Australian Gold Rush Ship Sinks Near Liverpool in 1859.
Above Photo: A gold, opal and diamond ring recovered from the wreck (walesonline.co.uk)
From the slave trade, through New World emigration to Liverpool’s role as one of the world’s leading ports in the eighteenth century, the city’s seven and a half miles of docks are never far away from the narrative in Bombed Out!.
Unfortunately, during the time chronicled in the book – the 1970s and early 1980s – Liverpool’s docks were in terminal decline, but they and their hinterland often present a vivid backdrop to many of the proceedings in the book, day and night.
So I’m always interested in reading articles about the port in its heyday and I recently came across an article about gold recovered from a Liverpool-bound ship, the Royal Charter, that was wrecked just off the coast of Angelsey in Wales in 1859, as it neared its journey’s end.
Over 450 lives were lost, including many miners who’d struck it rich in the Australian gold rush. It is believed the ship carried in excess of £100,000,000 in gold (@ US $162,500,000).
The Royal Charter was an iron-hulled steam clipper, which foundered on rocks just metres from the shore after a hurricane hit on the final leg of its journey from Melbourne to Liverpool, on the night of Oct. 26, 1859.
The ship was used on the Liverpool – Australia route, with room for up to 600 passengers, including luxury accommodation in first class. She was considered a fast ship, able to make the passage to Australia in under 60 days.
Her 371 passengers (with a crew of about 112 and some other company employees) included many gold miners who were carrying large sums of gold back to the UK. A consignment of gold was also being carried as cargo.
As the ship reached the north-western tip of Anglesey on 25 October, a violent storm was approaching and some passengers claimed that the captain was advised to put into Holyhead harbour for shelter, but decided to continue on to Liverpool.
At 11 pm the ship anchored, but shortly afterwards one of the two anchor chains snapped, followed by the second one an hour later. The Royal Charter was driven inshore, its steam engines unable to make headway against the gale.
The ship initially grounded on a sandbank, but in the early morning of the 26th the rising tide drove her on to rocks at a point just north of Moelfre at Porth Alerth on the north coast of Anglesey. Battered against the rocks by huge waves whipped up by winds of over 100 mph, the ship quickly broke up.
Many of the passengers and crew were killed by being dashed against the rocks, rather than by drowning. Others were said to have drowned, weighed down by the belts of gold they were wearing around their bodies. The survivors, 21 passengers and 18 crew members, were all men, with no women or children saved.
A large quantity of gold was said to have been thrown up on the beach, with some local families becoming rich overnight.
The wreck was extensively salvaged shortly after the disaster, and the remains today lie close inshore in less than 5 metres of water as a series of iron bulkheads, plates and ribs which become covered and uncovered by the shifting sands from year to year.
Gold sovereigns, pistols, spectacles and other personal items have been found by scuba divers over the years, and teams have recently air-lifted, water-dredged and metal-detected for other treasure.
Vincent Thurkettle, a full time gold panner who led one successful expedition, said: “We have got some gold dust, nuggets and coins. As well as about 200 artifacts. And there is more gold down there.”
He said: “I would love to find a clearly identifiable piece of gold or something down there, which has a connection to someone and their descendent.”
“Initially I was lured by the stories of lost gold, but over the years I have definitely become passionate about the people and their story. Their adventure, success, hopes and tragedy – also the pure raw courage of the rescuers from nearby Moelfre.”
At the time of the article, the treasure had yet to be valued and the team wisely declined to discuss the size of the haul. However, it said the value, particularly of the coins, would have been inflated because of where they were found.
Thurkettle said: “To have a coin from the Royal Charter will probably be worth double or treble what it would otherwise be worth.”
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