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The Wreck of the ‘Edmond’
at Kilkee, 1850

Report and eyewitnesses account:


Wreck of the Emigrant Barque 'Edmond', of London From Limerick, at Kilkee
Awful Loss of Ninety-Six Lives!!!


One of the most disastrous shipwrecks we have ever had the painful duty of recording occurred in the bay of Kilkee, on the disastrous night of Tuesday last. The Edmond sailed from the quays of Limerick with two hundred and sixteen souls on board, on Friday last, and proceeded to Scattery Roads, where the vessel lay till Sunday, when she went down to Carrigaholt, where she lay till Monday morning, when, the weather being favourable, she proceeded out to sea. She could not have proceeded far when the fearful gale from the S.W.- which spread such desolation, sprang up and drove her back; but, the Captain being unable to master the terrific violence of the storm, the Edmond was driven into the dangerous bay of Kilkee. The tide being unusually high, she was driven towards the outward ledge of rocks called the Dungana rocks, in safety; but the Captain hero threw out the anchor, and the vessel soon afterwards heeling round, was driven with great impetuosity against the rocks, and soon became a total wreck. The appearance of the catastrophe from the shore was indescribably agonizing and dreadful. The shrieks of the passengers could be heard over the terrific roar of the sea, and of the winds, which continued to blow with resistless fury. Wave after wave washed the ill-fated ship, till it completely swamped her; but every effort that could be made was carried into effect to rescue the passengers from their heart-rending position. The wreck occurred within a very short distance of the shore; just under Mr. Sikes’s house, which is at present occupied by the family of Richard Russell, Esq. of Limerick. Mr. Russell happened to be on the spot at the time. To anyone who knows the intrepidity and benevolence of that gentleman, it need not be said that he exerted himself most zealously on behalf of the unfortunate sufferers; and that owing to his labours and those of others, many who should have otherwise inevitably perished were rescued from a watery grave. As it is, the wreck is one which will long be remembered, as well from the fearful associations with which it is connected, as from the loss of life with which it was accompanied. At first it was thought impossible to save more than a few; and the most exaggerated reports spread like wild fire through the entire country, including Kilrush and the villages adjacent. Some of these reports had it that one hundred lives were lost; others that there were several more buried in the ocean. It was not 'till a late hour on the evening of Wednesday that anything like an accurate calculation of the numbers lost could be made, and then the scene that presented itself was sufficient to appal the stoutest heart. An eye witness states that the sufferings of the poor survivors and their grief were truly heart-rending. Parents without their children—children without their parents—many without clothes; and with very few exceptions all were wholly destitute, their little effects having been entirely lost; and all the resources they possessed in the deep. The inhabitants of Kilkee were very zealous on the occasion; every one did what lay in his power to relieve those who were saved. Wave after wave, however washed ashore the bodies of the dead, and augmented the horrors and agony of the scene. Every house in Kilkee was converted into a hospital; all the available resources of the village was put in immediate requisition. Dr. Griffin spared no exertions, neither did several others. The vessel contained 216 passengers including the crew, of whom 96 were lost. The moment the intelligence reached Limerick, effective steps were at once taken to provide for the requirements of the sufferers. At the Limerick Corporation, yesterday, a subscription was at once raised, to which all the members of that body readly contributed. Collectors were also appointed to go through the city for the purpose of obtaining money; and in the course of a few hours, upwards of £80 were collected. The utmost cheerfulness was manifested on the occasion. Among the passengers were Mr. Kennyon jun., of Thomond-gate, and Mr. Barry of Patrick-street, both of whom were providentially saved. We subjoin such particulars from authentic sources as have reached us, of this lamentable catastrophy. We should state that the Edmond was chartered by John Mc Donnell, Esq., T. C., of Limerick,—that her Captain, Mr. Wilson, is a first class seaman, and that the crew behaved admirably. The poor carpenter, a native of Limerick named Finn, lost his life in endeavouring to save the passengers. The crew consisted of 14 men.

The Harbour Commissioners, yesterday, headed by the Chairman, Francis Spaight, Esq., gave £16.

