Category Archives: Underwater archaeology

Tayleur Wreck

Originally published in the Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology in 2004, we’ve posted below Eoghan’s paper by way of commemorating 154 years since the sinking of the Tayleur in January 1854.

Tayleur, a victim of technological innovation

On 21 January 1854, the British-built Iron Clipper, Tayleur was wrecked on Lambay Island, 21 km north-west of Dublin Bay. This much lauded vessel was on her maiden voyage to Melbourne, with a miscellaneous cargo and over 600 passengers and crew. The sinking of this revolutionary new ship during a time of great industrial advancement shocked many people and highlighted how a failure by contemporary mariners and designers to understand the effects of recent technology in vessel form, construction and material could be so costly.

Background

Tayleur was the largest of eleven iron ships built by the Bank Quay Foundry during a short-lived programme of shipbuilding lasting from 1852 to 1855 (MacGregor, 1973). Prior to the commencement of this programme the company was more noted for its proficiency in heavy castings and iron working. The ship was designed by the renowned clipper designer William Rennie of Rennie and Johnston, Liverpool, who had just begun to develop an interest in iron shipbuilding (Starkey, 1999). The ship was originally designed as a screw steamer but whilst on the blocks its form was changed to that of a clipper owing to the lack of availability of a suitable engine. One consequence of this modification of the ship form was an increase in the ship’s dimensions; they increased from 204 ft x 36 ft x 23 ft (62.22 m x 10.98 m x 7m) to 225 ft x 39.4 ft x 27.6 ft (68.62 m x 12 m x 8.4 m) (MacGregor,1973). The ship was built at breakneck speed and on 5 October 1853 it was launched, just six months after its keel was laid (Warrington Guardian, 9 October 1853). Tayleur was then towed down the Mersey River to Liverpool where it was fitted out for its journey. This was also undertaken with considerable speed and on 14 January 1854 the ship was taken to anchorage in the Mersey Channel to await passengers and crew.

On the recommendation of Captain Townson, the Examiner of Masters and Mates for the Port of Liverpool, 29-year-old Captain James Noble was specifically chosen by the owners of Tayleur, Moore and Company for the task of commanding their new ship (Starkey, 1999). Prior to this, Noble had a distinguished career with the trade clipper Australia making a number of swift passages to Australia. However, from the outset Noble appeared to have been at odds with his new command. During the early stages of the ship’s construction he accidentally fell into the main hold and was nearly killed.

On Thursday, 18 January Tayleur was taken in tow by the steam tug Victory to be led into the Irish Sea from where they would begin their voyage. All went well during this journey except that the Liverpool Port pilot noticed one point of difference between the ship’s three compasses. It was not until the tow was cast off that the true nature of the ship became apparent. Not only were the ship’s compasses erroneous but the vessel handled very badly. Captain Noble was later to recount how it took up to one hour to change tack and the ship would loose up to five miles (8 km); normally a ship should take fifteen minutes to change tack and loose one mile (1.6 km). The reason for this is several fold and will be discussed later in this paper. As the voyage progressed the ship encountered bad weather and dense cloud cover negated the possibility of obtaining astral observations. On the morning of Sunday, 21st, land was sighted. It was attempted to wear the ship from this danger but difficulties in manoeuvrability made this impossible. The two forward anchors were dropped but they almost immediately snapped their cables and the ship slammed into the Nose of Lambay Island where it sank within twenty minutes of the impact with the loss of over 400 people.

Compass

The Board of Trade enquiry into the loss of the vessel concluded that compass error was partially to blame for the sinking. Compass deviation caused by the proximity of the compass to ferrous material was a well-known phenomenon in the 1850s. As far back as the 16th century, the effect of iron on the ship’s compass was recorded by the famous Portuguese navigator João de Castro. We also know from records that both Captain Bligh and Cook were aware of this phenomenon, so too was Matthew Flinders during his 1801-02 voyage around Australia (Williams, 1994). Even as recently as 1835, Commander E.J. Johnston conducted experiments into this phenomenon with his warped paddle steamer Garryowen (Williams, 1994; MacCarthy, 1985).

