"Shipwrecks around Rhiw, Aberdaron and Bardsey"


Chris Holden


Porth Neigwl (Hell’s Mouth) comprises a three and a half mile wide south-west facing sandy bay, with rocky cliffs to the east and west. It was appropriately named, and feared by generations of seamen. Any sailing ship unfortunate enough to be swept into the bay during a south-westerly gale would have had great difficulty in escaping, and would be faced with the choice of running into the cliffs or on to the beach. Most ships opted for the latter, with the 1850s Ordnance Survey map clearly stating ‘Transit wrecked in 1839’. Other vessels known to have been beached are the ‘Arfestone’ (1840), the ‘Aggravator’ (1898), the ‘Twelve Apostles’ (also 1898), the ‘Margaret & Elizabeth’ (1912) and the ‘Trader’ (1917).

Most of these would have been pounded to pieces on the beach and scavenged for scrap, but some items - such as the boiler believed to be from the ‘Aggravator’ - can still be seen at the high-water mark.

Thomas Pennant, in his ‘A Tour in Wales’, published in 1781, compares the dual dangers of Hell’s Mouth and Sarn Badrig to those of Scylla and Charybdis in Homer’s Tales, where the mariner avoids one, but is trapped by the other. The long, shallow reef of Sarn Badrig caught dozens of victims, but many other vessels came to grief in Hell’s Mouth.


wreck_diving.jpg (47802 bytes)       

Chris wreck diving, Timbo off Abersoch and Ilesha at Bardsey

Porth Neigwl  

1/2/1810, On the same day that the 'Elizabeth' was lost in Hell's Mouth, the Aberystwyth schooner 'Mary' was lost on the rocks at Rhiw while sailing in ballast from the Isle of Man.

3/2/1812 The 'Allelulia' was lost at Rhiw when outward bound from Liverpool for Oporto, Portugal. Its cargo was saved.

15/11/1824. The ‘Resolution’ ran ashore at Porth Neigwl while sailing from Waterford to Liverpool.  

7/12/1866, The 79-ton Nefyn schooner, 'Henry and Catherine' drifted onto a rocky beach near Aberdaron with the loss of four persons. Another report says the vessel was lost at Hell's Mouth. 7/12/1866, The 79-ton Nefyn schooner, 'Henry and Catherine' drifted onto a rocky beach near Aberdaron with the loss of four persons. Another report says the vessel was lost at Hell's Mouth.

13/10/1870. Lloyd’s List. Pwllheli. The 'Mary', brigantine, Kelly, of and from Wexford, for Cardiff in ballast, was abandoned yesterday near Bardsey Island, making water, with pumps choked and shortly afterwards drove ashore and went to pieces. Ashore this morning at Hell's Mouth and has become a total wreck.  

The ‘Dalmation was a  1,989-ton, Bibby Line vessel which was lost during a storm on the 26th of November 1872. Built by Harland & Wolf in 1862, this iron screw-steamer was outward bound from Liverpool, heading for Trieste when it ran into bad weather. Some reports say that it foundered near Bardsey Island, but others show it ashore at Hell’s Mouth.

Lloyd’s List. Liverpool 29/11/1872. A quantity of timber has washed ashore near Hell's Mouth. Also 3 or 4 hatches, like steamer hatches, some pieces of oars with the letters TSDL, cabin doors and pieces of new packing cases with the following marks -- 'Quire & Co.

A man by the name of Edward Hughes at Pwllheli saw a bright light about 9pm 26th November 1872, coming from the direction of Bardsey. The above letters TDSL are those of the 'Dalmatian' which left this port 19th November for Palermo. Another telegram states that the wreckage at Bardsey is identified as part of the cargo from the 'Dalmatian'.

Lloyd’s List   30/11/1872 St. Tudwell's The beach from Hell's Mouth round to about two miles east of Abersoch is strewn with sides of bacon, hams and tallow. One cask of tallow is marked on one end 'Trist' in painted letters.

