The Taymouth Castle and Torr

Cut and run,

Wring it and hide,

There will be plenty more,

That comes in on the tide.

The words of a local sea shanty that would have echoed around streets of Ballycastle in the 19th Century. The poem would make reference to the large bales of material that would occasionally make their way through the Rathlin Sound. One such time would have been January 1867, only on this occasion more than bales would make their way into the bays of the coastline.

On the weekend 6th January 1867, a strong storm would blow over the north coast of Ireland, and would affect the whole Island. The first sign of damage in the surrounding area was the large bales of materials would start to make their way through the Rathlin Sound with most of the bales that made their way into the sound that morning coming from the Taymouth Castle.

The Taymouth Castle was a fairly new ship constructed from wood and iron and built in Glasgow in 1865 surviving only two years before she went down in a storm on the 5th January 1867. She wouldn’t be the only ship to sink that night or over the preceding few days. It had become clear that right across the North Channel and Irish Sea that ships weren’t for making their port.

In Strangford Lough, Co Down, a Glasgow to Genoa ship known as the Gardella had sunk after hitting a reef after seeking shelter in the lough. A notoriously dangerous part of the Lough was a stretch known as the Bar Pladdy Buoy, and the eventual lighting of a light there in April 1983 would solve a two hundred- and sixty-year-old problem. The harbour master at the time of the sinking in 1869 was William Russell. William had been in post from January 1st 1833 and up until January 1862 he personally recorded 61 wrecks in the Lough.

The North Coast of Ireland that night would also see it share of ships lost, including The Taymouth Castle and the Falcon. While I want to concentrate on these two ships in my next two blog posts, that weekend would see many ships either sunk or grounded across our coast. The Schooner Mary Ann would sink off Larne, the J.E Hudson on Islandmagee and not far from the J.E Hudson was the Brig Alpha. Later that weekend a coal-carrying rigger known as the Berbice would also break up in Brown’s Bay.

To eyewitnesses that morning, Torr Head, and the surrounding was said to be a “scene of destruction seldom witnessed”.

The Taymouth Castle was Glasgow built and was first launched on 8 July 1865 with a net of 627 tons

The outer hull planking was primarily teak, which was covered with felt and then sheathed with yellow metal, an alloy of copper and zinc, added to protect the hull from fouling by marine organisms. The interior planking was of a mixture of red pine and teak, while the decks were constructed with yellow pine. Other wooden components included the rudder, built of British oak; the keel, which was of American peach elm; and the stem- and sternposts, which were of teak. The remaining structural elements were constructed using iron. These included the transom, knightheads, breasthooks, knees, and floors, which were of iron plates with angle bars. The vessel carried a double set of sails and had standing and running rigging of galvanized wire and hemp, with approximately 494 m (270 fathoms) of anchor chain, 165 m (90 fathoms) of hempen stream cable, 165 m (90 fathoms) of towlines, and 165 m (90 fathoms) of warp, all of which were in good condition at the time of survey. Three bower anchors, two kedge anchors, and one stream anchor were carried, along with two long boats stored as lifeboats (Lloyd’s Register 1866a).

The owners of the ship were the Glasgow based, Thomas Skinner and Co. This particular ship and her sister ship the Huntly Castle were built for the Asiatic trade belonging to the Glasgow and Asiatic shipping lines group. The shipping line appears to have three ships named after Scottish Castles. Taymouth Castle in Perth and Kinross, home to Clan Campbell, Huntly Castle in Aberdeenshire, home to Clan Gordan and Lennox Castle in Dunbartonshire, built for the Kinkaid Family.

The shipping line was co-owned by Thomas Skinner and Co; The ship’s builder was Charles Connell and Co. Charles Connell lies in Glasgow Graveyard and really deserves a biography of his own. This was only the second sailing of the Taymouth Castle.

The Taymouth Castle when it ran aground that morning was reported to be carrying £50,000 worth of materials. There were 340 bales of Manchester produce, 50 bales in another place and in another there were bales made up of everything of practical use.

The cargo that the ship was carrying that day off Torr Head was truly staggering.

It consisted of 1832 cases, 474 casks, 1014 bales and 80 crates. They consisted off 52 gallons of Brandy, 146 gallon of BP spirits, 322 gallons of BC spirits, 218 gallons of white wine, 76 barrels of beer. She held £670 of plain cotton, £14,450 of coloured cotton, £17,250 cotton yarn, £511 of earthenware, £220 of sheet iron, £1000 of sheet metal, £110 saddlery, £480 of bar metal, £780 of nailrod, £740 of copper sheeting and £2000 of sundry articles. Some reports suggesting that this was only the ships third voyage.

It would be Captain Phillips of the Cushendun Coastguard station that would report the sinking to the ship owners.

Captain Phillips of the Cushendun Coastguard that morning would first see a life buoy with the ships name Taymouth Castle starting to come along the Cushendun coastline. The Cushendun Coastguard houses stood on the location where Maud’s Cottages now stand, built by Lord Cushendun in memory of his Welsh born wife.

