By Paula Redmond
Before being overshadowed by the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, the wreck of the RMS Tayleur in 1894 had been one of the worst maritime disasters in the British Isles. The ship ran aground on her maiden voyage off Lambay Island, Dublin with the loss of approximately 370 lives.
The ship was built in 1853 for Charles Moore and Company and chartered to the White Star Line. It was planned that the vessel would serve the Great Britain to Australia route. Discoveries of gold ‘down under’ at the time meant that there was a growing demand for this service. The vessel was kitted out to serve wealthy five-star passengers as well as low cost steerage travellers.
Built in the Bank Quay Foundry, Warrington, the fully rigged clipper ship was the biggest of her day. Most vessels at the time were made of wood but the Tayleur had an iron hull. She was launched on October 4th, 1853.
The ship left Liverpool bound for Melbourne on January 19th, 1854 with over 650 passengers and crew on board. Problems were encountered with the ship’s instruments before she had even left port.
The Liverpool Port Pilot noticed a one point difference between the vessel’s three compasses while she was being led to the Irish Sea by tug boat. She also handled badly as soon as the tow ship was cast off. Despite this, the vessel continued on her voyage. It later transpired that the problems with the instruments were caused by the ship’s iron hull.
Due to the inaccurate compass readings, Captain John Noble believed the vessel was headed due south, when in fact it was advancing westwards towards the Irish coast. On January 21st the ship encountered stormy weather and fog.
When rocks were sighted both anchors were dropped but broke off. The crew couldn’t control the sails to turn the ship, as the ropes for the masts were not properly stretched before being fitted.
Natural fibre ropes of that time had to be stretched to make the fibres less elastic and stronger. Stretching also helped to prevent fraying, which could interfere with the smooth running of ropes through pulley blocks. In addition, the ship’s rudder was too small for her tonnage and she could not manoeuvre around the rocks.
The vessel ran aground about five miles from Dublin Bay on the east coast of Lambay Island. The first lifeboat that was launched smashed against the rocks so it was deemed too dangerous to launch any others.