Genealogical and Historical Research Service in Ireland


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TRAGEDY  IN  DUNDALK  BAY,  6-10 April 1858.

The following is part of an article entitled 'The Wreck of the Mary Stoddart', published in Tempest Annual 1959, to commemorate the 100 anniversary of the sinking of the Mary Stoddart.

“Tuesday, April 6th, 1858, saw the good steamer Enterprise win her way in a great gale from Liverpool to Dundalk Bay. The look-out cried: "Ship in distress!."  Captain Johnson, true to the traditions of the sea, brought his vessel near the barque—the Mary Stoddart of Scarborough—from whose mast-head the signals were flying. Six hours he stood by her till, seeing her anchored in apparent safety, he put into port. The gale still blew next morning. Word had gone round the town of a ship in peril. The Independence, sister packet to the Enterprise, with her Captain, Henry Byrne, on the bridge, accompanied by his colleague, Captain Johnson, and the following directors of the Company: Messrs. Peter Russell, E. H. Macardle, P. J. Carroll, Bernard Finegan and others, found the barque still safely anchored. The wind was a south-west one. Captain Johnson, in a small boat, braved the waves to reach the ship and was taken on board by her master, Captain Every Hill. An apprentice of twenty years of age heard them consulting and records the fact that, in his opinion, if Captain Johnson’s advice had been taken the ship would have been saved and nine men’s lives with it. However that may be, Captain Johnson decided to stay on board and signalled to the Independence to stand by for the present. The latter steamed in the teeth of the gale towards Liverpool for five and a half hours and returned to find the Mary Stoddart had broken loose and dragged her anchor to a point nearly opposite Blackrock, where she had grounded, with her decks two or three feet below the level of high tide. .... The apprentices, not inured to the ordinary hardships of the sea, suffered most. John Baptiste (the black cook) and Captain Hill were specially kind to them and tied them for safety to the masts. .......

On land all were agog to rescue Captain Johnson and his comrades. Mr. Peter Russell, Mr. John Connick—then the Agent of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners Society—and our public men, .... organized relief. A boat .... put out from the Soldiers’ Point, manned by Patrick Finnegan (a pilot), Patrick Callan and John and Patrick Lamb. In vain; the wind would not tolerate their open boat and drove it back.

Mr. John Connick, seeing that the best way would be to try from the south, drove to Blackrock, and there, with the help of George Elphinstone, was able to man two yawls and set out, himself and Elphinstone in charge of one and gallant James Crosbey in charge of the other. The two crews of six men .... won their way to within half a mile of the wreck, but the tide carried them past it. Three hours of the hardest labour and they regained shore. Again George Elphinstone took his yawl out, bearing so as to let the tide carry him to the barque, but just at the critical time the tide began to turn. After him came Captain Kelly, of the Pride of Erin, who had come out from Dundalk to try to save the Captain of the rival Steam Packet Company. He fared no better, and had to put back; and still the storm continued.

At eight o’clock that evening the local directors of the Dundalk and Midland Steam Packet Company resolved to send out the Independence and two life-boats in tow of the steam tug at the earliest moment that the bar could be crossed. Mr. Peter Russell drove to Blackrock to bring in Elphinstone and Crosbey to act as pilots to the Dundalk boats. The call was for volunteers and Captain Kelly came forward with John Lamb, Thomas McArdle, Patrick Callan, Gerald or “Garret” Hughes, James Murphy, and Patrick Crosbey. By his side was Captain Hinds, of the Venture, with Thomas Hamill, Patrick McArdle, Owen Finegan, Patrick Finegan, George Elphinstone, Patrick Lamb, James Moran, and Michael McArdle. They arranged to start at four o’clock in the morning of the next day (Friday).

As the day dawned again on the stranded wreck there were fewer cold hands clasping the rigging .... He [John Baptiste] had fallen .... and one apprentice had been washed overboard.
And still no help was to come for another day, ....

On land at four o’clock Captains Byrne and Williams of the Steam Packets, and Captain Gaussen of the Coastguards, met at the Soldiers’ Point. Theirs to decide if the bar could be crossed—if the Independence should go out, or an open boat. We may be sure they considered carefully and anxiously, and that it was with heavy hearts that they agreed that no steamer could cross the bar. “To the Tug, then!” was the cry, but the willing hands of engineers and stokers could not make the Tug respond; her engines were out of order. Had she been ready there had been no aching hearts in Dundalk that night.

