On August 8th, 1821, the Earl of Moira packet sank while on a voyage from Liverpool to Dublin. Many of the passengers who were travelling to Dublin were supporters of the scandal-prone King George IV, who was about to begin an eighteen-day visit to Ireland. Accounts of the dreadful event agree that the loss of the packet resulted from the intoxication of the captain, who failed to take the steps which would have saved the ship and those on board. The Bodleian Library in Oxford has a copy of a popular ballad which tells the story and which we reprint below. We also reprint a vivid account from the Liverpool Mercury.
Loss of The Earl of Moira Dublin Packet
You landmen and you seamen all come listen unto me,
A dreadful story I will relate, as you may plainly see,
The loss of the Earl Moira I am sorry for to say,
With above one hundred souls aboard for Dublin sailed away.
From Liverpool in the afternoon, at six o’clock set sail,
On the 8th day of August with a west north west gale,
In one thousand eight hundred and twenty one, as you shall understand,
On Burbo bank our vessel struck quite close to Cheshire land.
After great toil and slavery our vessel we got clear.
And running for the Cheshire shore as you shall quickly hear,
In putting her about there, she happen’d to miss stays,
And on Wharf Bank the vessel struck, as those on board did say.
This happen’d about ten at night, as you shall quickly hear,
At half past two with water filled, for we could not get her clear;
At half past five that morning which made us sigh full sore,
The sea was running mountains high along the Cheshire shore.
Our vessel on her broadside, in a dismal state she lay,
The longboat and the luggage they were all swept away,
All those that were able got up into the shrouds,
Whilst the cries of men and women might reach unto the clouds.
The dying groans of young and old, in agony and pain,
Boats to assist came alongside, but it was all in vain
Because we had no money their high charges for to pay,
Those that had they took on board and with them sailed away.
A good seaman our captain was as you may have heard them say,
But he was a little tipsy on that dreadful day,
He would not be advised by passengers or crew,
Which caus’d him to perish with a number of his crew.
Oh! The fatal Earl of Moira, that Packet of great fame
For many years she sailed upon the raging main,
Fifty passengers were drown’d, I dare say and more,
Our gallant packet she was lost upon the Cheshire shore.
From the Liverpool Mercury of August 16th, 1821
It becomes our painful duty to record one of the most distressing shipwrecks that ever occurred within the precincts of this port: the loss of the smack Earl Moira, packet, which sailed with passengers bound to Dublin. The actual number of those who perished we have not been able to ascertain, partly owing to the uncertainty as to the number who embarked, and their being chiefly strangers in the town; and partly from the extreme exhaustion of the survivors, which rendered many of them unable to depict the dreadful scene of which they had formed a part, until wearied nature were recruited by sleep. But as the bare contemplation of numbers of our fellow beings, who left the port in health and spirits, being, after unheard-of sufferings, consigned to a watery grave, must call forth the deepest sympathy, we lose no time in giving such particulars as the shortness of our time, with the utmost diligence, has enabled us to collect.
The Earl Moira left the Pier-head soon after six o’clock on the evening of Wednesday the 8th instant. The greater number of our informants (all survivors) agree in the estimation of the number of 100 to 110 persons being on board, including about six of the crew. When off the Magazines, they set all sail, wind blowing fresh from the W.N.W. After passing the Gut Buoy. No.1, in attempting to tack, the vessel missed stays, and struck on Burbo Bank. The passengers’ alarmed at the shock, flocked up from below in multitudes; and some of those from the cabin remonstrated with the Captain, who was observed to be intoxicated, and consequently bewildered and undermined. The boat was ordered out, and a kedge-anchor was carried to leeward; and, after considerable toil, the vessel was again got into deep water, and bore away for Cheshire shore. A great number of the passengers here requested the Captain to bear away for Liverpool, as the weather looked very black and threatening a-head: he refused to comply, and after a few tacks, about ten o’clock the vessel missed stays a second time, and grounded on the Wharf Bank, off Mock Beggar. Finding it impossible to get her off, orders were given to strike the top-mast and make everything snug. The Captain and crew assured the passengers that the vessel was not in a dangerous situation, so that they determined to remain contented until the return of the tide; some now remained on deck, and others retired to their hammocks. When the flood tide set in, the vessel, being occasionally lifted, struck the bank, and it is probable from the manner in which she afterwards leaked, that her bows were injured by striking against the anchor, which was injudiciously dropped when she grounded, as she did not take cable. – The mainsail, kept on her for the purpose of running her on the bank at the tide rose, had only the effect of sinking her deeper in the sand, and rendered her situation more fatal. At half-past two the vessel filled with water fore and alt; the pump having previously been plied, but with no effect. Two fine horses, that were in the hold, were now hoisted up: the groom wished to ride one of them on shore, but was persuaded to desist. The horses were washed, or thrown overboard. Previous to this, the passengers wished a signal to be made, to which the Captain would not agree, declaring there was no danger; but after a some time, a flag was carried aloft by a passenger, (a printer, who wore a blue jacket), and made fast. Between four and five o’ clock, the water forced away the cabin deck windows, and the luggage, provisions, &c were floated up, the sea breaking over them. The waves increased along with the rising tide, and at last brought the vessel on her broadside. Soon after, the boat and deck lumber were washed overboard, and two passengers, who were snatched away, were with difficulty saved. All who were able now got upon the shrouds, and some held on by ropes fastened to the bulwarks, or to whatever they could find to keep them out of the water, it being then breast high on deck, and nothing but the weather gunnel and mast to be seen. In this manner men, women, and children clung, until exhausted by the continuance of the waves that burst over them, they began to drop from their hold, and were overwhelmed. One tremendous wave which struck the weather bow, carried off from 10 to 15 poor souls at once. Men, women and children who seemed in the greatest agonies, were now washed away, and every succeeding wave seemed to mark its victims – the survivors had scarcely time to breathe between each. One man jumped overboard, and was for some time struggling towards the shore, supported on a truck or box.
