Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Home sweet home

Friday, 10 March 2017

Misadventure on the SS Pembroke, 1899

The SS Pembroke was one of a proud fleet of ships of the Great Western Railway company which carried passengers, freight and mails between Waterford and the UK. While en route to Waterford in February of 1899 she encountered dense fog and ran aground on the Saltee Islands, sparking a major rescue and salvage operation. 
SS Pembroke heading inbound to Waterford, Flying huntsman ahead. 
AH Poole Collection NLI
http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591122
The SS Pembroke was built by Laird Brothers of Birkenhead, in the year 1880. She was originally a paddle steamer, but in 1896 she was altered by the shipyard into a twin screw steamship as shown above. She was operated by the Great Western Railway Company and did regular sailings on the Waterford to Milford Haven route, latterly Fishguard, and as such would have been a regular site to the people of the city and the harbour.

She departed Milford port on the 18th February 1899 with 28 passengers, a crew of 30, the mails, and a cargo of 28 tons. The ship was under the command of Captain John Driver. At 6.19am the ship was forced to reduce speed having encountered dense fog off the Wexford coast. At about 6.30am the Master spotted breakers ahead, and immediately ordered the engines to full astern. The response came to late and before the way could be taken off her, she struck land.  
Aground on North Saltee- AH Poole Collection NLI
http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591118
A passenger takes up the story; "...we were thrown out of our bunks onto the cabin floor. For a few seconds we heard a terrible sound underneath the vessel.  The rest of the passengers thought that the vessel had collided with another vessel and was sinking...When we got on deck, other passengers were huddled together in a group, half dressed. Among the passengers were some ladies, who seemed very calm, while male passengers were running about in terror. The captain ordered the boats to be launched and by 7 o clock all the passengers were landed on the island"(1)

The land they encountered was one of the Saltee Islands and there were two men staying on the island at the time (William Culleton and Anthony Morgan).  These men guided the ships boats in, and treated the passengers to tea and tried to make them comfortable. The second mate then set off in a ships boat for Kilmore Quay where he raised the alarm by telegram to Waterford. The entire fishing fleet set to sea and the tug "Flying Huntsman" part of the Waterford Steamship Co fleet which was then at Dunmore responded and eventually took on the passengers, cargo and the mail and brought all to Waterford that same day.(2) 
Paddle tug, Flying Huntsman at Limerick,
 courtesy of Frank Cheevers and NLI
A man named Ensor from Queenstown (Dun Laoghaire) was engaged as salvor and it was considered feasible to refloat the ship.  This was achieved five days later on the 23rd Feb and under the Pembroke's own steam, but with several tugs on stand-by, she was brought into Waterford harbour and up to Cheekpoint.(3)
Aground again, but purposely
AH Poole Collection NLI 
http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591127
Inspection in progress - AH Poole Collection NLI
http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591124
She was re-grounded at the Strand Road, above the main quay at Cheekpoint, and it seems that it was a major draw for city and country people alike.* The photo above shows clearly the benefit of re grounding the vessel as a full view could be got of the damage and temporary repairs could be carried out.

The Pembroke sailed down the harbour for Lairds of Liverpool for repair on Saturday 4th March. Again she sailed under her own steam and safely got across the Irish sea, but sprung a leak off Liverpool and had to call to Hollyhead for emergency repairs.(4)

The subsequent inquiry into the incident was held at the Guildhall in Westminister on March 29th 1899.  It found that the ships Master, John Driver, made insufficient allowance for the tide which appeared to be running abnormally strong on the morning of the grounding. They found that he did not reduce speed sufficiently and should have cast a lead when unsure of his position.  However after a previous unblemished career of 39 years, the tribunal made no ruling on his position saying that he was "entitled to the confidence of his employers"

The Pembroke returned to service the Irish Sea and continued up until 1916. In that year she was given over to general cargo runs.  She survived the war, having at least one near brush with a U Boat which she managed to outrun. She survived the war but following 45 years of loyal service she was sold for scrap in 1925. 

 If you follow the links under each photo it will bring you to the NLI website and you may then zoom in on each photo where you will get a good sense of the crowds at Cheekpoint.  There is also a great view of a paddle steam tug ahead of the Pembroke as she departs above Passage.   

The original story was passed on to me by Tomás Sullivan Cheekpoint.

(1),(2) & (3)John Power - A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011) pp 377- 381
(4). Waterford Standard. Wednesday March 8th 1899

No comments:

Post a Comment