A natural harbour over a mile and a quarter across, with over one hundred acres of safe anchorage, and a weak tidal current, good holding ground of tough clay, the absence of shoals and rocks, and up to forty feet of water at low tide. It is well sheltered from all but a north-easterly wind, and is tranquil in a south-westerly gale, and is the only such haven on the Peninsula, No wonder then that this beautiful corner of Llyn has been used for many centuries of trading, and a place to run to for shelter.
It is recorded as far back as 1612 that 1,200 empty barrels were sent from Chester to Porthdinllaen (for the salted herrings) and in 1620 the “Mathew” of 8 tons and the sloop “Mary” of 20 tons, took cargoes of herring to Chester. And in 1623 the “Speedwell” of Porthdinllaen brought a mixed cargo of copperas, hops, logwood, pepper, cloth and tobacco pipes from Chester, and millstones were brought by sea from Anglesey in 1698 for the Edern Mill.
In 1804 the Collector of Customs, gave the number of vessels that put into Porthdinllaen each month. It does not differentiate between those which put in for trade, and those that only sought shelter, but it shows that Porthdinllaen was a very busy little harbour, and also shows the seasonal character of trading around the Llyn.
A total of 656.
And in just four years, 1840 ~ 1843 an incredible 3,305 vessels visited the port.
"Several vessels sheltering at Porthdinllaen"
In the early Nineteenth century pig farming was very important on Llyn, and they were exported by the shipload to Liverpool and her markets. Porthdinllaen became the main port for this trade. But sailing vessels were not very suitable, as the animals would sometimes be on the ships for long periods, and losses could be high. So in 1830 the local ship owners and captains complained to the Madryn estate, (the owners of the port at the time) they wanted a pier, so they could introduce the new steamers on to the route, to improve the service, cut down on the passage times, and they would also be better placed against Irish competition, but it fell on deaf ears. But in 1832 they carried on regardless, by bringing in the “Vale of Clwyd” and their first steamer service to Liverpool, and for many years she had a regular livestock run. The “Snowdon” was added in 1838 followed by the “Monk” in 1843. But the bulk of the trade from the port continued by sail, to them steam was not yet looked upon as a threat. And many years would pass before sail would finally give way to steam.
Porthdinllaen had a thriving trading relationship with Ireland as well, and great quantities of salt was imported (to salt the Nefyn herring) along with cattle, fertilizer, and numerous other goods. Exports to Ireland was mostly salted herring in barrels.
Some of the last little ships to trade from the port, were the Tryfan, Telephone, Rebecca, Roma, Briton, Dora, and the Maggie Purvis. The Tryfan was a converted Ketch, which had been fitted with an engine around 1914.
1776 ~ 1876
Among the many Porthdinllaen vessels that came to grief was the 50 ton schooner “Martha” lost near home at Pistyll in 1875, the schooner “William” 79 tons built in 1839, and lost near Porthsgadan in 1891, the 77 ton schooner “Luther” built in 1851, lost after a collision with a steamer in the river Mersey in 1870, and the brigantine “Fanny Beck” of 153 tons, built in 1864 and lost with all hands off Patagonia South America in 1879.
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