A boat lay to a short distance to windward of them all night (apparently one of the King’s Dock gigs). Several signals were contrived to lure her to their assistance: one of the passengers, a soldier, fired his musket three times, having but three cartridges, but the boat took no notice. When the water was making over the deck, a white handkerchief was waved from the rigging, when the boat came down, and went a short-distance to leeward of them. On being requested to approach, they said the sea was running too high for them. – The passengers in the Earl Moira then took a cork fender, and fastening a rope to it, let it drop towards the boat; but the boatmen refused to hold of the rope, by means of which they might have got safely alongside. About ten minutes after, several packages were washed away, when the wretches in the boat having picked up three or four portmanteaus and a trunk, immediately set sail with their plunder to Liverpool, although at the same time the dead bodies were floating around the vessel.
The Captain, who was still in a state of intoxication, was among the first who perished. After the most incoherent conduct, he was exclaiming “we shall all be lost!” when he was struck on the breast of a wave, and falling backwards he sunk alongside. We shall not pain our readers by a minute detail of the heart-rending scene of death that continued from this period until all were either saved or drowned. A few instances will suffice. A female of about 30 years of age, was observed with her two children, one about 8 months old, the other 2 years. For a considerable time she battled the waves with her infants in her arms. A tremendous sea at length struck her, beneath which her exhausted children were buried for a minute or a minute and a half: the wind then lulled for a moment, and the swell abated; the agonized mother gazed at the children in her arms, and found them both dead – she uttered a piercing shriek, lost her hold, was overwhelmed by another wave, and perished with her children with her children locked in her arms. Three soldiers were on board, having a deserter in charge, they remained by him as long as they could; a sea struck them as they stood together, and carried off the deserter who sunk immediately. One of the soldiers was carried under the boat, and clung to one of the stays: as the sea lifted the vessel he rose above water several times, but its length, with the exclamation of mercy, yielded to his fate.
A vast number of poor men, women and children, (says a survivor who was in the rigging), the occupants of the front part of the vessel, were more exposed to the waves, and there was no possibility of affording the sufferers the least relief. We beheld them struggling with the most appalling difficulties: one female importuned our assistance; but, on our extending a rope, she was too much exhausted to keep hold, and sunk. – There were about ten men clinging to one rope, the wife of one having her husband in her arms – an irresistible wave swept all but three away. The survivors, seeing their exhausted comrades dropping one by one from their hold, remained in continual apprehension of a similar fate. The Hoylake life-boat arrived to the assistance between seven and eight. So great was their eagerness for self-preservation, that about thirty dropped into the boat, and the commander, whose exertions cannot be too much praised, was at length obliged to put off to prevent the boat from being swamped: they were all much exhausted, and many of them in dying state. Another boat, the first from Liverpool, belonging to Matthew Naill, arrived about eight o’clock, and brought eight persons on shore.—Before the third boat arrived (belonging, we are told, to William Corrie) the deck was torn up by the sea, and the mast fell. Many of the women were swept away. There were twelve got into this boat, including a lady, and 15 sufferers remained clinging to the wreck, the greater number of whom were afterwards picked up by other boats. There were but two females saved.
There were five ladies cabin passengers, of whom only one saved. There were, we learn, thirty-three cabin passengers in all, sixteen of whom were saved. It was impossible for us to obtain the precise number of those who perished. The number on board was not exactly known, nor the numbers saved; although the latter may be stated, at about fifty, leaving about the same supposed number who have perished. The bodies of two females, child, and a man, have been landed near the Rock. The boat belonging to the Moira, in a shattered condition, was brought here last night; when picked up, a fine shawl was found tied round one of the benches, to which probably some unfortunate lady had clung until overwhelmed.
Such are the distressing particulars which we have yet been able to collect, and they will be perused with painful interest. Many of those on board were, we believe, of most respectable families on their way to meet his majesty in Ireland, and carried with them considerable property. If we are to credit report, some of the inhabitants of Wallasey have been engaged to stripping and plundering the bodies cast up.