A “Melancholy Catastrophe” 1853.

Owen Jones, coxswain of Rhyl’s lifeboat  “Gwylan y Mor”,  gave a first hand account of  this catastrophe to a coroner’s inquest, which was reported in the North Wales Chronicle of January 28th, 1853.

I was informed by my wife, about five o’clock, p.m., on Saturday, that a signal was put up by the telegraph, that a vessel was in distress.  Went out with eight others, in the lifeboat, towards her.  After we had gone about three miles, we put up the lug-sail; it blowed at the time a moderate gale.  Went within about half a mile of the vessel, but before we reached, the tide had covered her; and we, therefore, could not find her.  We turned back, and when we came to about a quarter of a mile of the shore, the wind blowing N.N.E., the boat lurched, and shipped a sea from the larboard side, and David George went overboard, but we got him in again.  When we had got a little nearer shore, a heavy sea broke over us, and the boat made a lurch, and turned right on her face.  Finding she did not right, I got on her, and pulled up two others; when, after a while, she righted, and we were again plunged into the sea.  I swam towards the boat again, but found two of the crew clinging to me; I still endeavoured to swim towards the boat, when a heavy sea broke upon us, and separated the men from me.  I can swim pretty well, and managed to get to the boat, and after resting a little got into her.  I found Peter Edwards in, and John Williams fast to the side, holding the rope with his teeth, and I got him in.  We were then three in the boat.  The mast was broke.  When in the boat I could see the rest of the crew about 50 yards from us, but afterwards lost sight of them.  The boat was now within a few yards of the shore, in about five feet of water.  I took the boat-hook and shoved her to shore; and when on shore, I could see some of the men.  The men were all perfectly sober, and no blame could be attached to any.  I have been much disappointed in the boat, on account of its capsizing in righting powers, the water ballast we completed.  I don’t approve of her model, being too round in the bottom; it would have been not so liable to capsize if the bottom had a flatter floor.

Six of the crew of nine lost their lives: David George, John Evans, Phillip Jones, Thomas Jones, John Edwards and William Parry.  They left 4 widows and 7 children.

The lifeboat in question had been designed and built by James Beeching of Great Yarmouth, who had won first prize in the “Northumberland Prize Lifeboat Competition” of 1851, with  a design for a self righting lifeboat.  Gwylan y Mor  was slightly smaller than the  prize winner, being 26ft x 6ft 6 ins and rowing 8 oars.

For more information on James Beeching and his prize winnig lifeboat follow the links:



Illustration shows James Beeching’s self righting lifeboat



Filed under Maritime, People

7 responses to “A “Melancholy Catastrophe” 1853.

  1. Carole Smythe

    One of the survivors of the Gwylan y Mor was my great-great grandfather Capt. Peter Edwards (1817 – 1883) who was also the inn keeper for The Abbey Vaults, 1 Abbey St., Rhyl. I don’t have a photo of him but if there is one in an archive in Rhyl, I would certainly appreciate a copy.
    Carole Smythe Vancouver, B. C.
    The following is a further account of this accident.

    Rhyl Lifeboats 1852 – 2002
    150 Years of Gallantry – Jeff Morris and Rhyl Journal October 3, 1985
    – D. P. Branigan
    On January 22, 1853 Capt. Peter Edwards and eight other crew members of the Rhyl lifeboat “Gwylan-y-Mor” (Seagull) went out from the Fforyd harbour to a vessel in distress, aground on the Hoyle Bank, off the Dee Estuary. Before the lifeboat could reach the casualty, the crew had abandoned ship and Coxswain Owen Jones headed back to Rhyl. One sea broke onboard and washed a man out of the boat. They managed to retrieve him and get the boat clear of water. As the lifeboat was running in towards the shore, in very heavy seas and a near gale force NNE wind, she was struck on the beam by an exceptionally heavy wave and capsized in front of Y Gyrten Fawr, a sand mound somewhere in the neighbourhood of the present site of the Palace Hotel. Three men, Owen Jones, Peter Edwards and John Williams managed to scramble on to the upturned boat. The rest of the crew had disappeared. After ten minutes, the men on the boat managed to turn her upright again. Jones and Williams were able to clamber aboard and drag Edwards out of the sea. The mast had broken and without sail or oars, the boat was drifting shoreward. She washed up onto the beach and the three men walked ashore. The bodies of the other six were washed ashore about an hour later. Six of the crew lost their lives: David George, John Evans, Philip Jones, Thomas Jones, William Parry and John Edwards. Peter Edwards, Abbey Vaults, Capt. Owen Jones (master) and John Williams survived. These lifeboat men formed the first Rhyl crew under Captain Owen Jones in 1851.

    Annual Report ending March 31, 1853
    Life Boat Department
    The committee talk of the sorrow of the accident which occurred at Rhyl which tended to discourage the manning of the boat in the time of danger, and of life boats in general. They found, after a careful investigation into the cause of the accident, that it could not be attributed to the form of the boat. The boat had been built by Mr. Beeching. The life boat belonged to the Mariners’ Society and was under the management of the local committee. It was 26 feet in length, the beam was 6 feet 6 inches, it had 8 oars, double banked and 1 lug sail. The boat house was on the beach between the river and the sea, near high water mark and was supplied with a carriage.

    Following the accident, the confidence of the boatmen had been restored. Rhyl no longer had boatmen or seamen, but when a wreck took place at Rhyl following the accident of 1853, the lifeboat was manned by a volunteer crew. A great prejudice existed following the accident regarding the stability of the lifeboat. The Mariners’ Society decided to build another boat on different lines for that lifeboat station.

    The Committee raised funds for the five widows, six orphans and two aged parents of the six men drowned by the upsetting of the lifeboat at Rhyl – a total of 50 pounds.

    The boat design was deemed unsuitable for the lifeboat station and was replaced in 1856 by a tubular lifeboat the Caroline Richardson. The lifebelts made of rushes covered with calico were determined to be unsafe and were replaced in 1854 by cork lifebelts, which were used until the kapok lifebelt was designed in 1909. The lifeboat was hauled in and out of the water by a team of eight horses who were housed at 15-17 Gronant St.

  2. Thank you very much Carole for that wealth of information regarding the accident, a very welcome addition to our blog. We don’t have any photographs unfortunately, but if in the future we find photographs or any further information, we’ll be in touch. Best wishes, Ed.

  3. george turpin

    Thank you for this fantastic piece of lifeboat history. More of the same please

  4. Pingback: A charity row raises more than £1,000 for a Rhyl lifeboat memorial

  5. Please see at the following link to see plans for a memorial for those lost on Gwylan y Mor: http://rhylnewswire.com/2012/latest/budding-steve-redgraves-raise-money-lifeboat/

  6. Pingback: Lifeboat tragedy marked 160 years on | Cardiff Local GuideCardiff Local Guide

  7. Brooksy

    Photographs of Gronant street before it is demolished are needed now.
    Obviously a very important part of Rhyl history for the archives. Great report and all available on the Rhyl History Club web site. Marvellous.

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