Wreck of the Edmond 1850

Monument to the wreck of the Edmond. Picture by Robert Brown.
Medicine Chest.Picture curtesy Museum of Castlebar.
Sykes House,Kilkee
Murphy Hynes Collection. CL
Source the 1850 Illustrated London News
Courtesy of Hathi Trust Digital Library

This wreck happened in 1850 during the Famine. The passengers were all trying to escape to America to survive. During all of 1850 thousands of Irish were emigrating from Limerick and Clare . It also explains the actions of the local people to the salvage conditions. The tragedy would not have happened without the Famine.

The conditions which the people had to endure in many of the emigrant ships are well known and the mortality rate was high -though it does appear that quite a number of the ships with people from West Clare were particularly fortunate in this regard. However one of the greatest single tragedies associated with the exodus to America occurred when the Edmund was wrecked in Kilkee Bay on the night of the 19th to the 20th of November 1850 . Ninety eight of her passengers and crew perished in the disaster.

The Edmond was a London registered barque of 950 tons which had been chartered by Alderman John McDonnell of Limerick to bring a party of emigrants to New York. On the way down the Shannon it called into Carrigholt. Then on Monday, the 18th of November it left Carrigholt  at 8 am. When it was about 30 miles out to sea a terrific gale  arose carried away all its canvas. Helpless before the storm it was blown into Kilkee Bay and stuck on the Duggerna Reef. It was soon blown off that and , after the anchor had been lowered ,it came to rest against the rocks off Sykes ‘ House. The time was about 11:30 pm.

Richard Russell.

Richard Russell of Limerick who was staying in Sykes house at the time, was the first on the scene, accompanied by one of  his servants. Describing what he saw he wrote :

“At first there was no appearance of any living person on board but as soon as we made our appearance there was one burst of horrid agony for assistance. I can never forget it -the sound will long continue fresh in my ear “

Russell sent his servant for the coastguards, who arrived  soon afterwards at the scene with an assistant. Meanwhile, the captain had ordered the weather rigging of the foremast to be cut and this provided a means by which passengers were enabled  to crawl from the ship to the shore. They were helped in this way by the five men on the rocks. About 100 reached safety in this manner but when the tide rose , it became absolutely impossible for those still remaining to get off the ship. Shortly afterwards , at about 3 am ,the ship broke in two. Several people now made a vain attempt to get to the rocks but failed and were drowned. Over 50 others were on the part of the wreck which drifted towards beach at the East End, but most of them were washed overboard before safety was reached. About those who survived this terrible journey with the members of the Crotty family who , it was said,were landed almost at their own doorstep. In all  98 people died and there were 119 survivors.

To add to the horror of the scene a number of local people, probably near death from starvation themselves, tried to get whatever plunder they could. An eyewitness wrote:

“Nothing could exceed the brutal, and, I regret to say, successful effort‘s of some people to plunder what ever they could lay their hands on. They actually stripped the clothes from the dead bodies, together with, of course, any money on them. All the clothes, beds and property were , in the most cool and heartless manner,carried off by those unfeeling wretches, and this done in the presence of those shipwrecked creatures, who in vain had to beg even there clothes to cover their half naked bodies “

Perhaps too harsh , a judgement, considering the circumstances of the plunderers. Another visitor described the scene on the following day:

“I saw lying side-by-side, on a sale spread on the beach, many of the poor drowned ones, most of them young women and children,others were washed ashore and  laid with those already there. All that was left of her ( the ship) were fragments scattered on the rocks and beach. “

30 of the dead were in a small yard before one of the lodges at the end of Marine Parade. These and the others were later buried in Kilfearagh graveyard. But for weeks later bodies were still been washed ashore.

Father Comyn.

Father Comyn had  played a prominent part in the rescue work and, later, the  Catholic priests of the parish were able to induce the  people to restore much of the plundered property. Nevertheless, in early December, a number of people were fined from £5 to £20 each for concealing property taken from the wreck, while some others got jail sentences.

