Sinking of the RMS Tayleur

This elegant sailing ship was the largest merchant vessel of her day but she was wrecked on her maiden voyage with the loss of 372 lives.

Built at Warrington for owners Charles Moore & Co, she seemed destined for years of profitable service in the booming emigrant trade.

She set sail from Liverpool in January 1854 heading for Melbourne carrying 652 passengers and crew. Most of those on board the brand spanking-new vessel were families heading for new lives in Australia.

Two days later the 1,750-ton Tayleur (pictured) struck a reef off Lambay Island, five miles east of the Irish mainland. She sank within 30 minutes and many of the emigrants were among the victims although most of the 71 crew survived.

An inquiry revealed a chronicle of faults – the compasses didn’t work because of the iron hull, the rudder was too small, rigging was faulty and there were only 37 trained seamen among the crew. They thought they were travelling south across the Irish Sea when in fact the Tayleur was heading west to disaster.

Out of the entire number of persons on board only 282 individuals were saved, so that 370 lives must have been lost altogether. News of the wreck having been taken to Dublin, the steam-packet Prince was sent to Lambay Island on Sunday afternoon; and next morning the whole of the passengers and crew who had been rescued were taken to Dublin, where comfortable accommodation was provided for them.

Later accounts state that nearly 50 bodies have been found, and that an inquest is to be held. The Liverpool Mercury adds the following statement:

We learn that a letter has been received from Captain Noble, but it conveys nothing like an accurate account of the cause of the disaster. It appears that he had two sails blown away in the gale of Friday and Saturday morning. His rudder, a patent one, is complained of as difficult to work, and his compasses were wrong. This is the sum of his statement. It appears that there were a little over 100 females on board, only three of whom are said to have been saved. The vessel still holds together and, as there is a large quantity of timber on board, she may continue to do so.

280 crew and passengers survived and were then faced with an almost sheer 80ft (24m) cliff to reach shelter. Amongst the hundreds that died were many entire families – Alexander Bell lost thirteen members of his family and both the Boar and Jaffray families lost nine family members in the disaster. Tragically only three out of 100 women survived – many accounts telling how they were weighed down by their clothes or lost their nerve in crossing the line from the ship to the shore.