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.

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!