Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Wreck of the Royal Charter


"The Royal Charter off Moelfre"
Image used with permission of E. D. Walker
http://www.edwalkermarine.com/

October 26, 2010 is the 151st anniversary of my great-great-great grandfather, Manus Maurice Boyle's, death in the shipwreck of the Royal Charter. He worked in the coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Alice Monaghan, were both Irish immigrants and longed for a better life for their two daughters, Bridget Mary and Anna. He left Pennsylvania in September 1856 to go to Australia to mine for gold in hopes of a better future for his family. He was returning to his family from Australia in the autumn of 1859. The Royal Charter would have taken him back to Britain. No one knows what ship he was to board to return to America. No one knows what fortunes, if any, he was returning from Australia with. During the last leg of his journey to Liverpool a hurricane struck. There was no advanced warning. None existed prior to that date.

The winds that raged over 100 mph changed from East to North/Northeast and the bay (Moelfre Bay) which Captain Taylor had hoped would shelter them became the instrument of their demise. The anchors that had been weighed, snaped in the first hours of the morning of October 26th and the ship was repeatedly thrown against the rocks until it split and sank. Of more than 480 passengers and crew only 41 survived. No women or children were saved.

The valiant efforts of one of the crew, Joe Rogers, and the inhabitants of the Moelfre coast were what enabled even those 41 to be saved. The storm had caused damage to one of the Moelfre homes and as residents were repairing the roof in the early hours of the morning they saw the ship in peril. They woke the town and 28 local men made a human chain in the violent waters of the bay to attempt to rescue those aboard. Joe Rogers took a line from the ship and swam to shore, being turned back in the violent waves of the storm at least 3 times before reaching the men on shore. The rope was used in an attempt to bring those from the vessel ashore.

Sadly, many of the passengers on the ship jumped or were thrown overboard. The bulkiness of the clothes of the time coupled with the fact that many had money belts and pockets filled with gold inhibited their efforts to the deadliest of degrees. Had they abandoned their garments and treasure many more may have survived.

There was over 322,000 pounds (British monetary unit) of gold aboard the ship. This was the amount insured back in 1859 and does not include the gold the passengers kept on their persons. I do not know the equivalent in today's currency the gold would be valued at, but it would obviously be substantially higher. The large amount of money combined with the rumors of "good fortune" that surrounded the town after the wreck led to the shipwreck being called the Golden Wreck.

The village church of Saint Gallgo became the collection point for the bodies. The Reverends Stephen Roose Hughes and his brother Reverend Hugh Robert Hughes paid the local inhabitants to bring the bodies to the church, a difficult trek up the rocky shores to the church made monetary remuneration the only way to persuade the locals to take on the grim task. They saw to the burial of those killed and personally answered over 1000 letters they received begging a response regarding loved ones. The stress from this caused the Reverend Stephen Hughes' life to be cut short. He died a few years later.

The church at Saint Gallgo still exists today and each year remembers those lost in this tragedy. Monuments stand to remember those lost. A distant cousin of mine Debbie Fay Buch and her husband, Josh Buch, placed a memorial stone at Saint Gallgo Church in August 2004. It reads:

Manus Maurice Boyle
1833-1859
Never Recovered from the Royal Charter
Placed by the Fay Family
Hazleton, PA USA 2004

I don't sit around depressed over the fact that this is the anniversary of my ancestor's death. What would have happened had he come home with gold from Australia? My 2nd great grandmother, Anna Boyle, may never have met her husband, Martin Blanchfield, and I would never have been born. Sometimes good can come from tragedy. People's fortunes can improve or worsen causing them to make decisions that determine the outcome of their history and sometimes other people's histories. It does sadden me to know that Manus was never to hold his youngest daughter, Anna. She was born 2 months after he left for Australia. It saddens me to know that his last thoughts were most likely of a family that he would not see again in this world. Or perhaps his last thoughts were of a determination to survive and get back to them. A determination that was matched by the ferocity of the circumstances in which he found himself. It saddens me knowing that he did not die the "peaceful" death of drowning for the majority of those lost were broken on the rocks of the bay. The passengers and crew of the Royal Charter died so close to shore that even today the wreck can be seen below the surface of the waters from the bay's shoreline. Still there, resting peacefully below the water.

It is not everyone that can say their ancestor's demise was written about in books. I have read two that write of the Royal Charter. One by Alexander McKee, "The Golden Wreck: The Tragedy of the Royal Charter" is out of print, but it tells of the voyage from Australia to it's wreck, the recovery of the remains of the victims and the trial of the crew that survived. I have read the account of the shipwreck written by the great Charles Dickens (yes, I said Charles Dickens wrote about this tragedy!) in his book "The Uncommercial Traveller" (only about the first 20 or so pages of the book are dedicated to this wreck. It's a series of 34 books and this is in volume 24. The entire series tells of Dickens' travels as he IS the Uncommercial Traveller).

I take this time today to remember a man I never knew, but love nevertheless. As a genealogist it can be hard to convey to those that do not research their ancestry that while we may never have met these names that appear in our family trees, we feel a closeness that defies explanation.

Rest in Peace, Grandpa. You will be remembered by your many descendants.

9 comments:

  1. How interesting!! And I'm so happy that you're finally blogging. :) Have you joined Geneabloggers yet?

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  2. Not yet, but I really should. I wanted to wait a few weeks to make sure the PTA stuff calmed down, but I just need to bite the bullet and do it! :)

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  3. Wow that is quite the commentary Cherie. I love this way of telling the story. Mind if I post it as Manus Boyle's story (with credos to you of course) in my ancestry.com family tree page for Manus?

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  4. Absolutely, Rebecca! Thanks for asking! There is so little information readily available on the shipwreck. I need to post the link to the newspaper article I sent you as well!

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  5. What a wonderful post! I can so understand your remark about feeling close to the ancestors that we research. It IS hard to explain - and even more so that some of my ancestors are more "real" to me than others. You've done a great job of bringing Manus Boyle to life.

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  6. Thank you Diana. It is strange how you can feel so close to people so far removed in time. I guess it's that whole family link shining through!

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  7. Cheryl...welcome to the geneablogging community...it's nice to have you here and I look forward to many posts of your family history.

    Thank you for visiting my blog and your very kind words!

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  8. A great story! I blogged about an ancestor in the Australian goldrush earlier this year, but there was no shipwreck involved. Such a horrible way to go...

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  9. Thanks for the comment Heather! I really enjoyed looking around your blog! Loved the death certificate contributory cause “exposure, life in Australia!” That's priceless!

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