Morven Disaster

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Morven Disaster. December, 1906.

The Morven was bound from Portland, Oregon to Liverpool with a cargo of about three thousand tons of grain for the Messrs Bannatyne. The place where the wreck occurred is a little promontory locally known as “Horse Island”.

The Morven was a splendid four masted ship of 2000 tons built about ten years ago and commanded by Captain Reese, a Welshman.  There was on board – the Captain’s wife and a crew of twenty four comprising of various nationalities, English, Scottish, Welsh, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Italian.  The vessel had an eventful voyage from Portland having taken 160 days to reach the mouth of the Shannon and provisions were almost exhausted. The wind was blowing from the west, a fairly stiff breeze, and to reach the open sea, necessitated tacking.  When making a tack in the direction of Horse Island the wind suddenly shifted and stiffened and when the order to ‘put about’ was given the vessel refused to answer her helm and in a short space of time reached the rocks at the base of the cliff.  Her bow actually came within a couple of yards of the cliff fromt and her bottom must have been crushed in for when daylight appeared the whole of the stern portion was underwater – portion of the cargo being swept away by every wave.

To anyone seeing the vessel in the morning it would seem almost incredible that not a single life had been lost.  The cliffs of Horse Island are not high ( the masts towered above the highest point) but they are almost perpendicular and difficult to climb even in daylight for a person well acquainted with them.  Immediately she struck and when the captain realised the position a lifeboat was lowered, and the captain’s wife the first mate (who is a brother of the captain) and eight sailors got into her, and made up the river arriving at Kilbaha pier after about 3 hours.  The little boat was almost full of water when she landed.

Meanwhile the captain and the remaining sailors safely landed at the spot where the ship struck though how they did it so, is simply a miracle.  A rope was made fast to the very end of the stern and down this rope the crew swung one by one into the water and swam a few yards to the uncovered rocks and climbed the cliff.  The captain is is stated positively refused to leave the ship and had to be forcibly taken ashore by some of the crew who thought that the vessel might founder at any moment.  There were 2 dogs on board.  One a little terrier was saved, but a splendid Newfoundland was to be seen floating dead next day.

The captain and his wife were only married last April and were in San Francisco during the terrible earthquake where they lost most of their property. Whatever was left has now been lost in the wreck, even to the wife’s rings. She was in bed at the time and was only clad in her night dress when escaping.

She is an accomplished musician and among the lost articles was a splendid new piano. A pathetic scene was witnessed n the morning when the 2 parties (those in the boat and those who climbed the cliff) met.  Each was sure the other was lost.

The captain is quiet a young man, low sized and strongly built. The crew seem to idolise him and his wife. The latter is an Australian lady, a native of New South Wales.  Most of the crew had only their shirts and trousers on but food and clothes were only too willingly supplied by those on the shore.  On Monday morning several of the crew returned on board the ship to try and recover some of their belongings but their efforts for the most part were unsuccessful.  The ships carpenter however could be seen bravely rescuing his bag of tools.  It is stated that some of the sailors lost all of their savings, one man over £100.  when the vessel struck, some rockets were fired and reports were heard above the wind for a considerable distance.  Two residence of the locality, living near the spot, who happened to be sitting up hastened to the cliff and arrived in time to see the first of the ill fated crew reaching the top of the cliff.  These men showed the crew the way to the village where they remained for a time before going to the coastguard station.

Source:  Memorial at Kilbaha, Co Clare.

Michael Kirwan

20th August, 2010

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