Thursday 7 July 2016

Descendants of a Sea Horse Rescuer?

At the recent unveiling of the Sea Horse Cairn, the Mayor of Waterford offered thanks to the descendants of the rescuers of the people on the Sea Horse that were present, including the Keoghans of Tramore. Further to this a document was distributed by the committee stating that ‘local fishermen of the Keoghan family assisted those from the wreck of the Sea Horse’ and that a great number of the ‘Keoghan descendants’ continue to reside in Tramore.  The only reason that I can see, that the Keoghans are singled out for such prominence over all the other Tramore names mentioned is that the decision was strongly influenced by Maxine Keoghan, Sea Horse commemoration committee member and editor of a booklet about the ship entitled The Shipwrecked Soldiers Cairn.[1] According to Maxine, her family lore suggested that her paternal ancestors, Keohan fishermen from Newtown, were part of the life boat crew involved in the rescue of the Sea Horse. However, she has since been made aware that there was no life boat in Tramore prior to 1859.
      Maxine Keoghan’s paternal genealogy can be traced with certainty back to her great grandfather Laurence Keohan, a fisherman residing in Newtown, born circa 1834-39.[2] His parentage and the place of his birth are somewhat uncertain due to a gap in the baptismal records, the records for Tramore between 1831 and 1858 being destroyed in a fire.[3] However three Keohans appear in the same area on Griffith’s valuation in 1851, namely Thomas Keohan, Laurence Keohan and Patrick Keohan.[4] One of these men is almost certainly her great-great-great grandfather. The baptisms of all three men are recorded in the Tramore parish register. They were brothers. Patrick was baptised on 6 November 1802, Thomas on 22 October 1807 and Laurence on 29 May 1813. Their father’s name was Laurence and he was married in Tramore on 20 January 1799.[5]
     The relevant names of the supposed rescuers of the Sea Horse listed on an affidavit (The affidavit was later discredited when one of the supposed signatories, Thomas Kirwan denied all knowledge of the events described in it.) were John Keohan, Thomas Keohan and Thomas Keohan Jun.[6] There is no evidence whatsoever that these men were fishermen as no record exits of their trade or of their deeds. The only name which matches the names in Maxine’s genealogy is Thomas who was a 9 year old boy at the time of the wreck. Maxine has argued in the past that all the Tramore Keohans are descended from fishermen from Newtown and she can consider herself ‘indirectly descended’ from all the Keohans of the Tramore area. This is an utter fallacy, as there were other people of the name living in the area at that time; some were paying tithes in Tramore. You’re either descended from someone or you’re not and while there may well be descendants of these men living in the Tramore area, Maxine’s extended family going back 6 generations are certainly not descended from the men named as rescuers of the Sea Horse, in a largely discredited affidavit.[7]

[1] Maxine Keoghan Editor, The Shipwrecked Soldiers Cairn, Waterford 2015.
[2] Censuses of Ireland 1901 and 1911, Tramore, County Waterford, National Archives of Ireland, online at
[3] Michael Olden and Andy Taylor, The Parish of Tramore & Carbally, Waterford 2006, page 117.
[4] Griffith’s Valuation, County Waterford, accessed online at Irish Origins.
[5] Tramore Parish Registers, Irish Family History Foundation.
[6] The Waterford Mirror, 14 February 1816.
[7] The Waterford Chronicle, 23 March 1816.

