By Edward J Bourke
First published in the Journal of the Wexford Historical Society 2008.
IntroductionThe Demerary has survived in memory in the Kilmore area because of a tomb at Cill Park, Cullenstown. Moreover there were tales of treasure recovered after the wreck related by storytellers in more recent years. In truth the Demerary was wrecked twice on the Irish Coast having been abandoned as lost on the Arklow bank some years before her eventual demise. Richard Roche & Oscar Merne say in their book on the Saltees “The two barren islets are best remembered as the scene of the several shipwrecks. Here in 1819 the Demerary carrying gold bullion was wrecked and sank. One of her passengers, a Scotsman named Hugh Monro Robertson and sixteen members of the crew were washed ashore at Cullenstown and buried in the ancient graveyard in the Cill Park near Cullenstown Castle. Monroe’s is the only tombstone there now as one of the pillars from the memorial over the sailors’ grave was used as a weight on a harrow by a local farmer. To this day it is said that traces of gold dust from the Demerary’s strong room are found on the sand of the Keeraghs” This folklore was all that I knew of the Demerary until I was uncovered a treasure trove of data forming a unique archive on the ship. The records of the owners Sandbach Tinne and company were dispersed after its liquidation in 1970 and survive in the National Archives at Kew, the Maritme museum at Greenwich, University of London, the Institute of commonwealth studies and Guyana University. A further stroke of luck was that the archives on shipbuilding at Lancaster are unusually well preserved. The material from the Tinne family archive is remarkable in its completeness including not only a painting of the vessel but also a letter describing its provenance. The framed letter of marque is accompanied by a series of letters relating to the ship, her cargoes and voyages. It is rare to find a marked grave of seamen, providing a further tangible connection with the ship. A rock off the Keeraghs named the Demerary is a further reminder of the shipwreck.
ContextThe Demerary traded between Greenock on the Clyde and Demerary in South America now called Guyana. During her trading career Guyana was a politically active area with several changes in governance. There were slave rebellions in West Demerary in 1795 and on the East Coast of Demerary in 1823. There is no doubt that slaves were employed in the Sandbach company plantations and it is likely that there was some slave trading as slaves were essential in the sugar and cotton economy. However there is no mention of the Demerary being involved in the triangular trade where trade goods were carried to East Africa from Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol. Slaves were ferried to the Americas and the return voyage carried sugar, rum and cotton. After abolitionist pressure from 1783 slavery was abolished in Britain in May 1807. There are records of 145 ships leaving Liverpool alone between January and May in a final rush to the African coast before abolition. Illegal trade continued and American slavers were captured as late as the 1860s. While one letter from Samuel Sandbach mentions negroes for the plantation at Caledonia there is no mention of the Demerara carrying slaves or trading to Africa. In 1814 the British combined the colonies of Demerary and Essequibo into the colony of Demerary-Essequibo. In 1815 the colony was formally ceded to Britain by the Netherlands. From the time of the French revolution in 1789 to Waterloo in 1815 there was nearly constant war between Britain and France. The battle of Trafalgar occurred in 1805 when the two year old Demerary was commissioned as a privateer. This coincided with the third coalition against France allying Britain with Austria, Russia & Sweden. After Trafalgar Napoleon gave up the idea of invading England and turned toward Spain. The initial action of the peninsular war culminated in the retreat of the British army from Corunna in 1809 followed by the return to Spain of British armies under Wellington. Napoleon was defeated and exiled after the retreat from Moscow in 1812. When Napoleon escaped from Elba in 1815 there followed 100 days of war until he was finally defeated at Waterloo and exiled to St Helena. Like many larger ships of her time the Demerary was commissioned as a privateer. This meant that the merchant ship was armed as an auxiliary warship. Letters of marque distinguished an armed private ship from a pirate and legitimised any attack on a French or Spanish ship in the course of the war. This was a great advantage to the ship owners as they and the crew would share prize money awarded on any ship captured or pillaged in the course of the war. The advantage for the British government was that this was a cheap way of attacking enemy trade and preventing goods from reaching the continent. It also avoided the use of warships for blockading trade. The document granting of letters of marque has survived and the full text is reproduced below in an appendix.