Captain Kelly and Captain Hinds now called up their crews. .... and both boats rowed to the Lighthouse, The waves were so terrific as they crossed the "West Bank" that Michael McArdle was pitched right out of Captain Hinds’s boat, and James Moran was only just saved. In rescuing McArdle an oar was lost. At the Lighthouse a consultation took place with the lighthouse-man as to the best time to make the attempt, but no watch was to be had and the clock in the Lighthouse had stopped. “In God’s name let us go on,” cried Captain Kelly, and the boats made their way, buffeted and beaten, to the lee of the Mary Stoddart. The two boats were close together as near to the vessel as possible, but the crew and Captain Johnson were too exhausted to jump into them. A huge wave rounding the barque’s stern nearly sank both the boats and they were compelled to draw off. The gale was too high for a shout to be heard. A great wave broke down upon Captain Hinds whose crew, seeing it coming, rowed might and main against it and it passed, filling the boat which, but for the air chambers, would have sunk. It rushed on the open boat behind. Captain Kelly’s crew did their best but the boat slid stern first with the wave and in the trough turned right over, sending all into the sea. In a minute all were holding on to the keel. Meanwhile the life-boat was in almost as bad a state, bailing for dear life. Along came another wave and righted Captain Kelly’s boat and the crew clambered into her as well as her practically water-logged condition would let them. All but Captain Kelly. He had come out in a long heavy overcoat and heavy sea boots up above his knees and, powerful man though he was, they bore him down. .... The Enterprise’s life-boat was too far off to afford any help, and the brave and capable Captain perished before the eyes of his crew, who drifted oarless and helpless with the gunwales level with the water.

As soon as Captain Hinds saw their plight, with great danger and difficulty he got to them. .... All were got out but one James Murphy—who had already followed his captain at the call of duty. Gerald Hughes was conscious but dying, while James Crosbey had such a “death-hold“ on the seat of the smashed boat that it was only with the greatest extortions that his unconscious hands were relaxed. The ill-fated boat was taken in tow and the doubly loaded life-boat, lacking one oar, began its mournful and painful return. Gerald Hughes succumbed before Blackrock was reached and Crosbey died in Mrs Cockshot’s house ashore. ....

At ten o’clock the same morning the life-boat of the Enterprise was taken out from Blackrock by Mr. Lewis, the mate of the Earl of Erne, with Mr. Gilmore, mate of the Pride of Erin, some of the crew of the Independence, and some Blackrock fishermen. After making a mile in an hour’s hard pulling they had to return.
Still another attempt was made, this time from the opposite shore. At one o’clock in the day a boat carrying Owen Rice, James O’Neill, Michael Rice, Michael Rice, jun., Patrick and John Rice, Patrick Byrne, and Charles O’Neill, was launched from Tipping’s Quay opposite Soldiers’ Point. .... After being nearly drowned this boat’s crew had also to return.

Still the unfortunates on the wreck clung on. Captain Johnson, feeling the knees of two men behind him in the rigging pressing in his back the whole night and turning to speak to them, found them both dead.
By five o’clock in the evening the wind had abated somewhat, but the sea still was raging, when Robert Shankey, the chief officer of the Coastguard at Gyles’s Quay, .... launched a boat from that place, with Patrick Barry (coastguard), Thomas Gallagher, John Connor, Owen Hanlon (fishermen) as a crew. They reached the Mary Stoddart and took off Captain Johnson and six of the crew. Captain Hill and the other three men heroically refusing to risk the lives of the rest by overloading the boat. ..... At eight o’clock on that Friday evening the seven men were landed, amid universal thanksgiving, at the Soldiers’ Point.

The wind and sea were too strong against them for Robert Shankey’s boat to think of rowing back to the wreck, so they actually walked round by road and set out in the early hours of the Saturday morning in another boat, with Owen Gallagher and Owen Connor replacing Barry and Hanlon, who were worn out. They safely reached the vessel, took off Captain Hill and the remaining men and landed them at George’s Quay, Dundalk, shortly afterwards.
The rescued crew consisted of Every Hill (captain), Arch. Hogg (mate), John Davis (second mate), George Banner (carpenter), Charles Strong, George McDonnell and James Birch (seamen), John Marks, Richard Wray and P. J. Walshe (fourteen years old), apprentices. Those who perished were John Baptiste (black seaman), John Coll (cook), Thomas Ashwood (steward), William Morris (mate), and Percival Mann (apprentice);
Captain Kelly’s body was not recovered till two months later, when it was washed ashore. The remains were taken on his ship, the Pride of Erin, from Soldiers’ Point to the Steam Packet Quay, from whence it was followed one evening to Seatown graveyard by the largest gathering of mourners of all classes and from all parts which was ever known in Dundalk. He left an aged mother to mourn his loss.

