Sea Stories

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 self-preservation. 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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