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The MESSENGER of Caernarvon was a wooden smack built at Barmouth in 1841. It was one of the vessels reported by local newspapers as having been wrecked during the Royal Charter Gale of 25-26 October 1859. The vessel is also listed in the Board of Trade’s official annual statistical return of losses for the year. However, it appears seems that the vessel was recovered and returned to service, first as a pilot vessel and then as a coastal trader.

A technical specification for the vessel is given in its Port of Beaumaris/Caernarvon Shipping Register entries:

28.62 gross tons; 43.5ft length x 14.8ft breadth x 7.3ft depth in hold; 1 deck, 1 mast, smack rigged, square stern, carvel built, wooden framework, official number 4112.

The smack was carrying a cargo of iron and coal when it was driven aground on the sandbanks off Trecastell and Penmon during the gale. The loss of the three crewmen, including the master/owner, is confirmed in the register - William Jones ‘dies 25th October 1859. Will dated 27th January 1857 appointing John Williams and John Wynne, executors. Probate granted by Consistory Court of Bangor, 1 March 1860’.

In March 1860, John Williams and John Wynne sell the MESSENGER to John Hughes of Bangor, a pilot. It is possible that pilot’s own vessel had been badly damaged or completely lost as a result of the gale. The MESSENGER was used as a replacement for a year before being sold on.

The smack’s subsequent history is glimpsed through successive Shipping Register entries. It was owned at Porth Penrhyn for a time, and then by merchants and ship brokers at Liverpool. Its Caernarvon registration was finally closed on 9 March 1907.

Sources include:
An abstract of the returns made to the Lords of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, of wrecks and casualties which occurred on and near the coasts of the United Kingdom, from the 1st January to the 31st December 1859, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers Online, document ref 2623, pg25
North Wales Chronicle, 29 Oct 1859, pg 8, col 1-4, The Late Fearful Storm
Pembrokeshire Herald 11 November 1859, Welsh Newspapers Online (
Port of Caernarvon Shipping Register 1855-1859, Gwynedd Archive Service XSR/16, folio 24
Port of Beaumaris Shipping Register 1855-1865, Gwynedd Archive Service XSR/11, folio 103
Skidmore, I, 1979 Anglesey and Lleyn Shipwrecks, pg 31
Wynne-Jones, I, 2001, Shipwrecks of North Wales, 4 ed, pg99

What were the given professions of John Williams and John Wynne?

Use the historic OS 1st edition mapping available on the People’s Collection Wales www site explore the length of the Menai Straits to identify the features associated with the safe navigation. What additional information can you find within the local history collection as Gwynedd Archives, Caernarvon, about the vital role performed by the Menai Strait pilots?

What are the other losses around the Welsh coast are identified by the Board of Trade in their report? How does the official report compare with the losses that have been confirmed by the shipwreck items presented within the Great Gale of 1859 Collection on the People’s Collection Wales www site?

Follow this link for the online version of the Board of Trade Return:

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