Steamship Pioneer

Graphic account of the sinking of the Steamship Pioneer as given to the Beaumaris Coroners Court on Saturday 26th. January 1878 by two of the survivors.  It is worthy of note that the inquest was held on the day after the actual incident.

Printed in the
NORTH WALES CHRONICLE. SATURDAY. FEBRUARY 2nd. 1878

INQUEST

On Saturday, last, in the County Hall, before Mr. Roberts, coroner, and a jury of whom Mr. Thomas, chemist, was foreman, and inquest was held on the bodies of H. Rodden (master), and T Moss (carpenter ), of the steamship Pioneer which was wrecked off Puffin Island on Friday, the 25th. After the bodies, which were terribly mutilated about the head – that of the captain being in a nude state – had been examined, the coroner and jury retired into the grand jury room, where the following evidence was given:

Daniel Lamont deposed:

I was chief mate of the ship “ Pioneer”. I have seen the bodies and identify one as that of the captain, and the other the carpenter.

The captain was thirty three years of age, the carpenter fifty. We left Maryport, bound for Antwerp with pig iron, on Tuesday last. At night the weather became boisterous with heavy gales, and high seas. About seven am. on Wednesday the tiller broke. It took us until half past one to rig temporary stearing gear. At two the gear broke. We then rigged another. At 4pm. I noticed that the canvass and iron cones had been washed off the chain pipes on the forecastle deck. I also observed that the water was on the forcastle floor: the forecompartment was nearly full of water.

We then opened the sluices to allow the water to run aft, when the engine would pump it. Finding, about two am on Thursday, the water was gaining on us we commenced heaving cargo overboard, and continued to do so until seven am, until being down on the Skerries with the ship unmanageable: owing to her setting down on the head we hoisted signals of distress.

The tug “ Knight Commander” came and gave us a tow rope, and finding it too much for herself we obtained the assistance of another tug, the “ Royal Saxon “, and they towed us into Moelfre Bay. At two pm on Thursday we found that the forcastlle’s scuttle was stove in. We attempted in vain to plug it owing to the force of the water when the ship rolled.

We then closed the sluices and attempted to bring the vessel to Beaumaris to beach or discharge her. It took us two hours to weigh anchor. The tugs made fast and took us in tow, the wind then being northerly, with stormy gales, and heavy seas. When close on Puffin Island the tow rope of the first tug broke and then the other. The engine was then put hard astern and worked well until the water put the fires out. The ship then drifted on the rocks, and with the first bump both the foremast and the funnel went overboard, all hands clinging to the rigging.

One of the firemen got ashore with a life buoy which was attached to the lead line, The other end of the line being made fast to the rail. The captain ordered the buoy and line back, and made the attempt himself but got exhausted in the breakers, and called to be pulled back to the ship, which I did. I got assistance to pull him partly up the side but the violent action of the sea caused the line to slip through his hands, and he went into the water again. The assistance I had left me and I endeavoured to pull him up, but we were unable owing to cold and exhaustion and the violent surf. Told him to get into the buoy again, and trust to get on a shore. He got into the buoy and I made for the rigging for my own safety, after which I never saw the captain alive.

Shortly afterward I saw four men coming over the cliffs, and the buoy and line which the captain had used had fortunately floated to the shore, and as one end of the line which was attached to the buoy was fast to the ship, a communication with the shore was established. By this means a sort of cradle apparatus was rigged, and the men were hauled in batches on shore. The third man to go was the carpenter, but from some cause or a variety of causes – cold, exhaustion, fear- he failed to hold on and fell head foremost into the sea. He was got out alive but died shortly afterwards.

John Hamilton, chief engineer, deposed :

I could not alter one word of the chief mate’s story. I have nothing to add. We kept pumping the whole time until she struck. I was among the first to find the captain. He was naked - The chief mate recalled said: The captains had on his vest ( containing a gold watch ), shirt and trousers, when he let go the line. He may have stripped in the water to save his life. After a few observations from the coroner the jury returned a verdict of “ Accidentally drowned.”

The coroner ordered coin and other valuables found on the bodies to be handed over to the superintendent of the Company ( Messers Murphy and Co., Aden Wharf, Dublin ) who it was understood would be in town the following day, so that they may be returned to the families of the deceased. It ought in justice to be said that the gallant men who effected the rescue were the Penmon pilots:- Messers. O and J. Roberts and J Williams, nor is this by any means the first time they have been instrumental in saving lives of hard pressed sailors on the terribly rocky point.

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