"Ships wrecked off the coast of Llyn"

Many years ago a lot of sailing ships sailed around the coast of Llyn, it was the main way to transport goods such as coal, flour, lead and iron in and out of the Peninsula.

It was a common sight to see two-dozen or more ships on the Abersoch ‘Roads’ and it’s interesting to listen to the old folk telling tales of the many shipwrecks that occurred around the coast. Here are a few of the shipwrecks between 1870 and 1925.

The sailing-ship ‘Sorrento was wrecked in 1870 at Porth Ty Mawr, which is between Bodferin and Porthcolmon. The crew managed to get off the stricken vessel and got safely ashore. At about this time the old folk of Llyn were worried that the Irish were going to invade and take over the country and when the sailors naturally knocked on the door of the first farmhouse they came upon, the owners refused to answer the door especially as the sailors spoke English. They thought that they were the Irish come to take over the place, even though the poor sailors were stood outside freezing cold and soaked to the skin. Eventually the sailors were able to convince them of who they were and what had happened and they were given refuge in the farmhouse.

Shortly after the Sorrento sank, another ship came to grief at Porthcolmon she was the Spanish vessel ‘Villa’. One of the crew drowned and was buried Bodferin churchyard. According to the story the gravedigger had cut the grave too short and the coffin only went in halfway. One of the Spanish seamen jumped on the coffin, in an attempt to get it to down to the bottom of the grave. The Parson was disgusted by his behaviour, and took him by the scruff of the neck and hurled him far enough away from the grave and then continued with the service.

The ‘Kenilworth’ a Liverpool schooner was wrecked on the rocks at Porth Caeriad, near Abersoch in January 1870, the crew were saved, but the ship and her cargo were lost.

The ship ‘Ireland’ was lost off the St Tudwals Islands, Abersoch in January 1872 and the ‘Maria’ of Aberystwyth was lost in Abersoch Bay in the same year. ‘Prosperity’ a little Porthmadog ship was lost in Cardigan Bay with a load of lead from one of the local mines in 1873. And the Jane and Helen of Nefyn, was also lost off Porth Caeriad in 1873.

An Italian ship known as the ‘Persa Veronica’ came ashore at Hell’s Mouth in 1877 and about the same time another ship named the ‘Idea’ was wrecked in the same place. The crew were saved but her cargo was lost – it was a cargo of potatoes from Ireland and many hundreds of potatoes came ashore. The locals gathered all the potatoes that came ashore and planted them in their gardens and it was said that there was a bumper harvest that year in Rhiw.

In 1878 a little Liverpool vessel known as the ‘Dusty Miller’ was lost at Porth Caeriad.

On October 14th, 1881 during a terrible storm the steamship the Cyprian came ashore on the rocks not far from Porthdinllaen. Twenty of the crew died and seven including one stowaway were rescued. Nineteen of those that died were buried at the churchyard at Edern and the Captain’s body was taken to Liverpool for burial. There’s a very sad story attached to this incident. When the sailors were struggling to get ashore in the stormy sea, the captain saw the young stowaway, who was near to drowning.  The captain threw him his lifebelt and shouted ‘Take this my boy, I shall be able to swim to shore’. The young boy was saved, but the brave captain drowned. It’s interesting to note that I heard my uncle say that he had met the ‘young stowaway’ years later, during the Great War of 1914- 18, when he was returning as a passenger on one of the big liners from America, and that they had a chat and that the young stowaway of the Cyprian had come on in the world and was now an officer.

In 1889 the ‘Inveresh’ of Liverpool was wrecked at St Patrick’s causeway all the crew were saved but the ship was lost. Also in 1889 the small ship ‘Fosil’ ran aground at the Warren, Abersoch and until recently parts of her could still be seen at low tide. In 1893 the ‘Emily of Cardiff’ was wrecked at ‘Distull Cim’ not far from Hell’s Mouth.

The ‘Faith’ came ashore at Hell’s Mouth in 1896. She was carrying a cargo of flour and an auction of flour was held on the beach. Every family in the area bought some. There’s a bit of the iron off this vessel to be seen today at Nant Trefollwyn.

