Capt Richard Prichard’s Forgotten Ship

by

Rich Hughes

Of the Red Dragons Divers Club, Fishguard

 

Whilst on a dive at the ‘G.B wreck’ at Freshwater Bay, Pembrokeshire in April 2000, a serrated edge of what I thought was a coin caught my eye. There was only an inch exposed but on digging it out of the sediment, I was very surprised to find it was much bigger than a coin...it was an old silver pocket watch!

Story so far......

I decided to terminate my dive and handed my buddy over to another dive leader who was nearby and made for the boat.

When I de-kitted and was more relaxed, I began gently cleaning the watch with my fingers. I discovered there was a cover on the back of the watch, which was hinged.  I gently opened this lid and  to my amazement there was an inscription, it was difficult to read but after being passed round everyone on the boat the general conclusion was that it read “Richard Richard”. (Ironic as my name is also Richard)

Finally I got home, without even washing down any of my diving equipment I was straight to the kitchen sink with a tooth pick and cloth to clean up my treasure. It was pain staking process , the inscription was clear to see, it read “Richard Prichard, Abersoch 1866, North Wales”.

I finally removed the brass mechanism, which is remarkably intact; it also has an inscription, which reads “Richd B Thomas No 63826”.  The hinge is still functional which holds the rear cover plate to the back of the watch.

There is a crest on the rear cover lid of the watch.

The watch mechanism is now held by wax.

 

Bottom is the remains of the reel, which housed the steel spring which was wound daily to keep the watch running.

The hall mark on the right is a hallmark for 1863.

Just visible is a fourth stamp in the approximate area of 6 o clock which bares the initials ‘JM’ who was probably the case maker.

The hole in the back plate lines up with the remains of the winding stud on the mechanism, the decoration around the hole is two willow branches.

On the right hand side of the back plate are the remains of the face cover hinge which would have enabled the operator to open and adjust the time by manually pushing the hands round.  The mechanism type is still unknown.

Who was Richard Prichard ?  What was he doing here?

SHIPS NAME

The first call of action was to try to find the name of Richard Prichard's ship, until now it has been known to divers as the G.B wreck due to it being located below a gorse bush which used to look like a map of Great Britain. The wreck was found in the late 1970s by Ivor Johnson a local dive charter and shop at the time and being at only 8mtres depth it is an ideal training dive for novices.

I felt now is the time to find the real name of the ship that is known as the G.B wreck. The first step was a call into the Haverrfordwest County records office, I gave all the information I had to the clerk and he told me to wait whilst he went away to get some records.

About ten minutes later he came back with a shoe box of microfiche slides of birth marriages and deaths of people in Gwynedd, I was put in front of a reader display, given a crash course on how to use it and then he disappeared very quickly.

Twenty minutes later I found the slides with the Prichard surname; there were hundreds of them! And only a third of the records of that time are complete, I felt as if I wasn’t getting anywhere and my eyesight was failing as a result of staring at micro fiche into a 60 watt light bulb so I decided to return the box and leave.  On the way out, the clerk stopped me and wrote down an address for the Gwynedd Archives museum. He told me to try them to see if they could throw any light on the case. I telephoned them as soon as I got home and gave them all the details.

The name Richard Prichard is clear to see on the silver case but on further study and cleaning I could just make out three hallmarks, a bit more cleaning and the patterns became quite clear. I picked up the yellow pages and started to look for professional watchmakers, I was advised by a watchmaker in Swansea to take it to Munts the jeweller on High Street Haverfordwest.

The quarter hour wait to be served seemed to take forever but eventually I managed to draw the owners attention and he was very interested, he dated the hallmark 1863 on the case and identified it as solid silver, Richard B Thomas was “Richard Bonner Thomas , Bank Place, Porthmadog, North Wales” , He traded from 1865 to 1895 according to an old book he had but he said dates of trading are often not accurate from that era. The case would be made and placed on display and bought as a case by a watchmaker who would build a mechanism to go inside it. Once it was bought, the owners name could be inscribed into the back plate under the lid, if it wasn’t for the lid protecting the back plate, the inscription would have never of survived.

A week later, whilst having a particularly bad day at work, Gwynedd Archives telephoned me to say that Richard Prichard was a Master Mariner in 1875 and his ship was called “SCOTTISH LAS”, it seemed everything was now falling into place.

 

The G.B “SCOTTISH LAS”

Blast from the past

Some weeks later whilst slurping my coffee after a dive on the wreck, I was disturbed by a distant voice. It was Nicky shouting” Richard I've found the bell!” - I kitted up immediately and followed his lead to the area where sure enough there lay the remains of a ships bell. A few days later after much planning and precision the bell was recovered from the wreck site. I was present on the dive eagerly awaiting the moment it parted from its resting place. There was a huge cloud of sediment as it came away from its resting place but all my theories were shot to pieces in a second when Nicky turned it over only to find  it bore the name”GUANITO”.

Rich Hughes with watch and Nick Hammond with Bell

It seem that this wreck has still had the last laugh, if the bell had not been discovered, I would still believe that it is the Scottish Las from Porthmadog and everyone would be satisfied that the case had been drawn to a close.

Gwynedd Archives have never heard of GUANITO

Lloyds of London don’t have a record of GUANITO

Liverpool Shipping records don’t have any record of a GUANITO

GUANITO is Spanish, it means “Silver Palm”  there is a village in Cuba “Guanito”, maybe they were in the wine trade and if so it may explain why the sinking occurred in the first place.  So what was Richard Prichard from Abersoch North Wales doing in Milford haven on a Spanish ship 130 years ago?

It has been said that a person who would own a solid silver hand made pocket watch at this period of time,1866 must have been very wealthy and important or received it on retirement from a prestigious irganisation.  There is no record of a Richard Prichard in 1866 as a Mariner at this time and it would be presumptuous to assume he was born in 1866.

There is no record of a sinking in the area or loss of life.

The trail had crashed to a dead end and the club went onto other activities.

In June 2000 I decided to reopen the case. I telephoned the Cambrian News in Porthmadog to ask the editor if he would be so kind as to place a request to the general public of  North Wales, to see if there was anyone out there who was related to or knows of any family history of a man called Richard Prichard.

We don’t know much more....but there is now someone we can attribute to the wreck which makes one realise that this was a disaster at sea which has long been forgotten.  All we know is that there was a man named Richard Prichard and his watch is all that can tell us that he existed.  You tend to get a strange erey feeling after a while that you know this person, as a pocket watch was a very individual personal item, especially one with your name engraved on a solid silver case.

The watch is now approximately 140 years old and far outside living memory, to date we know of no records of Richard Prichard or his Ship.  If the watch hadn’t been found then there wouldn’t have been the motivation to search the site more extensively and the bell wouldn’t have been found either.  The site would still be known today as the old wreck under cliffs, under the gorse bush which looks like Great Britain.

In 2000 there were only 8 references to the word “Guanito” on internet search engines but now almost ten years later there are multiple pages, most refer to place names Guanito at various locations in the Dominican Republic area.

2009 : Research has now been centred around the possibility of a ship trading between Porthmadog and Dominican Republic Haiti.

Many thanks to Rich Hughes for his fascinating account.

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More Research by David Roberts Llanbedrog

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