at Hoylake. The service from Hoylake started in 1803 and continues to this day (all MDHB lifeboats having been taken over by the RNLI in 1894) with a beach launched lifeboat and a hovercraft. The Hilbre Island station (associated with Hoylake) started in 1848 and ended in 1939. The Point of Ayr lifeboat was established in 1826 and the last service was in 1916. There is a beach launched inshore lifeboat at West Kirby (RNLI from 1966 on) and a mobile inshore lifeboat based at Fflint (since 1956; RNLI since 1966).
  The Fflint service was initiated by local people after a tragedy: on the night of 26th December 1956, a Neston wildfowler was heard shouting as he struggled in the fog-bound waters after being cut off by the tide.

There were many services by these lifeboats. Most were to vessels aground on the outside of the Hoyle Bank or on the Welsh coast. There were some tragic losses:

Traveller
  On 29 December 1810 there was a terrible storm. The ship Traveller was driven onto the Hoyle Bank. The Hoylake lifeboat was launched safely despite huge waves pounding the beach. As the lifeboat crew rowed to the stranded vessel, an enormous wave capsized the lifeboat. Of the lifeboat crew of ten, eight of them were drowned.

Rhyl lifeboat capsize
  On 23 Jan 1853 the Rhyl lifeboat Gwylan-y-Mor capsized with the loss of 7 lives. A vessel was reported as dismasted on the West Hoyle Bank and the Rhyl lifeboat with 10 men aboard was launched. They pulled out to sea using their oars and then set sail for the wreck in rough weather conditions with a strong NNE wind. They could not find the wreck which had now been covered by the rising tide. So, after searching thoroughly, they set off back to Rhyl. A half mile offshore, the lifeboat capsized. Three men were able to hang on and two of them righted the boat and got on board. The third was pulled abord by them. The Coxswain, Owen Jones, was one of the survivors but 7 men were lost. A subsequent inquiry judged that the boat had run into broken water without a steering oar to stabilise it. As a result of this disaster, the Rhyl lifeboatmen had a preference for a boat that was more stable. The RNLI took over Rhyl lifeboat station in 1854 and they provided the first of several tubular lifeboats. These were the design of Henry Richardson and his son as submitted to the RNLI competition in 1851.

Temperance
  On 4 January 1857 the schooner Temperance (owned Truro, b 1850 Falmouth, 113 tons) was driven ashore near Abergele. Her distress signals were seen by the Rhyl and Point of Ayr lifeboat stations early in the morning. The Point of Ayr lifeboat had launchesd at 8:30am to a vessel aground on the West Hoyle Bank, but found that the Hoylake lifeboat had already saved the crew. They then proceeded to the assistance of a vessel stranded at Chester Bar which managed to get off unaided. The Voel Nant Telegraph then directed them to the schooner Temperance, aground in Abergele Bay with her crew in the rigging. They proceeded under sail to the west in squally weather. As the lifeboat passed Rhyl, an unusually heavy sea struck her, she capsized and did not right herself. The men, who had launched the Rhyl lifeboat, saw the Point of Ayr lifeboat capsize not far offshore and, unable to help, they saw the crew, one by one, swept off the upturned boat in the bitterly cold conditions until eventually all 13 were lost. Regrettably, the men were not wearing their cork lifejackets.
  The Rhyl lifeboat, which was stationed nearer to the wreck site, had already been launched, so the tragic rescue mission by the Point of Ayr lifeboat was not even necessary. This remains the most serious lifeboat disaster to have occurred in North Wales. The bodies of 8 of the lifeboatmen were buried at Llanasa Church (parish church for Gronant) over the next days, weeks and months as the sea washed them ashore.

Swift
  The Hoylake lifeboat was called out on 15th November 1906 to the sloop Swift of Runcorn. In extremely heavy seas, one of the lifeboatmen, John Isaac Roberts (age 23), was washed overboard and drowned. Eventually the sloop got out of trouble unaided.