Courtesy of McBride’s, Cushendun

The Steamer Rose was due to run between Derry and Morecambe that weekend but due to the severe weather conditions she decided to stay in the Foyle until the conditions got better. After the delayed departure she finally managed to depart Derry on the Sunday and while making her way through the Rathlin Sound she started to see the wreckage of the Taymouth Castle. Bales, boxes, and skylight windows, even barrels of beef were observed coming through the sound. The crew would manage to pick up two of the bales of produce, one was marked “GY203” and would be one of the yarn bales, the second was fancy muslin dress with a gold yarn. The second bale was marked 4-10-BS-67. Because some of the biscuit barrels were spotted floating about and not submersed the wreckage was thought to be recent. The Captain of the Rose, Captain Finnick, would chart the course past Torr Head and he would then see the locals collecting the materials and wreckage wood along the Torr shoreline. The bales that were lifted in the Rathlin Sound would later be confirmed as being in the manifest of the Taymouth Castle. One other ghastly report that keeps surfacing on newspaper reports of that time was that one of the crewmen of the boat was lashed to the mizzen mast, seemingly dead.

At the end of January two underwriters from Glasgow working for the insurance company would be dispatched to the area, Mr Weild and Mr Anderson, where they gave a great insight into the scene.

They noted that the wreck would lie between 50 and 100 yards away from the shoreline with the hull of the ship completely submerged and the only thing visible was the mizzen mast, with the man that was strapped to it, trying to save his own life by roping himself in!

The mast was only secured to the ship by the rigging and was moving continually with the waves. Some of the wreckage that had made the shoreline would include the poop and deckhouse. There was some hope that a lot more of the ship would remain intact. The next stage was to salvage what they could from the shoreline. For those of us who know the Torr area, we will know that the area consists of steep hills and cliffs and it was recognised that to try to salvage stuff would be next to impossible. The surveyor for the underwriters was then sent back to Glasgow to procure a steam tug and a screw lighter. The plan was to approach the sunken craft by sea and what could be recovered taken to the nearest port. Some was salvaged and we know this as it would appear in Glasgow auctions later that year.  By June of that year divers had recovered 92 cases of copper and yellow metal, 30 tons of railroad iron, and a quantity of bar iron.

It would be a Captain Smith, the ship husband to the shipping company and an agent responsible for providing maintenance and supplies for a ship in port who would identify the bodies of the Captain, mate, second mate, sailmaker and three apprentices. The two mates and Captain were brought back to Scotland. The remains of the mate were handed over to his relatives in Ardrossan. The second mate was handed back to his relatives in Govan and then the Captain to Kirkaldy

There was twenty persons working the Taymouth Castle as she departed Glasgow that day, these would include the Captain Robert Miller, reportedly his brother Roger Miller. Roger Miller John Fullarton and James Colder would eventually be returned to their families for burial. All three were married and John Fullarton only recently so, while James Colder left a widow with three young children. On the list of those on board that day was Alexander Thom, apprentice, Aberdeen. The others hailed chiefly from Glasgow and other places in the West of Scotland. The same Coastguard Captain Phillips would make note that other than a linen shirt washed up belonging to William Fullerton with ‘No9 Ardrossan’ on it, the bodies that washed up had no clothing on them.

A few days later there would be a large burial in the cemetery at Old Layde Church, where many of the crew including Sam Clelland, Thomas Foster, Edward Mc Kinley, John Marshall, and David Reid would be interred together.

Coastguard Captain Phillips would be called into action continually that weekend. Closer to Cushendun was the sloop Thomas and Eliza. She was on her journey between Irving and Belfast and captained by a man named Wilson when she was driven onto the rocks there. It was thought that if the coastguard hadn’t gone into action the crew would have perished. I have tried to find additional information on Phillips but to no avail at this time. He would have helped save the life of a lady in Cushendun a year earlier that many thought he should have been awarded for.

Cushendun Coastguard Cottages and boathouse beside the shoreline. Picture Courtesy of Kieran Mc Hugh.

In the 1970’s the wreck of the Taymouth Castle would be found once again by local divers, but as far back as the fifties, the Murray brothers of Glenarriff, Archie, John and Alex had been talked about for their diving on the Taymouth Castle. In the 1950’s it was reported the chains that held Glenarm Pier were the anchor chains from the ship. I think the investigation in the 1990’s disputes that fact however.

Mick Kinney (Galbolly), Alex Murray (Diver), David Smyth (Carnlough), John (Jack) Murray, (Waterfoot), BBC Interviewer, Jack Mitchell (Glenariffe) – Picture Credit – From Glynn to Glen.

It would be the mid 1990’s though before the Maritime Archaeology Project at Queen’s University would get involved. In September 1995 they would send a team of divers down to record what they could about the ship remains. They successfully excavated ceramics, spongeware, rice bowls, soup dishes and a range of other artefacts from the ship not only giving an idea of how life was on the ship, but also gives us a great idea of where the ship was kitted out from. Some of the dinnerware and bottles found on the ocean floor would be from Scottish companies such as Bell and Co, Glasgow Potteries, Cooper and Wood Portobello, Edinburgh, and Leith Glass Company. There was even a set of metal shears found on the sea floor.

Courtesy of Dr Colin Breen, Ulster University.

Over the years much has been taken from the ship and she has now been largely forgotten about, but as we can see through the memories of Frances Sarah O’Connor in the 1940’s she was still talked about then and hopefully this post highlights a little more of the story today.

It was a tale that started in Glasgow on a January night in 1867 when a ship set out for Singapore but would only make it as far as the Glens of Antrim. While some of the men who manned her were taken back home, many of them still lie in the Graveyard of Layde, Cushendall.

Picture: Kevin McGowan


Londonderry Standard 12th January 1867

Glasgow Evening Citizen 6th February 1867

From Glynn to Glen – Glens of Antrim Historical Society

British Newspaper Archives.

Investigations of Taymouth Castle, a Nineteenth Century Composite ship lost of the coast of Northern Ireland, Claire Callaghan and Dr Colin Breen.

I am indebted to Dr Colin Breen for his help and permissions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *