The Doric Columns
Clipper Ship Tayleur
Tayleur Emigrant Ship - 1854. Designed by William Rennie of Liverpool and built for owners Charles Moore & Company in Warrington.
The Tayleur was designed by William Rennie of Liverpool and built for owners Charles Moore & Company. She was launched in Warrington on the River Mersey on 4 October 1853 - it had taken just 6 months to build her. She was 230 feet in length with a 40 foot beam and displaced 1,750 tons, while 4,000 tons of cargo could be carried in holds 28 feet deep below 3 decks. She was named after Charles Tayleur, founder of the Vulcan Engineering Works, Bank Quay, Warrington.
The new ship was chartered by White Star to serve the booming Australian trade routes, as transport to and from the colony was in high demand due to the discovery of gold there.
Tayleur left Liverpool on 19 January 1854, on her maiden voyage, for Melbourne ,Australia, with a complement of 652 passengers and crew. She was mastered by 29-year-old Captain John Noble. During the inquiry, it was determined that her crew of 71 had only 37 trained seamen amongst them, and of these, 10 could not speak English. It was reported in newspaper accounts that many of the crew were seeking free passage to Australia. Most of the crew were able to survive.
Her compasses did not work properly because of the Iron Hull. The crew believed that they were sailing south through the Irish Sea, but were actually travelling west towards Ireland. On 21 January 1854, within 48 hours of sailing, Tayleur found herself in a fog and a storm, heading straight for the isle of Lambay. The rudder was undersized for her tonnage, so that she was unable to tack around the island. The rigging was also faulty; the ropes had not been properly stretched, so that they became slack, making it nearly impossible to control the sails. Despite dropping both anchors as soon as rocks were sighted, she ran aground on the east coast of Lambay Island, about 5 miles from Dublin Bay.
Initially, attempts were made to lower the ship's Lifeboats, but when the 1st one was smashed on the rocks, launching further boats was deemed unsafe. Tayleur was so close to land that the crew was able to collapse a mast onto the shore, and some people aboard were able to jump onto land by clambering along the collapsed mast. Some that reached shore had carried ropes from the ship, allowing others to pull themselves to safety on the ropes. Captain Noble waited on board Tayleur until the last minute, then jumped towards shore, being rescued by one of the passengers. With the storm and high seas continuing, the ship was then washed into deeper water. She sank to the bottom with only the tops of her masts showing.
A surviving passenger alerted the coastguard station on the island. This passenger and 4 coast guards launched the coastguard galley. When they reached the wreck they found the last survivor, William Vivers, who had climbed to the tops of the rigging, and had spent 14 hours there. He was rescued by the coastguards. On 2 March 1854, George Finlay, the chief boatman, was awarded a silver medal for this rescue.
Newspaper accounts blamed the crew for negligence, but the official Coroner’s Inquest absolved Captain Noble and placed the blame on the ship's owners, accusing them of neglect for allowing the ship to depart without its compasses being properly adjusted. The Board of Trade, however, did fault the captain for not taking soundings, a standard practice when sailing in low visibility.
The wreck was sold for salvage, but part of it still lies in 18 metres (9.8 fathoms) of water.
The Tayleur has been compared with the Titanic. They shared similarities in their separate times. Both were RMS ships and White Star (although these were different companies), and both went down on their maiden voyages. Inadequate or faulty equipment contributed to both disasters.
Numbers of lives lost vary, as do the numbers given as to how many were on board. The latter are between 528 and 680, while the dead are supposed to be at least 297, and up to 380, depending on source. Out of over 100 women on board, only three survived, possibly because of the difficulty with the clothing of that era. The survivors were then faced with having to get up an almost sheer 80 foot (24m) cliff to get to shelter. When word of the disaster reached the Irish mainland, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company sent the steamer Prince to look for survivors. Recent research by Dr Edward J Bourke names 662 on board.
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.
Tayleur was the largest of 11 iron ships built by the Bank Quay Foundry during a short-lived programme of shipbuilding lasting from 1852 to 1855. 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. 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). The ship was built at breakneck speed and on 5 October 1853 it was launched, just 6 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 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 3 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 5 miles (8 km); normally a ship should take 15 minutes to change tack and loose one mile (1.6 km). The reason for this is several fold and will be discussed later. 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 20 minutes of the impact with the loss of over 400 people.
The 3 main compasses on board Tayleur were fitted by John Grey ‘compass maker to Her Majesty’. He fitted and compensated the ship’s 3 compasses 2 months before the sailing of the vessel, and prior to the loading of the ship’s cargo. 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 2 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. In the absence of such a theory, the problem of deviation of the ship’s compass could not be approached analytically or fully understood.
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 14 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 (3 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.
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