Blackwater Bank

Shipwreck on Blackwater Bank

‘A light on the south end of Blackwater Bank is absolutely required to prevent the frequent shipwrecks on that bank.’

On 16 July 1844, Mr. Joseph Hume, MP, brought forward his concerns about the harbours of the United Kingdom. He observed that many natural harbours that had previously been able to receive large ships, no longer could and that the interests of those who owned the coastal properties were at odds with the interests of maritime navigation. The enclosure of the tidal properties made scouring and dredging impossible and as a result, many fine harbours were now closed to ships and others were deteriorating rapidly towards that state. His remarks were acknowledged by Sir R Peel, and a commission was appointed. By 1845, their initial report was released, along with the minutes of the evidence they had collected. One of the harbours of particular concern was the one at Wexford in Ireland.

Verifiable by Captain Denis Kenselah, for 22 years a master mariner out of this port, and since 1827, a ship owner residing at Wexford and, Captain Lambert, who is a master mariner trading to this port, and has been for many years. The banks outside Wexford Bay included Howlin’s Bed and the Blackwater Bank, the two of which laid in a direct line, each being not more than one-half mile wide. They have from five to ten fathoms water close to them inside, and also deep water at a quarter of a mile outside, with regular soundings. The passage between the two banks is about four miles wide, between Howlin’s Bed and Greenore Point, two-thirds of a mile. ‘A light on the south end of Blackwater Bank is absolutely required to prevent the frequent shipwrecks on that bank.’Wexford No 33, Evidence taken on 29 Aug 1845

But by 1850, nothing had been done to resolve the problem of Blackwater Bank.

On Wednesday, 8 January  1850, the James Drake and the Hottinguer were cleared to sail from Liverpool to New York. The two ships duly departed the Port of Liverpool on Thursday, 10 January on a dull and gloomy day, a cold wind from the south-south-east blowing them on their way. The James Drake, a 640 ton ship of Spofford, Tileston & Co, reached New York on 25 Feburary after a 45 day journey. She carried freight and 74 passengers, including 24 paupers who were assisted by the poor law board of the Limerick Union to emigrate to America.

The Hottinguer never arrived.

On the 12th, at 6 a.m., during a gale from the eastward, the Hottinguer struck on Blackwater Bank, near Wexford.

Then suddenly, at six o’clock on Saturday, 12 January, the Hottinguer struck on Blackwater Bank near Wexford, just two hours before daybreak. According to a survivor, the ship bumped heavily a few times, and then came to rest. The crew made signals of distress by burning lights and firing rockets and at daylight, they hung flags from the masts.

The Hottinguer

The Hottinguer was a substantial 1035 ton, fast-sailing, first-class ship built in New York in 1840. She was commanded by Captain Ira Bursley who was part owner of the ship, along with the Liverpool and the Queen of the West. The cabins were large and elegant and were furnished with every convenience. Cabin passage was twenty-five guineas, and included all stores except wines and spirits, which were available at an extra charge from the Steward. Like other packet ships of the time, the Hottinguer travelled between Liverpool and New York, departing on a regular schedule, and generally took about 18 days to make the crossing.

When the Hottinguer sailed from Liverpool that fateful morning, she had about twenty passengers, twenty-eight crew and a full cargo of merchandise, insured for between forty and fifty thousand dollars.

Captain Bursley’s Final Trip

The Hottinguer’s Route

The ship sailed east from Liverpool, before heading south and rounding the point at Holyhead, Wales. The winds were from the east, and quickly gathered to gale force and the Hottinguer would have pitched and rolled in the waves. Captain Ira Bursley was a seasoned sailor and knew the Channel well. He was probably not concerned.

By half past eight, the captain called the passengers to the deck and told them that they had been drifting off course on Friday and that he did not know exactly where they were. He now believed that he had mistaken the Tuscar light for the Holyhead lights in the darkness of the previous night.