The three main compasses on board Tayleur were fitted by John Grey ‘compass maker to Her Majesty’. He fitted and compensated the ship’s three compasses two months before the sailing of the vessel, and prior to the loading of the ship’s cargo (Starkey, 1999). The Coroner’s inquest into the sinking of the ship records that whilst the ship was being steered out of the Mersey estuary into the Irish Sea, the pilot noticed a point of difference between the compasses. Later in the journey, further discursion of up to 1½ points were recorded (Melbourne Argus, 27 April 1854).

As already explained, the phenomenon of deviation was well understood by mariners and several experiments had been undertaken to investigate its cause. What was not known at the time was that regardless of how much research was conducted into this topic, it would not have been solved.

The reason being was a lack of a theory of magnetism. This theory later concluded that ships have two kinds of magnetism; induced and permanent. In iron ships, the induced magnetism is brought about naturally by the effect of the earth’s magnetic field on the soft iron of the ship. This form of magnetism is altered as the ship alters course or moves to an area of differing magnetic content. The second form, permanent magnetism, is induced by the vibration of hammering and riveting on the ship’s metal. It aligns the molecules permanently in a way that is determined by the lie of the ship during the construction (Williams, 1994). In the absence of such a theory, the problem of deviation of the ship’s compass could not be approached analytically or fully understood.

 

Rigging

Although the Board of Trade and Coroner’s enquiries make little mention of the rigging affecting the efficiency of the ship, there are indications as to how it affected the handling of Tayleur. Passenger testimony would appear to indicate that the contribution it played was quite significant. Robert Davison, a steerage passenger and seaman of 26 years is recorded as being surprised when he found riggers still completing their work the day before the ship was due to sail. He also noted that the natural fibre running rigging ropes had not been properly stretched.

Before natural fibre ropes are fitted as part of rigging, they first need to be stretched. In doing so the rope becomes less elastic as the strands bind together and combine to produce a rope of greater breaking strain. In addition to this, the number of frayed rope filaments, which often affect the smooth running of the rope through pulley blocks, are reduced.

By neglecting to properly stretch the newly applied running rigging ropes, the riggers severely affected the handling of the ship. Not only were the ropes difficult to handle, and snagging in the pulley blocks, but also they were quite elastic which made setting of the ship’s sails very difficult. In the Coroners’ Enquiry, Captain Noble stated that he stood for fourteen hours on the same tack despite the fact that there was a ‘heavy wind’ blowing (Melbourne Argus, 27 April 1854). The fact that the master of the ship stood on the same tack for so long coupled with passenger reports of the crew having difficulty in reefing the sails (three hours to reef a topsail) appeared to indicate that there were problems with the new running rigging and this was adversely affecting the ship handling.

Sails

Although there are no available sail plans for Tayleur, there are several detailed illustrations. One of the most prominent is The Illustrated London Times of 16 November 1853. During the Board of Trade enquiry into the sinking of the ship, Captain Noble commented that he considered the positioning of the masts as being too far aft and this contributed towards the difficulty in handling the ship. Examination of contemporary illustrations of the ship would appear to concur with this assertion. It is clear from the illustrations that both the mainmast and mizzen mast were too far aft, and the foremast was placed too far forward. As a consequence, the ship’s fulcrum, the centre of lateral resistance was moved aft to a centre of effort. The net result of this shift was increased difficulty in handling and poor response (Steel, 1978). Considering the original hull form, its innovative design and information contained in contemporary illustrations, it appears that the ship’s main hold was positioned in such a manner that it necessitated placement of the mainmast and mizzen mast further aft at the expense of the balance of the ship. One of the most obvious explanations for this was that the ship was originally designed as a steamer and later changed to a clipper. During this change the designers appeared to have retained some steamer components such as the large hold, allowing for the possible refit of the vessel with a steam engine at a later date.

