"The Monk"

In St. Hywyn churchyard, Aberdaron, is the memorial inscription to John Jones, which appears underneath that of his father, Griffith Jones, shopkeeper of Siop Penycaerau, my great, great, great, great grandfather. This led me on the trail of a shipping tragedy, which affected over twenty Llyn families; "In memory of John, son of the above named Griffith and Catherine Jones who was unfortunately drowned in the melancholy shipwreck of the Monk steamer on the Carnarvon Bar the 7th day of January 1843 aged 13 years." His memorial stone is between the eastern wall of the church and the south wall running down from the main road to the sea. The Caernarfon and Denbigh Herald of the. 14th January, 1843 has a report on the sinking. It appears that The Monk of Liverpool left Porthdinllaen on the afternoon of the 6th January with a cargo of 140 pigs, two cows and 4001b butter. It carried a small crew, the owner of the butter, Mr. Owen Williams of Birmingham, farmers who owned the livestock, passengers and the captain, a Capt. Henry Hughes. It was bound for Liverpool where the cargo would be sold. The sea was rough and was swamping the deck of the steamer which was less than sea-worthy. The men were at the pumps from the start but the situation got worse when the boat entered the Menai Strait. It seems that control of the vessel was lost and it ran aground on the Carnarvon Bar at around 5.30 p.m. The boat came clear a couple of times as the crew attempted to save the ship but the engine failing put paid to that. The crew then set fire to tar barrels in order that help might be attracted from those on shore but the nearest lifeboat station at Llanddwyn was unmanned, the boat and crew being in Abermenai. At about 9:00 p.m., Owen Williams and three others launched a punt - a shallow, flat-bottomed boat, little more than a raft, completely unsuited to rough seas - from the steamer and reached shore by 2:00 a.m. with a further three miles to walk before they found succour. Capt. Hughes remained on board with the rest of the men. Overnight, in the heavy storm, the boat began to break up and one by one the men were lost. In the first light, Capt. John Jones of Bodiorwerth, Newborough, Anglesey saw the wreck while riding his horse on the north shore of the strait and galloped to the lifeboat at Abermenai, which was launched.
When the wreck was reached, there were only two men alive in the rigging, a number of others drowned or died of exposure where they were tied fast and the rest were swept or jumped overboard to their deaths. It was said that Capt. Hughes jumped overboard to his death at the last moment when the lifeboat was in sight of the ship. Whether this is true or not and why he may have wanted to do this are open to conjecture.
Not only would the loss of so many young men of Llyn have resulted in great hardship on their families but, as the vessel was only insured for the end of the journey in the river Mersey, the financial losses were not likely to have been recouped. The Monk does not appear in Lloyd's Register according to Dr. Reginald Davies, Carshalton Beeches, to whom many thanks for help with aspects of this article. We are told that six pigs and a cow swam to shore with the rest of the livestock and butter being washed up with much disappearing into the night. The chance of so much apparently God-given booty was too much for poor - and some rich - Llyn people as evinced by other notable episodes of wrecking as it is called.
Inquests on four bodies recovered were held in Llandwrog and Clynnog under Mr. Hunter Hughes on the 11th January but no record seems to survive other than terse newspaper reports. All the other bodies appear to have been lost to the sea.
The Llanddwyn lifeboat crew came in for criticism for their absence from station that night but were praised for their subsequent good conduct once the alarm was raised. A report in the North Wales Chronicle of January 1843 says of the surf that breaks on the shoals of the Strait that:
"...During West North West gales waves curl to a height not less than thirty feet. In daylight a boat may by great skill and coolness get out of their way, but in darkness it is next to impossible that any boat should live half an hour in it."
This article infers that had the lifeboat been at station and had responded earlier, the toll would have been higher and would have included the lifeboatmen themselves.
The tragedy was remembered in two contemporary ballads, one by a Robin Pritchard of Tudweiliog (Robin Lleyn). They both list the names of the men involved (with some minor differences) and have a religious tone befitting the times. John Jones, Penycaerau is remembered thus:

"John mab Jones o Ben y Caerau, 

Er el ddoniau ai fawr ddysg. 

Aeth o'n golwg dros y geulan, 

Fachgen mwynlan yn eu mysg 

John son of Jones of Penycaerau,

Only a young man among them,

Despite his great skill

Disappeared over the horizon.)