We have seen a map of the bay, drawn by Mr. Richard Russell: it presents a truly fearful picture of the dangers of the place - the Duggan 's Rocks almost block up the entrance to the bay. The vessel was brought up in the first position between those rocks and the bay, when she drifted in an Easterly direction to the swimming rocks, exactly opposite Mr. Sykes' house where Mr. Russell and his family, as we have stated were at the time. The vessel drifted farther to the East, when she got on the strand, the wind previously having got to N.W.: the waves mountains high, and the passengers, as best they could, making their way in the tremendous surf, to the rocks. Mr. Russell ministered to the necessities of over forty persons in his own house.

The following is an extract from a private letter written by Mr. Russell to his father J. N. Russell, Esq. on this painful subject:?

"I shall now endeavour to give you a more particular account of the loss of this unfortunate vessel.

It was about half-past 11 o' clock that I got out of bed. When I was absent half an hour to fasten the windows of our bedroom, shaken by the pitiless storm, on looking out, as is my usual custom what was my horror to see before me, within a few hundred yards a large vessel aground some distance from the rocks. It was low water, I cannot describe my feeling: I knew and felt that all in her were doomed to destruction, and, as I then believed, not a soul could be saved. At this time I did not hear that she was an emigrant vessel, though I had some suspicion of it, as she was of large size and light draft of water. In a short time my fears proved too true. At first there was no appearance of any living person on board, but as soon as we made our appearance there was one burst of horrid, agony for assistance. I can never forget it - the sound will long continue fresh in my ear. I sent at once to call the Coast Guards and all the persons in the neighbourhood - also to the village. Where the vessel first lay there was no earthly chance of saving a soul, but as the tide rose, which it did with terrific fury, she drifted in until she got close to the Black Rock opposite our house (Mr. Sykes's), where the men usually bathe in summer. When she got there the sea made terrible breeches over her, but still she bore it bravely. The Captain - who is a noble fellow, as you will by-and-by learn - ordered the weather-rigging of the foremast, the only one then standing, to be cut. By this nice move the passengers and crew were afforded some assistance to land on the rock. To picture the state of the sea while coming on the rock, and from thence to the land, would be impossible. It was a regular succession of seas breaking over the rocks, so as to make it all but miraculous how even those that were saved got along the rock. There is no doubt but that for the noble intrepidity and self-devotion of two of the Coast Guard, and an extra assistant, not one-half of those that were saved could ever have got access to the rock, washed as it was by such sweeping seas. I and my servant (Henry Likely) were the only two who went down on the rock to assist these noble fellows. While we were there the seas repeatedly dashed us down, and at times it was with difficulty we saved ourselves.

The men who acted this noble part, and whose names deserved to be recorded, were James M'Carthy, commissioned boatman; Timothy Hannington, boatman, and Patrick Shannon, extra assistant. By the hands of these noble fellows over one hundred souls were rescued from a watery grave.

I do sincerely trust that their exertions will not be overlooked by the Coast Guard service, and that they will receive that promotion they are so justly deserving of.

When about 100 souls now safely ashore, the tide rose high that it was perfectly impossible to land any more of the passengers on the rock: so that they had only wait till either the tide receded or the storm subsided. But such was not permitted, as the tide rose the sea increased, and in a very short time the vessel broke up and parted midships. Several tried then to get on the rock, but were washed off at once; the remainer held on to the afterpart of the wreck, in which there could not be less than 50 souls - this part containing poop deck and stern post, and some of the afterpart of the vessel was lashed by fury of the sea away from the forepart, and drifted into the strand. It was at this moment the gallant captain and his mate, who so ably stood by their passengers, and who could not be prevailed on to desert them, thought death was certain, at least it then so appeared, were washed off the poop, and, wonderful to say, got safe to shore on the strand. Though the disaster was so great, the tide (a spring one) being so high on the strand, they fortunately laid hold of some piece of the wreck and reached shore in a most exhausted state. Three other passengers were also equally fortunate - one of them was a woman, whom the captain was the means of saving by fastening her to a piece of timber. While the afterpart of the vessel, with poop, drifted ashore. It was forced on its beam ends; thus all the unfortunate passengers in it, with the exception of two or three, perished, and were found when the tide receded, so as to enable it to be examined. All was now over, and the melancholy duty only remained of collecting the bodies of these poor sufferers. From all I can collect, there was no fault or blame to be laid to the captain’s charge. He did all that mortal could do. He had every stitch of canvass blown away, so he could only lay to or drift under bare poles. He thought to have made for the Shannon; but when he lost all his sails, no alternative was left but to drift ashore.

