Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ships: Unsinkable Tayleur

Before Titanic undertook the famous Arctic voyage that would make her a household word (and James Cameron rich), the White Star Line built an “unsinkable” transit that eerily foretold the fate of her future sister.

Interest in travel by sea picked up after 1830, particularly in Great Britain. With forced transportations a thing of the past, the Brits began to look upon places like Canada and Australia as rugged frontiers where a man or a family could start out new. The founders of White Star, Wilsons and Pilkington, saw an opportunity to fill the niche for ships that could offer transport to new worlds in all price ranges while also hauling merchant goods. The two men, in a notably ambitious fashion that would mark their business for decades, set out to build one of the first iron clad clipper ships.

In 1853 construction on RMS Tayleur began at Warrington, England. She would be 230 feet long, 40 feet at the beam and carry holds almost 30 feet deep. Her tonnage is usually listed around 1,750 and her hull was entirely encased in iron. According to White Star, this made her impervious and virtually unsinkable.

Problems, however, arose from the beginning. She was fitted with a “patent rudder”, in other words one that was not custom made for her unusual size and speed. On the opposite end her rigging and sails were oversized in an effort to seize all possible wind and run fast from Britain to Australia and back. These things alone made her potentially unsound but the state of her crew on her maiden voyage only added to the probability of disaster. She was crewed by only 71 men, including cooks, stewards and boys. Her captain was personally familiar with none of these men and some, according to passenger accounts, spoke no English. No sailing was undertaken by the crew prior to loading up with 581 passengers and 4,000 tons of cargo aboard and setting out from Liverpool bound for Melbourne in January of 1854.

The weather turned dirty almost immediately and Captain Noble and his men struggled with their behemoth of a vessel. As no one had bothered to adjust Tayleur’s compasses, they were thrown off by her metal hull. The ship headed north straight into a fierce gale. Two days after leaving Liverpool, Tayleur was caught by the lee at Lambay Island just south of Dublin Bay. She was dashed on the crags of the island before sinking with a loss of some 380 passengers, many of them women and children. You can find a harrowing, eye-witness account from The Illustrated London News of January 28, 1854 here.

The horrible wreck, in which so many lost their lives, prompted an inquiry. Though Captain Noble and his men were found to have done what they could to prevent the accident and save both ship and human life, the clear problems with Tayleur were identified without much trouble. The wreck of the Tayleur was sold at Liverpool in June of 1854, according to The Illustrated London News, for 480 pounds. Her original cost to build was 20,000 pounds.

Interest in Tayleur, and particularly her unfortunate passengers, may be rousing anew. According to this article from IrishCentral.com, a group of bones were found on farmland in Rush near Dublin last week. Though the initial thinking is that the bones may be those of Viking settlers from the ancient port of Lusk, there is another theory. Evidently the bodies of Tayleur’s dead washed up on shore near Rush and were hurriedly buried in mass graves that remain unidentified. Could this new found grave be the final resting place of those unfortunate souls? As with so many mysteries of the sea, only time (and a good bit of knowledgeable examination) will tell.

Header: RMS Tayleur via wrecksite.eu


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! That's a pretty sad story. The eye-witness account is particularly disturbing, but not too surprising, I guess.

By the way, not to nit-pick, but the website you linked to in your post says that the ship sold at auction for £480, which is still a far cry from £20,000.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! It is sad, and more so because it was not instructive enough to help prevent future tragedy.

Thanks for the heads up on the money issue as well. Hopefully, there will be more information on the bodies found at Rush soon.