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The names of those saved in the punt were Owen Williams, Birmingham provision dealer, Hugh Jones, engineer; Thomas Jones, Tai Dwr, Llaniestyn, Thomas Davies publican, Porthdinllaen. The two survivors saved by the lifeboat Were William Owen, farmer, Bodlas; Grifflth Ellis (or Jones?), Rhoshirwaun (or Pwll Melin, Bryncroes?). 

Those lost were:
Capt. Henry Hughes.
Capt. Mathew James, Porthdinllaen.
Thomas Jones, Ty Cerrig, Aberdaron.
John Jones, Penycaerau. Aberdaron (M.I. in Aberdaron)
John Griffiths, Ty'n Llan, Bryncroes (M.I. in Bryncroes)
John Williams, Pen y Craig Fawr, Bryncroes.
Thomas Jones, Brynheulog, Edern.
Richard Jones (or Lewis?), Glanllynau (or Llanllyna?) Edern.
James Harrison, Berthaur, Penllech (buried in Penllech)
John Jones, Bencraig, Bryncroes.
William Thomas, smith, Caernarfon.
Robert Owen, Ty Mawr, Bodfean.
Phillip Parry, son of William Parry, sadler of Llaniestyn.
John Jones. Cefn Gwynt, Bryncroes.

 


This Memorial inscription is in Bryncroes:
"Capt Griffith Jones, Graig Ewig, yn y plwyf hwn. Bu yn Australia am.23 o flynyddoedd a daeth adrefyn y flwyddyn 1883. Bu farw Mat 9, 1884 yn 45. Hefyd Robert ei frawd. Claddwyd ef yn Calcutta Medi 10 1864 yn 25. Hefyd John Griffith, Ty'n Llan, eu tad yr hwn a foddodd ar Far Carnarvon yn nrylliad yr ager long "Monk", Ionawr 7, 1843 yn 48."


"Capt Griffith Jones, Graig Ewig. in this parish. Lived in Australia for 23 years and came home in 1883. Died the 9th May 1884 aged 45. Also Robert his brother Buried in Calcutta the 10th May 1864 aged 25. Also John Griffith Ty'n Llan, their father who drowned on the Caernarfon Bar in the shipwreck of the Monk steamer January 7, 1843 aged 48."
Robin Lleyn's parting words were:

"Dyma dydd bydd cof amdano,

Cyhyd y bydda rhai'n mewn bod,

Am waregidaeth rhag marwolaeth,

Ac i rhagluniaeth rhoddant glod; 

Boed ein herfyniad ninau beunydd, 

At Ben Ilywydd nef a llawr. 

Am adnabod Crist yn geidwad, 

Cyn delo dydd y mudiad mawr."

 

"This day will be remembered

As long as we live,

That they were saved from death,

Praise be to God.

Let our plea be every day

To the God of Heaven and earth,

That we acknowledge Christ is our saviour

 On the dawning of the final day. "

 

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Carnarvon & Denbigh Herald

Price 5d.                                                                  Saturday, January 14th 1843

Awful Shipwreck with loss of more than Twenty Lives.

A truly awful and distressing wreck took place on the evening of Saturday last on Carnarvon Bar, of the particulars of which we have, at considerable pains, endeavoured to obtain a faithful and accurate report. The ‘Monk’, steamer, of Liverpool, Hughes master, left Porthdynllaen about half- past two on the afternoon of Saturday for Liverpool, with a cargo of about one hundred and forty pigs, two cows, and four hundred pounds worth of butter. She had on board, as correctly as can be ascertained, seventeen passengers and a crew consisting of nine persons including Captain Hughes. It appears from several circumstances that the vessel could not have been in a state of perfectly seaworthy. Indeed, the men were employed at the pumps from her first departure from Porthdynllaen until she struck (a very unusual occurrence) and it was observed that, on approaching the Black Buoy on the bar, a sea passed clean over her stern in such a way as to induce a belief that she was likely to become unmanageable, although there was no immediate apprehension of danger. The vessel had passed the Red Buoy about half-past 5 o’clock pm, and then first struck on the North Bank. This probably arose from the thick darkness that was coming on, and from the steersman keeping too far to the northward in his course; circumstances which might have existed without there being adequate grounds to charge either the master or the steersman with blame.

There is a rumour that the rudder-chain broke before the vessel struck, but of the truth of this we have no direct allegations or accounts that can be relied on. The vessel was off and on the bank several times before she sustained any very material injury; but her engines becoming disabled, it soon became too evident that she could not weather the storm. The terror and confusion which now prevailed must have been most appalling. With their imminent peril thus fearfully revealed, the stoutest hearts must have quailed. The survivors, however, are not able to express their deep sense of danger; and it is not our wish to adorn a tale of truth with the habiliments of fiction. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, and the anticipation of succour from the land, there being a lifeboat stationed at Llanddwyn, was not likely to be lost sight of.

Accordingly, tar-barrels were set on fire. The poor mariners and passengers trusting that the light would be a signal for immediate assistance. Lights were also hoisted in the rigging. The light was sufficient to induce among the people on shore a belief that the vessel was actually on fire, but alas, it was all unavailing for its purpose, the lifeboat being far from its proper station. It had, strange to say, been taken over to this town (Caernarvon) in the course of the day for ’exercise’, or for market use, and could not be taken back to Llanddwyn in the wind then blowing. It was therefore left at the above-named place, remote from its allocated sphere of beneficial utility. The circumstances will be duly commented on elsewhere. Our object is as little as possible to break the thread of our narrative by reflection or remarks. We must however pause to express our astonishment and regret at one most extraordinary fact. It being low-water about 7 o’clock, and the wreck being nearly dry and within about one hundred yards of the dry bank, it is surprising that no attempt was made (except in the instance we a re about to narrate) either on the part of the crew or passengers to gain the shore. For, with the exception of small gutters which might have been easily crossed, no obstructions at that time existed. We would not willingly imagine the possibility of the people being inebriated; and would rather account for their not making the attempt by taking into due consideration the utter confusion and dismay that must have prevailed; and their natural, their clinging hope of a speedy rescue by means of the Llanddwyn Lifeboat—a hope which, false a delusive as it proved to be, would in their circumstances be a constant, an enduring and a certain prospect. Poor wretches! It is awful, it is heartrending to reflect that, in the very crisis of their fate, they should be mocked by a delusive hope, and reft of that sole reliance on their own unaided energy which, had it been exerted, might yet have saved them!  But to resume:- Finding no help approaching them from the shore, Mr. Owen Williams, one of the survivors and chief proprietor of the cargo, persuaded three others to join him in the forlorn hope of launching a small boat, a mere punt, and risking their lives in a daring effort to gain the land. This was about nine o’clock. The vessel was then hard and fast on the bank, but had not begun to break up, and was free from any water in the cable. Despite the entreaties of several of their friends and Captain Hughes, who said that he would remain in the vessel to the last (an assertion too sadly verified), and who seems to have been impressed with an idea that the returning tide would float her off the bank in safety, Mr. Williams took to the boat. The exertions which they made, and the sufferings they endured ’ere they reached the shore are almost beyond description. Having, with some difficulty, gained the nearest bank, they had to tow the boat into another small channel. They then lost their oars, after which they were obliged to use the bottom boards. The boat then capsized, with Mr. Williams underneath it, and it was two o’clock next morning when they reached Abermenai. ’When we reached the shore’, Mr. Williams says, ’we were almost senseless, and being exhausted with fatigue were almost unable to proceed. We had three miles to walk to Abermenai, where we obtained shelter and repose.’

In the meantime, the lifeboat was attempted to be taken by first being towed, and afterwards steered to the wreck; but being so leeward of it, the effort was unavailing, and the poor creatures were reluctantly abandoned to their fate. We now return to those who remained on board, twenty-four in number. The fire was continued as long as it could be maintained, but to expect correct notions of time in the account given by the survivors of so horrible a scene would be absurd. Their situation was truly awful—and they were surrounded by wretches in the same state of agony as themselves. The heart-rending cries of so many human-beings anticipating instant and inevitable destruction must be conceived rather than described. Some calling for help, and many, it is to be hoped, in prayer, whilst a few were desperately determined to make an effort for their lives, and lashed themselves to the mast to perish there if not rescued. Sometime in the darkness of the night—but none of the survivors can say precisely when—fifteen of those poor unfortunates were washed off the paddle-box by one tremendous sea. 

‘And loud one universal shriek there rushed’

Louder than the loud ocean, like a crash,

Of echoing thunder, and then all was hushed,

Save the wild wind, and the remorseless dash,

Of billows.’

Morn came, with its despair. There were seven still on the wreck (which parted about five in the morning), but of these, only three were alive. The lifeboat was again brought into requisition, and after a considerable effort, reached the wreck at about eleven o’clock in the forenoon of last Sunday. But alas! Two only were alive. The third, Captain Hughes, half delirious from cold and exhaustion, as though distrusting the arrival of the boat, and thinking he had yet strength to gain the shore, plunged recklessly into the maddened sea, and was picked up by the lifeboat just dead. A few minutes sooner, and another witness of the catastrophe would have been spared; but it was otherwise decreed. The two survivors were taken to Abermenai, where they received warmth and food. Let our readers picture to themselves the suffering that had been endured by these men. They had been for seventeen long, weary hours in a state of anxiety, deepening through every immediate grade of anguish and of agony to the very verge of madness. Their own natural fear exacerbated by the cries and groans of their companions; their spirit crushed by that sense of desolation and of death which fell upon them when their companions no longer responded to their cries: their bodies wet, cold and famished, the keen wind whistled through their nerves; and the ‘sickness of hope deferred’ paralysing the vital instincts of the soul. What physical strength, what tenacity of life have they not exhibited. We close our own melancholy narrative with lists of the lost and the survivors, which we believe to be correct.

This ill-fated vessel was on her first trip from Liverpool, on this station to join the ‘Dolphin’. She had been for a long time on the Monk ferry in the Mersey, and was registered about 70 tons, with a single engine of fifty horsepower. Considerable expense had been lately incurred in the addition of a mast, and in general repairs. Still, the general impression is that she was scarcely seaworthy, her timbers being unsound. It is by far, too common a practice in accidents of all kinds, and particularly in those that excite so intense and general an interest as this does, to attach blame to those in command. This unkind and disingenuous practice we will endeavour to avoid. Our narrative is a mere statement of fact. We cannot, however, but record our astonishment that, at such a time of the tide (it being then full four hours of ebb) with a hard gale from the north-west, and with night approaching, it should have been deemed advisable to venture the bar.

Of the animals on board, six pigs and one of the cows managed to swim ashore. The carcases of the remainder were strewn along with the butter, along the beach from Llanddwyn to Dinas Dinlle and down the Straits as far as Port Dinorwic. The practice of ‘wrecking’, so prevalent along the western coasts of Great Britain (of the eastern, we cannot speak knowingly) was in this instance carried on to an extent beyond description. Some of the details are too disgusting to be reprinted—it is to be regretted that the iron hand of the law is not grasping some of these desperate marauders and inhuman wretches.

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Thanks to Chris Holden

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(Footnote)
In the National Library, there is an interesting notebook containing details of the auction of the wreck held on 1st February 1843 on the beach near Abermenai. Mostly timber and one small boat (possibly the one used by some 
of the crew to escape?), it fetched £16-17-8.
Letters in Gwynedd archives show that there was considerable interest in the wreck:
Letter to Lord Newborough 22 Jan 1843 (XD2/20296) - "Everyone has been loitering in front of him to see the wonderful wreck; Haslam [Thomas Browning Haslam - surgeon and Alderman of Caernarfon?] wants to sell her as she stands. T Williams of Craig y Don says he would take a 50 pound share if she were repaired. When he got up this morning he saw a steamer stuck high and dry on the Swillies. She was loaded with pigs. They thought they heard signal guns at 11 or 12 last night..." (The Monk's wreck was on the 7th January but maybe the letter above was written over a few days as most of us do occasionally).
In addition to the graves I mentioned, there is a memorial to Philip Parry of Tan y Ffynnon, Dinas, aged 17, in Llanbeblig Churchyard.

Robin Lleyn / Robin Prichard the poet who wrote the poem I quoted in the article may have been a grandchild of Siarl Mark of Bryncroes. One of Siarl Mark's descendents was Ieuan Llyn (Prichard) of Bryncroes. His son was called Robert. Another of Siarl Mark's descendents, Beryl Hughes of Mold, thought that Robin LLeyn may have been Bryncroes' blind postman in the 1870s.
He remains a bit of a mystery!

Thanks to Dr I Thompson, for this article.

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Other Shipwrecks

Stuart    Sorrento    Newry    Twelve Apostles    Bristol

Cyprian    Timbo    Amy Summerfield    Brig Ann


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