No.36 The Charlwood and the Duke of Buccleuch

Through A Glass Darkly

Tomorrow marks the 112th anniversary of the wreck of the Charlwood, an English barque which was struck amidships and cut virtually in two to founder off the Eddystone while en route from Antwerp for Valparaiso, Chile, with what was described in contemporary sources as a ‘general cargo.’

In an age which was increasingly dominated by steam, iron barques such as the Charlwood were able to hold their own on an ultra long-distance route from Europe to the Pacific coast of Chile where Valparaiso lies, negotiating Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. They had one great advantage over the steamers – no need to put in for bunker coal in vast, empty oceans. It might be thought that there would be access to coal at calling points en route on the Atlantic coasts of South America, but there was a difficulty getting coal from the hinterland of South America to the ports – this is put into context by the fact that 10 out of the 14 wrecks recorded as lost in English waters with the destination of Valparaiso had a cargo of coal from the coalfields of Durham, the Welsh valleys, or the Ruhr. Coal was generally a popular import from Europe for various South American ports in the 19th and early 20th centuries. [Indeed, the Zoodochos mentioned in Wreck of the Week 29 was exporting coal to Buenos Aires.]

No wonder, then, that the cargo of the Charlwood was described as ‘general’. Yet she is a popular dive and her cargo is regularly seen to comprise glassware, including numerous wine and sherry glasses and decanters – so much so that she rejoices in the alternative sobriquet of the ‘Glass Wreck’. Her cargo suggests a demand for prestige goods from Europe and an appropriate destination in a country now one of the world’s largest wine exporters.

She has an almost contemporary parallel: only two years previously, in 1889, the Duke of Buccleuch also sank after a collision amidships with a significant cargo of glass- and chinaware, again on a long-distance route from Antwerp, this time to Calcutta. The Times, reporting on the incident, revealed that her ‘general cargo’ included iron nails and hardware. She is unusual in that her cargo, bound for a key outpost of the British Empire, originated in a non-British port – although she was, of course, a British ship. It was not until 1953 – after Indian independence – that another wreck in English waters bound to Calcutta began her voyage outside Britain, and this time it was a Swedish vessel.

Wrecks such as these are tangible evidence of the ebb and flow of international trade throughout time.

On another note: Does anyone have any ‘information challenges’ they would like to send me for inclusion in a future WOTW? Keep them coming!

No.35 A Lapse in the Time-Space Continuum

When Worlds Collide 

This week I’d like to have a look at a couple of craft which were wrecked in the Manchester Ship Canal before it was built! How can this be?

They were discovered during the works to construct the Canal, a logboat being found at Barton-upon-Irwell in 1889 and a similar vessel discovered at Irlam to the south-west the following year. They were both recorded as a distinctive Lancashire type from very similar contexts, at approximately 25ft deep in alluvial soil. Both were also largely intact at the time of finding, suggesting their preservation in the local environment and that the wreck process had simply been one of long abandonment.

The second find gave rise to a very interesting local newspaper report comparing the two. It was noted that both examples had ‘sustained an injury’ from the heartwood breaking out, the Barton craft at the ‘bows’ and the Irlam craft at the ‘stern’, having been both mended. According to the Manchester Times in 1890, the Irlam boat had been found 100 yards from the course of the river, its location perhaps attributable to stranding when the river changed course. I can think of other reasons, perhaps a local flooding event, or intended recycling when the vessel reached the end of its useful life.

I’ve become quite a connoisseur of prolix Victorian journalese, here suggesting that the wrecking process was very nearly completed by mechanical means:

‘The [Irlam] boat is in an admirable state of preservation, far better than was the Barton one, and it suffered very little in the process of extraction, a piece of good fortune which is ascribable to the fact that the beds at that particular spot were being removed by spade labour: and though the British navvy is not renowned for a light and tender touch, still he would bear away the palm for delicacy from his steam rival, who snatched an ample mouthful out of the side of the Barton boat before its nature was discovered.’ (Manchester Times, July 5, 1890, No.1,719)

For more on the steam navvy, please click here.

The Barton boat was radiocarbon-dated to approximately 965-1095 AD, but this late Anglo-Saxon craft did have something in common with Victorian traffic on the canal. It has been suggested that it was used to transport grain, one of the principal cargoes also carried on the Ship Canal (along with cotton for t’mills, of course). Plus ça change . . .