During the Royal Charter Gale of 25 October 1859, several ships were lost off the coast of Aberystwyth, including the MARGARET LLOYD, MORNING STAR and SWANSEA TRADER.
Following the gale, an inquiry was set up into the mounted neglect of the harbour master, Mr. Richard Page, by the Harbour Trustees. A full report of the inquiry was featured in the Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald in November 1859.
According to the newspaper report, the inquiry attracted a lot of interest by 'all classes'. The aim was to determine whether or not Richard Page had been guilty of neglect by not switching on the harbour lights and if an alternative, continuous, harbour light would be necessary for the future.
Several witnesses were called to give information about the state of the harbour during the storm. The witnesses included seamen and Aberystwyth townsfolk.
The first witness, Mrs Anne Jones, wife of Captain William Jones, and Edward Humphreys, mariner, relayed how they saw a light out at sea so visited the harbourmaster's house to ask him to switch the pier light on so that the vessel might enter the port.
The next witness was Captain Owen Enos of the VICTORIA, lost near Newquay:
'We were in company with the MARGARET LLOYD and MORNING STAR (the vessels lost as above stated) on the morning of Tuesday 25th, from St Tudwal's Roads. The BRITANNIA (also lost), the SWANSEA TRADER of Aberystwyth. The ELIZA MARY of New Quay and others were also with us. The last time I saw the MARGARET LLOYD was between 5 and 6 o'clock in the evening, staying out about Pendinas. I was about three quarters of a mile to leeward of her. The wind was ENE. In about three quarters of an hour afterwards, it was quite dark, and the storm increasing, I saw the lights of the MARGARET LLOYD in such as position as would have enable her to fetch the harbour in safety if there was a light on the pier, I am positive she would have been in. I would have made an attempt to coming in myself had there been a light. The MORNING STAR would also have attempted to come into this harbour were the light exhibited, I shower a light occasionally myself. All the vessels but the MARGARET LLOYD were to leeward of me. There was plenty of water, and I had no doubt in my own mind that the MARGARET LLOYD was safely in the harbour by seven o'clock.'
Other mariners who were also out at sea, such as Captain H. Rees of the BRITANNIA and Mr David Watkins, mate of the BESSIE, made similar comments that there was sufficient water to enter the port and they would also have attempted to come into the harbour had a light been on.
Mr. Page was then called to give his statement. Page claimed that the duty of turning the pier lights on belonged with John Davies and Thomas Davies, who were employed by Page. Page also stated that he had seen no lights out at sea, something John Davies also said.
The Harbour Trustees concluded that Richard Page was guilty of neglect in not lighting the pier and harbour guide lights and that he should be dismissed. The following is the statement from the chairman of the Trustees as reported in the Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald:
When the Trustees returned, the chairman said. Mr Page, it now becomes my painful duty to give the result of deliberation of the trustees in this unfortunate matter, which I will do by simply reading the resolution passed by them. Painful, I may say, because as far as I understand you are an old and valued servant of the trustees and no complaint has even before been laid against you, and they are therefore all extremely sorry for the unhappy occurrence which have led them to pass the following resolution:
Resolved unanimously: that the Trustees are of the opinion that in the night of 25th October, the harbour master was guilty of gross neglect of duty in not putting up their pier and guide lights, and that he be forthwith dismissed.
A committee was then set up to discuss the future maintenance of navigation lights at the pier.
Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald, 12 November 1859, Gwynedd Archives on microfilm, soon also available via Welsh Newspapers Online
Aberystwyth Borough Records, Minutes Books of the Harbour Trustees, F1C, National Library of Wales
Note: the Minute Books of the Harbour Trustees, held by the National Library of Wales, record the subsequent meetings and reveal who took over as the harbour master and the decisions of the committee to decide the future of the lights at the pier.
Search Welsh Newspapers online for further notices and reports regarding the harbour.