Lloyd’s List   3/12/1872 A brass plate with 'Harland & Wolff, Iron Shipbuilders and Engineers, Belfast 1862' and the end of a drawer with 'S.S. Dalmatian' on it have been washed ashore near Hells Mouth.

30/10/1880. The 'Nymph', a 104-gross ton schooner was carrying coal from Llanelly to Newry, when it was lost at Porth Neigwl.

18/1/1883. Ten crew were saved when the 650 ton barque 'Penseverenza' ran onto the beach under Ty Mawr Farm, close to the west end of Hell's Mouth. Newspaper reports suggested that it was expected to become a total wreck. Owned by Cox Brothers of Locano, Italy, the barque was carrying Baltic Pine and Deal from Penzacola to Greenock.

14/2/1895. The schooner 'Joseph Nicholson' of Portmadoc sank near Hell's Mouth after colliding with the schooner 'Walt Ulric'. Fortunately, there was no loss of life.

5/8/1898. The ‘Aggravator’ was a 37-ton, wooden steamer that was carrying a cargo of coal when it was wrecked on the beach towards the western end of Hell’s Mouth. The ship’s boiler can still be seen on beach, underneath the site of the old brickworks that operated here during the later years of the 18th century and the early years of the 20th Century.

23/11/1898. In driving rain and strong winds, the Pwllheli schooner 'Twelve Apostles' was deliberately run onto the beach in Hell’s Mouth. In a recorded interview, an eyewitness said that the ship ran ashore at the eastern end of the beach, where the little stream comes out near Nant.

 The telescope from the vessel is now displayed in Nefyn Museum.

1/11/1899, The 155-ton brigantine 'Rob the Ranter' of Foy was wrecked at Hell's Mouth with the loss of 2 crew members. The survivors managed to escape in their own boat and came ashore near Trefallwyn Farm at Llanengan. It was carrying a cargo of ‘burnt ore’. Trefollwyn Bach and Trefollwyn Fawr are about 1/3 of the distance along Hell's Mouth, measured from the west (Rhiw) end of the beach.

7/2/1902, The 76-ton ‘Jane & Annie’ was carrying biscuit and flour from Cardiff to Portmadoc when it was lost at Hell's Mouth

Also on the same day, the ‘Catherine & Mary’, a 90-ton wooden schooner was lost by the brickworks whilst en-route from Neyland to Portmadog.

1903 The ‘Idea’ foundered in Hell’s Mouth while in ballast.

5/8/1904, S.S. ‘Ganda’, a Belgian-registered vessel of 474 tons that was wrecked here while loading manganese ore. The ‘Ganda’ broke from her mooring during the night, tangled the mooring-rope around her propeller, and drifted ashore. On the following day, the rope was cleared and she steamed away, heading for a safe anchorage at the St. Tudwal’s Islands. Unfortunately, she was found to be leaking badly and so returned to the pier where she grounded on a stony seabed, split her hull, and filled with water.

Lloyd’s List 9/8/1904 Ganda owners superintendent due here to report.

Lloyd’s List August 8th. The steamer Ganda of Gent, for Antwerp with manganese ore, while lying at Rhiw Jetty, broke her moorings on the night of August 5th, got a rope round her propeller and drifted ashore. After clearing propeller, vessel got off next day and proceeded for St. Tudwals Islands. Soon afterwards, she was found to be making so much water that she was beached in Hell’s Mouth to prevent sinking. Crew safely landed.

"Hell's Mouth Jetty"

Lloyd’s List August 9th. Estimate cargo 500 tons. Bound Antwerp. Stranded off Rhiw, Hell’s Mouth. Head inshore, exposed SES to SW weather. Sitting on level, sandy ground. Captain reports vessel having bumped on stony ground when she broke adrift from loading jetty. At 4 hours ebb tide, water in hold 20’ higher than outside level. When high tide, reaches about 3’ below afterdeck.

28/8/1912, The 72-ton ketch ‘Margaret & Elizabeth’ was wrecked while discharging coal at Rhiw Pier.

20/1/1917, The ‘Trader’, a 32-ton iron screw-steamer, was totally lost at Rhiw, presumably at the pier or at the brickworks.  


