The December storms of 1894 at Holyhead resulted in the tragic loss of two vessels. They both foundered within days and yards of each other on the Great Breakwater at Holyhead resulting in significant loss of life. This is the story of one of those vessels – the Barque Kirkmichael. The even more tragic story of the Osseo will follow.
The Kirkmichael was a steel hulled barque built in 1882 and on 22 December 1894 was on passage from Glasgow and Liverpool to Melbourne with general cargo, under the command of Captain T Jones. She left Liverpool under tow on 20 December but the tow parted the next day and Captain Jones decided, due to the increasing gale, to hoist sail and make a run for Holyhead and its Harbour of Refuge. As she progressed the storm steadily took away her canvas. On 22 December, at 10am, now under bare poles, she was driven onto the outer wall of the breakwater, 200 yards from the lighthouse, immediately losing her mainmast and becoming stranded.
The Holyhead lifeboat was quickly launched but was swamped by the heavy seas forcing her to return. The rocket lifesaving crew crawled along the breakwater avoiding the regular deluge of water breaking over the wall. They managed to get a line onto the stern of the barque by which 11 men, including the Captain, were taken off. However the Mate and Second Mate had taken to the rigging and refused to move.
William Jones from Newry Street, Holyhead had gone to assist the Coastguards and volunteered to go on board to help the two remaining in the rigging. He was accompanied by a coastguard officer, Harry Hunt, but before the men could be reached, one fell to his death and the other, although rescued, later died of exposure. The ship’s steward had also refused to leave the ship and remained below. He was eventually taken off in the morning when the weather abated.
In all seven of the crew perished. Four crew members are buried at Maeshyfryd Cemetery, Holyhead – John Leigh Chamberlain Richardson from Caistor, Lincolshire (aged 18, Apprentice and Midshipman, RNR), Richard George Lea from Wallasey, Cheshire (aged 22, AB Seaman), Warren Lipscombe* from Teddington, London (aged 20, Apprentice) and Edwin Dixon (aged 24, First Mate). Others whose bodies were lost or buried elsewhere – J D McCubbin (Second Mate), J H Martin (Apprentice) and Thomas Ready (Sailmaker).
William Jones was later recognised for his bravery and awarded a silver medal from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society and bronze medals from the Board of Trade and the Royal Humane Society. These can be viewed at the Holyhead Maritime Museum.
Contributed by Barry Hillier
* Records show that Warren Lipscombe may have been only 16 years old. He commenced his indentures at Liverpool on 18 December 1894, just 4 days before he was drowned.
The photos of the wreck of the Kirkmichael and William Richard Jones are from the Holyhead Maritime Museum Collection.
The photograph of the breakwater is included with the kind permission of Holyhead photographer, Alan Jones.