Contemporary accounts suggest that the ROYAL CHARTER was washed onto the rocks some 50m from the shore and broke in two. There is a ridge of rock and boulders in around 5-6m depth of water offshore, heavily covered in kelp. The ridges of rocks are interspersed with slopes and drops into deep water. It is in this vicinity that wreckage, including iron frames, bulkheads and machinery, has been reported. However, from reports of salvage undertaken in the late 1970s, it seems likely that any coherent remains of the vessel itself are likely to be buried up to 3m in areas of sand and gravel. Finds include Australian trading tokens marked 'Hie & De Carle' and a silver pocket watch made by John Foster, Liverpool.
Event and Historical Information:
The ROYAL CHARTER was built by William Williamson at the Sandycroft Ironworks on the River Dee. The ship's Liverpool registry gives the technical specifications as 2164.78 tons; 306.2ft length x 40.4ft breadth x 26.5ft depth in hold; rise and poop decks, 3 masts, ship rigged with a standing bowsprit, elliptical sterned, mock galleries, clench built, man figurehead, framework and plating of iron; steamer propelled by a screw propeller with an engine room 45.5ft; official number 1355. The vessel had been bought off the stocks by Gibbs, Bright & Co, and when launched sideways on the Dee, the vessel grounded off Flint and had to be docked for lengthy repairs. However, the fitting out was eventually completed as a passenger vessel for Liverpool to Australia route. In October 1859, the ROYAL CHARTER was returning to Liverpool from Melbourne carrying 371 passengers and 112 crew. In addition, off Bardsey, the ROYAL CHARTER had taken onboard 11 riggers from the tug UNITED KINGDOM to allow them to make a speedier passage back to Liverpool. On 25th October, with the storm developing to the ferocity of a hurricane, the ship was caught off the north of Anglesey by a change of wind direction to the northeast. Unable to make headway, it was forced to anchor and use its engines to try and keep the ship's head into the wind. At 1.30am on 26 October, the port anchor cable snapped, followed by the starboard cable an hour later. The ship initially grounded on a sandbank slightly offshore, but the vessel was lifted driven onto the rocks. Battered by huge waves the ship broke in two, trapping the women and children in the stern section away from the Bosun's chair which had been rigged ashore by the brave efforts of the Maltese seaman Joseph Rogers (Guize Ruggiers 1830-1899), who had managed to swim ashore with a line. Only 18 of the 376 passengers, 5 of 11 riggers working their passage, and 18 of the crew were saved before the line parted (no women and children). Local people formed a human chain to pull survivors to safety, but many were dreadfully mutilated against the rocks with observers reporting 'mangled arms, legs and even heads being discernible on many a retreating wave'. In that followed, the beaches was filled with Anglesey Militia, coastguard and police taking charge of their bodies and recovering property, as well as relatives searching for their loved ones. Of those who died, 140 lie in the graveyard at Llanallgo, 64 are buried in Llaneugrad, and 45 in Penrhosllugwy. Others lie in the graveyards of the parishes where bodies were washed up - Llanddyfnan. Llanwenllwyfo, Llanfairmathafarneithaf, Llanbedrgoch, Llanddona and Amlwch. The efforts made by Reverand Hughes, St Gallago's church, Moelfre, to record bodily features and any surviving clothing enabled some relatives to identify their loved ones. This aspect of the tragedy was poignantly reported by Charles Dickens in his work 'The Uncommerical Traveller'. A memorial to the shipwreck incident was placed on the cliff above the wreck site. The subsequent Board of Trade Inquiry exonerated iron construction in the way the ROYAL CHARTER broke up (no ship, wooden or iron, could have withstood such pounding) and Captain Taylor for his efforts in trying to save the vessel. Despite the bad publicity Gibbs, Bright & Co received for concentrating on the ship's cargo rather than recovering more of the bodies, most of the gold bullion/dust onboard had been recovered by the salvage divers and accounted for by the Lloyds agent by January 1860. The shipwreck is notable for the impetus it gave Captain Robert Fitzroy, Royal Navy, head of the Meteorological Office, to develop the first gale warning service. The data gathered from across the country for the speed and direction of the winds defined a 'perfect cyclone'. The diagram was used to illustrate the Board of Trade Wreck Returns for 1859.
Bennett, T, 1987, Shipwrecks around Wales, Vol 1, pg90-2
Bristol Mercury, 5 November 1859, issue 3633
Dickens, Charles, 1860, The Uncommercial Traveller
Gater, D, 1992, Historic Shipwrecks of Wales, pg106-26
Holden, C, 2010, Life and Death on the Royal Charter
A & J K, 1860, Wreck of the “Royal Charter” Steam Clipper
McKee, 1986, The Golden Wreck: The Tragedy of the Royal Charter
Receiver of Wreck Droits Database 2007, RCIM6/2/5
UK Hydrographic Office Wrecks and Obstructions Database. © Crown Copyright and database rights. Reproduced by permission of the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office and the UK Hydrographic Office (www.ukho.gov.uk)
Wynne-Jones, I, 2001, Shipwrecks of North Wales, 4ed, pg78-80
Maritime Officer, RCAHMW, January 2013.