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Overview Of The Moresby Disaster

The Moresby Disaster

1. Overview Of The Moresby Disaster

The MoresbyThe Moresby was built at Whitehaven, Cumberland in 1882 by the Whitehaven Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. The ship was built of Iron, shipped rigged, Length - 223.5ft, Breadth - 36.1 ft, Dept of hold - 21.25ft. She was classed 100A1 at Lloyds. She carried two lifeboats, a cutter, and a gig. They had been passed by the Board of Trade surveyor in Cardiff in December 1895, and were more than double the provision required by the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. She was well found and was properly fitted and equipped in masts, spars, gear, and tackle. The vessel had passed her third survey for Lloyds in July 1894 at Liverpool.

On 21st December 1895 the Moresby left Cardiff. The ship was carrying a cargo of 1,778 tons of coal and was bound for Pisagua in South America.

There was a crew of 23 including the Captain , Caleb Francis Coomber. The latter also had his wife Edith Isabella (29) and their daughter Ivy (2¼) on the ship. To view photos of the crew click here.

List of Crew :

Caleb F. Coomber (31), master;
Martin Lose, mate;
Allen Barker, second mate;
Alfred Mikkleson, Foreigner,A.B.;
E. Blomquist, Foreigner, A.B.;
William Hunter, steward;
P. Peterson, carpenter and A.B.;
Abraham Lavo, cook;
H.McKinnon, sailmaker and A.B.;
Henry W. Blount (16), apprentice; had been on one voyage to sea previously
John Richardson, A.B.;
Charles J Gregory (16), apprentice; had been on one voyage to sea previously in the "Moresby" and is said to have made another voyage.
Thomas. Hubbins, A.B.;
David K. Michie (14), apprentice; had been on one voyage to sea previously.
John Ronning, Foreigner, A.B.;
Thomas Bird Sims, A.B.;
William Laakkone, Foreigner, A.B.;
Knut Samuel, Foreigner, A.B.;
G. Jeffries, A.B.;
Eugene J. Siebert (15), apprentice; had been on one voyage to sea previously.
William A. Caudle (18), apprentice; had not been to sea previously.
Edwin J. Dean (17), apprentice; had not been to sea previously.
William S. Chipperfield, apprentice; had not been to sea previously.

Moresby WreckOn 23rd December the ship ran into rough weather. Barker went below and brought up a plum pudding , dividing the pudding between them, Barker said "Here, boys, this is the last plum pudding you will ever eat. "All of us ate out share of the plum pudding but in silence. Gregory did not speak, and everyone's mind was far away with the dear ones we left at home, but a few days before. It was, indeed a sorrowful feast. At about 1p.m. the Moresby followed the schooner, the Mary Sinclair into Dungarvan bay. The Mary Sinclair was also in difficulty at this point. The keeper of Ballinacourty lighthouse had seen both ships in distress and saw that they were heading for shore at Clonea beach.

The Mary Sinclair ran aground on the beach but the Moresby changed course. It steered towards the lighthouse and set anchor at 2.30p.m., about ¾ of a mile from the lighthouse. Around 4p.m. the Ballinacourty Lifeboat set out for the ship to ascertain if the crew wished to be taken off, none wished to do so. During the night the weather deteriorated and the Moresby sent out distress signals.

About 4.30a.m. on the 24th the anchor broke and the ship went on its side. The captain and his wife and child, seven apprentices, the first and second mate and two others had to climb on the mizzen rigging. The remainder of the crew were forward.
By 11a.m. the masts had dropped closer to the water and as the crew saw no sign of a lifeboat coming to their rescue they decided to swim for shore.

Around mid-day the Ballinacourty lifeboat, manned by a volunteer crew from Dungarvan, set out to rescue the remaining crew, most of whom were in the sea.

Henry Blount recalled the rescue :

Volunteer Lifeboat CrewI had been in the water nearly an hour when I saw the lifeboat coming towards me.... I was not more than 300 or 400 yards from the ship when I was dragged into a lifeboat thoroughly exhausted. Three Russians Finns and a Scotsman were afterwards picked up. Michie was also taken in, but appeared to be dead, as he never revived. Ten or twenty minutes later Barker was likewise rescued from the sea.. but died directly we reached shore...
When we landed, I was carried to the Coastguard station. I was provided with warm clothing...and was shortly afterwards taken to Dungarvan hospital, where I remained until the morning after Christmas day. I was then fetched to identify the bodies which had been washed up. Gregory's body was bought in by the tide on Friday, seven or eight miles from Dungarvan... Barker was buried on Friday and Gregory on Saturday in the Protestant churchyard at Dungarvan. When I left on Saturday, part of the hull and one of the masts was all that could be seen of the Moresby. The bodies of the captain , his wife and child were washed ashore and all buried in one grave. The baby was washed ashore just as I was leaving Dungarvan.

The Waterford Standard of 22 January 1896 reprinted an article on the Moresby by Miss Emma Cooke of Dungarvan :

On Saturday evening, the body of the dear little girl, Ivy Neesham Coomber, was bought to Dungarvan, and in her little coffin was laid in the Parochial schoolroom. She was born on board the Lady Lawrence, off the river Plate, South America. The following morning, loving hands removed from her all traces of sand, arrayed her in white robes, and placed an ivy wreath at her feet, and the text 'Thy will be done' at her head, During the day hundreds of people visited the schoolroom and not one looked at her unmoved.... she was interred on Monday evening in the same grave as her parents, the small coffin, covered with flowers, was carried by four young lads. This service was jointly conducted by Rev Baines and Haskins. Since then, little Ivy's bonnet has been washed ashore, also one of her shoes, and to-day while I write, I am told that a Methodist hymn book was found. The hymn book which belonged to Eugene J. Siebert and which is inscribed is on display in the Waterford County Museum, along with the deck board, and a piece of the wooden hull with the name of the Moresby on it.

One of the survivors - Henry Blount described the situation :

I cannot tell you how anxiously we waited for the lifeboat, expecting to see it every minute. But still there was no signs of it... to add to the perilousness of the situation, the ship gave unmistakable evidence of breaking up and then we it was everyone for himself. The little child was placed on the Captain's back...the captain jumped into the seething ocean, followed by the mate who was accompanied by the captain's wife.

Allen Baker followed the captain, Blount, Gregory and Michie jumped together. However there was an ebb tide which swept them away from the coast. The Moresby was wrecked in Dungarvan Harbour on 24th December 1895. Twenty out of the twenty five crew and passengers were drowned.

Drowned : Captain C. Coomber, Edith Isabella Coomber, Ivy Coomber, Martin Lose, Alan Baker, William Hunter, Eugene Siebert, William Chipperfield, Abraham Lavo, George Jeffries, John Ronning, Knut Samuel, Thomas Bird Sims, Thomas Hubbins, John Richardson, Charles Gregory, David Michie, Edwin J.Dean, William A. Caudle, E. Blomquist.

Saved : P Peterson, H. McKinnon, William Lakkone, Alfred Mikkleson, and Henry Blount.

Three of the crew were from Ilkestone. Charles Gregory, Allan Barker, and Henry Blount, Blount survived and his story of the event was published in the Ilkestone Pioneer of 3rd January 1896

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