Building the shipThe Demerary was built 1801-1802 at Brockbanks shipyard in Lancaster as their ship number 99 contracted on 3-9-1801. Brockbanks was one of two shipbuilders operating in the town at the time (the others being Smiths). The Green Ayre or Green Area as it is sometimes known was a shipyard operated by the Brockbank family. The business was established by George Brockbank, who became a Freeman of Lancaster in 1738-9. He died in 1763 when the business passed to his son and the latter’s nephew. The yard is near where the Greyhound Bridge crosses the river, by Sainsbury’s. William Stout of Lancaster notes in his Autobiography (in Lancaster Reference Library) that he had seen ships built on the Green Ayre as early as 1720. Fortunately there is quite a lot of information relating to Brockbank’s shipbuildig. The specification for the ship stipulates that the keel would be elm 12 x 13 inches. The planking was 3 inches thick but doubled four inch British oak planks at the bilges. Deck beams were specified as 12 inch square. John Brockbank records his journeys around the country looking for English oak. Many iron fittings and sheathing were to be substituted with copper or brass provided by the owners. Trenails to join the timbers were to be of locust wood. Owners were to supply the masts. Several costly embellishments such as a glazed skylight and further brass work were to be provided by the owners. The ship was to cost £4920 due £1230 when the keel was laid, £1230 when the upper deck was laid and £1230 when launched. The Demerary was launched on 13-9-1802. The Demerary was owned by Messrs Duncan, McNaught & Co; MacInroy Parker & Co and Samuel Sandback, Glasgow. She was one of the four Brockbanks ships built for Glasgow. The majority of the Brockbanks ships were built for Lancaster merchants and owners involved in the West Indies trade or privateering. In 1799 Lancaster ships were forbidden from clearing from the port bound for the African coast. This does not mean that Lancaster was no longer involved in either the bilateral or triangular trades from 1799 rather that they cleared from Liverpool instead. The Demerary was not the largest ship built at Green Ayre, although she was one of the larger ones. She was 406 tons. (The average ship tonnage was 200 tons) It has been claimed that Brockbanks bought the Lancaster Bridge to allow the ship’s passage along the river without having to fit the masts further downstream. This may explain why the owners had to supply the masts separately. This was the old medieval bridge crossing the River Lune. It is certain that Brockbanks bought the bridge in 1802, though the rights and interests in it were purchased from the family in 1846 by the Lancaster Port Commissioners. The name Demerary is as spelled in the contract for building and the caption on the painting. However Lloyds Register consistently spells the ship’s name Demerera.
Ship’s careerOn 31-1-1804 The Demerary struck the Wicklow bank and the crew and Captain Inglis abandoned the ship. She was en route from the West Indies to Glasgow. The official report said that the vessel was a total loss but she was refloated and put back into service. Captain Peter Inglis may have lost his job after the accident. It would have been considered poor conduct for a captain to abandon his ship when she had not broken up or become mortally damaged. She drew 16 feet of water laden. In 1804 she was sheathed in copper and in same year had a new keel and thorough repair (presumable after running aground on the Arklow bank). The Demerary was surveyed and adjudged Class A1 in a Lloyd’s survey at Greenock in 1806. She is described as having an armament of 20 x 9 pounder guns but by 1809 the armament is 18 x 9 and 12 pounder guns. For the next fifteen years the ship traded between Glasgow and Guyana but there is a gap in the correspondence which relates to the period around the time of the wrecks. Typical cargoes are described. The captains are recorded in 1810 as T. Bebell: 1812, J Allen Dougal who had the commissioned the painting, and the ship suffered no damage while in his hands. He was followed by a W. Gray who was succeeded by McClune who was captain when she was wrecked near the Wexford coast. By then the armament was reduced to 4 x 9 pounder cannon. On the night of the 16-12-1819 the 409 ton Demerary of London struck on the lesser “Keroe” island near Bannow. John McClune was master. The cargo was sugar, rum, coffee and cotton. Immediately she went to pieces. The vessel is a total loss and the cargo nearly a total loss. All the crew perished. Twenty bodies were buried in one grave and two more came ashore today. From the state of the weather no boat could go out to save cargo. The Waterford