Jonas Studdert.


Even Jonas Studdert , a prominent local magistrate, was brought to court on a similar charge. He however had two relatives on the bench and it was presided over by Colonel Vandeleure and he was of course acquitted on the grounds that the property had been brought to his yard without his knowledge. Richard Russell and the coastguards were awarded the silver metal of the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck for the rescue work.


The following is an extract from a private letter written by Mr. Russell to his father J. N. Russell, Esq. 

“I shall now endeavour to give you a more particular account of the loss of this unfortunate vessel.

It was about half-past 11 o’ clock that I got out of bed. When I was absent half an hour to fasten the windows of our bedroom, shaken by the pitiless storm, on looking out, as is my usual custom what was my horror to see before me, within a few hundred yards a large vessel aground some distance from the rocks. It was low water, I cannot describe my feeling: I knew and felt that all in her were doomed to destruction, and, as I then believed, not a soul could be saved. At this time I did not hear that she was an emigrant vessel, though I had some suspicion of it, as she was of large size and light draft of water. In a short time my fears proved too true. At first there was no appearance of any living person on board, but as soon as we made our appearance there was one burst of horrid, agony for assistance. I can never forget it – the sound will long continue fresh in my ear. I sent at once to call the Coast Guards and all the persons in the neighbourhood – also to the village. Where the vessel first lay there was no earthly chance of saving a soul, but as the tide rose, which it did with terrific fury, she drifted in until she got close to the Black Rock opposite our house (Mr. Sykes’s), where the men usually bathe in summer. When she got there the sea made terrible breeches over her, but still she bore it bravely. The Captain – who is a noble fellow, as you will by-and-by learn – ordered the weather-rigging of the foremast, the only one then standing, to be cut. By this nice move the passengers and crew were afforded some assistance to land on the rock. To picture the state of the sea while coming on the rock, and from thence to the land, would be impossible. It was a regular succession of seas breaking over the rocks, so as to make it all but miraculous how even those that were saved got along the rock. There is no doubt but that for the noble intrepidity and self-devotion of two of the Coast Guard, and an extra assistant, not one-half of those that were saved could ever have got access to the rock, washed as it was by such sweeping seas. I and my servant (Henry Likely) were the only two who went down on the rock to assist these noble fellows. While we were there the seas repeatedly dashed us down, and at times it was with difficulty we saved ourselves.

The men who acted this noble part, and whose names deserved to be recorded, were James M’Carthy, commissioned boatman; Timothy Hannington, boatman, and Patrick Shannon, extra assistant. By the hands of these noble fellows over one hundred souls were rescued from a watery grave.

I do sincerely trust that their exertions will not be overlooked by the Coast Guard service, and that they will receive that promotion they are so justly deserving of.

When about 100 souls now safely ashore, the tide rose high that it was perfectly impossible to land any more of the passengers on the rock: so that they had only wait till either the tide receded or the storm subsided. But such was not permitted, as the tide rose the sea increased, and in a very short time the vessel broke up and parted midships. Several tried then to get on the rock, but were washed off at once; the remainer held on to the afterpart of the wreck, in which there could not be less than 50 souls – this part containing poop deck and stern post, and some of the afterpart of the vessel was lashed by fury of the sea away from the forepart, and drifted into the strand. It was at this moment the gallant captain and his mate, who so ably stood by their passengers, and who could not be prevailed on to desert them, thought death was certain, at least it then so appeared, were washed off the poop, and, wonderful to say, got safe to shore on the strand. Though the disaster was so great, the tide (a spring one) being so high on the strand, they fortunately laid hold of some piece of the wreck and reached shore in a most exhausted state. Three other passengers were also equally fortunate – one of them was a woman, whom the captain was the means of saving by fastening her to a piece of timber. While the afterpart of the vessel, with poop, drifted ashore. It was forced on its beam ends; thus all the unfortunate passengers in it, with the exception of two or three, perished, and were found when the tide receded, so as to enable it to be examined. All was now over, and the melancholy duty only remained of collecting the bodies of these poor sufferers. From all I can collect, there was no fault or blame to be laid to the captain’s charge. He did all that mortal could do. He had every stitch of canvass blown away, so he could only lay to or drift under bare poles. He thought to have made for the Shannon; but when he lost all his sails, no alternative was left but to drift ashore.