It will be understood that such an episode was not allowed to pass without some permanent memorial .....
Committees were formed and funds raised for the relief of those bereaved and the raising of some memorial. .... There was considerable heart-burning at the time over the rivalries of the two Steam Packet Companies and, unfortunately, this seems to have raised dissensions in the matter; it was not till 1879 .... that the present handsome monument was erected in Roden Place, The matter was brought up at this time by Mr. Henry Kelly of Tullydrum. There was then found to be £300 collected and £114 more promised. The work cost £400. It was designed by Mr. Robert McArdle, and built by Mr. Pettigrew of Navan. The inscription reads:

who lost their lives in a noble and
humane effort to rescue the
crew of the barque, Mary Stoddard,
wrecked in Dundalk Bay, on the
9th of April, 1858.
Erected by Voluntary Subscription 1879.
In commemoration also of the gallant
services of Volunteers of the rescuing
party, John Lamb, Patrick Callan and
Thomas McArdle, who after a heroic
struggle to succour their ill-fated
comrades, reached shore in a state of exhaustion.”

It was also stated in Tempest Annual that:

Richard Wray
An apprentice, after seventy years of the sea, lived in a Seamen’s Home in Scarborough.

Patrick McArdle
Lived in Dundalk .

Patrick Byrne
A retired captain, of Barrack Street., lived on in Dundalk;

Owen Finegan and one other
They may have emigrated to America,

Gerald Hughes
His son. Mr. Arthur Hughes, became Harbour Master in Dundalk.

Robert Shankey.
His son, Mr. Robert Shankey lived at Mountain View, Dundalk.

Dividing Line on MC Research website

Captain James Joseph Kelly.
Captain Kelly  was baptised in Haggardstown Roman Catholic Parish, County Louth,  on 2 June 1822, the son of Thomas James and Ann  Kelly.
He is buried in Seatown Graveyard, Dundalk. The headstone inscription states:

This is the burial place of Capt. James Joseph Kelly who was drowned in the heroic attempt to save the crew of the Mary Stoddart, wrecked in Dundalk Bay in 1858.
I.H.S. Erected by Mrs Anne Kelly to the memory of her beloved son
Captain Joseph Kelly, who in his effort to save the crew of a ship wrecked in Dundalk Bay was drowned on the 9th April, 1858, aged 36 years.
Also those brave boatmen Gerald Hughes, James Murphy and James Crosby who perished with him.
Requiescant in pace. Amen.

This other headstone in the same graveyard is probably a relation:


This stone was erected by James Kelly of Hainstown in memory of his wife

Catherine Kelly, alias Hart (?) who dept this life 3rd July …., aged 39 years.

(Source: Power F. (catalogued by, and recorded by members of the Old Dundalk Society), Record of Inscriptions on Headstones and Slabs in Seatown Cemetery, Tempest Annual, Dundalk, 1967)

Dividing Line on MC Research website

Captain Bernard Johnson.
Captain Johnson died in Liverpool, England, and is buried in the Chord Cemetery, Drogheda, County Louth.

The headstone Inscription states:

Erected AD 1850 by Captain Bernard Johnson of Drogheda, in memory of his four children, Joseph, Thomas, Edward and Mary Anne who died young. Also the remains of his wife Margaret Johnson who died 3rd August 1854 age 37 years. The above Captain Johnson who died 18th January 1880 aged 69 years.

Erected by Captain Bernard Johnson of Drogheda, in memory of his father James Johnson who died 16th February 1855 aged 70 years.

(SOURCES: Garry, James, Drogheda - The Chord Cemetery - History and Tombstone Inscriptions, Drogheda, 1999 & Drogheda Argus dated 24 January 1880)



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(Original uploaded 10 April 2008) Last update 16 December 2022.