Saturday 16 January 2016

The Sea Horse Burials and Memorials

The burial places of the bodies of those lost on the Sea Horse have caused great confusion for nearly 200 years. Three sites: Tramore Church yard, Drumcannon Church yard and the Rabbit Burrows were all claimed to hold burials of officers and men. The Drumcannon Church of Ireland Parish Register recorded by the Reverend John Cooke, relating to the wreck was destroyed in 1922. However, Cooke made a copy of the original, according to which, the burials commenced on 2 February, when thirty three persons, 11 men, 6 women and 16 children were buried at Drumcannon ruined church and graveyard on the outskirts of Tramore.
       The first of the deceased officers to be buried was Lieutenant Dent whose body was cast on shore on 1 February: ‘This day one dead officer has been cast on shore; his name is Dent. Thirty two bodies were yesterday buried in one grave, men women and children. My pen recoils- my heart trembles as I write! Brave warriors! Companions of Wellington! And liberators of the world! Was this your hoped return?’ Dent’s funeral, which actually took place on 2 February, was reported to be mournfully striking, the officers and privates of a party of the 97th Regiment attended with arms reversed, and three volleys were fired over the grave. Mr Cooke, read the funeral service with feeling and dignity. The Rev Mr Wall, Catholic Assistant Clergyman, waited on the invalid officers and proffered, with great kindness and feeling, his and the Parish priest’s best offices. ‘All was a union of harmony and feeling for the sufferers. Several Ladies and Gentlemen gave assistance to the officers’. Cooke’s register records the burials of Lieutenant Dent of the 59th Regiment, 2 men, 1 woman and 1 boy on 3 February.
      There were no further burials recorded for over a week, until, on 12 February, Lieutenants Ross, Gillespie and Geddes were buried at Drumcannon. Lieutenant John Cowper reported that Geddes body had been washed up in a letter dated 7 February, a considerable time before the burial. The bodies were reported to be kept in a shed. Two days later, Mrs Baird, wife of the Quarter Master of the regiment and four men were buried. On the 18th, another man out of the ship was buried. On the 27th, two persons, surgeon Hagan and one private were buried. The burials at Drumcannon continued into the following month. On 3 March, one man and one child were buried. Over the next three days, a further five men were buried. On the 7th, Mrs Robinson and two privates were buried. The next day, Sergeant Major Watson and two privates were buried. On the 9th, one woman was buried. On the 10th, and the 11th, a further 4 men were buried. On the 12th, Lieutenant Veale and two privates were buried. There may have been some confusion as to the identity of the body as Captain McGregor’s name has been crossed out in the original entry and replaced by Veale. Another man was buried on the 13th and on the 15th four men were buried. On the 16th Captain McGregor, Lieutenant Scott, Ensign Hill, Lieutenant Allen of the Royal Navy, two privates and one woman were also buried at Drumcannon. 
       On 17 March, they began to bury the bodies on the Rabbit Burrows, when thirteen men were buried there. The following day a further three men were buried there. Between the 29th and the 31st, a further five men and two women were buried there. In April a further four men were buried. On 4 May one man was buried. The final entry was William Baird, Quarter Master, buried on the 28 May. It has been asserted elsewhere that the burials began on the Burrow because Drumcannon graveyard was full. This is hardly the case as the graveyard remained in use into recent times. It is far more likely that the decomposition of the bodies had advanced to such a degree as to render their transport non-viable. Rev Cooke often preformed service over uncovered bodies, at the risk of life and health.
       In total 82 people from the wreck were recorded to be buried in Drumcannon, 10 officers, 43 men, 11 women and 18 children, with a further single officer, 26 men and 2 women buried on the burrow. In all Cooke recorded that he buried 18 Children, 13 women and 80 men, which if the official total of those lost was correct, leaves 25 children, 20 women and 213 men with their graves in the bay. What of Major Charles Douglas and Assistant Surgeon Lambe? Their names are included on the memorial stone as being buried in Drumcannon. However, Reverend Cooke while naming all the other officers that were buried omits to mention Douglas and Lambe. It is likely that their bodies were not washed ashore or if so, were found in an unrecognisable state.

Unconsecrated Ground     
 The confusion about the burials started all of two days after the first one on the burrows, as a letter to the editor of the Waterford Chronicle related that the greater number of the bodies found were thrown into a hole on the beach;
Sir- The profound horror and dismay I have felt at the account of the Tramore wreck have been deeply increased on hearing, that the greater number of the bodies found were thrown into a hole contiguous to the Rabbit Burrow. As their removal now is utterly impossible, permit me to suggest a plan to ameliorate the last mentioned melancholy circumstance- First, to have the ground regularly consecrated both by Protestant and Catholic Clergymen, and a certain space around this sad depository enclosed with a low wall, a gravelled walk, and the remainder of the ground to be raised in a large mound, rising to the centre, by means of earth, &c. drawn there, which will serve as cover, amply, the lamented bodies, which has not been sufficiently done- in the centre, a handsome obelisk erected, on the pedestal of which the woeful occurrence may be detailed- the entire ground tastefully planted with Laurel, which bears the sea air, with privet, abundance of which can be procured at the Burrow, and other plants. This plan, which can be put into execution at a moderate expense, either by subscription, assistance from government, or both, will render this now horrible spot interesting to Tramore, a pensive walk on a summer’s evening to view it, and also a convenient deposit for the subjects of any future misfortune- but above all it will prove a disposition to perpetuate the deep sense we feel of the disastrous circumstance.
A Friend to Humanity

        This plan does not appear to have been implemented, as an extract from a letter to the Freeman’s Journal, some twelve years later reported ‘the frightful sight of a quantity of human bones strewn about…. bleached emblems of mortality seen on a barren sand-bank, with the load roaring of the sea below, presented an appalling spectacle…. Most of the bodies were cast on the beach, and carelessly buried on the sand bank…a little above high water mark. The sea, it is said has since made some incursion beyond its usual limits, and exhumed the bones of these brave men….How painful to witness, and how discreditable to the Corporate Body of Waterford to allow, the bones of those to whom their country owed so much to remain so long neglected and disregarded!’