Dr. Griffin, Mr. Richard Studdert, and Mr. O’Donnell (coroner) were unceasing in their attention and kindness in reviving the passengers as they came ashore, and which they took into their houses. I had over 40 of them in my house – the women I got into all the beds, and the men made as comfortable as I could by the fire.

As yet only 45 bodies have been found. The actual loss of life cannot be ascertained for a few days, until we learn the names of the survivors. As yet, only 120 have answered; but there may be others who have not heard of the muster, and may still make their appearance. Of the 45 dead, who have been found, the great part are women and children – only a few men. This day (20th Nov.) was spent in looking after the survivors, and the bodies of the dead. The bay (Kilkee) was covered with fragments of the wreck—planks, beams, masts, &c – a mournful sight, more especially with the knowledge of its having been attended with so much loss of life. Nothing could exceed the brutal, and, I regret to say, successful efforts of some people to plunder whatever they could lay their hands on: they actually stripped the clothes from the dead bodies together with, of course, any money in them, which latter, it is supposed, was considerable. All the clothes, beds, and property belonging to these poor wretched emigrants, were, in the most cool and heartless manner, carried off by those unfeeling wretches, and this done in the presence of these shipwrecked creatures, who in vain had to beg even their clothes to cover their half naked bodies. The women were as unsuccessful in their respect as the men. It was impossible for us to protect or check these depredators. There were only four water-guards and three police, who where all up the previous night, and could not be expected, with even the utmost exertion, to protect all the property on such a long line of beach; so that I may say little or no property has been saved. The wreck of the vessel is perfectly useless. This evening, a stronger force has arrived, but they have come too late.

Mr. Garrett Fitzgerald, Emigration Agent, came here this day and was most anxious to assist in relieving the poor emigrants. Mr. Jonas Studdert, Captain Pascoe, and Mr. Blair were also in attendance, assisting and making arrangements for the preservation of the wreck: but ’tis of little value. Still they were at their posts to do their duty. You will excuse the hurried manner this is written, as I am the worse of the want of a night’s rest

Wet and fagged, and excited by deep and painful anxiety.
Believe me, your affectionate son.

Richard Russell.”


Exert from the Glasgow Herald 29/11/1850

“We ( Limerick Chronicle ) are grieved to record a most calamitous loss of life by shipwreck on our immediate coast and deeply grieved to add that all the victims are of this country friends, neighbours or acquaintances who sailed together from the port of Limerick for New York. But alas in four days the gallant bark is a forlorn wreck in the Bay of kilkee.

She was named the Edmond of London John Wilson master, a bark of 399 tons register and was early last month chartered by John M’Donnell Esq of Limerick to convey passages to New-York. The total number embarked according to manifest signed at the custom house was 195 distinguishing 174 steerage and 21 cabin passengers including children. The crew consisted of the master two mates and 19 hands making the total no of souls on board 236.

She first struck on the Duggernah reef on Tuesday evening which runs half way across the center of the bay was blown off there , and struck next on the rocks under Sikes’s house at the west end ,it was then between eleven end twelve o’clock at night. The crew had cut down the masts and rung the alarm bell Some persons gained the shore by clinging to the mast among whom were Mr and Mrs Browne of Rathkeale and their child.

The tide was very high and the vessel was again further driven up the same side of the bay in the bed of the little stream that runs through the sands opposite the baths house where she soon after went to pieces. Numbers were taken alive out of the wreck. The captain and the mate never left the unfortunate ship until the last moment and were then in so exhausted a state from their exertions that it required hot blankets and other restoratives to sustain them.”

Glasgow Herald , Friday. November 29, 1850


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