Dr. Griffin, Mr. Richard Studdert, and Mr. O’Donnell (coroner) were unceasing in their attention and kindness in reviving the passengers as they came ashore, and which they took into their houses. I had over 40 of them in my house - the women I got into all the beds, and the men made as comfortable as I could by the fire.

As yet only 45 bodies have been found. The actual loss of life cannot be ascertained for a few days, until we learn the names of the survivors. As yet, only 120 have answered; but there may be others who have not heard of the muster, and may still make their appearance. Of the 45 dead, who have been found, the great part are women and children - only a few men. This day (20th Nov.) was spent in looking after the survivors, and the bodies of the dead. The bay (Kilkee) was covered with fragments of the wreck—planks, beams, masts, &c - a mournful sight, more especially with the knowledge of its having been attended with so much loss of life. Nothing could exceed the brutal, and, I regret to say, successful efforts of some people to plunder whatever they could lay their hands on: they actually stripped the clothes from the dead bodies together with, of course, any money in them, which latter, it is supposed, was considerable. All the clothes, beds, and property belonging to these poor wretched emigrants, were, in the most cool and heartless manner, carried off by those unfeeling wretches, and this done in the presence of these shipwrecked creatures, who in vain had to beg even their clothes to cover their half naked bodies. The women were as unsuccessful in their respect as the men. It was impossible for us to protect or check these depredators. There were only four water-guards and three police, who where all up the previous night, and could not be expected, with even the utmost exertion, to protect all the property on such a long line of beach; so that I may say little or no property has been saved. The wreck of the vessel is perfectly useless. This evening, a stronger force has arrived, but they have come too late.

Mr. Garrett Fitzgerald, Emigration Agent, came here this day and was most anxious to assist in relieving the poor emigrants. Mr. Jonas Studdert, Captain Pascoe, and Mr. Blair were also in attendance, assisting and making arrangements for the preservation of the wreck: but 'tis of little value. Still they were at their posts to do their duty. You will excuse the hurried manner this is written, as I am the worse of the want of a night’s rest¾ wet and fagged, and excited by deep and painful anxiety.
"Believe me, your affectionate son.

"RICHARD RUSSELL."

In addition to the above, we may state, that our accounts from sea of vessels missing, and vessels lost, are very mournful. We fear, indeed, that the loss has been awful. By the steamer from Kilrush this evening, the survivors (whose names we cannot possibly give till our next publication) were expected. The steamer, though expected at 2 o’clock, p.m., did not arrive till 5 p.m. bringing a large number of the survivors, and two of the dead bodies for internment. This scene is truly heart rending.

(Extract from official report of Captain Garret Hugh Fitzgerald to Captain Ellis, R N.)

"The Edmond which sailed on Monday, at 8 o’clock from Carrigaholt, with a fair wind, was chartered by John McDonnell, Esq., T C., of Limerick. When the vessel got about 30 miles clear of land, the wind headed and came to blow such a gale that all the canvas went, and the ship in a most miraculous manner got into Kilkee bay, where no ship ever before entered, at half past 11 o’clock on Tuesday night, and became a total wreck at 3 o’clock on Wednesday morning. There were 216 sons on board; three more than mustered for me. Out of 216, one hundred and twenty are saved, including all the crew except the carpenter, 96 have been lost; of whom 47 have been washed a shore. Fifty coffins were brought from Kilrush by Mr. Blair, Lloyds’s agent. Captain Pascoe stated he never saw such a wreck.

LIMERICK REPORTER, 22 DECEMBER, 1850


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