[From Sketches of the Coast, 1836]


Extract from Sir John Rennie’s Report to his Excellency the Lieutenant- Governor of the Isle of Man, and the Commissioners appointed by Parliament for making, maintaining, and improving the Harbours of the Isle of Man.

THE want of a central asylum harbour in the Irish Channel, to which vessels of all descriptions, whether outward or inward bound to and from foreign ports, or employed in the revenue-service or coasting-trade, could resort at all times of tide, and during all winds, has long been severely felt ; and the numerous and disastrous shipwrecks which have already taken place, and still occur every year, attended with the lamentable destruction of human life and property in this channel, seriously call for a remedy. Considerable light has been thrown upon the subject, and much valuable information has been obtained, by Sir William Hillary, in his pamphlet of July, 1826; wherein he points out Douglas Bay as the best station for such a harbour, and invites the attention of government, as well as of the important shipping interests of Liverpool, Dublin, Whitehaven, Lancaster, and the coasts adjacent, to this interesting subject. He there states, with truth, that there is no low-water harbour of any magnitude between Holyhead and the Firth of Clyde, except the packet-harbours of Whitehaven and Port Patrick, a distance of upwards of 300 miles, on the east side of the Channel: whilst on the Irish Coast, with the exception of the packet harbours of Ardglass, Donaghadee, and Howth, there is no considerable port of refuge between Kingstown in Dublin Bay, and the Lough of Belfast. From hence it arises that vessels outward bound from Liverpool, when prevented from continuing their voyage by strong westerly winds, are driven back, and are compelled to beat about the Channel during long nights and stormy weather, at the imminent risk of shipwreck ; and even under the most favourable circumstances, are subject to great detention and expenses of wear and tear. The attempt to run back to Liverpool might be. attended with still greater difficulties in consequence of the numerous dangerous and formidable banks which surround the mouth of the River Mersey in all directions for many miles to seaward, and the impracticability of entering at low water, or even sometimes at high water, particularly during the night, and dark and stormy weather. The large fleets of Colliers from Whitehaven, Workington, and the coast adjacent, from 70 to 100 and upwards of which sometimes leave those ports at one tide, and by which Dublin and a large portion of Ireland is supplied with coal, experience similar difficulties in their voyages, and frequently suffer shipwreck for want of a proper port of refuge to run to in event of need.

Upon a careful consideration of the Chart of the Irish Channel, and more particularly with reference to the important Port of Liverpool, and the populous surrounding country, whose yearly Imports and exports are so immense and continually increasing*, it plainly appears, that the Isle of Man occupies the most central position, and lies, as it were, in the main track of all vessels proceeding from and returning to Liverpool by the North Entrance to the Irish Channel, as well as of the immense intercourse by steam between Scotland, Ireland, and England, and of the extensive fleets of Colliers, and other vessels, from Whitehaven, Workington, Allonby, Maryport, and the towns on the Solway Frith, to Dublin, Drogheda, Newry, and Belfast, and the adjacent coasts. The Island, moreover, is easily accessible, particularly on the east side, in consequence of there being plenty of water close to the shore, with good holding-ground for anchorage, and no sunken shoals and rocks ; so that during the prevalence of westerly winds, vessels usually take shelter under the lee of the Island, until they are enabled to proceed on their voyage. Notwithstanding these advantages, however, it frequently happens that after a long prevalence of wind from the westward, it suddenly veers round to the eastward and increases to a considerable gale : at this period, the Island, which previously formed a protection to shipping, becomes the reverse, and a heavy sea sets in upon its whole eastern shore, so much so that vessels cannot ride with safety at their anchors, and as it is almost impossible for them to work to windward under such circumstances, they are frequently driven ashore and wrecked. In confirmation of the above may be mentioned the melancholy examples of the total loss of the American ship Minerva, at Douglas, when eighteen out of twenty persons perished ; in 1822, His Majesty’s cutter, Vigilant, the Racehorse sloop of war, the City of Glasgow steam-packet [presume the St George], and only in November last, the Fairfield bound to the Havannah, with a cargo valued at 40,0001., was lost near Castletown, besides the Emulous, and several other coasting vessels riding at the same time in Ramsay Bay, during a strong westerly wind, which suddenly changed round to an E.S.E. gale, and in which eight lives were lost. In addition to these, many other and equally lamentable cases could be cited, all of which would have been prevented if there had been a proper asylum-harbour to run to ; and the values of the cargoes, and the vessels alone, besides the wear and tear of those keeping at sea, and the loss of time in being driven about the channel, and the more important consideration of saving human life, would more than have sufficed to defray the expense of such a work. Its importance, therefore, in every point of view, either as regards the extensive and valuable shipping interests and trade of Liverpool, Dublin, Glasgow, Whitehaven, Belfast, and the numerous other ports in the Irish Channel, or the Isle of Man Fisheries (which employ 250 vessels, and upwards of 2000 seamen), is undoubted; and it only remains to point out what is the most advisable place and plan, together with the expense of such a work.

First. With regard to the place : the central position of the Isle of Man, from its being in the line of voyage of all vessels passing and re-passing by the north entrance to the Irish Channel to and from America, as well as of the equally important and extensive communication between England, Scotland, and Ireland, the depth of water and great rise of tide close to its shores, and its being generally clear of rocks and shoals, points it out as a most convenient and accessible situation ; and Douglas, being the centre and most populous part of the Island, and in other respects possessing the advantages above mentioned, appears, upon the whole, extremely well adapted for an asylum-harbour, such as proposed.

 *According to the return of the Dock Duties, the number of vessels, and the amount of tonnage were, in the year ending

24th June, 1834, as follows:—

No of vessels 13,444 -

1,692,780 Tons

No. of voyages of steamers 2,281 -

401,631 ditto

1,29l,237 Tons

Additional Notes

Information on the following wrecks is taken from A Corkill's 'Dictionary of Shipwrecks'.

Minerva: On voyage from Virginia to Dublin with cargo of tobacco (and some slaves); having had a bad crossing she put into Kinsale where she picked up two revenue officers and a Manx pilot William McKissack. Bad weather forced her to put into Douglas bay on the 8th December 1809 where she sheltered until the 14th when on the night 14/15th a east-south-east gale arose and drove her onto Pollock rocks at about 2am. 17 out 19 on board were drowned.

St George: Steamship belonging to St George Steam Packet Co. - after racing the IoMSPCo Mona's Isle from Liverpool to Douglas on 19th Nov 1830 both vessels anchored outside of Douglas Hatbour waiting for the tide (passengers and mails had been unloaded by boat). Captain Gill of the Mona's Isle did not like the look of the weather and took his vessel out to sea but Lieutenant Tudor of the St George, having less experience of Manx weather, rode at anchor. The wind changed to ESE and a gale started, her anchors could not hold nor were her engines powerful enough to avoid being swept onto Pollock rocks. The lifeboat under direction of Sir William Hillary went to her help and all crew were saved.

Emulous: Smack (Master Thomas Spainger and co-owner with William Callister and William Creer of Ramsey) - sheltering from gale in Ramsey Bay with cargo of coal and 2 passesengers from Whitehaven; dragged anchors and blown ashore (on same night(7 Nov 1834) as the St Peter and the James Fairfield). Thomas Sprainger and Thomas Corlett perished.


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