By Tommy McGrath

 

The Indianan Windsor Castle sailed from Bombay on the West Coast of India in August 1842 with a cargo of cotton, indigo, gum, sugar and spices. It sailed to the Indian Ocean and onto the Atlantic Ocean but around the 3rd March 1843 she was abandoned by her crew in circumstances that are unclear.

The first indication of her whereabouts were announced in the ‘Times of London’ on Monday 13th March 1843 which stated “The Windsor Castle from Bombay to Liverpool abandoned has been brought into Scattery Roads”. The same paper on 18th March had an intriguing sentence “The Windsor Castle it is said has run foul by an American ship on the 3rd March and abandoned by her crew. She is 900 tonnes with a cargo of a thousand bales of cotton. In the cabin they found a dead goat from which there was no offensive smell so it is supposed that its death was a recent occurrence and on deck everything appeared to be properly secure by the crew before abandonment.

The crew of the Windsor Castle with Mr McCleland (Captain) arrived in Liverpool on the Hudson Page from New Orleans which took them on board after deserting their vessel off Cape Clear in Africa. An obvious question at this stage is, was the Hudson Page, the American Ship that ran foul of the Windsor Castle? It would appear that the reason the Windsor Castle was abandoned was because she was dismasted, thus preventing the use of sails. We know this because in Kilbaha it was proposed that she be jury rigged (temporary sails).

While the Windsor Castle was missing, a steamer from cork and two others from Liverpool where six gentlemen had subscribed £600 and they had searched in vain for the abandoned vessel. Some surprise will be felt at the accidental navigation of an unmanned ship around Cape Clear and up North West on the Atlantic Ocean to the mouth of the Shannon in fact to within a few miles off land near Ross where the Kilbaha Pilots first boarded it.

The Times of London, 21st March 1843 in its newspaper accounts the sequence of events leading to the salvage reported that the Kilbaha Pilots brought her inside Loop Head and slightly further up the Shannon River near Dunmore Head. This was achieved by 3 crews using their canoes to tow the ship. The crews were led by David Melican and his crew of 5, Martin Hassett and his crew of 3 and John with his crew of 3. These 14 co-operated with James Hanrahan and his crew of 3 who remained on board. Once inside the Head at Horse Island the 18 Salvors took on board 17 other pilots and fishermen and accepted them as fellow Salvors. On the rising tide the anchor of the Windsor Castle was weighed and she was taken on tow by a hooker manned by some of the Pilots and then towed first by the Hamilton a revenue cruiser and then by the Erin Steamer ‘Kennedy’. At one stage the pilots in the canoes had to resume towage as the Windsor Castle was drifting too near the cliff for the large towing vessel to operate in safety, finally a steamer ‘the Shannon’ (Ferry boat from Foynes to Kilrush) for £20 towed the ship to safety anchoring in the Scattery Roads.

The prospect of salvage compensation prompted many local people to crowd on board. It was a distasteful task for the pilots to keep them away and prevent the ships contents being looted. This possibly explains why the extra people were taken on at Horse Island. A coastguard named Baldwin from Kilkee insisted on attempting to board by tying his boat to the Windsor Castle deck rail, the pilots on board cut it off and Baldwin brought charges against these men at Kilrush court on 30th March 1843. Baldwin failed to appear in court therefore the charges were dismissed.

It is clear that the chance discovery by the Kilbaha Pilots of the derelict Windsor Castle led to the continuous population of Scattery Island for the next 130 years. The landlord of Scattery island was Francis Keane’s brother of Marcus and his wife was Hannah Marie daughter of Sir Christopher Marrett of Limerick who owned the island. Some of the Pilots bought land on the island and their desendents were Sea Captains, Lighthouse Keepers, Sailors, River Pilots which made the fortunes of Scattery Island achievers famous all over the shipping industry.

There is a very old and strange English Law which governs shipping and it states that “if any person or latterly a beast escaped alive, the ship/property was not legally wreck and thus not forfeited to the crown, the local landowner or the finder. The owner retained title to his property if he claimed with 3 months. Apparently if there were no survivors (man or beast) then no owner could claim property washed up on the shore since it was forfeited as wreck.

Therefore one could assume that perhaps the pilots knew something of its circumstances. Did they know of the owner’s search which would explain the urgency for salvage and the fresh dead goat.

The commission of enquiry which opened in Kilrush on Monday 22nd May 1843 and was transferred to Dublin where the compensation issue for salvors was seriously addressed. Proceedings were slow that on the 22nd June, The Clare Journal noted that “there is every possibility that the enquiry continuing to Christmas. In August a decision had been made valuing the Ship and cargo £20,000 and awarding the salvors one quarter, £5000 distributed as shown on the table below:

Name Occupation Amount Paid
Behan Michael Pilot £163-16-6
Bradley Patrick Assistant £147-3-2
Brennan Daniel Assistant £110-7-4 – ½
Brennan Felix Assistant £110-7-4 – ½
Brennan Patrick Assistant £110-7-4 – ½
Brennan Patrick Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
Brennan Stephen Assistant £110-7-4- ½
Canty Patrick Assistant £110-7-4- ½
Carmody Patrick Pilot £163-16-6
Carthy Parick Assistant £147-3-2
Costelloe Baraby Pilot £163-16-6
Costelloe Timothy Assistant £110-7-4- ½
Crotty Patrick Assistant £110-7-4- ½
Crotty Thomas Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
Fennell Patrick Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
Griffin Michael Assistant £147-3-2
Griffin Michael Pilot £163-16-6
Griffin Patrick Pilot £163-16-6
Hanrahan James Pilot £163-16-6
Hanrahan Michael Assistant £147-3-2
Hanrahan Michael Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
Hasset Anthony Assistant £147-3-2
Hasset martin Pilot £163-16-6
Keane John Pilot £163-16-6
Keane Owen Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
McMahon Austin Pilot £163-16-6
McMahon Patrick Assistant £127-0-8 – ½
McMahon Patrick Pilot £127-0-8 – ½
McMahon Peter Assistant £110-7-4- ½
McNamara John Assistant £110-7-4- ½
Melican David Pilot £163-16-6
Melican John Pilot £163-16-6
Nash Patrick Assistant £147-3-2
Scanlan Michael Pilot £163-16-6
Total 18 Pilots / 16 Assistants £4714-15-0

 

Nine of the popular surnames associated with the island, Keane, Scanlan, McMahon, Brennan, Meehan, Hanrahan, Griffin, Hehir and Moran.

The courage, strength and determination of the Kilbaha Pilots has to be admired. That three canoes with light timber oars could move and steer 900 tonnes on the rough Atlantic and around the cross currents of Loop Head. Then they continued to protect the ship from looters and legally be rewarded payment for their salvage.

Below is a letter to the Limerick Reporter newspaper from the parish priest Fr. Malachy Duggan of Moyarta expressing his pride and commendation for the success of the Pilots:

Extract from ‘The Other Clare Vol. 36’

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