Rudder

Contemporary newspaper accounts record Tayleur as having a patented ‘semi-automatic’ rudder. In the Coroner’s Enquiry into the sinking of the ship, Captain Noble is recorded as saying he believed the ship’s rudder to have been too small and as such was partly to blame for the vessel’s poor handling. Unfortunately, the terse reference in the Warrington Guardian is the only reference we have to the ship’s rudder. Investigations in the British Patents Office failed to yield any records for any such patented device in the two years before and after the Tayleur’s construction.

Considering Captain Noble’s assertion that he thought the rudder too small, and in light of the above mentioned significant changes made to the ship in the early stages of the construction, it is quite possible that this was indeed the case. As part of the change from a steamer to a clipper hull the ships dimensions were increased. It appears likely that during the course of this transition the designers and builders had sufficient belief in their new ‘semi-automatic’ rudder that it remained unadjusted. Its size was obviously too small for that of the enlarged clipper and consequently it restricted the vessel’s manoeuvrability.

Sea trials

The final and probably one of the most significant oversights of contemporary merchant mariners at the time was the absence of sea trials. Whilst sea trials or a shake down run was always completed by the navy prior to the commissioning of a ship, in the merchant navy time restraints, economics and low crew numbers did not always permit such activities (Bourke, 2003). In the case of Tayleur, the ship was readied at incredible speed (two months after its launch) then sat in the Mersey Channel for only one week awaiting the arrival of crew and passengers. Given the speed at which it was readied for sea it appears that even if sea trials were a common occurrence Captain Noble and his crew would not have had time to do so.

This was a very unfortunate case. Captain Noble had already been at odds with his new command and had he been able to sail the ship for even the shortest time he would undoubtedly have been made aware of its defective handling and possibly been able to rectify some of the more obvious flaws.

Conclusion

The sinking of Tayleur and the loss of over 400 lives was a very unfortunate event. To many at the time it cast a shadow of doubt over the suitability of iron as a material in the construction of ships. To others it further highlighted the need to properly assess the influence of iron on ships’ compasses. Some people accused Captain Noble of neglect whilst others blamed the foreign crew claiming they could not understand the Captain. Both were later proven to be untrue. Most significantly, it appear that the failure of all parties involved to conduct sea trials prior to the commencement of the journey was the gravest error. Had such trials been conducted they would almost immediately have become aware of the inherent flaws of the ship, its masts placed too far aft, the improper state of the running and standing rigging, the unsuitability of the rudder and the compass errors.

References

Bourke, E.J., 2003, Bound for Australia. Power Print, Dublin.

McCarthy, M. (ed.), n.d. [1988], Iron ships and steam shipwrecks. Papers from the First Australian Seminar on the Management of Iron Vessels and Steam Shipwrecks. Western Australian Museum, Perth.

MacGregor, D.R., 1973, Fast sailing ships, their design and construction 1775-1875. Nautical Publishing, Hampshire.

Starkey, H.F., 1999, Iron clipper ‘’Tayleur’ the White Star Lines first Titanic. Avid Publications, Merseyside.

Steele, D., 1978, The elements and practice of rigging and seamanship. Two Volumes. Sim Comforts Associates, London.

Williams, J.E.D., 1994, From sails to satellites. Oxford University Press, New Hampshire.

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Lough Cummeennapeasta

Lough Cummeennapeasta

On the 17th December 1943, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain, 43-30719 crashed into Knocknapeasta mountain 700m up the MacGillacuddy Reek Mountain range in County Kerry whilst en route from North Africa to England. On Board were 2nd Lt. J.L. Scharf, 2nd Lt. L.E. Goodin, 2nd Lt. F.V. Brossard, S. Sct. W.T. Holstlaw and Sct. A.A. Schwartz. The plane appears to have become lost during a storm and crashed into the mountain with the loss of all five crew members.

