Captain Robert Halpin
Captain Robert Halpin is an Irish maritime legend. He was born in Wicklow town on 17 February, 1836 the youngest of 13 children. At 11 years of age he went to sea. His first trips were on sailing ships, but Halpin saw that the future lay in steam.
In 1858 Halpin took command of a 1,000 ton passenger steamship called Propellor, travelling from Ireland to America. Galway was their home-port because at that time the most dangerous part of the trip to the USA was around the south of Ireland, south west winds blew ships regularly onto Cork and Kerry coast lines. But there were other dangers, on one trip they ran out of fuel and had to burn most of the furniture.
In June 1859, a set-back came for the young man’s career while in command of a ship called Argo, he ran aground off Newfoundland. There was no loss of life, but Halpin lost his master’s certificate for 9 months. Unable to work legally he became a blockade runner during the American Civil War carrying cargo for the Confederates in the South.
In June 1865, he was appointed chief officer of the Great Eastern, the world’s largest ship. She had been unsuccessful as a passenger ship but was altered to lay a telegraph cable across the Atlantic from Ireland to the United States of America.
The first cable broke after 1660 miles (2670 km), just short of half way across. The following year they made another attempt and this time with success and thus Halpin’s reputation was made. He navigated the ship back to the first broken cable in 2000 feet (610 metres) of water, retrieved it, spliced it and completed the job.
Halpin spent many years as a highly respected commander of the Great Eastern, he was also a popular host to the many number of guests and spectators that the ship carried.
When Halpin retired from maritime life, he bought Tinakilly House in Wicklow becoming involved in politics and finally died in January 1894. Having survived many years of peril on the high seas, he sadly died as a result of gangrene contracted while cutting his toenails.
Born 16 February 1836 Wicklow, Ireland
Died 20 January 1894 Tinakilly House, Wicklow, Ireland
Why not come and see Captain Halpin’s beautifully decorated uniform on display in the Museum?
Also worth viewing is the model of the SS Great Eastern steamship on display showing in great detail the deck, rigging, paddle wheels and life rafts.