Sunday, 24 August 2014
On this Day 24th August 1848 a terrible shipwreck occurred a few miles to the north of Llandudno. A fifteen hundred ton sailing ship, the Ocean Monarch caught fire. On board were over three hundred and fifty passengers and a crew of forty. The passengers were British migrants on their way to start a new life in America. Many theories have been suggested for the cause of the fire such as passengers lighting a fire in one of the ship’s ventilators, or a crew member had been careless when lighting a candle near some loose straw. Whatever the cause in a very short time a large part of the ship was ablaze.
Flames from the vessel were visible for many miles from land and sea. And the tragedy had a huge impact on the inhabitants of Llandudno. In his 1893 publication, ‘Adgofion am Llandudno’, ‘Recollections of Llandudno’, by Thomas Rowlands, translated by Local Historian, Tom Parry, Rowlands recalls,
“I will mention only one incident which cast sadness and sorrow over our lives. One afternoon news reached the village that a large ship was on fire outside Llandudno Bay. Everyone abandoned their pleasures and their duties and raced to the Fach (the Happy Valley), on arrival we saw, about fifteen miles out to sea, the large emigrant ship, The Ocean Monarch, with flames running up the rigging and the masts. There were hundreds of emigrants on board when the fire broke out. They had just left the port of Liverpool and were full of high hopes of reaching America, and thought, as they left the old country, that they were bidding goodbye to oppression. But no, within a few hours the two most destructive elements had turned against then, the fire and the water and threatened not only their comforts but their very lives.”
Assisting the Stricken Vessel
In a very short time ships came from all directions in order to try and assist the stricken vessel. First on the scene was the luxury yacht, Queen of the Ocean, homeward bound from Beaumaris Regatta to Liverpool. It was followed by the Brazilian steam frigate Alfonso, the paddle steamer Prince of Wales en route from Dublin, the American ship, New World bound for New York and several others. Anchors were dropped to keep the Ocean Monarch’s bow to the wind in order to confine the fire to the vessel’s stern whilst evacuating the passengers to the rescue vessels. The Alfonso succeeded in rescuing 156, but by the end of the day 178 lives had been lost. After burning for twenty hours the ship sank. This was one of the worst accidents to befall migrants from Britain to America during the nineteenth century. The ship’s figurehead was washed ashore at Rhos on Sea and adorned the wall of the Mountain View Hotel in Mochdre for many years. The wreckage of the Ocean Monarch is one of the hundreds of wrecks littering the sea bed in Liverpool Bay.
Pottery from the Wreck Site of the Ocean Monarch