Some services by these lifeboats which resulted in medals being awarded (note that before 1894, while MDHB provided the lifeboat service, the crews were fully professional and medals were not awarded for distguished service):

Gezina Reina
  On 3 December 1865 the Hoylake lifeboat under the command of coxswain John Bird had just returned from rescuing three men from the rigging of the Liverpool schooner, George, which had run aground in the mouth of the Dee, when they were called out to another vessel in distress. This was the Dutch vessel, Gezina Reina, which was breaking up on the West Hoyle Bank. Nearly all the crew were swept away in the heavy seas, but one man managed to struggle into the shallower water of the sandbank. With great difficulty in the shallow water with big waves running, the Hoylake lifeboat was able to rescue him. For this service, the coxswain was awarded a silver medal for outstanding gallantry by the Dutch Government.

Mount Pleasant
  On 7th October 1889, in very heavy weather, the 1500 ton barque Mount Pleasant of Christiana (now Oslo) ran aground on the East Hoyle Bank. She had a crew of 20 and a cargo of timber from Quebec for Liverpool. The Point of Ayr lifeboat launched at 1:00 pm and, in very rough conditions, succeeded in getting close to the casualty, despite a mass of tangled wreckage. They were able to take up a line floated down to her by the crew aboard which they used to pull the lifeboat alongside and rescue the 20 aboard, despite huge seas breaking over them. The lifeboat then drew clear and her crew were able to transfer the survivors to the steam tug Despatch which had towed out the Liverpol No. 1 lifeboat. The Point of Ayr lifeboat then proceeded to the shelter of Mostyn Docks, since it was too rough to land on the beach by the station. After walking back to the station, the crew were then called out again - but this time no trace of the vessel was found so they finally stood down at 1:20am in the night.
  For this service, the Point of Ayr lifeboatmen were awarded silver medals by the Governments of Norway and Sweden.

Matador
  At 9pm on 16 October 1902, the Hoylake lifeboat was launched (for the second time that day having already been at sea for 10 hours standing by the Liverpool SS Heraclides) to a vessel stranded on Blundell Sands. Coxswain Thomas Dodd managed to get alongside the stricken vessel, the barquentine Matador (322 tons), and take off the crew of 9. He was awarded the Silver Medal of the RNLI as well as a medal by the Russian Life-Saving Association.

Diane
  The Hoylake lifeboat was launched at 10:10am on 27th August 1971 to a vessel in distress off the West Hoyle Bank in a WNW force 6 wind. Only the top of the wheelhouse of the tug Diane [also
reported as Dianne, a river tug being used as a leisure boat; 9.8m long, 2.1m beam, on passage Rhyl to Mersey, owned Mr. Laird] was visible and the waves were breaking over her. With no time to anchor and veer down, Coxswain Triggs decided to drive the lifeboat directly alongside the wreck. One man was pulled to safety, but it took another attempt in strengthening wind, with concerted work by the crew, to pull the second man to safety. The lifeboat struck the submerged wheelhouse and sustained some damage, but remained afloat and was able to get into calmer water and then return Hoylake. The wreck was reported as 1 mile north of the Dee Buoy - but no echo sounder trace was found later.
  For this outstanding service, Coxswain Harold Triggs was awarded the Bronze medal by the RNLI.

Some other rescues (and rescue attempts) by the lifeboats:
  Hoylake: King George 1806; Traveller 1810; Earl of Moira 1821; Norah 1835; John Welch 1836; Athabaska 1838; Liverpool Hurricane of 1839; Cherokee 1854; John Horrocks 1854 ; Red Rover 1858; Alice 1873; St. Mathaeus 1887; Sisters 1891; Alexandra 1910; Aircraft 1940s.
  Point of Ayr: General Brown 1826; Endeavour 1835; Robert Peel 1835; Athabaska 1838; Liver 1839; John Horrocks 1854 ; 1868 Services ; St. Mathaeus 1887; Myosotis 1907 ; John and William 1916.
Back to top

