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Wreck Of The Rothsay Castle Steamer

The Rothsay Castle was a steam packet which formerly traded on the
Clyde. She belonged to the line of steamers which sailed from
Liverpool to Beaumaris and Bangor, and was furnished with one engine
only. She was commanded by Lieut. Atkinson. At ten o'clock on
the -- of August, 1831 the vessel was appointed to sail from the usual
place, George's Pierhead, but a casual delay took place in starting,
and it was eleven o'clock before she had got every thing in readiness.
Whilst taking passengers on board, a carriage arrived at the Pierhead
for embarkation. It belonged to M. W. Foster, Esq. of Regent's park,
London, who, with his wife and servant, were conveyed in it to the
packet, and took their passage at the same time. They were all
subsequently drowned, a little dog which accompanied them being the
only survivor of this unfortunate group. When the steamer left the
Pierhead her deck was thronged with passengers. The captain, crew,
musicians, &c. amounted to fifteen, in addition to whom, it was
supposed by persons who saw the vessel sail that one hundred and ten
or one hundred and twenty souls were on board. The majority of the
passengers consisted of holyday and family parties, chiefly from
country places; and in one of these companies, who came on a journey
of pleasure from Bury, the hand of death committed a merciless
devastation. It consisted of twenty-six persons; in the morning,
joyous with health and hilarity, they set out upon the waves, and when
the shades of that evening approached, every soul but two saw his last
of suns go down.

The weather was not particularly boisterous at the time she sailed. A
severe storm however, had raged in the morning and must have agitated
the water on the Banks more than usual. The wind too, blew strongly
from the north-west, and the vessel had to contend with the tide,
which began to flow soon after she passed the rock. When the steamer
arrived off the Floating-light, which is stationed about fifteen miles
from Liverpool, the roughness of the sea alarmed many of the
passengers.--One of the survivors stated, that Mr. Tarry, of Bury,
who, with his family, consisting of himself, his wife, their five
children, and servant, was on board, being, in common with others,
greatly alarmed for his own safety and the safety of those dear to
him, went down to the cabin, where the captain was at dinner, and
requested him to put back. His reply was, "I think there is a great
deal of fear on board, and very little danger. If we were to turn back
with passengers, it would never do--we should have no profit." To
another gentleman who urged him to put back, he is reported to have
said very angrily, "I'm not one of those that turn back." He remained
in the cabin two whole hours, and peremptorily refused to comply with
the repeated requests made to him by the more timid of his passengers
to return to Liverpool; observing that if they knew him, they would
not make the request. Before dinner, his behavior had been
unexceptionable; but, after he had dined, a very striking difference
was observed in his conduct. He became violent in his manner, and
abusive in his language to the men. When anxiously questioned by the
passengers, as to the progress the vessel was making, and the time at
which she was likely to reach her destination, he returned trifling,
and frequently very contradictory answers. During the early part of
the voyage, he had spoken confidently of being able to reach Beaumaris
by seven o'clock; but the evening wore away, night came on, and the
vessel was still a considerable distance from the termination of her
voyage. It was near twelve o'clock when they arrived at the mouth of
the Menai Strait, which is about five miles from Beaumaris. The tide,
which had been running out of the strait, and which had, consequently,
for some time previous retarded the steamer's progress towards her
destination, was just on the turn. The vessel, according to the
statement of two of the seamen and one of the firemen saved, had got
round the buoy on the north end of the Dutchman's Bank, and had
proceeded up the river as far as the tower on Puffin Island; when
suddenly the steam got so low that the engine would not keep her on
her proper course. When asked, why there was not steam on, the fireman
said that a deal of water had been finding its way into the vessel
all day, and that sometime before she got into the strait, the
bilge-pumps were choked. The water in the hold then overflowed the
coals; so that, in renewing the fires, a deal of water went in with
the coals, and made it impossible to keep the steam up. It was the
duty of the fireman to give notice of this occurrence; but he seems
not to have mentioned it to the captain. The vessel, which had
evidently come fair into the channel, though there was no light on the
coast to guide her, now drifted, with the ebb tide and north-west
wind, towards the Dutchman's Bank, on the north point of which she
struck, her bows sticking fast in the sand. Lieut. Atkinson
immediately ordered the man at the helm to put the helm a starboard.
The man refused to do so; but put it to port. The mate, perceiving
this, ran aft, took the helm from the man, and put it to starboard
again.--In the meantime, the captain and some of the passengers got
the jib up.--No doubt he did this intending to wear her round and
bring her head to the northward; but in the opinion of nautical men,
it could not make the least difference which way her head was turned,
as she was on a lee shore, and there was no steam to work her off. The
captain also ordered the passengers first to run aft, in the hope, by
removing the pressure from the vessel's stem, to make her float: this
failing to produce the desired effect, he then ordered them to run
forward. All the exertions of the captain, the crew and passengers
united were unavailing. The ill-fated vessel stuck still faster in the
sands, and all gave themselves up for lost. The terror of the
passengers became excessive. Several of them urged the captain to
hoist lights, and make other signals of distress; but he positively
refused to do so, assuring the passengers that there was no danger,
and telling them several times, that the packet was afloat, and doing
well, and on her way; when the passengers knew perfectly well that she
was sticking fast in the sand, and her cabins rapidly filling with
water. Doubtless the unfortunate man was perfectly aware of the
imminence of the danger; but we may charitably suppose, that he held
such language for the purpose of preventing alarm which might be
fatal. The alarm bell was now rung with so much violence that the
clapper broke, and some of the passengers continued to strike it for
some time with a stone. The bell was heard, it is said, at Beaumaris,
but, as there was no light hoisted on the mast of the steamer, (a
fatal neglect!) those who heard the signal were, of course, ignorant
whence it proceeded. The weather, at this awful moment, was
boisterous, but perfectly clear. The moon, though slightly overcast,
threw considerable light on the surrounding objects.--But a strong
breeze blew from the north-west, the tide began to set in with great
strength, and a heavy sea beat over the bank on which the steam packet
was now firmly and immovably fixed.