About the same time a small vessel known as the ‘Twelve Apostles’ ran aground at Hell’s Mouth. This caused much amusement to the locals, the ‘Twelve Apostles’ had actually ended up in Hell’s Mouth.

During the terrible storm of October 1896 many ships had dropped anchor in Abersoch Bay, on the ‘roads’, but a lot of them broke free and drifted at the mercy of the sea. One of them had her pumps broken and three of them drifted across Cardigan Bay ending up on Abererch beach. They were there for months until there was enough water to re-float them and get them back out to open sea. I heard many old folk who remembered that storm, say that the sea actually went over the St Tudwals and that the families of those on board the various ships could only watch helplessly as the ships battled relentlessly against the elements. The names of the ships that were lost were the ‘Gibson’ (Fleetwood), ‘Rare Plant’, ‘Mouse’ (Cardigan), John (Padstow), Tapaz (Milford) S. Scott (Newport).

On Easter Saturday 1901 the Stuart was wrecked at Porth Ty Mawr. She had on board a general cargo and quite a lot of this was whiskey. A lot of her cargo was washed ashore and the locals used to get up early in the morning to go to the beach to look for ‘booty’, which on finding they would hide out of sight. Both the Police and the Customs Officers could do nothing to stop them, and it is said that there’s many a bottle of whiskey stashed away on Llyn today!!!

In October 1909, two ships the ‘Falcon and the ‘Unity’ were wrecked on Abersoch on roads on the same date. The ‘Falcon’ was an Aberteifi boat and the ‘Unity’ from Beaumaris.

The ‘Silver Eagle’ was blown ashore at Henborth between Porth Caeriad and Trwyn y Wylfa in 1912. This place is extremely hazardous as the cliffs rise near vertically from the sea, and it was with great difficulty that the crew were saved. I heard mention that  her cargo was fertiliser and that it was none the worse after the storm, and so it was decided to salvage the cargo and a windlass was used to bring the fertiliser up to land. The venture was successful and the fertiliser was brought to Abersoch by cart and then re loaded on to another ship to be taken to its final destination. Nothing could be done to salvage the ship and she was left to the mercy of the sea.

The ‘Mint’ of Boston was wrecked on St Patrick’s causeway in 1924 and the ‘Millard Castle’ in Sarnau also in 1924. The ‘Henrietta’ with a cargo of wood was wrecked at St Tudwals in 1925.

Apart from the ships mentioned very many other ships were lost from time to time, ships that there’s no mention of. This was especially so during the two world war years. Many a body was washed ashore, and many of them came ashore at Hell’s Mouth, especially during the First World War. There’s a beautiful memorial to mark their graves at the churchyard at Llanengan, which was erected by the generosity of the people of that area.

                                                                       Megan Mai, Abersoch, 1956.


Scots Brig That Was Smashed to Matchwood.

It was a dark Wednesday night, January 24th, 1884, when a terrible hurricane swept over the Lleyn Peninsula, when a Scots brig named ‘Luther’, tossed about in a treacherous sea, and hurled against the rocks, and brought to matchwood at Porth Iago. Her port of registry was Dundee, Scotland, manned by a crew of nine all told, about 600 tons deadweight, all the crew belonged to Scotland except one who was Portuguese.

About two o clock in the morning of the 25th two of the crew arrived at a farm called Ty Mawr, very exhausted, who said that they had left another two on the road to die, but a search later was made and they were found and got safely to the house. Those that were saved were the mate, an old man, the cook and two able-seamen: Gilbert Ross was the name of one, and John Jeness was the other. The captain’s name was John Duncan. He was drowned together with his son, his body was found at Clynnog, twenty miles up the coast. One man was saved by clinging to the ship’s biscuit tank, and eventually was brought ashore. She was loaded with general cargo at Dundee, bound for St John’s Newfoundland, but the most conspicuous part of the cargo was beer and stout, and Scotch whiskey, all in large barrels of 40 to 60 gallons each.

Almost every ship that was wrecked on this coast during the last (19th) century had a good percentage of alcoholic drinks.

                                                                                                Hugh Jones (Llangwnadl)


More recollections from Hugh Jones      Article by William Roberts 1954


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