The Cenotaph
A cenotaph in the shape of an obelisk was erected in the graveyard of the Church of Ireland by the surviving officers, inscribed with the following inscriptions:  

On the south side: Lugo, 6th & 7th of January, 1809 Corunna, 16th of January, 1809 Walcheren, August,1809 This monument was erected by Lieut, Colonel Austin, Lieut. Colonel Hoysted and the other surviving officers of the 2nd Battalion of His Majesty's 59th Regiment, as a testimonial of their profound sorrow for the loss of their gallant Brother officers who perished in the wreck of the Sea-Horse Transport in the Bay of Tramore on the 30th day of January 1816: and as a tribute to the heroic & social virtues which adorned their short but useful lives.

On the east: Vittoria, 21st of June, 1813 St. Sebastian, 31st of August, 1813 Biddasoa, 7th October, 1813. On the 30th day of January, 1816 the Sea-Horse Transport. Capt. Gibbs, was wrecked in Tramore Bay; upon which melancholy occasion, 12 officers and 264 Non-Commissioned Officers & Privates of His Majesty's 2nd Battalion, 59th Regiment, together with Lieut. Allen, R. N., 15 sailors and 71 women and children perished within a mile of the shore.  Of the hapless inmates of this ill-fated vessel, only 4 officers and 26 soldiers and seamen were providentially rescued from the raging ocean"

On the north: Nivelle, 10th of November, 1813. Nieve, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th of December, 1813. Bayonne, February & March, 1815. Sacred to the memory of Major Charles Douglas, Capt. James Macgregor, Lt. & Adj. Abraham Dent, Lieut. William Veall, Lieutenant Robert Scott, Lieutenant James Geddes, Lieutenant William Gillespie, Ensign Andrew Ross, Ensign Rowland F Hill, Surgeon James Hagan, Assistant Surgeon Lambe and Quarter-Master W. Baird   of the 2nd Battalion 59th Regiment who were lost by the wreck of the Sea-Horse Transport. Your heroic deeds, Brave Warriors! Will never be erased from the page of history and though cypress instead of laurels encircle your temples, your cenotaph is erected in the bosoms of your countrymen.

On the west: Waterloo, 18th June, 1815 Cameray, 24th of June, 1815 Surrender of Paris, 6th of July, 1815 The 2nd Battalion of the 59th Regiment commenced their Military Career in the Autumn of 1808 when they accompanied Sir David Baird to Corunna and were conspicuously brave in the arduous campaign under Lieut. General Sir John Moore. They partook of the Expedition to Walcheran. They also bore a distinguished part in the principal Actions that were fought on the Peninsula in 1813 & 1814 under the command of The Illustrious Wellington and finally participated in the renown of the ever-memorable day of Waterloo, and the second surrender of the French capital.

    One of the first relatives of the deceased to visit Tramore was Lieutenant John Geddes, 27th Regiment, who wrote a letter to his brother Adam Geddes, on his visit to Ireland to pay his respects at his brother James’s grave:
Waterford Bks
Thursday evening, 7th January 1819

Today I performed the melancholy duty of visiting the place where this disastrous shipwreck occurred.

     In the churchyard of Tramore Church a neat monument is erected by Lt. Col. Austen, Lt. Col. Hoysted & the survivors of the 2nd Bn. 59th to the memory of their Brother Officers & Soldiers who were lost on this melancholy occasion……
     The bodies of the Officers which were found & many of those of the men, are interred in the churchyard of Drumcannon church, formerly the parish church of Tramore, but now in ruins, about a mile & a half distant from it. No funerals are yet in the new churchyard of Tramore - some of the bodies which did not come on shore until sometime after are buried in different places. Drumcannon church & a few farm cottages stand on a height about half a mile from the Bay. Mr. Cooke minister of Tramore performed the funeral service.
      A decent small farmer close to Drumcannon Church pointed out to me the spot where the officers are interred, viz on the left as entering the churchyard but no mark to point out by name the individuals, most of the men on the right hand as entering. My tears bedewed the monument at Tramore & the churchyard at Drumcannon, where repose the remains of a brother I most dearly loved. I passed a melancholy hour at each.
     Mr. Cooke Minister of Tramore read the funeral service on this dreadful occasion, attending every day for that purpose as the bodies were found. I should like to ascertain from him if he knows the exact spot where repose the remains of James in order to mark it by a stone with the name. I regret that I was not aware of the mausoleum being at Drumcannon until my visit that I might have directed it & seen it done.

According to a later inscription, ‘the cenotaph was restored in October 1881 by General Hope Graham C B who as a Lieutenant Colonel commanded the 59th regiment for seven years’.

The Monumental Tombstone
Reverend R H Ryland, writing in 1824, stated that, a monument was ordered to be placed over the remains buried in Drumcannon, ‘the work is now finished, but the expense of it being still unpaid, it has not yet been erected…A considerable number of the soldiers were interred in the sand, at the distance of a hundred yards from the sea; it was in agitation to erect a monument over their remains but this has not been accomplished.’ In fact, Moses Robinson was contracted to build the monument in Tramore churchyard and to place a tombstone over the grave at Drumcannon. Moses was an architect, merchant and building contractor based in Waterford City. He erected the Cenotaph in Tramore, but being unpaid for his work; he refused to erect the tombstone over the grave. The following is the inscription on monumental stone:
Beneath this tomb are deposited the remains of Major Charles Douglas, age 29, Captain Jas McGregor, 21, Lieut and Adjutant Abram Dent, 26, Lieutenants William Veal, 21, Robt Scott, 21, James Geddes, 21, William Gillespie, 19, Ensigns, Andrew Rose, 19, Rowland F Hill, 19, Surgeon Jas Hagan, Assistant Surgeon Lambe, Quarter William Baird, of his Majesty’s Second Battalion, 59th Foot, who perished in the Bay of Tramore, 30th January , 1816, by the wreck of the Sea Horse Transport. 
To their revered memories this testimonial is erected by Lieutenant Colonel Austin, Lieutenant Colonel Hoystead, and the other officers of the battalion, also the monument at the church at Tramore. Returning to their native land where they looked for solace and repose after all the toils and dangers they had endured for the security of the British Empire and the deliverance of Europe, their lives were cut short by the awful dispensation of an all-wise but merciful providence.
But the memory of those gallant achievements in which they bore so distinguished a part under the guidance of the illustrious Wellington will never be forgotten, but shall continue to illuminate the historic page, and animate the heart of Britain to the most remote period of time.

The stone lay forgotten in Moses’s yards in Bolton Street for 43 years, until Moses died on 3 November 1859. From the details of his will, he appears to have remained a bachelor all his life. His sister Mary, a spinster inherited his estate with the stipulation that she had to honour all of his debts. At this time, Mary published a letter, stating that Moses had been unpaid for both of his monuments to the Sea Horse tragedy in Tramore. She further stated that unless the Sea Horse stone was bought from her, that she would have the inscription removed and have the stone used for her brother’s grave. She went so far as having the stone placed outside Kennedy’s Stonecutter yard. The implication was clear. Over a year later, the following notice appeared in the Waterford newspapers:
A testimonial, in memory of the brave fellows of the 59th Regiment, who perished in the Sea Horse, at Tramore Bay, on 30th January 1816, is to be erected midway between the life-Boat House and the Red House on the race course, exactly opposite where the vessel was wrecked. A public subscription has been already set on foot for the purpose, and the plan has been given by a gentleman in this city gratuitously.

The subscription was raised and the stone was duly purchased and plans implemented for its placement, but not at Drumcannon:
It is nearly forty-six years since the Seahorse transport, on her voyage from Portugal to England, after the Peninsular Wars, and with a large number of the regiment on board, was wrecked in the Bay of Tramore, and a very large number of lives were lost.
After that sad event a movement was made to erect a suitable monument near the scene of the disaster, and the monumental stone was ordered and procured, and the names of the officers engraved upon it, when the funds fell short, and the stone so engraved remained on the hands of the contractor, and for more than 40 years was neglected and apparently forgotten. On the decease of the contractor this stone was being disposed of for other purposes, when it attracted the notice of some of our citizens, and Mr Butler Hughes kindly consented to act as secretary and collector to a fund to complete the monument, and he corresponded with the present officers of the 59th Regiment. The following letter shows the interest which the gallant 59th felt in the fate of their hapless predecessors:
Captain DeMontmorency, 59th Regiment, presents his compliments to Mr Jas. Butler Hughes, and in acknowledging the receipt of his note of the 10th June last-only received this day in consequence of detention at different addresses-begs to thank him on the part of his brother officers for the trouble he has taken about the tombstone commemorative of the loss of the officers and men of the regiment by the wreck of the Sea Horse in Tramore Bay, the purchase of which they accept with great pleasure, and the tombstone itself they have equal gratification in presenting through Mr Hughes to the local gentleman who have so handsomely offered to place it on a suitable monument on the beach at Tramore and on a spot as near as possible to the scene of the sad disaster.
A post-office order on Waterford, payable to Mr Hughes, sent by Jos. DeMontmorency, is enclosed, with renewed thanks for his kindness.
Dover 26th February 1862.