[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#ffffff” text=”#000000″ width=”300px” align=”left” size=”1″ quote=”Passengers of the Hottinguer included Frederick Chapman, his wife and son; Reverend Mr. Dogherty, his wife and four children; Mr. Robert Miliburn and his wife; Mr. Michael Murray; Ira Bursley Jr., the captain’s son; a young woman going out as a servant; the mate’s daughter and three stowaways, one a young boy.” parallax=”off” direction=”left”]

At eleven o’clock, the Preventative Boat 1the Preventative Boat Service was the forerunner of the Coast Guard service came alongside the Hottinguer and Captain Bursley’s son Ira junior and a young woman who had been headed to New York as a servant were taken on board along with the ship’s log book and papers. They headed to shore, about six or seven miles distant.

One of the ship’s life boats was then loaded with thirteen of the crew, two stowaways that had been found on board, the mate’s daughter and Mrs. Chapman and her son. The small boat was nearly swamped as it landed on the distant beach but all the passengers got off safely.

The first mate and five other seaman took the quarter boat, refusing to take any passengers and the Preventative Boat returned to take the Reverend Mr. Dogherty, his wife and four children and Mrs. Miliburn to safety, promising to return for Frederick Chapman, Robert Millburn and Michael Murray, the other three passengers, but the seas became too rough and they never came. There were two boats left on board the Hottinguer. A small life boat with a pair of oars and the longboat with no sails, mast, rudder or oars, but the seas were too rough and darkness was beginning to fall.

At eight o’clock that night, the wind grew even stronger and the captain ordered the two anchors be let down. The ship continued to pound against the bank throughout the long dark night and the crew and three remaining passengers huddled in the second cabin, waiting anxiously for the morning light. When the sun finally dawned, the situation on board the Hottinguer had worsened. The winds were even stronger and the sea was incredibly rough, the waves crashing against the ship as she battered against the sandbar. The captain, seeing that the winds were in his favour, ordered the two anchors to be slipped in hopes that they would be lifted off the bank. He called for the sails to be set but the crew soon discovered that there was about seven feet of water in the hold, and the pumps were put into service.

The Rose

At nine o’clock, a screw-propeller ship called the Rose under the command of Captain Rochford came alongside the Hottinguer. The Rose had been on route from Waterford to Dublin when Rochford had seen the Hottinguer’s distress flags flying from her masts. The two captains communicated by chalking words on boards and under Rochford’s direction, they began to try to ease the Hottinguer off the Blackwater Bank when efforts to get a two rope on board her had failed. By early afternoon, however, the ship had about fifteen feet of water in the hold and refused to respond any longer. With the steering gone, Captain Bursley finally ordered the longboat into the water but it broke up as soon as it was lowered.

propeller ship Rose
The Rose was a screw-propeller boat under the command of Captain Rochford

The lifeboat was lowered and bailed out and the three male passengers climbed on board along with four of the crew and a young boy who had been found stowed away on the ship. They began to make their way towards the Rose, but the seas were swamping the boat and would have capsized in the waves had Captain Rochford not brought the Rose towards it, finally pulling the men on board to safety in the heavy sea.

Rochford ordered the lifeboat to return to the Hottinguer for Captain Bursley and the remainder of the crew, but the waves were even higher and the Hottinguer had begun drifting towards shore.

[aesop_image imgwidth=”600px” img=”” align=”center” lightbox=”on” caption=”Arklow and Glassgorman banks near Arklow” captionposition=”left”]

When the Hottinguer was about two miles from the shore, she came to rest on the Glasgorman Bank and Captain Rochford had to abandon the idea of relaunching the lifeboat, knowing that his men would face certain death in the breaking seas. He attempted to lower his own longboat, with the intent to send his mate to the Hottinguer with a chart of the coast but it was struck by a wave and was stoved in. There was nothing left to be done.

With Captain Bursley, the second and third mate, the carpenter, the steward, two cooks and six seaman clinging to the masts, the Hottinguer listed on the Glasgorman Bank, taking on more water. The ship soon began to break apart in the gale as the Rose headed to shore.

The Hottinguer was lost.

On 18 January 1850, once the loss of the Hottinguer was confirmed, a meeting of the shippers and others interested in the cargo she held was convened at the offices of the Fieldan Brothers in Liverpool. It was resolved to send a tug boat to the final resting place of the ship to attempt to recover what could be saved, particularly the goods in the lower hold that were said to be quite valuable. It was thought that recovery could be made by a team of divers. The recovery operation was ultimately successful and the water damaged goods were later offered for sale.

