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The Ill-Fated Royal Charter Storm Of 1859 Paved The Way To Modern Meteorology


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  • Location: Camborne
  • Location: Camborne

An account of the loss of the Royal Charter in the South Eastern Gazette, 01 November 1859



The Royal Charter, from Melbourne, which touched at Queenstown, Ireland, on Monday, on her way to Liverpool, was wrecked on Wednesday night in Red-wharf Bay, near Bangor. The place where she got on the roks is about three miles to the westward of Puffin Island, Menai Straits, and six or seven miles to the north*west of Beaumarie. With the exception of the bay, which is very sandy and shallow, the coast is rocky and bold.

The ill-fated vessel sailed from Melbourne on the 26th of August, having on  board 388 passengers, of whom 63 occupied the saloon, and crew, including officers, of 112 persons. While the ship was passing Queenstown, on Monday morning, 13 of the passengers landed by pilot boat. On Tuesday morning, at 11 o’clock, the Roval Charter spoke to the steam-tug United Kingdom, which, instead of returning to port with riggers who had been assisting in the working of a ship to Cardiff, transferred 11 of the riggers to the Royal Charter, Captain Taylor having kindly agreed to take them to Liverpool; so that there were on board at the time of the wreck 498 souls, and of these only 29 were saved.

The loss of life on this sad occasion was 450 persons. The Royal Charter bad on board a large amount of special freight, the exact amount of which cannot be ascertained, as all the ship’s papers have been lost, but it was variously estimated by the surviving passengers and crow at from £500,000 £800,000. One of the saloon passengers, who was drowned, was stated to have had in his possession gold the value of £l0,000. She had only a moderate cargo, principally of wool and skins. From the time of leaving Port Phillip Heads till the arrival off the Irish coast the passage was in the highest degree favourable; she was only once in danger, and then from an iceberg. After passing Queenstown the wind veered round to E.N.E., blowing strong. Tuesday night it blew a gale, and continued to increase in violence, till at length, on the morning of the fatal disaster, it blew a perfect hurricane. Arriving off Point Lynas at 6 p.m. on Tuesday evening, signal rockets were for several hours thrown up, in the hope of attracting a pilot, but none made their appearance.

Captain Taylor, finding that his ship was making leeway, and gradually drifting towards the shore, let out both of the anchors, but such was the violence of the wind and the heavy cross sea prevailing, that the chains parted. Notwithstanding that the engines were worked to their full power, the captain was unable to work to windward, and the unfortunate vessel struck the rocks stern first in four fathoms water. Up to this period (about 3 a.m.) not the slightest alarm was evinced among the passengers, a large portion of whom were women and children; the most perfect discipline and order prevailed. The masts and rigging were cut adrift, but caused no relief, as the ship continued to thump on the sharp pointed rooks with fearful rapidity. Shortly after she struck, the ship was thrown broadside on, perfectly upright upon the shelving stony beach, the head and stern lying due east and west, the former not being more than 20 yards from a projecting rock. At this juncture one of the crew, a Maltese, named Joseph Rogers, nobly volunteered to struggle through the heavy surf and convey a rope on shore. Though it was not believed by any one that danger was imminent, the captain gave the order, and Rogers ably fulfilled his duty.

A strong hawser was then passed and secured on shore, and to this was rigged boatswain’s chair.” At 5 o’clock the ship laboured and bumped to such an extent that the ladies and children exhibited the greatest anxiety and fear; they crowded together in the after part of the saloon, and the Rev. Mr. Hodge, of East Retford, a clergyman of the Church of England, offered up prayer; but his exhortations were interrupted by the violent thumping of the vessel on the rocks, and the heavy seas which came dashing into the cabin. The scene in the saloon was of the most heartrending description; children and parents, husbands and wives, were clinging to each other in affectionate embrace. Captain Withers and Captain Taylor came down and tried to allay their fears by assuring them that there was no immediate danger. Scarcely had their words been uttered before a succession of tremendous waves swung her about on the rocks, and she divided amidships, engulfing all on board. Shortly afterwards she also parted at the forehatch, throwing a large number of persons into the sea. Many were killed at the breaking up of the ship. Several of the saved themselves means of the hawser to the shore, while the remainder were hurled upon the rocks by the waves; all the officers perished. Captain Taylor was the last man seen alive on board. He had lashed his body to a spar and was drowned. Mr. Stevens, the chief officer, was killed by some of the falling rigging. Several the more fortunate passengers received severe injuries while struggling for life. With the exception of a portion of the midship bulkhead, which appears a few feet above the water, there is scarcely a vestige the Royal Charter remaining. The bullion chest, which was substantially built of iron, was secured to the framing of the ship.

About 250 sovereigns and a quantity of notes have been picked up among tbe rocks.

At least 30 bodies which have been cast ashore are lying in the adjacent church; most of them are frightfully mutilated. William Hushes, the only apprentice saved, stated that when the vessel parted he was in the waist, and was precipitated among the machinery, which was hurled to and fro by the action of the waves. He had given himself up for lost, when a wave lifted him clear of the ship and landed him in unconscious state. The survivors during their stay the scene of the wreck were very kindly treated. Two ladies made themselves conspicuous by their attention to the sufferers.

A rescued passenger states that the vessel rode safely, burning blue lights and rockets, until her masts were out away, when the screw ceased to work, and she went on the rocks at 2 a.m. on Wednesday and broke up about 7. The probability is that the wreck fouled the screw.


The most devastating storm of the 19th century occurred around Great Britain from the evening of October 25th through October 26th of 1859. The Royal Charter Storm, as it was called, referred to the name of a steamship which was driven into the east coast of Anglesey, Wales, where it was torn apart by rocks, hurricane-force winds, and storm surge. Over 450 lives were lost on the Royal Charter. Another 130 ships were wrecked in this storm of fury.

A British naval captain and scientist, Robert FitzRroy was convinced that these storms could be detected ahead of time and some kind of warning could be issued. His dogged determination led to the development of a gale warning service from the Meteorological Office and it led the way to better analysis and communication of storm information and eventually to the establishment of government weather information services in the U.K. and around the world.







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