The Schooner ‘Bessie Mitchell’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published


This was the second ship built at Burton Stather for Richard Mitchell of Briton Ferry.1 The first was the schooner Ann Mitchell 1867.2 She was 86.4 feet long and 93 tons, carvel built with a round stern, fastened with iron bolts, she had a female bust figurehead.3 Launched on the Thursday the 12th of August 18694 and registered at Swansea.1

On Thursday morning the 12th inst. a fine clipper schooner, 200 tons burthen, was launched by Messrs. John Wray and Son, from their yard, Burton Stather. She is called the Bessie Mitchell, and classed eight years A1 at Lloyd's. The managing owner is Mr. R Mitchell, ship owner of Briton Ferry.4

Stamford Mercury
20th of August 1869

To South Wales

The schooner was taken to Goole before her first voyage out to sea which commenced from that port on the 15th of August, taking her first to Penzance then on to her home port of Briton Ferry in South Wales. Her captain was John Thomas from Pembrokeshire, who's previous ship was the W. M. J. also of Briton Ferry and built on The Stather.5

The Port of Briton Ferry
The Port of Briton Ferry, near Swansea.

Voyages North

The next voyage started on the 21st of October, to Liverpool, then Barrow and back to Briton Ferry.

She repeated the same voyage two more times, setting off on the 26th of November, returning home on the 23rd of December, and again on the 3rd of January 1870, setting off for home from Barrow on the 21st.5

A Voyage South

On Tuesday the 8th of February the schooner set off on a different course, this time bound for Southampton carrying a cargo of 180 tons of tin plates from Messrs Morris & Co. Works, with a value of £3500.6 At around 5 in the morning of the 9th they were in the Bristol Channel, on the port tack, heading WSW, with the wind fresh from the south, it was still dark, but clear. Captain Thomas noticed a green light straight ahead. After 10 minutes, he saw a red light on a barque running up the channel.7

Hit and Run

The barque struck the schooner on the port quarter, breaking away the rails, bulwarks and stanchions. It split the gunwale, broke the steering gear and cut the hull to the waters edge. They hailed to the barque to stay by them and assist, but their calls were ignored. The barque carried on and left them to their fate, before anyone was able to get it's name.

Water was gaining on them and all hands went to the pumps, which they worked for more than six hours to keep the vessel afloat. With water now over the cabin deck, and the wind a south westerly gale, the crew took to the boat and abandoned ship. She sank 5 minutes after, about 15 miles south of Caldy Island.7

Finding Land

At 5 in the afternoon the exhausted crew landed on Manorbier Beach, four miles from Tenby.7 On reaching Tenby they were thankful of the hospitality they received from the locals, and were forwarded to their homes by aid from the Shipwrecked Mariners Society.6

The Only Crew

In this schooners' short career of just six months, she had the same crew of five throughout, they were: Master and part owner, John Thomas of Pembrokeshire; Mate, John Harries, also from Pembrokeshire; Able Seamen, Samuel Perrot of Briton Ferry and William Phillips of Pembrokeshire; Ordinary Seaman, Frederick Wiles from Lynn in Norfolk.5 All survived this hit-and-run collision.7

Vessel Details for Bessie Mitchell

Official Number:60639
Vessel Name:Bessie Mitchell
  • Richard Mitchell and Co of Britonferry
  • John Thomas from Newport
  • Swansea
Construction:Carvel built. Round stern. Iron bolts. Female bust fugurehead.
Trade:Goole Coaster.
Fate:Sank after a hit and run collision, 15 miles north of Lundy Island on the morning of 9th Feb 1870 while carrying a cargo of tin plates for Morris and Co. Crew escaped in the boats.


  1. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  2. Lloyd's Register of Ships.
  4. Stamford Mercury
  6. Tenby Observer
  7. Hampshire Advertiser

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