advertiser of 19-12-1819 reported: A great many letters have been found on the strand and it speaks well for the honesty of people that one badly mutilated letter containing six one pound British notes and five guineas in gold was safely lodged with us. Samuel & Sandham Elly, Agents for Lloyds, New Ross. The news took slightly longer to reach London but was reported in the twice weekly Lloyds List of 21-12-1819. “New Ross, December 17 – after a severe gale from the SE during the whole of last night the coast from the Bar of Lough to the Bannow is strewn with the remains of a vessel, evidently a large and coppered, and from the West Indies, empty sugar hogsheads some cotton etc. The water casks are marked Demerary and some written bills have been found headed Stanton.” The next issue of Lloyds List published on 24-12-1819 had more news. The Demerary McClune, from Demerary to Liverpool, was wrecked near Bannow, on the coast of Wexford, on the night of the 16th inst. And it is feared that all on board are drowned. The Waterford Advertiser mentioned the wreck as follows based on the Lloyds agent report: On the night of the 16-12-1819 the 409 ton Demerary of London struck on the lesser “Keroe” Island near Bannow. John McClune was master. The cargo was sugar, rum, coffee and cotton. Immediately she went to pieces. The vessel is a total loss and the cargo nearly a total loss. All the crew perished. Twenty bodies were buried in one grave and two more came ashore today. From the state of the weather no boat could go out to save cargo. A great many letters have been found on the strand and it speaks well for the honesty of people that one badly mutilated letter containing six one pound British notes and five guineas in gold was safely lodged with us. Samuel & Sandham Elly, Agents for Lloyds, New Ross, 19-12-1819. The Tiger was lost before with 25 lives in same area. (No date for the Tiger was discovered but she is on a list published in the Wexford Guardian 19-7-1851 and described as lost on Black Rock carrying a cargo of sugar). The exact site of the wreck is presumed to be the rock known as Demerary Rock just off the south-west corner of the west Keeragh Island.
Correspondence between ship’s captain, broker, owners and agentThe correspondence between the ship owners reproduced below shows the advanced nature of communication in the early 1800s. Letters were reliably transmitted in about seven weeks from the West Indies carried from port agents by the first ship heading for the letter’s destination. In addition fast packet boats on regular routes such as Dublin to Holyhead or Waterford to London had their primary purpose as carriage of mail and passengers. London was the centre of trade and the Lloyds agents in every corner of the world reported shipping news promptly and reliably. It is a mark of the efficiency of the service that the London based Lloyds List carried the news only two days after the Waterford Advertiser and that paper was only three days after the event. McInroy, Sandbach, McBean & Co to James McInroy, 7 June 1803
We have also received Mr Sandbach’s from London of the 12 &18 of April by which we are happy to learn that the Demerary had arrived in the channel, she will of course now get in before hostilities commence. It would be an agreeable circumstance to learn that the Duke of Kent was safe. We enclose you an order on Captain John Brand of the ship Unter Veeming for six hundred Guilders, it should have been sent before now, it is for the other anchor of Margaret and Eliza which was lent to him when in distress for one, with the stipulation if it was not returned he should pay the above price for it.McBean to Sam Sandbach, 12 July 1803
With all I can do I don’t expect the Elbe will get more than 100 bales of cotton, but I think it is better for her to go with that than to be kept here until October. Captain Thomson has determined on remaining here until the last springs in August, and then to run it, he has for this purpose purchased twelve guns. I sent in my last copies of all the papers which were missing in consequence of the capture of the Rawlinson and Sally and Rebecca.Wm McBean to Sam Sandbach
Captain Inglis thinks now we have engaged too much cotton for the – in that case we will keep twenty bales of our own which are not yet shipped.McBean to Sam Sandbach, 4-2-1804