Porth Cadlan

30/9/1873 The 'Pwllheli Packet' was abandoned by its crew while carrying a cargo of roofing slates from Caernarfon to Haverford West. Lloyd’s List says 4 miles north-east of Bardsey & gives latitude & longitude 1 mile south of Porth Cadlan.

Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, 2nd June 1883

Aberdaron. A steamer sunk. About 6 o'clock last Wednesday morning, the steamer 'Glen Okum' of London, bound from Newport to Liverpool with railway bars, went ashore at Porth Cadlan. She sank soon afterwards. She was 200 tons register and belongs to London. The crew managed to save some of the effects.

Lloyd’s List of 25th May, 1883, reported that the ‘Glenocum’ was ashore and full of water. By the 28th, the Liverpool Salvage Association had refloated the ship, but then had to beach her again at Aberdaron in the hope of removing the cargo and repairing the ship. Operations continued all summer to recover most of the cargo of iron bars, along with the ship’s anchors, chains and fittings. By September 20th, 246 tons of cargo had been removed, but all hope of saving the ship had been lost and work was abandoned. The wreck and remaining fittings were sold for £70.  



1752 ‘St. John the Baptist’ Wrecked at Aberdaron.

12/1/1808 The sloop 'Joseph' sank at anchor in Aberdaron Bay, with a cargo of wheat, butter and cheese for Liverpool from Milford Haven. 

1/12/1847 The 60 ton sloop 'Jane' sank at anchor in Aberdaron Bay.

26/10/1859 The Cardigan schooner 'Priscilla' was lost with all hands and a cargo of lead ore, either in Aberdaron Bay or at Porth Oer. This was the night of the ‘Royal Charter Gale’, when a vessel of that name ran ashore at Moelfre, Anglesey, with the loss of over 400 lives.

30/1/1869 The Aberdeen brig 'Bellona' was wrecked at Aberdaron while carrying a cargo of coal. All crew-members were saved.

1874 The 34 ton, Llandudno sloop, 'Sarah Lloyd' was lost at Aberdaron.  

December 1880. Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, 11th December, 1880, Pwllheli. Wreckage around the shores of Porth Dinllaen and Aberdaron, numerous deck planks and other timbers apparently indicate that a wreck has been washed ashore. On the 6th, a figurehead was picked up at Porth Neigwl, Hell's Mouth .It was the image of a man measuring about 7 ft long with his left hand in his bosom and in his right a chart or role of paper.

May 1883, Wreck in Aberdaron Bay

Usually referred to as ‘The Wreck in the Bay’, this is probably the remains of the 3-masted, iron steamer ‘Glenocum’ which was deliberately beached after hitting a rock in 1883. Built in 1875 at the shipyard of  T. Grendon & Co., Drogheda, Ireland, the ‘Glenocum’ was owned by The Belfast Steamship Company and propelled by a 75-horsepower, 2-cylinder steam-engine. According to the 1881 edition of Lloyds Register, the ‘Glenocum’ was 146 feet 5 inches long, with a beam of 22 feet 4 inches. Having measured this wreck from the prominent bow to the sternpost, I came to a total of 147 feet 8 inches, which allowing for minor errors is virtually the same as the ‘Glenocum’. Other divers have suggested that this wreck is that of the ‘Priscilla’, but the only local reference to a steamer of this name gives an overall length of 120’, which is much too short for this wreck.

Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, 2nd June 1883

Aberdaron. A steamer sunk. About 6 o'clock last Wednesday morning, the steamer 'Glen Okum' of London, bound from Newport to Liverpool with railway bars, went ashore at Porth Cadlan. She sank soon afterwards. She was 200 tons register and belongs to London. The crew managed to save some of the effects.

Lloyd’s List of 25th May, 1883, reported that the ‘Glenocum’ was ashore and full of water. By the 28th, the Liverpool Salvage Association had refloated the ship, but then had to beach her again at Aberdaron in the hope of removing the cargo and repairing the ship. Operations continued all summer to recover most of the cargo of iron bars, along with the ship’s anchors, chains and fittings. By September 20th, 246 tons of cargo had been removed, but all hope of saving the ship had been lost and work was abandoned. The wreck and remaining fittings were sold for £70.

The ‘Glenocum’ provides an excellent introduction to wreck diving, being shallow, out of the main current and close to the shore. The prominent bows are intact and point seawards (south), indicating that the ship probably dropped anchor before grounding. This is the deepest part of the wreck, where even at high-water the maximum depth will be less than 10 metres. The deck is completely missing, so there are no passageways or holds to explore other than the forepeak, but the single 4-metre high ‘Scotch’ (tubular) boiler remains upright and intact, with dense kelp growing on its upper surface. The twin stoke-doors face towards the stern, a design feature of a small vessel in which the jobs of engineer and stoker could be combined. The hull has collapsed outwards so that the iron hull-plates now lie almost horizontal, creating large gaps that provide a safe haven for large shoals of pout. Take a good torch to look at the pout, the prawns in the fireboxes and the conger that usually peers out of the hole in the top of the boiler or hides in one of the boiler pipes. Be aware that the conger (nicknamed ‘Dinky’) does object to divers hammering away at his home inside one of the copper pipes, and will come out to chase off the noisy intruder!

In addition to the shoals of pout already mentioned, pipefish and small two-spotted gobies hide among the wreckage and thick kelp, while large ballan wrasse will follow a diver around the wreck in the hope that he or she will dislodge an easy meal.

25/5/1883 Lloyd’s List   Glenocum  Liverpool May 23rd 6.50 pm.  The Liverpool Salvage Association reports that the Glenocum (steamer), Newport for Liverpool, is ashore in Aberdeen Bay, full of water. ( This is how it was reported, Aberdeen, not Aberdaron)

1/6/1883 Lloyd’s List   Liverpool May 28th  7.55 pm  The Liverpool Salvage Association report that the Glenocum steamer floated yesterday morning, but making too much water had to be beached at Aberdaron. Operations continuing next tide.

29/6/1883 Lloyd’s List   London June 23rd The Liverpool Salvage Association reports Captain Archer wires last night that trunk-way over hatches fixed yesterday morning but breeze came on with the day obliged him to clear out before noon. Evening - could see woodwork all adrift. No news today. Inclines us to believe weather improved. Work resumed.

25/6/1883 Lloyd’s List   Liverpool Salvage Association report continued southerly winds Saturday and yesterday prevented work at ship and also prevented tide ebbing. Fear these springs lost. Part men being sent back.

20/9/1883 Lloyd’s List   The Liverpool Salvage Association report. The wreck of this vessel together with material has been sold and realised £70 gross. The total quantity of cargo saved is about 246 tons.

25/1/1884 At low-tide, the masts of an unknown barque were seen sticking out of the water at Aberdaron. This was probably the 967 gross ton wooden barque ‘Miningu’, outbound for Rio de Janeiro from Cardiff with a cargo of coal. All 16 persons aboard were drowned.

May 1908 The 47-ton schooner ‘Elizabeth & Mary’ was stranded and became a total wreck at Aberdaron.


Bardsey Sound & Island

3/4/1812. The 57-ton Glasgow sloop  'Lady Charlotte', sailing from Spain to Bristol, was well off course when it was wrecked on Bardsey Island. Part of the cargo of wool, nuts and wine was saved.

20/11/1819 All hands were lost when the sloop ''Margaret' was wrecked near the Bardsey Lighthouse.

16/12/1819 A Scots sloop was wrecked on Bardsey, the crew being saved.

20/9/1820 The sloop 'Active' hit the coast, either on or close to Bardsey Island, while sailing from Waterford to Liverpool.

21/9/1820 The 91-ton brig 'British Queen' sprang a leak and sank two miles south-west of Bardsey Island with it's cargo of Caernarfon slate destined for London. Crew saved in own boat.

13/10/1822 An unknown sloop sank half a mile south-east of Bardsey with the loss of all hands.