Dee Estuary Losses

As well as the recent yacht wrecks described above, there have been many losses of vessels in the Dee estuary, often as a result of breaking free from moorings or when anchored. The casualty records (Lloyd's List; Board of Trade Wreck Returns; Newspapers; Chester, Beaumaris and Caernarfon Shipping Register returns; etc) show the relative importance of different ports at different dates. Capacity (where known) is shown for vessels of over 20 tons and steamships are marked SS. Vessels of around 50 tons would mostly be flats: barge-like sailing vessels. Smaller vessels are mainly fishing boats. Wrecks (even more numerous) in the entrance channels and offshore banks are not included.
  Most of these wrecks will have been salvaged or refloated, so no wreckage will be left. Also the location of the casualty is mostly not given precisely. More detail (clickable) is given for some of them. Also, see accounts of damage to vessels in the Dee from storms
in late 1775, in late 1808, in late 1826, in early 1839 and in early 1853.

Parkgate: Sally(17-12-1802); King George (7-10-1808); Severn Brothers(21-2-1897); Up Guards(30-8-1898); Richard(12-1-1899); Good Intent(13-1-1899); River Dee(17-12-1902); Humphry(18-12-1902); James(28-12-1902); Daisy(31-1-1903); Mary(13-2-1903); Morning Star(21-11-1903); Kitty(21-11-1903); Annie(22-2-1908); Fanny(8-9-1908); Viola(6-11-1908); David(7-11-1908); Curlew(22-11-1908); Edith(22-11-1908); Mary(22-11-1908); Orion(22-10-1909); Leader(12-11-1909); Nancy(16-1-1910); Mary(16-1-1910); Mary(24-2-1910); Violet(25-7-1910); Annie(5-11-1911); White Heather(5-11-1911); R.D.C.(5-11-1911); Delightful(5-11-1911); Violet(5-11-1911); Skipper(8-4-1912); Fleoe(8-4-1912)

Heswall: Magic(30-8-1898); Martha(28-12-1900); Westminster(29-12-1900); Dashing Spray(17-12-1902); Starting(27-2-1903); Fox(27-2-1903); Irene(25-7-1910); Florence(7-11-1910)

Caldy Point: Willam and Mary(10-9-1873 39nt); Mary Jane(29-12-1900); William and Nellie(22-11-1908); Lulu(12-11-1909)

West Kirby: Dove(14-10-1909); Curlew(14-10-1909)

Salisbury Bank: Hero(5-12-1822); Britannia(5-12-1822); Elfin (25-2-1880 25t SS); Ellen Bradshaw(29-9-1884 66nt); Lapwing(8-3-1888 31nt); Thomas(27-1-1901 65nt); Alexandria(16-4-1914 3501gt SS).

Flint: Ardent (7-10-1808); Star(8-5-1903 59nt); Mark(3-11-1903 53nt)

Bagillt: Ellen Glynne (26-2-1853); Chance(24-10-1894 66nt); Adelphi(23-9-1896 47t)

Greenfield: Sirius(28-2-1853 63gt); Caliban(21-11-1903 54nt)

Mostyn and Wild Road: Abbey(28-3-1852 89gt); Dispatch(28-10-1866 27nt); Tally Ho!(28-12-1884 57nt); Margaret(7-11-1890 69nt); Trekieve(31-7-1897 1489gt SS); Lydia(28-9-1898 49nt); Charlaw(5-8-1905 890nt SS); Ant(19-2-1907 47nt); Superb(18-3-1908 47nt); Volunteer(10-11-1912); Alice Linda(25-1-1913 67nt); Brilliant Star(7-2-1913 80nt); John and William(1-1-1916 70gt)

Point of Ayr: Hiram(1-9-1799); Rockingham(7-12-1822); Town(6-9-1826); Endeavour(5-2-1835 brig); Liver(28-8-1839); John Horrocks (13-12-1854 344t); Corby Castle(17-3-1903 45nt); Varinger(29-7-1904 233nt); Myosotis (14-11-1907 39nt) ; Helen and Ernest(15-10-1918 50gt)

Hilbre: Dublin(28-12-1759); Diana(8-8-1821 262t); Peter(12-3-1831); Alicia(16-10-1831); John(7-2-1833); Robert Peel(23-2-1835 304t); Many losses 7-1-1839; William(11-1-1853 39t); Helen(27-10-1854); Freddy(7-1877); Charles(2-2-1883 57t); Glyndwr(6-1-1886 77t); Albion(16-4-1887).

