Friday, October 25, 2013

Storm of the [Nineteenth] Century

Today marks an anniversary--154 years ago, England saw one of the worst storms on the nineteenth century.  The Royal Charter Storm struck the Irish Sea with nearly the force of a hurricane, resulting in more than 800 deaths. 
An abrupt change in the direction and force of the wind mid-afternoon on October 25, 1859, heralded the arrival of the storm.  It was soon howling along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, with structures taking heavy hits before the storm rode north into Wales and finally Scotland.  At their peak, the winds reached more than 100 mph.  The storm sunk 133 ships and left 90 crippled.  Many people were killed by falling rocks or stones from buildings.

Nearly half the deaths, however, came from one source, the source from which the storm took its name.  The SS Royal Charter was a huge iron-clad steamship also capable of traveling under full sail.  She'd gained fame by carrying passengers to the Australian gold rush and had indeed traveled home from there around the Cape of Good Hope and up the coast of Africa.  When she reached England on that fateful day, she was carrying more than 400 passengers--men, women, and children--and over half a million pounds of gold bullion. 

As the storm freshened, Captain Taylor ordered the sails up, the engines shuttered, and the two anchors dropped off the north coast of Anglesey, Wales.  It is thought that he felt the chances of survival were greater riding out the storm there than continuing to the harbor in Liverpool.  Unfortunately, he was wrong. 

The storm broke both anchors free and drove the Royal Charter onto rocks only fifty yards from shore, breaking her into two pieces.  The villagers of nearby Moelfre awoke to find a sinking ship the morning of October 26.  Some of the passengers tried to swim for it but refused to leave their gold behind and sank to the bottom to drown.  One of the sailors managed to reach shore with a rope around his waist, then used it to help 39 men reach shore.  The villagers were also able to rescue about a dozen passengers before the Royal Charter was lost beneath the waves.

The nation went into mourning, with reports in every newspaper for months.  One of those chronicling the sinking was Charles Dickens.  But the Royal Charter Storm had one benefit.  After seeing the devastating results, the British Meteorological Office developed the first gale warning service, which debuted in June 1860, to give people time to prepare and respond to such events, saving countless lives in the decades to follow.

Now there's a tale to tell as we approach Halloween. 


cleanur said...

Regina Scott said...

There you go, Cleanur! Thanks for the link. Perfect connection!

QNPoohBear said...

What a horrific story. Here in New England we had the Great Gale of 1815. You can still find the high water mark noted on the side of the market building in Providence! (now RI School of Design).

Regina Scott said...

Wow, QNPoohBear! That must have been some storm! Around here, we talk about the Great Columbus Day Storm, which uprooted trees and caused major damage in the Northwest. It will be interesting to see what our children and grandchildren think is the great storm of this century.

QNPoohBear said...

The Great Gale of 1815 was the first hurricane to hit New England in almost 200 years. It flattened the warehouses, supposedly knocked down a church steeple and flooded the city (which at the time was built around a cove). If we were all young ladies and gentlemen in the nineteenteens, we would all be talking about it but it's largely forgotten now.

The current old-timers talk about the Hurricane of '38 which was horrific. Super Storm Sandy is so far the one everyone is talking about now.