Royal Charter (ship)

StateLibQld 1 186783 Royal Charter (ship).jpg
The Royal Charter sank in an 1859 storm, stimulating the establishment of modern weather forecasting.
United Kingdom
Name:Royal Charter
Owner:Liverpool & Australian Steamship Navigation Company
Builder:Sandycroft Ironworks, River Dee, Deeside, Wales, UK
Fate:Wrecked on 25 October 1859
General characteristics
Class and type:steam clipper
Tonnage:2,719 GRT
Length:236 ft (72 m)
Beam:39 ft (12 m)
Depth of hold:23 ft (7.0 m)
Installed power:200 nhp
  • One boiler
  • Direct acting steam trunk engine
  • One propeller
Scene of the shipwreck
St Gallgo's Church, showing graves. Black and white print on lithograph c. 1860.

Royal Charter was a steam clipper which was wrecked off the beach of Porth Alerth in Dulas Bay on the north-east coast of Anglesey on 26 October 1859. The precise number of dead is uncertain as the complete passenger list was lost in the wreck although an incomplete list (not including those who boarded just before departure) is retained in the Victorian Archives Centre in, Victoria, Australia. About 450 lives were lost,[1] the highest death toll of any shipwreck on the Welsh coast. It was the most prominent victim among about 200 ships wrecked by the Royal Charter Storm.

The Royal Charter was built at the Sandycroft Ironworks on the River Dee and was launched in 1855. She was a new type of ship, a 2719-ton iron-hulled steam clipper, built in the same way as a clipper ship but with auxiliary steam engines which could be used in the absence of suitable winds.

The ship was used on the route from Liverpool to Australia, mainly as a passenger ship although there was room for some cargo. There was room for up to 600 passengers, with luxury accommodation in the first class. She was considered a very fast ship, able to make the passage to Australia via Cape Horn in under 60 days.


In late October 1859 Royal Charter was returning to Liverpool from Melbourne. Her complement of about 371 passengers (with a crew of about 112 and some other company employees), included many gold miners, some of whom had struck it rich at the diggings in Australia and were carrying large sums of gold about their persons. A consignment of gold was also being carried as cargo. As she reached the north-western tip of Anglesey on 25 October the barometer was dropping and it was claimed later by some passengers, though not confirmed, that the master, Captain Thomas Taylor, was advised to put into Holyhead harbour for shelter. He decided to continue on to Liverpool however.

The Royal Charter broke up on these rocks near Moelfre

Off Point Lynas the Royal Charter tried to pick up the Liverpool pilot, but the wind had now risen to Storm force 10 on the Beaufort scale and the rapidly rising sea made this impossible. During the night of 25/26 October the wind rose to Hurricane force 12 on the Beaufort Scale in what became known as the "Royal Charter Storm". As the wind rose its direction changed from E to NE and then NNE, driving the ship towards the north-east coast of Anglesey. At 11 pm she anchored, but at 1.30 am on the 26th the port anchor chain snapped, followed by the starboard chain an hour later. Despite cutting the masts to reduce the drag of the wind, Royal Charter was driven inshore, with the steam engines unable to make headway against the gale. The ship initially grounded on a sandbank, but in the early morning of the 26th the rising tide drove her on to the rocks at a point just north of Moelfre at Porth Alerth on the north coast of Anglesey. Battered against the rocks by huge waves whipped up by winds of over 100 mph, she quickly broke up.

One member of the crew, Maltese-born Guzi Ruggier also known as Joseph Rogers managed to swim ashore with a line, enabling a few people to be rescued, and a few others were able to struggle to shore through the surf. Most of the passengers and crew, a total of over 450 people, died. Many of them were killed by being dashed against the rocks by the waves rather than drowned. Others were said to have drowned, weighed down by the belts of gold they were wearing around their bodies. The survivors, 21 passengers and 18 crew members, were all men, with no women or children saved.

A list of 320 passenger names departing from Melbourne in August 1859 on the Royal Charter is available on-line from the Public Records Office, Victoria: "Index to Outward Passengers to Interstate, UK and Foreign Ports, 1852–1901".

A large quantity of gold was said to have been thrown up on the beach at Porth Alerth, with some families becoming rich overnight. The gold bullion being carried as cargo was insured for £322,000, but the total value of the gold on the ship must have been much higher as many of the passengers had considerable sums in gold, either on their bodies or deposited in the ship's strongroom. Many of the bodies recovered from the sea were buried nearby at St Gallgo's Church, Llanallgo, where the graves and a memorial can still be seen.[2] There is also a memorial on the cliff above the rocks where the ship struck, which is on the Anglesey Coastal Path.

At the time of the disaster there were allegations that local residents were becoming rich from the spoils of the wreck or exploiting grieving relatives of the victims, and the "Moelfre Twenty-Eight" who had been involved in the rescue attempts sent a letter to The Times trying to set the record straight and refute the accusations. The fact that English-speaking press representatives must have encountered a language barrier when attempting to gather information can only have served to further misunderstandings.

Almost exactly a century later (to the day) in October 1959 another ship, the Hindlea, struck the rocks in almost the same spot in another gale. This time there was a different outcome, with the Moelfre lifeboat under its coxswain, Richard Evans, succeeding in saving the crew.