"This Bay is a Graveyard of the Sea"


William Roberts

The days of sail in Caernarfon Bay recalls a sad history and it could be aptly called a ‘graveyard of the sea’ so numerous are the ships and lives lost beneath its waves. It’s barely remembered now how busy it was, in the days of sail when ships were smaller and more susceptible to the elements, is it any wonder then that so many ships came to rest in this watery grave.

To lessen the danger three lighthouses were built at strategic locations and a light ship anchored in the middle of the bay to guide the vessels through the darkness and doubtless saved many a ship and their crew. Lifeboats too were stationed along the coast to lend a helping hand to those in distress, and many a brave tale has been chronicled about them. Despite all this the history remains a sad one.

The Missionary’s Ship.

In one of his books Hudson Taylor, the Missionary, recalls his journey in a small schooner from Liverpool to China. When they were between Holyhead and Bardsey, they encountered a terrific westerly storm, which beat the little ship into Caernarfon Bay, as the vessel was about to go on the rocks off the coast of Angelsey, the wind suddenly changed direction to the east and the little ship was saved from disaster.

The ships mentioned below were not so fortunate. In 1817 a ship was wrecked off Porthdinllaen and all hands were lost. On August 5th 1820 the Caernarfon Ferry sank with a loss of 24 lives. And in 1830 an emigrant ship, with 400 passengers, foundered off the coast of Llyn. She sank near Ogof(cave) Newry, which suggest that the wreck gave its name to the cave. In 1832 not far from where the Newry sank the ‘Rossey o Ireland’ was lost, but all hands were rescued.

Cargo of Pigs.

In 1833 the sloop Sea Hawk, sank off Aberffraw, Anglesey, she was on her way from Porthdinllaen to Liverpool with a cargo of pigs on board. Also in 1833 the schooner Sceptre, sank in Caernarfon Bay with five lives lost.

On January 7 1843 another ship carrying a cargo of pigs was wrecked at Caernarfon Bar, she was the steamship ‘Monk’. The Sappho was wrecked off Pistyll, whilst another twelve ships were blown ashore at Porthdinllaen on the same day in 1843.

The barque Scotland, the Prosperity, the brigantine Lady Raffles another barque called Bob and the ship Raffles were all lost in Caernarfon bay in 1844.

All lives lost.

1846 saw the loss of a Glaswegian brigantine at Porthdinllaen, all her crew perished, and yet again in the same year the brigantine Alaborough was lost in Caernarfon Bay.

The brigantine Leori, the schooner Cambrian Maid, a ship, known, as the John o Gaunt and the barque Robert Bedford were lost in 1847 in Caernarfon Bay and 39 people lost their lives.

The William Turner was lost in Caernarfon Bay in 1849 with all hands lost, in the same year the Mermaid went down in Bardsey Sound. The name of Bardsey Sound tempts me to quote the following passage from the ‘Udgorn Rhyddid’ December 12, 1881(local Paper)

Only Son.

‘I have today the sad task of announcing the death of a most promising young man, R.O Griffith, the only son of Mr and Mrs Richard Griffith, Croeshigol Terrace, Trefor.

Mr R.O Griffith was a seafarer and was on a voyage home from Plymouth, when the vessel was struck by a strong wind that took her sails and everything on deck clean off. The ship was holed and taking in water fast with hardly anywhere for the crew to shelter from the stormy seas and it was at this time that the Captain and Mr R.O Griffith were washed overboard.

The Captain managed to take hold of a rope and was able to get himself aboard once again, but sadly all that could be seen of Mr R.O Griffith was his cap, bobbing up and down amongst the waves. This occurred on the 3rd of December when the vessel was about two miles off Bardsey Island.

Mr Griffith was an ardent and faithful Methodist and a young man who was loved by all who knew him. He left this life without a minutes warning, before he was fully eighteen years of age. We sympathise deeply with his bereaving family and trust that the Lord will be their comfort in this time of great sorrow.’