Subscriptions were set on foot, and the sums hereinafter stated were collected. Abraham Denny Esq., who has given us specimens of his architectural tact and skill in the Protestant Hall, and in the Tramore Schoolhouse, very generously furnished the design for the monument, made the contracts and superintended the completion of the work, and the monument which is very tasteful in its completion, is erected on the Strand at Tramore, as near the spot where the Sea Horse was lost as practicable. We regret to learn that it has cost more than the sum raised by subscriptions, and that the hon. Secretary, Mr Hughes and the hon. Architect, Mr Denny, are both out of pocket. The following are the subscribers to the fund, and we hope some other contributions will come in to recoup the advances of the secretary and architect.
Subscriptions to Tramore Monument
Wm. Johnson, Mayor; General Roberts (2nd subscription); J. S. Ambrose, John Sparrow; T. B. Prossor, Henry Sargent, Congreve Rogers, John Fanning, Joseph P Mackesy, George baker, Capt. Mansfield, Henry G. Prossor, Dr. John Mackesy, Abraham Denny, Edward Denny, Pierse Kelly, Joseph Coombe, Henry Davis, Edmund Power, J. Butler Hughes, 10s each; John Malcomson, John Jackson, John Phelan, Thomas Walsh, Henry Pope, Jacob Penrose, jun., T. R. Cherry, W. M. Alcock, William M. Reade, Joshua Strangman, Richard Mahony, Hancock Strangman, Henry Ridgway, jun., Henry Denny jun., Samuel Harris, George Morris, Pierce Ronayne, James Henry Hickey, Benjamin Moore, Capt. Glubb, James Delahunty, 5s each.

 In total £15, 15s was raised, enabling the placement of the monument on six small pillars near the three mass graves on the strand.’ An inscription was added, recording its restoration in 1862 by officers, non-commissioned officers and privates of the regiment. Despite his philanthropy, Butler Hughes’s business interests in Waterford failed and he was declared Bankrupt in 1865, having moved to England. Following a series of severe storms, the monument was removed from the strand in 1912 by Martin J Murphy and erected on the Doneraile Walk, high on the cliffs, overlooking the bay.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

The Sea Horse 1782-1816

The Sea Horse was a three masted, square rigged ship of 293 tons burden, built in Gravesend for the Hudson Bay Company and launched on 30 March 1782. The ship continued in their employment for ten years, trading with the Native Americans, after which she was sold to a London ship-owner, employed as a Mediterranean merchantman and re-launched with letters of mark as a privateer. The ship was soon captured by French ‘men of war’ in 1795 and carried into Cadiz. She was then renamed the Principe Fernando and fitted out for a voyage to Lima. The ship was recaptured in 1800 by British privateers and later sold in Guernsey. The new owner employed her as a troop transport ship for a couple of years until peace ‘broke out’ in 1802. The ship was then fitted out as a South Seas whaler for a couple of years, until war broke out again when she was re-employed as a troop transport. She remained a troop transport until she was wrecked in 1816. In my estimation, having traced the majority of her voyages she journeyed at least 120,000 sea miles 'made good'. For a more detailed description of the ship and a comprehensive chronology of the ship’s voyages, see my article in this year’s issue of Decies, Journal of the Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society.

Thursday 3 December 2015

Thomas Russell, the Carpenter of The Sea Horse

The only dead seamen whose names are mentioned in the contempoary newspapers are those of  the first mate John Sullivan from Cork, whose wife was drowned and the ships carpenter, Thomas Russell, whose unfortunate family were left destitute:
T Russell, the carpenter of the unfortunate Sea Horse transport, lately wrecked on the coast of Ireland, was among the number that perished, and has left a most distressed widow (a worthy women) and six children totally destitute. He was a good husband, a sober, decent man, much respected in his subordinate, but useful line; he was two years carpenter of the Adam transport, which being paid off some time ago, he could not get another ship until recently, when he joined the Sea Horse; during his being unavoidably out of employment, his little saving were expended (as he always allowed the greater part of his wages for the support of his wife and children in his absence), and the widow and children are therefore absolutely penniless.-The donations of those who feel for the suffers, by such an awful visitation of providence, will be thankfully received by the widow, at her humble home no 6 Adams-gardens, Rotherhithe; at Sir Jas Esdaile and Co.’s, Lombard Street; Messrs Merries and Co.’s St James street; Bar of Lloyd’s Coffee House and Mr J Lachlan, late Agent for the ship, 22, Great Alle Street, Goodman’s Fields.[1]

[1] The Morning Chronicle, 24 February 1816.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Numbers On Board the Sea Horse