Strandings still occur: on 31-1-2013 the large vessel (125m long) Ciudad de Cadiz that takes airbus wings from Mostyn to Bordeaux was stranded on the sandbank at Mostyn. See here and photo. She refloated on a very high tide 11 days later.

See also details of another stranding (in 2006 in Wild Road) here .

From 2001-4 Mostyn provided a Ro-Ro service for P&O to Ireland. This was discontinued over concerns about dredging the channel to Mostyn to provide convenient access.

Unknown wreckage

The only other wrecks currently (2017) charted in the Dee Estuary south of a line from Hilbre Island to point of Ayr:

(i) at 53° 22.482'N, 3° 13.79'6W charted as wreck 7.9m below CD from a 1971 survey which found sign of wreckage covering an area 4m by 8m and rising 1.6m up. A rock outcrop is some 50m NW of this wreck. This area is SW of Hilbre islands.

(ii) at 53° 21.116N, 3° 17.245W which was found in a 1987 survey and swept clear at 0.4m below CD. The area of wreckage is 25m by 8m lying N.S. This location is on the west side of the Mostyn Deep opposite the Salisbury Middle buoy.

(iii) an area is charted as foul nearby at depth 3.3m below CD at 53° 21.209N, 3° 17.121W which is described by fishermen as a timber obstruction.
Back to top

Wrecks in the entrance channels

Outside of a line from Point of Ayr to the Hilbre Point, there are three channels into the Dee (the Welsh Channel, Mid-Hoyle Channel and Hilbre Swash). Many wrecks are known in these channels and on the sandbanks between them.

Here I give links to some of these:

Wrecks that are (or were) visible at LW:

(i) Thomas: see here, 53° 23.26N 3° 13.47W.

(ii) Nestos: here , 53° 24.799N, 3° 14.429W. Fuller History of Wreck. See photos here and here.

(iii) Wreckage extending 8m by 6m: 53° 25.032N, 3° 12.379W. I visited this wreck on foot at LW (Liv 0.1m on 12-8-1991) when some ribs were visible protruding about 6 inches above water. The wreckage was charted as 1.1m above CD, but is now (2017) charted as "foul" since the general depth is 1.2m above CD at that location. I revisited this site on foot at LW (Liv 0.1m on 22-3-2019) and could see no sign of any wreckage above the sea level.

(iv) A wooden wreck, off Hoylake, has grown more prominent as the sand level has gradually got lower. It was about 1 foot above the surrounding sand in 2010 and, by 2019, it rises about 3 foot. The wreckage is about 90 feet long running WSW-ENE and is in a scour pool. Surrounding seabed is at about 3.1 m above CD, so the top of the wreck dries 4 m or so. It is marked (by the Hoylake Lifeboat Launch Crew) with white and orange buoys in position 53° 24.72'N; 3° 11.53'W. See Hoylake wooden wreck 2019.
For more detail see here .

Wrecks on NW side of Hoyle bank:

(i) Albion: here , 53° 23.567N, 3° 22.606W. See also here. Image of seabed (depths in metres below CD).

(ii) Lord Blayney: here , 53° 23.6N 3° 26.3W (very approx position).

(iii) Ceylon: here , 53° 23.754 3° 26.609 W. See also here. Image of seabed (depths in metres below CD).

Wrecks in Hilbre Swash and nearby:

Red Hand: here , 53° 24.948 N, 3° 12.961. Photo here .

Maurita: here , 53° 24.915N, 3° 13.878W.

Lota: here , 53° 25.215N, 3° 13.478W.

Robert Seymour: here , 53° 25.715N, 3° 13.163W. Image of seabed (depths in metres below CD). Contemporary report of loss.

Resolute: here , 53° 25.132W, 3 12.461W. Contemporary report of loss.

