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The CHARLES HOLMES was a full-rigged ship built at Rockland, Maine, in 1851. It became one of the shipping losses during the Royal Charter Gale. If you move your mouse over this image of the CHARLES HOLMES's register entry from the Port of Liverpool, you'll find information about people associated with the ship in February 1854 and a technical description:

... 886/10 tons, two decks and a poop and three masts. Her length from the inner part of the main stem to the forepart of the stern was 154 feet, her breadth in midships was 29.3 feet and her depth in hold at midships was 21.1 feet. She was a ship, rigged with standing bowsprit, a square stern, carvel built, scroll head, that her framework was wood planking and she was a sailing vessel.

Rockland Historical Society have kindly supplied information about the original owners and the number of shares each owned. Unlike British- registered vessels, it appears that ownership of this American ship was divided into 16 shares with one of the 16 shares further divided in half. Horace Merriam, of the firm Merriam and Andrews who built the CHARLES HOLMES, held three 16th shares; Captain Robert Crockett, held two 16th shares; Captain Thomas R Pillsbury, who would captain the ship, held four 16th shares; Charles Holmes held two 16th shares; William L. Pitts held two 16th shares; Captain William H. Thorndike held one 32nd share; Abel K. Foster of New York held two 16th shares; and Isaiah Atkins, Daniel R Stedman and George Stedman, all of Boston, combined one 32nd share.
Merriam and Andrews owned two yards in Rockland - one at North End and one at Crockett Point - but it is uncertain from which yard the ship was launched 10 December 1851.

The shipping intelligence columns of the Liverpool Mercury provide clues to the early voyages the vessel undertook under Captains Crockett and Pillsbury. The Liverpool Mercury records that in November 1852, the ship left Liverpool for New York. In January of 1853, she arrived in Liverpool from New Orleans and in November of the same year, arrived in Liverpool from Havana, Cuba.
Captain Thomas Pilsbury was born in Northport, Maine, in 1819, and started his sea-going career at 14 when he signed on as a cook 14. During his life at sea, Pillsbury commanded 15 vessels, including the MARY T STARRETT (1853), MARTHA COBB (1862) and the FOREST EAGLE (1856), all built at Rockland. However, it was Pillsbury's final voyage aboard the CHARLES HOLMES which was to be his most memorable.

In the winter of 1853-54, the ship left Havana for London with the largest cargo of sugar that had ever been carried up until that time. The trip would prove perilous, as the CHARLES HOLMES met gale after gale after gale, and arrived at London so overdue that it was welcomed as one from the grave. Pillsbury sold the CHARLES HOLMES in London and received $50,000-60,000 for the ship and $10,000 for the cargo of sugar. Pillsbury then returned to Maine to divide the money amongst his fellow owners.

The CHARLES HOLMES was transferred to the Port of Liverpool Shipping Register in February 1854 when its association with a new consortium of owners and master began. These owners were Thomas Chilton the younger (and later his father, Thomas Chilton, senior), John Thomas Nickels and Robert Hutchinson, all merchants from Liverpool. The ship's new master was Charles Halket Bowlby of Austin Friars, London, master mariner. It is tempting to believe that it was Bowlby who saw the vessel for sale in the London docks after its heroic voyage and convinced the consortium that the ship still had a great deal of useful service life left to give. However, Nickels would have known the vessel well, having entrusted the ship with its first Transatlantic cargo (Havana to Liverpool) in August 1852 under Captain Pillsbury.

And so it was, in February 1855, that Captain Bowlby began a new voyage pattern - Liverpool to Bombay. This pattern was continued for the few years.

Bowlby was the son of Captain Thomas Bowlby RN of Bishopwearmouth, Co Durham. He appears to have been a thorough seaman being commended for his meteorological observations in The Mercantile Navy List of 1858. These were the observations for which Robert FitzRoy had introduced a new recording sheet and standard for collecting. The results forwarded to the Board of Trade's new Meteorological Office would, in a poignant twist of irony, eventually provide FitzRoy with sufficient understanding of the movements of atmospheric pressure systems to implement Britain's first storm warning service.

On its last voyage, the CHARLES HOLMES was outward bound across the Atlantic again, from Liverpool to Mobile, with a general cargo consisting of coal, iron, tools, clothing, crockery and meat. It was blown ashore at Aberbach on 25 October 1859. Contemporary accounts suggest that is was dismasted at sea, became unmanageable and was capsized. The whole crew of 28 and a passenger were drowned.

Several newspapers reported the wreck, including The Times, on 5 November 1859. The obituary column in the Liverpool Mercury reported the loss of Mr John Cross, chief officer and Mr John O'Brien, carpenter aged 26 years, and the obituary pages of the Mercantile Navy List of 1860 paid tribute to seaman David Kennedy. No crew lists appears to have survived and so we are reliant on these alternative sources to provide the names of those on board.

Nine bodies were recovered, some being buried Llandwa, with the majority buried in the churchyard at Granston, close to where the ship was wrecked. The gravestone at Granston is dedicated to both Captain and crew.

An initial sale of the wreckage strewn around Aberbach and Abermawr was organised for 3 November 1859 by the local Lloyd's agent. As well as items associated with the vessel itself, a quantity of blanketing and damaged tweed was also sold from the beach.

Interest in the wreck of the CHARLES HOLMES continued after the fateful night of the gale. An advert for the sale material scattered around Abermawr and Aberbach by the Lloyds agent appeared for the 3 November 1859. Potter's Electric News reported the case of a man fined 1 shilling for stealing part of the cargo being brought before the Dewsland Azzizes. Further short notices appeared later in 1859 and into 1860. The Pembrokeshire Herald reporting divers at work and advertising an auction of the salvaged articles.

Sources include:
BSAC Wreck Register 1988, Addendum 2 to Vol 1 and 3, 50 (293)
Liverpool Mercury, various dates (British Library, 19th century British Newspapers online)
Potter's Electric News, 7 December 1859, Welsh Newspapers Online
Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 11 May 1860, Welsh Newspapers Online
Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 14 September 1860, Welsh Newspapers Online
Mercantile Navy List 1858, pg332 (online source Google Books)
Port of Liverpool Shipping Register 1853-1854 (10 Nov 1853 - 27 Feb 1854), Merseyside Maritime Museum, 125 in 1854

Where are the ports of Bombay, New Orleans, Havana and Mobile? What were the biggest exports from these ports in the mid 19th century?

Thomas Chilton, John Thomas Nickel, and Robert Hutchinson were all merchants at Liverpool with a wide range of shipping and trading interest. What did the Chilton family build with their shipping fortune in 1863?

Charles Bowlby came from a distinguished seafaring family. What is the family connection to the search Captain Sir John Franklin's doomed 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage?

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