We cannot describe the scene which followed. Certain death seemed now
to present itself to all on board, and the most affecting scenes were
exhibited. The females, in particular, uttered the most piercing
shrieks; some locked themselves in each others arms, while others,
losing all self-command, tore off their caps and bonnets, in the
wildness of despair. A Liverpool pilot, who happened to be in the
packet, now raised his voice and exclaimed, "It is all over--we are
all lost!" At these words there was a universal despairing shriek. The
women and children collected in a knot together, and kept embracing
each other, keeping up, all the time, the most dismal lamentations.
When tired with crying they lay against each other, with their heads
reclined, like inanimate bodies. The steward of the vessel and his
wife, who was on board, lashed themselves to the mast, determined to
spend their last moments in each other's arms. Several husbands and
wives also met their fate locked in each other's arms; whilst parents
clung to their beloved children,--several mothers it is said, having
perished with their dear little ones firmly clasped in their arms. A
party of the passengers, about fifteen or twenty, lowered the boat and
crowded into it. It was impossible for any open boat to live in such a
sea, even though not overloaded, and she immediately swamped and went
to the bottom, with all who had made this last hopeless effort for

For some time the vessel, though now irrecoverably lost, continued to
resist the action of the waves, and the despairing souls on board
still struggled with their doom. But hope had forever fled; the packet
was beaten and tossed about by the tumultuous waters with a violence
which threatened to dash her into fragments at every shock, and the
sea now made a continual breach over her. The decks were repeatedly
swept by the boiling ocean, and each billow snatched its victims to a
watery grave. The unfortunate captain and his mate were among the
first that perished. About thirty or forty passengers were standing
upon the poop clinging to each other in hopeless agony, and
occasionally uttering the most piteous ejaculations. Whilst trembling
thus upon the brink of destruction, and expecting every moment to
share the fate which had already overtaken so many of their companions
in misery, the poop was discovered to give way; another wave rolled on
with impetuous fury, and the hinder part of the luckless vessel, with
all who sought safety in its frail support, was burst away from its
shattered counterpart, and about forty wretched beings hurried through
the foaming flood into an eternal world.

"Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell,
Then shrieked the timid, and stood still the brave."

Those who retained any degree of sensibility endeavored to catch at
whatever was floating within their reach, with the vain hope of
prolonging their lives though it was certain that life could only
lengthen their sufferings. Many grasped with frantic despair, at the
slightest object they could find, but were either too weak to retain
their hold, or were forced to relinquish their grasp by the raging of
the surge. The rudder was seized by eight of the sinking creatures at
the same time, and some of them, were ultimately preserved. The number
of those who clung to the portion of the wreck which remained upon the
bank gradually grew thinner and thinner, as they sunk under their
fatigues, or were hurled into the deep by the remorseless waves. At
length, about an hour and a half from the time when she struck, the
remnant of the Rothsay Castle disappeared from the bosom of the ocean,
and the remainder of her passengers and crew were precipitated into
the foaming abyss.

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