St. Matthaeus here , 53° 25.265N, 3° 14.245W. Contemporary report of loss.

Many wrecks occurred on the sandbanks (called Hoyle Bank) offshore of the Dee Estuary.
For some examples of such wrecks see Loss of Newburn in 1790; Storm of 1826; Sisters 1891.
Back to top

Deux Amis 1779


East Indiaman, voyage China to l'Orient [France]
Captured as a prize by Liverpool privateer Knight, owned Hindley, Leigh & Co
Knight: Capt. Wilson, 220 tons burthen, 18 guns, 80 crew
1 January 1779: Deux Amis ashore Point of Ayr (Dee Estuary): 32 of 42 crew lost.
Knight ashore at Abergele, masts lost but all aboard saved.

The Dee Estuary seems far away from "Pirate Territory" but for a considerable period, while England was at war with America and then France, letters of Marque were given to British vessels to enable them to capture enemy merchant vessels. This was "privatising the navy" to some extent. Liverpool was at the forefront of exploiting this opportunity to make a lot of money very quickly. Here is recounted the aftermath of one such capture.

The Knight had successfully captured several valuable vessels: bringing the La Plaine du Cap (from St Domingo) into Liverpool in October 1778, and sending the captured Catharina (from Cadiz to Le Havre with a valuable cargo) into the Mersey in November 1778.

In late December 1778, she was accompanying her latest prize, the East Indiaman Deux Amis (China and Pondicherry to L'Orient, captured off Cape Finisterre on 23rd December 1778) back to Liverpool. She had a very valuable cargo: fine tea, silk, calico, nankeen, handkerchiefs, muslin, china, arrack, cotton, wine, canes, etc, which were valued at £150,000 - a huge sum in those days.
  In a NW to NE gale which started on the afternoon of 31st December, both vessels were driven onto the North Welsh coast: the Knight near Abergele [Conway Bay in another account] where she lost her masts but, otherwise, hull and sailors were saved.
  The prize crew aboard the Deux Amis were less fortunate; they were driven ashore near Point of Ayr (at the mouth of the Dee Estuary; location also described as near Mostyn) and she filled with water. Those aboard (24 English and 24 French sailors) took to the masts and shrouds during the night which was bitterly cold. Only 10 English and 5 French [9 and 1 in another account] men survived: 33 [or 32] were lost.
  The vicar of Llanasa (parish church for Point of Ayr and Gronant) records that 21 sailors were buried in one grave in 1799.
  When the Deux Amis grounded, many of the French, the moment the ship struck, leaped overboard and were drowned. One of them took with him, in the confusion, a box of diamonds, then worth £6,000 and another took a wedge of gold, weighing twelve pounds [currently worth £165000]; both of which were lost. The hull broke up in the waves.

Part of the cargo, which was washed ashore, was lodged in the Custom-house of Chester, [located at Parkgate], and at Liverpool, but most of it was damaged. Sir Roger Mostyn and other local gentlemen armed their tenants and prevented, by everything in their power, the country people, who assembled in great numbers, from plundering the wreck but notwithstanding all their vigilance and activity, property to the amount of several thousand pounds was carried away.

The Liverpool newspaper published a strongly worded warning/threat to anyone not restoring any goods to the owners.

The Knight was repaired but, in July 1779, she was sunk by a French frigate; her crew were saved and landed at Oporto.

The same storm caused another loss of a prize: the Liverpool privateer Townside, Captain Watmough, 130 tons, 16 guns, and 90 men, belonging to Messrs. Mitton & Co., captured an East Indiaman, laden with coffee, dry goods, etc., but the prize was lost near Beaumaris, the crew and part of the cargo and materials being saved. The Townside was captured a few months later, and re-taken by the Sybil man-of-war.

Note that another link to piracy was the experience of the Hiram [aground in the entrance to the Dee Estuary on 1 Sept 1799] which on a later voyage to the West indies was captured (by a French Warship), then retaken by her crew, captured by a French Privateer and finally retaken by HMS Unite.

Return to Dee Estuary pages.
Back to top

Main Index