I now hand you Invoice of bill of lading of forty bales of cotton and sixty three bags of coffee which I have shipped on board the Caldicott, Castle Rd., Sheratt master. She expects to sail on the 25th day of this month but I rather suspect it will be springs afterwards. You will please to have them covered with insurance, it is probable one or two armed ships may sail in company with her, but of this I am not certain, it will therefore be well that the insurance is made on her running single or in company with others. I have been for some days looking for the Duke of Kent. She is now fully due; as Mr Scott writes that she would leave Boston about the last day of December. I hope she may escape the swarms of privateers which are to windward of Barbados. I cannot now expect to get her away before the convoy goes, which it is supposed will be in the first spring in April.March 4 1804
In loading the Rawlinson you will observe etc………I have so much beef and pork of the Duke of Kent that I have some thought of a parcel of it off towards the end of this month in order to make room for what may be coming in the . I wish she may call at Madeira. Wine is very scarce here now, and our stock for house is very low indeed.Wm McBean to Sam Sandbach, 11-4-1804
The loss of the Demerary is a very serious one indeed and I am particularly sorry to learn from Mr Robertson that by letters which he has from Mr Parker Senior that you will lose very considerable by her besides that of loosing a very fine vessel.Wm McBean of McInroy Sandbach McBean & Co to James McInroy, 20-4-1804
That of 30 January brought the unfortunate account of the having struck on the Wicklow Bank , and that the captain and crew had abandoned her, and your next mentions her having got off the Bank and having got ashore on the Coast of Ireland, and that hopes were entertained of her floating with the following springs. This accident is a particular mortifying with such a ship, which cannot be replaced in a hurry, if ever such a ship can be got.McBean to Mr McInroy 12-10-1804
I hope the Demerary may be here before Christmas there is little doubt but she might be dispatched back in January or early February.McBean to Sam Sandbach, 3-11-1804
I will in the beginning of the month be looking for the and if she brings a cargo of dry goods I look to its doing great things and I shall return her to you in January and I hope to send by her pretty nearly what will square the yards with the house in Glasgow.McBean to James McInroy, 30-11-1804
I shall in a few days look out for the and as you seem to wish it so much I’ll keep her to run home with the Duke of Kent, and I’ll endeavour to get them away in early February and if I have no instructions from you to the contrary I send one to Clyde and one to Liverpool.McInroy, Parker & Co to S.T. & Co Glasgow 27-6-1819
We are all sorry to hear such an account of the state of the, and our chief object in writing this is to remind you that the last great repair she got was much reflected on by our Greenock Partners as being entered into without their concurrence. It will be unfortunate to want her services now that the ships seem to get employmentMcInroy, Parker & Co to S.T. & Co Glasgow 3-7-1819
Mr McInroy says ……as regards the Demerary that he fully understood before parting with you that the ship was to be sent on another voyage at all events.McInroy, Parker & Co to S.T. & Co Glasgow 19-11-1819
Have you done any insurance on the homewards? They ask 3Gs here.McInroy, Parker & Co to S.T. & Co Glasgow 22-11-1819
Our underwriters don’t seem to be fond of the risqué to Bremen, and as the ….. must be better known there than either in London or this, you must do the insurance on the best terms you can.McInroy, Parker & Co to S.T. & Co Glasgow 24-11-1819
We have done nothing on the ; if they take her at 2 ½ guineas go on as far as you can, and the rest we shall do on our best terms we can, unless it exceeds the sum stated in our letter of the 19th. We had yesterday an account of a dreadful hurricane in the Leeward Islands which may affect the price of produce, sugar in particular and will probably help your sales tomorrow, butMcInroy Parker & Co New Ross 20-12-1819
The enclosed five letters come to our hands in consequence of the unfortunate loss of the Demerary within our district. They were found among parts of the wreck on the strand near where the accident took place. Believing some of them to be of importance, we think best to forward them all to you and should any more to your address be found they shall immediately be forwarded. The crew of the vessel, we fear, all perished, the bodies of twenty two of them have been found and interred. The vessel is a total loss and her cargo being principally sugar nearly so. Requesting your advice of safe arrival of these, Samuel and Sandham Elly, Agents for Lloyds for the counties of Wexford and Wicklow.McInroy Parker & Co to S.T. &Co Glasgow, 24-12-1819