17/12/1822 In thick fog, the Aberdovey sloop 'Sally' ran onto the rocks on the east side of Bardsey, sinking immediately. The crew escaped, reporting that where they ran into the island 'the cliffs appeared higher than the mast', suggesting they were wrecked north of the slipway

30/12/1822. The tender for the Bardsey Lighthouse was lost, along with all six persons aboard.

2/12/1825. Sailing from Newport to Liverpool with a cargo of iron, the ‘Lively’ was wrecked near Bardsey. Two of the crew were lost.

8/11/1830. The 'Skylark' was en route from Plymouth to Liverpool when it foundered off Bardsey.

7/5/1832. The 'Mary', of Aberystwyth, sank near Bardsey.

6/12/1834. The ship's boat from the Arundel schooner 'Thomas' was washed ashore at the south-west promontory of the Llyn Peninsular. It was presumed that all hands were lost.

25/12/1836. Bardsey Sound claimed the sloop 'Ann'.

1836 - Unknown date. The schooner 'Rhine' was lost in Bardsey Sound while en route from Stockton to London. (If so, why was she here?)

May 1838. The smack ‘Wave’ was presumed to have been lost off Bardsey, as the ship’s boat was picked up off the island.

1849 The Pwllheli sloop 'Mermaid' sank in Bardsey Sound.

8/4/1855 Liverpool ship 'Robert' IN COLLISION OFF BARDSEY -- DID IT SINK ?  Note same day -- Philadelphia steamer 'North Carolina' sank off Bardsey   --  SAME INCIDENT ?

10/9/1858 The 51 net ton schooner 'Gleaston' (or ‘Glaston Miller’) hit a rock in Bardsey sound while transporting coal from Swansea to Ulverston. Presumably this rock was Carreg Ddu or Maen Bugail. The prevailing south-west gale then drove the ship onto the mainland shore, where it sank with the loss of the captain and one crew member. The two remaining crew-members were saved.

11/3/1861 The 34 net ton flat 'Palendar' was heading to it's homeport of Barmouth from Drogheda when it was dismasted in Bardsey Sound. The south-westerly gale drove it onto rocks, where it broke up and sank with the loss of the captain and one sailor. The flat was carrying flour and oatmeal

Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, March 23rd, 1861 -- BARMOUTH.- Wreck.-The 'Palendar' of this port was lost on the 1lth inst., near Bardsey Sound. She was laden with flour and oats, and on her homeward passage from Drogheda to Barmouth. Capt. Pugh and the mate were of this town, and were lost. A boy was saved. A subscription has been set on foot for the widow of the captain, which is liberally responded to by the inhabitants of Barmouth.

20/3/1862 No lives were lost when a vessel foundered 5 miles north of Bardsey. This was the 'Thames', carrying copper ore from Barrow to Port Talbot.

28/11/1864 The Pwllheli sloop 'Racer' sank in Bardsey Sound.

3/12/1865 The Caernarfon snow 'Jane' was wrecked near Bardsey. 

9/2/1870 The Porthmadog schooner 'Prince of Wales' was wrecked at Bardsey.

12/10/1870 All 12 hands were saved when the Spanish ship 'Baringo' became a total wreck on Bardsey Island. It was carrying a cargo of raisins and muslins.

Lloyd’s List    19/10/1870 The cargo of the 'Baringa', from Liverpool to Havana, which was wrecked on Bardsey Island, 12th October, is floating about the coast.

Lloyd’s List  21/10/1870 The Master and Mate of the 'Barinaea', remaining at Bardsey Island, have saved some tons of goods washed ashore from the wreck.

29/10/1870 Carnarvon & Denbigh Herald -- Late Gales and Wrecks

The 'Baringo', owned by M. Bilbonin, Spain, has become a total wreck on Bardsey Island, but all the hands, twelve in number, were saved. She had a general cargo of dry goods such as muslins, raisons etc. The 'Amity' of Plymouth, Captain Windsor, came into St. Tudwell's Roads on Saturday evening, having lost a boat and received other damage. The 'Nimble' of Whitehaven is supposed, from the fact that it's signboard has come ashore on the coast here, to have sunk between Bardsey Island and Porth Nigwl. 