 

Above – Skytrain in flight

Legend had it that various portions of the plane were to be found in a small mountain top lake at Cummeennapeasta. Recently Eoghan and Jamie from Moore Marine, visited the crash site. They hiked on foot, the 6km to the crash site. Having discovered the wreck site, they dived the lake.

 

Above – Two divers on a mountain

The dives recorded that the only fragment of the plane in the lake was a portion of the planes right wing. The wing was badly damaged but still in a good state of repair, with a clearly distinguishable five pointed USAAF white star. Investigation of the nearby area revealed that portions of one of the planes engines was still to be found on the northern side of the mountain.

 

 

Above – Sky train wing and diver

 

 

Above – Commemorative plaque

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Zebra Mussels and divers

zebramussels-in-hand.jpg

Zebra Mussels in Hand

Many divers and boat users will be aware of the arrival of Zebra Mussels into our freshwater rivers and lakes. These light and dark striped shell bivalves have gained a ferocious reputation for destroying host environments and affecting freshwater ecosystems. As divers, the transportation of Zebra Mussels is something we should be consciously aware of when transporting boats and equipment between freshwater systems.

Zebra Mussels are native to the Aral and Caspian Sea area of Eastern Europe and were first described by the Russian Zoologist Pallas in the 18th century. Since then this little thumbnail sized mussel has managed to spread to most freshwater waterways of Europe, reaching Britain in 1824 and the Great lakes of America in the later 1980’s. In this time they have wreaked havoc in the colonised waterways, blocking water abstraction pipes for both boats and treatment plants and descimating ecosystems.

In Ireland, Zebra Mussels did not seem to make an appearance until the 1990’s, when they were noted on the Lower Shannon close to Lough Derg. Whilst their exact method of introduction is unknown, it is generally believed that they were transported either in the bilge of second hand vessels brought into Ireland from Britain or Continental Europe

Since their arrival into the country they have caused extensive damage. They have led to the decline of the native mussel species as well as reduced spawning numbers of fish species. Zebra Mussels attach themselves to hard surfaces from where they filter phytoplankton. The surfaces they attach themselves to vary from rocks, to sand to timber to plastic to native mussels. When attached to native mussels they adhere to the outside of the shells, preventing them from opening and closing, thereby denying them the opportunity to feed or respire. In Ireland, Zebra Mussels have no known parasites, predators or disease and so they reproduce unaffected by outside threats. The colonisation of many areas by Zebra Mussels has led to the removal of the native mussel species in that area and their covering of large areas of riverbed, up to 700,000 in one square metre has affected the ability of salmonoid species to spawn.

A number of cases have also been recorded where zebra mussels have damaged boat engines, bocking water intake pipes, leading to engine overheating. In infected areas, it is generally accepted that zebra mussel infestation tends to affect stationary material more easily than moving machinery. Colonisation of boats tends to occur on stationary boats more easily than frequently operated vessels.

Zebra Mussels have several features which make them optimum invader exploiters. These include byssus threads which they use to attach to surfaces as well as high production levels, up to 40,000 larvae are produced by each female. The larvae are dispersed into the water column and can be transported via water currents and other sources such as boat hulls or bilge water. Zebra Mussels can survive for up to one month out of water and can survive in low saline waters. These adaptions make the zebra mussel threat and possibilities of their transportation by divers a real possibility.

To date, Zebra Mussels have colonised large areas of the Shannon-Erne waterway and a number of inland lakes but they have not been found in any of the Great Western Lakes (Corrib, Mask, Carra, Conn and Cullen) until very recently. Extensive education programmes have generally been credited with this, however the ever present threat of introduction should be brought to the attention of all aquatic users.