Your conjectures about the Demerary were but too true, as you will see by the annexed letter from New Ross, received by the Irish Mail of today, with a few letters of which you also have copies, we hope some of the goods shipped to you may also be saved, and reach you, with the manifest, and some of the bills of lading without which your underwriters will not be inclined to settle.McInroy Parker & Co to S.T. &Co Glasgow, 25-12-1819
We have received your favour of 23rd current with copy of your letter from New Ross, which is satisfactory so far as enabling you to recover from the Underwriters …… We approve of your letter to Lloyds agents. The only duty that occurs to us as remaining to be done, is on the score of humanity, such as affecting some relief tot eh widows or families of the unfortunate men have lost their lives in our service, the doing which at all, or the extent to which it is to be done, we with perfect confidence leave to your discretion.McInroy Parker & Co to S.T. &Co Glasgow, 29-12-1819
……with regard to the crew, had they been saved, we believe they would be entitled to wages up to the day the outward cargo was delivered at – you have of course better access to information than we can give. But as matters are we would recommend you to extend your liberality beyond any legal claims – according to the number and wants of the families of the sufferers: taking care however , that no imposition is practised upon you, by improper applicants: you should look very narrowly into all claims, in doing this Capt. Thompson may be of no mean assistance.McInroy Parker & Co to S.T. &Co Glasgow, 3-1-1820
We thought you did not have sufficient authority from us to proceed in any manner you judged right with regard to the relatives of the unfortunate crew of the Demerary, nor do we know what we can say in addition. Do the utmost justice to all in the first place: and after that extend your liberality according tot eh wants and character of the parties concerned – with such a number, there must be some shades of difference, which in acts of generosity must be attended to. We have only to add that whatever you do will meet with our most hearty concurrence.McInroy Parker & Co to S.T. &Co Glasgow, 31-1-1820
We are glad to see you coming on so well with your settlement with the underwriters – you are also acquainted with the only advantage we claim in doing our insurance here – if you choose to forego these you may go on as you propose, doing about one half of the value of every ship and cargo leaving us the rest beginning with the Iphigenia and Oscar,McInroy Parker & Co to S.T. &Co Glasgow, 18-2-1820
The House and the ships help us but little indeed.
Text of letters of marque
ConclusionIt is a pity to have to debunk the tales of treasure lost along the Wexford coast but another valuable nugget has emerged. The Demerary is unique among shipwrecks of the period in the completeness of the story which it has been possible to assemble. The decency of the Wexford folk has been confirmed in the way that personal effects were safeguarded and the bodies buried. Most other areas were rife with tales of pillage and bodies thrown in unmarked graves on sand dunes. I expect there is more to be discovered such as the names of the seamen interred in the mass grave – perhaps recorded in a church register. Seamen were regarded as expendable at a time when 200 or more ships were wrecked each year on the coast of Ireland. Even the remains of their tombstones might surface in some farmyard. The reference to damages sustained in naval action could not be substantiated but records may emerge given their extent and dispersal. If the Demerary took any prize ships the award of prize money to the crew and owners will be in the transactions of the Admiralty prize courts held at Kew. The records of Sandbach Tinne are dispersed in several libraries but such substantial records will contain a fuller picture of their trading. To the best of my knowledge no trace of the wreck has been discovered by divers but perhaps that too will lead to a complete picture of one of the 1500 Wexford shipwrecks.
Acknowledgements & References
- Saltees, Richard Roche and Oscar Merne. 1977, ISBN 0 86278 147 7
- Samuel Davidson, Hon advisor on maritime art Museums and Galleries of Merseyside, personal communication.
- Sarah Riddle Lancashire museums service, Personal communication.
- Nicholas Tinne, Tinne family archive, personal communication
- Lloyds List, published since 1763 by Lloyds
- Waterford advertiser, contemporary account
- Shipwrecks of the Irish coast, Vol 1. Edward J Bourke, 1994 ISBN 0 9523027 0 5
- Transcript of Contracts and Specification for vessels built 1791-1817 (PT8372)
- Reference Library Lancaster, courtesy of Jennifer Loveridge Lancaster Reference Library
- Day Book, 1789-1818 (PT8373) transcribed by Mr W Salisbury,1949, Reference Library Lancaster
- Sandbach Tinne records held at Merseyside Maritime museum.