20/1/1878 Carnarvon & Denbigh Herald  Sat 26/1/1878 A collision took place on Sunday evening, about half past seven pm at Bardsey Bay, SSW 16 miles, between the 3-masted schooner 'Forest Fairy' of Falmouth, Gregory, master, from Liverpool to Cardiff in ballast and the ketch 'Intrepid' of Jersey, Robinson, master, Liverpool to Weybridge in Cornwall, with grain. The wife of the master of the 'Intrepid' was drowned. There does not appear to have been any great effort to save her, more especially by those on board the ketch. She was manned by the father and two sons and one seaman. They all appear to have gone on board the schooner as soon as possible, leaving the old lady to her fate. The boat from the schooner was launched and kept pulling about for an hour but saw nothing. The ketch went down a few minutes after.

28/1/1880 While sailing from Bantry Bay to Liverpool with a cargo of pyrites, the 77 net ton schooner 'Viscata' sank about twelve miles west of Bardsey, the four crew escaping in their own boat. Another report puts the wreck as 10 miles east of Bardsey.

4/3/1881 The 109 ton Porthmadog schooner 'Great Britain' left Portmadoc with a cargo of slates and stone for Plymouth, but encountered severe south-easterly winds and was lost in Bardsey Sound.   

12/9/1882 The brig 'Rowland Evans' sank south-west of Bardsey.

19/10/1885 Pwllheli schooner 'Jane & Eliza' lost.

2/1/1887 The 4-masted ship 'Duke of Connaught' was returning in ballast from Maryport to it's home port of London, when it sank off Bardsey following a collision with the Liverpool steamer 'Dragon'. Fourteen crew were lost and seven saved. 

10/8/1888 The ‘Active’ was lost off Bardsey.

21/3/1897 Two steamers, the 'Amethyst' and the 'Anubis' collided off Bardsey. The Dublin-registered 'Amethyst' sank but the crew were rescued by the other vessel and taken to Liverpool.

Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald 26th March 1897

Shipping Casualties. The Moss Line steamer ‘Anubis’ which arrived at Liverpool on Monday from Alexandria, reported having been in collision on Sunday with the Dundee steamer ‘Amethyst’ for Barcelona, off Bardsey Island. The weather was very thick at the time. The ‘Amethyst’ was struck by the stem of the ‘Anubis’ which sank shortly afterwards. The crew managed to get on board the ‘Anubis’, though they have lost all their effects. They were brought to Liverpool. The ‘Anubis’ has her stem twisted.

3/11/1898 One crew member was lost when the 99 gross ton, Barrow schooner, 'Alice Bannister' was involved in a collision with the steamer 'Barrowdale'. The schooner sank about 10 miles west of the Bardsey Light, with it's cargo of china clay from Cornwall.

9/12/1899 The 89-ton  'Jane Pringle' was lost off Bardsey.

1900 The Scots sailing vessel 'Leah' was wrecked on the west side of Bardsey.

19/10/1900 Maid of Meirion -- Maen Bugail / wooden dandy / Portmadoc to Larne with roofing slates.   

Lloyd’s List   Portmadoc, Oct 22nd 1900 The 'Maid of Meirion' of Aberystwyth, Portmadoc for Larne with a cargo of slates, went ashore in Bardsey Sound and became a total wreck. Crew saved

25/1/1914 The 100 gross ton 'Harvest Home', a 3-masted schooner hit a rock, sprang a leak, and foundered in Bardsey Sound. The vessel was carrying china clay from Par in Cornwall to Ardrossan. All crew members escaped in their own boat.


Thanks to Mr Chris Holden for this article.


Chris Holdens book  'The Essential Underwater Guide to North Wales. Volume One. Barmouth to South Stack'.

Published by Calgo Publications.  www.calgopublications.co.uk 

For details of stockists and mail order.

Paul Kay is a friend of Chris  who lives in Llanfairfechan and is a professional underwater photographer. 

Check Paul's site at www.marinewildlife.co.uk


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