On This Day - 25th October

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The 25th of October 1859

In Victoria's reign improvements in shipbuilding techniques and the development of steam engines gave sailors a few better cards in their constant game of poker with the sea, but when nature feels like it the high cards are all hers. Such was the case with the wreck of the steamship Royal Charter off Anglesey in 1859.

Royal Charter was a fairly new ship, built in 1855. A sailing clipper but with a hull of steel she was fast, her speed helped by the steam engines that provided power when the wind was absent or adverse. She ran between Liverpool and Australia, mainly a passenger vessel though on the return voyage begun in Melbourne that August she also carried a cargo of gold from the Australian fields making some vast fortunes then.

Until they reached Anglesey the voyage had been quick and largely uneventful, but on the night of October 25 the barometer dropped and the winds gained in intensity every hour until by 11pm they were at hurricane strength, force 12. The Captain, Thomas Taylor, according to some accounts had ignored thoughts of seeking shelter in Holyhead when the weather began to worsen, wishing to strike for home. It was a fatal mistake for him and nearly all aboard — the precise number is not known as the ship's list went down with her.

Two anchors desperately used to keep her from being driven onto the rocky shore at Moelfre broke such was the strength of the wind; her auxiliary steam engines were no match for the gale. Maltese sailor Joseph Rogers jumped into the breakers with a rope around him, and made it to land, the lifeline allowing a few to reach safety too; local men helped grab those thrown onto rocks by the huge waves, risking their own lives; some formed a human chain to reach into the sea and drag survivors ashore.

But only 21 passengers and 18 crew members survived; not a child nor a woman among them, nor a single officer. It is thought 459 aboard her perished; and the Royal Charter was one of perhaps 200 ships and boats that were claimed by the same gale that night.

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