According to Captain Gibbs, the Sea Horse took on board at Ramsgate, on the 24 January, 16 Officers, 287 men, 33 women, and 38 children and a crew 17 in number. There was also a passenger, Lieutenant Allen of the Royal Navy, which including Gibbs himself, comes to a total of 393 souls. Total losses were reported to be 12 officers, 15 seamen, 71 women and children as well as the 264 enlisted men, a total of 363. While the numbers reported to be saved were 4 officers, 23 enlisted men, one of which died shortly afterwards and 3 seamen.
      However a letter from Ramsgate dated 6 February clearly related that, ‘the statement of men on board the Seahorse is not correct-there embarked here 14 officers, 266 men, 33 woman and 34 children.’[1] While there can be little doubt that there were 16 officers on board, the number of enlisted men, women and children remains open to question. Furthermore, an investigation into the Regimental Pay List from 25 January 1816 to 24 March 1816 confirm the deaths of 4 senior enlisted staff, 4 colour sergeants, 1 drum major, 10 sergeants, 14 corporals, 15 drummers and fifers and 197 privates on 30 January 1816, a total of 245 dead men, 2 of which died at the wreck of the Lord Melville. Adding the 22 enlisted men that are listed in the pay list as having survived the wreck of the Sea Horse, the total of the enlisted men recorded to be on board comes to 265.[2] A figure much closer to the Ramsgate tally; if we take this reckoning as the more accurate of the two, then the numbers on board amount to 16 officers, 265 enlisted men, 33 woman and 34 children, 18 seamen and one passenger, a sum total of 367 souls of which 338 were lost. However, if the number of soldiers on board is incorrect in the official tally, then the number of women and children is also probably incorrect. Also, Gibbs stated that there were only 17 seamen on board, including himself. The exact figures of those on board and those lost is unknown.

[1] The Times, 8 February 1816.
[2] 59th Foot 2nd BN 1815 & 1816 War Office Regimental Pay Lists, 25 January 1816 to 24 March 1816 , WO/12/6870, The National Archives, accessed online at

Thursday 19 November 2015

The Last Voyage of the Sea Horse

Ramsgate on the morning of the 25 January, would have presented a bustling scene as the troops of the 59th and 62nd regiments, marched down the Military Road to the harbour to embark on their vessels for their journey to Cork. [1] The majority of the 59th boarded the Sea Horse, Master James Gibbs, a ship registered in Lloyds as having a burthen of 295 tons, with a crew of 17.[2] She reportedly took on board five companies of the 59th regiment, consisting of 16 officers and 287 men, 33 women and 38 children and a young naval officer, travelling to meet his ship the Tonnant, a total of 393 persons.[3] The remainder of the regiment embarked on the Lord Melville, Master Thomas Arman, a ship with a burden of 351 tons. She reportedly, took on board 3 captains, 8 Lieutenants, 3 ensigns, 260 rank and file, 2 servants, 33 women and 30 children, a total of 339 of the 59th Regiment and part of the 62nd Regiment, consisting of a Colonel, 1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 3 Ensigns, 75 rank and file, 1 servant, 6 women and 2 children, a total of 50.[4] The William Pitt, Master G Proctor, the largest vessel of the three, with a burden of 418 tons, took on 18 officers and 406 men of the 62nd Regiment, the remainder of that regiment, 6 officers and 80 men, embarking on the Hound, Master Chapman, a three year old ship, with of 324 ton burden and an A1 classification.[5]
Ramsgate Jan. 25. - Sailed the William Pitt, Lord Melville and Sea Horse transports, having on board the 2d battalions of the 59th and 62d regiments for Ireland; they are the finest transports we have had in this harbour for a length of time past. The Duncombe and Hound transports are still here, waiting the arrival of either the 14th or 44th regiments, also destined for Ireland. The above regiments were intended to have been embarked at Dover, but the transports taking them on board were considered to draw too much water for that port. Sailed the Good Statesman transport for Plymouth; Catherine transport for Ostend; and Exchange transport for Calais, with several freight vessels, to bring over the Blues and 3d Dragoon Guards; 5 or 6 transports remain, taking in the heavy baggage of different regiments, for hull, London and Portsmouth. Upwards of 100 sail of merchant vessels of different descriptions have got to the sea this tide, bound to the Westward.[6]