The versatility and adaptability of Zebra Mussels is something of which all CFT divers should be aware. This is especially relevant when boats and equipment are being used in freshwater environments such as rivers and lakes for both recreational diving and Search and Rescue operations. As previously stated Zebra Mussels can survive out of water for up to one month. Both the bivalve and its larvae can survive in BCD’s, regulators, attached to the hulls or even in the hulls of boats. The only effective method of removal of these bivalves is through thorough cleaning of all equipment used in infected waters. Immersion in salt water can also be an agent for removal but it should not be considered as a primary removal form as they can survive in low saline solutions which can be present in boat hulls. The thorough cleaning of all equipment immersed used in infected areas in waters in excess of 40°C., the flushing of engine coolant systems and the draining of the bilge all boats should be something that all clubs and users should consider as standard practice when undertaking activities in infected areas. Obviously this cleaning should be carried out away from the river/lake shore and from waterways leading to unaffected streams, rivers and lakes. In addition to this, any weeds should be removed as they may contain adult Zebra Mussels or their larvae.

In an effort to prevent the spread of Zebra Mussels into the Western Regional Lakes, a campaign called the Western Regional Zebra Mussel Control Initiative has been initiated. It aims to educate all aquatic users of the threat of the spread of these organisms and provide them with information on how to combat the threat. As part of this intiative, Dr. Aoife Thornton has been appointed as Zebra Mussel Education Officer. She is available to discuss divers questions relating to the preventative measures which can be employed to minimise the risk of further infections and can be contacted during office hours at 091-509063 or by email athornton@galwaycoco.ie

Zebra Mussels colonisation of boat ladder.

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HIATUS

According to Wikipedia – among other things ‘hiatus’ is a Belgian crustcore band.

There has been a temporary Belgian crustcore band on Moore Marine’s blog as Eoghan has gone to present at a conference in Australia, Billy & Dec have gone off to Oktoberfest and the rest of us are so snowed under with work as a result that we have no time to even dream about blogging. Not that we’re bitter!

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Tramore wreck

Historic Map indicates cause for Tramore Shipwreck

During the course of archaeological monitoring of the Tramore Sewerage scheme, the remains of a previously unrecorded timber vessel was uncovered and investigated by a team from Moore Marine. These remains were located c.1km east of Tramore promenade, in an area of flat sandy beach close to the Low Water Mark. Upon exposure the wreck remains were seen to be those of a carvel laid double planked vessel. All planking was held in place by treenails with the plank ends butt jointed to its neighbour. The form and size of the vessel timbers appeared to indicate that the remains were those of a 100 – 150 ton early 19th century merchant vessel.

Work in progress

The discovery of this relatively intact vessel on a flat section of shoreline with no known navigation hazards nearby appeared to be an enigma. It was not until investigations of historic maps of Tramore Bay was undertaken that the apparent cause of the stranding became apparent. During our cartographic search, a navigation chart of Tramore Bay produced by Laurie and Whittle in the 1790’s was found. This map recorded depth soundings, navigation hazards and seabed form for the Bay as well as provided advice to mariners. Concerning Tramore Bay, there was a small paragraph entitled Observations on Tramore Bay. This paragraph detailed how many vessels mistook Tramore Bay for Waterford Estuary and were grounded in shallows on the northeastern side of the Bay. The observations then advised mariners on manoeuvres to avoid such grounding. These involved turning their ship towards Tramore town and running their vessel ashore, it was then reported that the subsequent tide could refloat the vessel and allow it to return to safety.

Extract from above mentioned map showing Tramore Bay

The content of these advise notes appeared to indicate an apparent cause of the stranding of our vessel. Had the vessel mistook Tramore Bay for Waterford Estuary, did it progress towards the eastern side of the the bay only to discover that they were in the wrong location? Were this the case then the ships master would certainly have known to drop his anchors, spin his ship 90° and head towards the beach at Tramore. Although our investigations of the vessel are not fully completed, it would appear that based on the current orientation, location, state and nature, our vessel was indeed one of the tragedies where the vessel was run onto the shore in order to ensure safety only to become stranded and later abandoned.

Studies of the wreck are still ongoing and it is hoped that through these studies, a name, date and origin of this vessel can be determined.

Investigations complete

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