There remain in the area still a few of this young man’s friends and contemporaries, and there are many much younger who won’t even remember him now.

Two barques the Aurora and Tartar were lost in 1850 on Caernarfon Bar, whilst the sloop ‘Eifion’ sank at Porthor.

Three brigantines.

In 1851 three brigantines were wrecked in Caernarfon Bay, they were the Onward, Franconia and the Juno, a Greek ship was also lost there in the same year.

The brigantine Athenia sank in Caernarfon Bay and the schooner Silah in Porthdinllaen in 1852.

The steamship Olunda came to grief near Holyhead in 1854 and in 1855 a ship known as Barthor was wrecked in Caernarfon Bay.

In 1856 the Pwllheli built vessel William Carey was in distress in Caernarfon Bay. She was built in 1849 and carried 656 tons.

1857 saw 15 lives lost when the Sally sank in Caernarfon Bay.

Flat Huw Puw and the Royal Charter Storm.

In 1858 the Flat Ann was lost off the St Tudwals Islands, she was built in Frodsham in 1795.

In 1859 the year of the Royal Charter hurricane, eleven ships were wrecked off the coast of Llyn. The Villa, a Spanish vessel at Porthcolmon a schooner at Porth Felin, nine ships here and nine at Porthor, seven of the vessels lost all hands on board.

In 1863 the Bardsey a schooner was wrecked at Porthdinllaen, and it was in this year that Robert Rees, Penllel received a silver medal for his efforts in saving 23 lives from stricken vessels.

The schooner Henry Catherine was lost in Hell’s Mouth in 1866.One of the crew Dafydd Williams, Penrhos was rescued. About the same time at Porthdinllaen the brigantine Columbia was lost.

In the following years we see a lessening in ships wrecked, due to the increase in steam powered vessels and the waning of sailing ships from long deep sea voyages.

Years later a great disaster occurred close to Porthdinllaen when the Cyprian was wrecked. When I was a boy there were plenty of stories about her, many recalling the awful state of the shoreline when her cargo was washed ashore.

The Lady Hinks and the lifeboat.

In 1882 a barque named the Lady Hinks was wrecked near Trefor. When I was a boy her name was known to every child in the parishes of Clynnog and Llanaelhaiarn, because of what happened to the lifeboat in an attempt to save the vessel.

It was the morning after a stormy night, when the vessel was spotted out of control in the bay, her sails had gone and her wheel had no purpose to it in the face of the raging sea. She was being thrown ever closer to the rocks at Clogwyn y Morfa, by the force of the waves, when the maroons went off calling on the crew of the lifeboat to muster to their stations and go to the aid of the stricken ship. All the villagers, men, women and children went down to the beach and those that worked in the quarry returned to the quayside to watch the lifeboat men on their heroic and humanitarian mission.

There was no time be lost the ship was nearing the rocks and total disaster. The lifeboat was launched immediately, its red sails, raised, as soon as she was off the blocks.


With everyone holding, their breath, away the lifeboat ploughed into the tempestuous sea. As the lifeboat’s bow went headlong into the waves it capsized, unable to right itself as the mast prevented it from coming back on to its keel.

Some of the men clung on to the boat and eventually managed to get ashore safely, others were washed ashore by the force of the waves, all managed to survive.

Whilst all the hundreds of people on shore were watching the fate of the lifeboat, the crew of the Lady Hinks, had managed to launch their lifeboat and get safely on it, and miraculously all fifteen of them landed safely on the shingle beach, near the mouth of the river at Morfa.

There she stayed.

The ship struck the rocks and lay there until the tide came and carried her off to the beach between Clogwyn and the quay, on the second tide she shifted again to a more sheltered spot and there she lay until she was broken up by carpenter from Aberdesach, who bought her off the insurance company.

The farmers of the area made a small profit from the wreck, and there wasn’t a gate in the area that wasn’t made from the timber of the Lady Hinks, for many years after the event.

From an article written by William Owen Roberts, Tirionfa, Llangwnadl, in 1954.


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