Henry Moses, Ramsgate 1816

Having sailed on 25 January, the three transports came to anchor in the Downs, an area of sea, near the English Channel off the East Kent coast, awaiting the right wind for the voyage.  Here they were joined by the Boadicea, Fox, Promise and Fancy, Martin, Mariner 2nd, Promise, Betsy, Lord Cawdor, Patriot, Elizabeth, Mariner 3rd, Triton and William troop transports that sailed from Dover on the 26 January bound for Ireland, according to Naval Intelligence.[7] The Boadicea and Fox were transporting the 82nd regiment to Cork, while the other ships were transporting the 16th and 35th regiments and the 2nd Garrison Battalion. The Harmony, John and Eleanor transports also sailed to Plymouth: the Britannia for Ostend and the Ulysses and Britannia transports with troops to Calais. Taken in tandem, with the transports, voyaging from Portsmouth and Plymouth, an estimate of 10,000 troops under sail, bound for Ireland, would be on the conservative side. The ships parted company as they made their way through the channel.
        James Gibbs, master of the Sea Horse and Thomas Arman, master of the Lord Melville, both left correspondence describing their voyage. According to Gibbs, about 11am on the morning of 26 January, the Sea Horse weighed anchor, and sailed with light breezes from the N. N. W. and by about midnight was off Dungeness, a headland further along the coast of Kent on which a 115 ft. high lighthouse was built in 1792 by Samuel Wyatt. At about midnight, they spotted the Portland Lights to the N. E.[8]
      On Sunday, 28 January they passed Start Point, with the breeze coming from the N.N.E. They then altered course in the afternoon as they passed Lizard Point at 5 o’clock and at 11 o’clock  they passed the Longships Lighthouse, Lands’ End, 1 ½ nautical miles off. At midnight, it bore N.N.E., 8 miles away. From here they sailed into the Irish Sea and set a course for Cork.
     On the morning of 29 January, there was a fine strong breeze coming from the S.S.E., a favourable wind direction in which to sail to Cork. But at noon this was getting much stronger.  As Gibbs’s account states, the Sea Horse made landfall at Ballycotton Island at 4pm with the rising wind still coming from the S.S.E. From this time onwards, it was to be ‘a constant and awful struggle with the conflicting elements’. The mate, John Sullivan, a Cork man, well acquainted with the coast, then went up the forerigging to look at the land, but fell down on the forecastle, and broke both his legs and arms, and unable to speak, died in the arms of his wife, almost three hours later.[9]  (It has been stated that he may have been the only one on board that was well acquainted with the coast. However, this is highly unlikely, as transport vessels regularly shipped troops to and from Ireland via Cork and Waterford, the Sea Horse herself having been surveyed in Cork in 1813.) Gibbs then altered his course, as the gale grew, making westward for Kinsale Light House, intending to alter course and run along the land to the entrance to Cork Harbour once it was sighted. However not having not seen the light after sailing for two hours, doubts set in and he became unwilling to proceed any further, as the weather was so thick and hazy. With the most tremendous sea running, he decided to take in the top sails and hauled close to the wind, heading in a W.S.W. direction out to sea. According to Thomas Redding, a seaman on board, ‘In consequence of the affecting loss of his chief mate, Captain Gibbs was very greatly annoyed during the night, and appeared to have lost much of that self-command so essentially necessary to the safety of the vessel, passengers, and crew’.[10]
At 8pm, the ship got blown off course and spent most of the night on another heading of S.E., the wind coming from the S.S.W. which was now on their starboard bow. The tide was setting towards the land and with a large swell they were being pushed N.E. towards the lee shore, an unadvisable course of action. According to Redding, he spotted a ‘fogbank or the land’ at about 4 o’clock in the morning and reported it to the second mate, Wilson, who first derided the idea, but then called the Captain, ‘who had been sitting for some hours on the companion, apparently lost in a reverie’. They then laughed at his report.[11] They were still drifting in an easterly direction when at five in the morning, 30 January, they sighted Minehead which was inside them to leeward, wind still coming from the S.S.W., they then let a reef out of the topsails and set the mainsail-blowing very hard in order to help get away from the land, but the wind was so strong that about 10.30am, it broke the fore topmast and it went over the side. A seaman who was in the foretop had his back and thigh broken.
        They were still being blown in the direction of Waterford, when, about an hour later, just after the wreck of the fore topmast was cleared, the mainsail then split to ribbons. By this time, Gibbs had realised his mistake, and was desperate to get out at sea, away from the lee shore, but this was not possible with the damage to the masts and the ship not responding to the steering helm. The raging sea was sending them to the shore so fast, that even though they spotted the Hook Light House under the lee bow, they could not weather Brownstown Head. They took in all sail and anchored under the head in seven fathoms of water, using both anchors, they let out 300 fathoms of cable to try and hold the vessel. [12] The cables were leading straight out in front of her, turning her bow to the sea, and her stern towards the shore, as the waves continued breaking over them. At about 12am, the anchors dragged, as the sea bottom was probably just sand. The wind and sea were still increasing, with huge waves crashing over the ship from stem to stern (from the front to the back of the ship).[13]
      At 12.10pm her stern struck. They then cut away the mizzen and main masts; all the boats connected to the masts were now washed away. As the ship struck a second time, the rudder, which was, by now of little use, broke off and the sternpost was knocked in. Redding stated that about fifty soldiers had rushed into the quarter-boats, to try and save themselves. However, the boats were rigged to the mizzenmast which was being cut down and were about to go overboard. They were ordered to leave the boats, but refused to obey orders and were dashed into the sea and drowned.
      The sea continued to break immensely over the ship and about an hour later, she split in two by the main hatchway. All the people on board were clinging to different parts of the wreck. According to Gibbs, there was not the least disturbance among the women. Mrs Baird was trying to comfort her two daughters in the great cabin, while a Serjeant’s wife huddled between decks with her three children. The other women were heard pleading with their husbands to die with them, most of them uttering prayers. However, Redding paints a more realistic scene, with women screaming for their husbands and personal preservation coming to the foremost of almost everyone’s minds.
     After the ship broke in two, all but about 30 people that were left clinging to the forerigging were washed off. According to Gibbs, about 60 people reached the shore, but for the want of assistance only 4 officers, 25 soldiers, two of whom are died shortly afterwards, and two seamen and himself were saved.
Mr Hunt, of Tramore, and his man, Mr. Duckett, jun. and two countrymen, one named Kirwan, were the persons who contributed most to save the lives of the unfortunate people. To the indefatigable exertions of Mr. Hunt, in getting us up to the cottage at the Rabbit-burrow, and sending for spirits to his own house, and lighting large fires for our accommodation, we are principally indebted for our lives.[14]