On account of whom it may concern. On Monday next, the 15th instant, at Twelve o’clock, at Fielden’s Warehouse, Rumford-street, A quantity of damaged Manufactured Goods, saved from the Wreck of the Hottinguer, bound hence to New York. Apply to Messrs. Fielden Brothers and Co., Merchants; or to Fairclough and Chinn, Brokers.Liverpool Mail - Saturday 13 April 1850

Captain Ira Bursley

Ira Bursley was the oldest child of John and Susanna Bursley, born June 21st, 1798. His father John died Feb 17 1836 and his mother August 31 1828. He married Louisa Matilda Green on 30 April 1831 in Barnstable, MA and the couple had at least six children together. Although by all accounts, Ira Bursley’s remains were never recovered, a memorial stone in Cobb’s Hill Cemetery in Barnstable marks his passing.

When Ira died, Louisa was 41 years old, Ira Jr was 17, Louisa Jr was 15, Susan was 12, Anna was 11, Caroline was 9 and the baby, Henry, was only 2. Those who knew him said that the fateful voyage from Liverpool was to have been his last before he retired from his life on the sea to spend his time with his family.

Allan Forrest, Seaman

DUBLIN POLICE. Head Office. HEARTLESS ROBBERY —Edward Curran and John Donaghoe were brought up custody, on Friday, charged with having robbed Allan Forrest, seaman, several articles of wearing apparel. It appeared from the statement of Forrest that he had belonged to the ship Hottinguer, wrecked in the latter end the past week on the Arklow coast, on her from Liverpool to New York, and that he was one of fourteen of the crew of the ill-fated vessel whose lives were preserved on the disastrous occasion. He, with some others of his shipmates, bad made their way up to Dublin, portion of the journey having been made by the Wexford coach. On alighting from the vehicle on Thursday evening the prisoner accosted him, and, representing themselves as quay porters, offered to carry his luggage, consisting of some shirts, jackets, trowsers, etc., which had picked from the beach after the wreck, to wherever might he going. He first declined the offer, sixpence being at the time all the money he was possessed of; but on apprising them of the fact, they insisted on taking his parcel, without any charge whatever, to any part of the city he wished. He consented, and they took it, his direction, himself accompanying them, to a packet office the North Wall, where they deposited it, and he left to inquire to the time of vessel sailing for Scotland, of which country he was a native. On his return, however, he found that the prisoners bad, during his absence, on false representation, possessed themselves of the property, and absconded with it. It was then late, and by the advice of some persons to whom he mentioned his case, he applied at this office early the following morning, when, having given Sergeant Spencer, of the detective force, a description of the parties, that officer, accompanied by Forrest, after some inquiries, proceeded to house in Johns lane, off Thomas street, and in a room there he found the wife of one of the prisoners, but neither of the latter were at the time. Leaving the female in charge of the sailor, he searched the place, found it all the missing articles, with the exception of a vest and trowsers. He then waited in the room for about hour, when his patience was rewarded both the accused walking in, and becoming, with the assistance of Forrest, his prisoners. The offenders were sentenced to two months imprisonment and hard labour.Dublin Weekly Register - Saturday 26 January 1850

Frederick Chapman

The attention of the humane is respectfully solicited to the melancholy case of an English Gentleman, who embarked with his wife and child at Liverpool, on board the packet-ship Hottinguer, bound for New York, and was wrecked the 13th inst. on the Sandbar, in Arklow Bay, Wexford, where he escaped with his wife and child, stripped of everything but the clothes on their backs. His luggage consisted of eight trunks and packages, containing clothing for himself, wife, and child, house linen, some plate and various articles for house use, intended for his settlement in Toronto, Upper Canada, where he had resided before, and a purse containing thirty sovereigns, which he estimates, exclusive of the sovereigns, considerably above £200. He is now at No. 3, Summer-hill, with his wife and child; the small sum of £4, which his wife had on her person, being exhausted, he is most reluctantly compelled to make this appeal to the generosity of the Irish Public, it being the only way open to him of obtaining the means of proceeding on his journey. The contributions of the humane will be received at the Bank of Messrs. Latouche and Co., Castle-street, to the credit of Frederick Chapman, and gratefully acknowledged.Freeman's Journal - Thursday 24 January 1850


1 the Preventative Boat Service was the forerunner of the Coast Guard service