The Wreck of the "Royal Charter" on the Coast of Anglesea, near Moelfre Five Miles from Point Lynas Lighthouse. Illustrated London News (5 November 1859): 447. Image scan and text by Philip V. Allingham. You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your web materil to this URL or mention in a print document.

The wreck of the iron vessel, not a mere sailing ship but a highly modern screw-driven steamship, was doubly sensational news: first of all, the wreck of the ill-fated vessel involved in the Australian trade produced catastrophic loss of life — of 388 passengers and a crew of 112, only 39 were rescued. Second, it provided the stuff of treasure-seeking ventures, since her principal "freight was gold and specie, which at the lowest estimate is put at £500,000" derived from the antipodean gold-fields.

This vessel was wrecked, as recorded in our Journal last week, on the north-east coast of Anglesea, during the morning of Wednesday, the 26th ult. She was driven upon a shelving ledge of limestone rock (Porth Ynys), distant about five miles from Point Lynas lighthouse, and within a mile from the Moelfro lighthouse. The Royal Charter was built about four years ago; she was of 2719 tons register and 200-horse power. Her owners were Messrs. Gibb, Bright, and Co., of Liverpool. She was an iron vessel, worked by a screw. Appended is a more complete account than we were able to give last week of the terrible disaster. [448]

The Royal Charter had made the passage from Melbourne in two months, having left on August 26th, but ran into a violent E. N. E. gale which beached her in pitch darkness on account of its hurricane-force winds, and forced her onto the rocks in four fathoms at about 3:00 A. M. The death toll was 459, and the journalistic account of the scene is sensational:

It is said by those who visited the scene of the calamity that never was destruction more complete. The ironworks of the vessel was in mere shreds; the woodwork was in chips. The coast and fields above the cliffs were strewn with fragments of the cargo [wool and skins] and of the bedding and clothing. Worse still, the rocks were covered with corpses of men and women frightfully mutilated, and strewn with the sovereigns which the poor creatures had gone so far to seek, and which were now torn from them in so pitiful a way.

A Dickensian Note

More than a touch of journalistic license mars Dickens's Uncommercial Traveller essay that mentions the wreck and the good Anglican minister's "practical Christianity" [All the Year Round, 28 January 1860]. Since Dickens was quite ill through much of October 1859 and resident at Gad's Hill, Kent, at the very end of the month (see "Letter from Dickens to Carlyle," 30 October 1859), he evidently did not travel to Anglesea to inspect the wreck of the Royal Charter or meet the Rev. Stephen Roose Hughes, the clergyman who superintended the internment of 140 victims at St. Gallgo's Church, Llanallgo, who died and was buried in the churchyard the following year.

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Last modified 20 June 2011