[1] In 1816 Ramsgate was a busy port, 1496 vessels were registered as having entered the harbour in the previous year.
[2] Lloyd’s Registers, Underwriters, 1816.
[3] Ramsey’s Waterford Chronicle, 1 February 1816.
[4] Cork Advertiser, 1 February 1816.
[5] 62nd Foot 1815 & 1816 War Office Regimental Pay Lists, National Archives WO 12.
[6] Cork Mercantile Chronicle, 31 January 1816.
[7] Cork Advertiser, 1 February 1816.
[8] Waterford Mirror, 5 February 1816.
[9] Waterford Chronicle, 6 February 1816.
[10] James Acland, Enemy of Corporate Despots, Memoirs and Correspodences of a Ghost, Redding’s Reminiscences. No 1, copy online at
[11] James Acland, Enemy of Corporate Despots, Memoirs and Correspodences of a Ghost, Redding’s Reminiscences. No 1, copy online at
[12] Charts of the bay record the depth of water directly inside Brownstown Head as 42 ft. or 7 fathoms.
[13] Much of this chapter is based on Walter Phelan, Master SDPO’s interpretation of James Gibbs’s narrative. All errors are the author’s own.
[14] Waterford Mirror, 5 February 1816.

Saturday 14 November 2015

Freemans Journal 30 September 1828

Tramore is looked upon as the best bathing place on the south east coast of Ireland. Its contiguity to Waterford gives it great advantages; but its invaluable superiority over every other bathing place I have seen, consists of its strand, which, when the tide is full out, leaves a space of between three and four miles in length of clear and compact sand, which may be travelled over by any vehicle. Tramore bay is of considerable extent, but exceedingly dangerous.
To any vessel coming near it with a strong south-east wind it is fatal, of which the history of this little place furnishes a most melancholy instance. A few mornings since I took an early walk to explore a large amount of sand, the accumulation of ages, situate at the extremity of the beach. My attention was arrested by the frightful sight of a quantity of human bones strewn about me. These bleached emblems of mortality seen on a barren sand-bank, with the load roaring of the sea below, presented an appalling spectacle, and left the mind to a thousand conjectures of the cause which led to such a scene.

Doubting whether to attribute it to deadly contest with Smugglers, who once carried on a considerable traffic in this bay, many of whom might have been shot, and unceremoniously thrown under the surface of the sand, or to a wreck, on my return home I made inquiry, and was asked if I had never heard of the Sea Horse Transport, which I confess I never had. My informant then gave me a detail of that awful calamity. The Sea Horse Transport was bound from Liverpool for Cork, and had on board a large portion of the 2nd battalion of the 59th regiment. On the 30th January, 1816, it was driven into the Bay Tramore by a storm, and within a mile of the shore was wrecked in the presence of hundreds of spectators, who from the violence of the storm were unable to render any assistance. By this dreadful visitation perished 12 officers, 264 privates and non-commissioned officers, 15 sailors and 71 women and children! Only four officers and 26 men were saved. Most of the bodies were cast on the beach, and carelessly buried on the sand bank to which I have alluded, a little above high water mark. The sea, it is said has since made some incursion beyond its usual limits, and exhumed the bones of these brave men. The surviving officers erected a monument in the church yard to their companions in arms, who perished in this melancholy catastrophe. This regiment was one of the most distinguished in the service. It was engaged in the memorable battles of Corunna with Sir John Moore, Vittoria, St. Sebastian, Bidassoa, Bayonne, Waterloo, Cambray, and at the second surrender of Paris. How painful to witness, and how discreditable to the Corporate Body of Waterford to allow, the bones of those to whom their country owed so much to remain so long neglected and disregarded!