Written by S. Ablott
First Published

Introduction

The Gem was a schooner of 77 tons, launched at Burton Stather in the September of 1859. She was registered in Hull, belonging to Mr John Pexton of Taylor & Co and captained by William Taylor. She traded around the UK, France and Mediterranean waters.

The Final Voyage

On the 1st of January 1867 the Gem set sail on a voyage from Greenock to Southampton carrying a cargo of pig iron and machinery. On board was Captain Taylor and his wife, the mate Daniel James, Henry Harveston, William and Patrick McBride.

The Storm

As the schooner passed through St Georges Channel, from the Irish Sea into the Atlantic on the 7th, they were caught in a squally westerly storm which drove them east, along the North Cornish coast into the Bristol Channel. The ship had lost all but one of it's sails so the captain decided to head for the safety of Milford Haven. However in the darkness and mayhem of the storm they made a navigational error, they were further east than they thought, mistaking the Caldy Island light for the St Anne's light. As a result they ran aground and were wrecked on the Middle Path, on Carmarthen Bar, near Laugharne Burrows at around midnight.

Through The Night

After leaving an iron pot with tar, naphtha, and turpentine burning as a distress signal on the companion, the crew tied themselves to the cross trees to ride out the storm. But by daylight the captain, his wife and two of the crew were drowned, their bodies horribly mangled by the pounding waves.

On the 7th at 12pm, the weather was thick, the wind a heavy gale, we run on shore on Laugharne Sands, Caldy Island. At 8pm, on the 8th, the ship filled with water, a few minutes after striking. We got the boat ready for launching, but found the sea too heavy. All hands took to the rigging, and lashed themselves about the fore-mast-head. The Captain, William Taylor, and his wife, William McBride, and Patrick McBride, were all drowned in their lashings. Myself and Henry Harveston cut them adrift at 10am to obtain Mrs Taylor's shawl for a signal of distress.

Daniel James
Mate on the Gem

Rescue

The ship was spotted from the shore and the Ferryside Lifeboat The City of Manchester was launched. The Lifeboat crew found the two exhausted survivors clinging to the one remaining mast, the hull being under the water.

The Night upon The Mast

The story is told in a ballad named The Night upon The Mast or The Wreck of The Gem of Hull by Reverend Jasper Nicholls Harrison, who was the vicar of Laugharne at that time. It was printed in 1868, in a 40 page illustrated hardback book. The following is just a few verses.

They hoped their moving forms, though dim,
Upon the mast descried,
Might tell of life in jeopardy,
Amid the angry tide.

And so it chanced - a fisherman
Far scanning with his glass
The wreck-strewn water of the bay,
A vacant hour to pass.

Spied one dark speck, some three leagues off
The breakers' foam above,
Whereon there seemed at intervals
A thing of life to move.

The life-boat coxwain's practiced eye
Confirms his doubtful guess-
It is the mast of shipwrecked bark,
And signal of distress.

Ring the alarm bell! rouse the place!
Collect our crew with speed;
Lend all a hand to launch the boat,
We'll save them in their need!

Right heartily the villagers
Have lent a helping hand;
In half-an-hour they've dragged her o'er
A furlong of deep sand.

Two hours twelve pair of brawny arms
Have forced her through the wave,
As Britons only ply the oar,
Their brother man to save.

And now the watchers on the mast
Have cast away their grief,
Full well they know; life-boat's rig,
And see their own relief

With grateful hearts, but feeble strength,
Their rescuers' hands they clasp;
While one the shawl that saved their life
Still clutches in his grasp.

The Night upon The Mast
Rev J N Harrison
Vicar of Laugharne

Map

Map showing the approximate location where the vessel was thought to have been lost, or the last known position.

Vessel Details for Gem

Official Number:27967
Vessel Name:Gem
Type:SchoonerInfo
Built:
Tons:77
Length:78.1
Beam:18
Depth:8.5
Owners:
  • Taylor & Co
  • John Pexton of Hull 1867
Masters:
  • W Taylor
Ports:
  • Hull
Construction:Iron Bolts
Trade:Hull, Stockton, France, Mediterranean.
Fate:Wrecked on 8th of January 1867 in Carmarthen Bay, near Laugharne Burrows.

Sources

  1. Lloyd's Register of Ships.
  2. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  3. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser - 18th January 1867
  4. Yorkshire Gazette - 26th January 1867
  5. Carmarthenshire Museums
  6. The Night upon The Mast or The Wreck of The Gem of Hull - A True Ballad, by Rev J N Harrison.

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© 2017 Burton upon Stather Heritage Group

Creative Commons. Background Photograph by Bruno Girin. Used with modifications under license.