Map showing roughly where the AGILE collided; quite a way away from its Maritime Named Location site and not in Welsh waters! Source gridreferencefinder.com

Locating Welsh shipwrecks

The current project, ‘Making the Link: Lloyd’s Register and the National Monuments Record of Wales’, funded by Lloyds Register Foundation aims to enhance the Royal Commission’s records by linking directly to the Lloyd’s Casualty Returns.

The Casualty Returns record the total losses of vessels worldwide within incremental periods. They contain information on vessels’ details such as name, tonnage, country, cargo, and voyage. See here for example, the steel screw steamship, TREE VILLA, which, apart from its number in the Register Book, includes all the relevant details.

The Tree Villa’s entry in Lloyd’s Casualty Returns for 1 April–30 June 1921, p.7
The Tree Villa’s entry in Lloyd’s Casualty Returns for 1 April–30 June 1921, p.7

Crucially, for the purposes of this project, details are given in the ‘circumstances and place’ column. Here we get the TREE VILLA’s location noted as ‘5 miles S.W. of Stokham [sic] Island’. Stokham’ was sometimes used instead of Skokholm. We can therefore roughly plot the TREE VILLA’s shipwreck location on a map and locate it in Welsh waters.

Here is another example, this time from October 1969. We see the BANGARTH listed in the ‘Foundered’ category. Although some details are missing, such as the voyage and cargo, we do get its ‘circumstances and place’ of loss. Notice here that as well as a geographical location (‘4 miles off Strumble Head’), we also get latitude and longitude coordinates.

The Bangarth’s entry in Lloyd’s Casualty Returns during the quarter ended 31 December 1969, p.51
The Bangarth’s entry in Lloyd’s Casualty Returns during the quarter ended 31 December 1969, p.51

These coordinates allow us to narrow down the geographical location and consequently to map them accordingly. There are also some instances where only coordinates are given, or coordinates with a very general geographical location such as the ARDLOUGH, here:

The Ardlough’s entry in Lloyd’s Casualty Returns for 1988, p.18
The Ardlough’s entry in Lloyd’s Casualty Returns for 1988, p.18

When such information is provided as to the location of the losses, we are able to confidently map a location, or approximate location for the vessels. However, sometimes there are cases when the information provided can be quite vague. See here, for example, the wooden brigantine, AGILE, which appears in the 1909 Casualty Returns.

The Agile’s entry in Lloyd’s Casualty Returns for 1 July–30 September 1909, p.9
The Agile’s entry in Lloyd’s Casualty Returns for 1 July–30 September 1909, p.9

The Returns only provide ‘Bristol Channel’ as the location. As there is no more specific information for us to locate the shipwreck, the AGILE will be given a Maritime Named Location of ‘Bristol Channel’ for its site location. These Maritime Named Locations are a geographical system that the Royal Commission uses to locate sites when specific location details are lacking. These sites, then, are allocated a central grid reference, in this instance for the Bristol Channel. Following these protocols, the AGILE would lie in Welsh waters, as we see from the map here:

Map showing the Maritime Named Location for ‘Bristol Channel’. Source gridreferencefinder.com
Map showing the Maritime Named Location for ‘Bristol Channel’. Source gridreferencefinder.com

However, by searching contemporary newspapers for the AGILE, we can discover more details. In this instance, the article notes that the shipwreck occurred in Barnstaple Bay, off the Devon coast:

Newspaper report noting the Agile’s shipwreck in Barnstaple Bay
Newspaper report noting the Agile’s shipwreck in Barnstaple Bay

This would place the site of the AGILE’S wreck outside Welsh waters. The AGILE, then, was not added to the Commission’s shipwreck records.

Map showing roughly where the AGILE collided; quite a way away from its Maritime Named Location site and not in Welsh waters! Source gridreferencefinder.com
Map showing roughly where the AGILE collided; quite a way away from its Maritime Named Location site and not in Welsh waters! Source gridreferencefinder.com

On the other side of the coin, there are entries in the Casualty Returns, for example the Belgian steamer, TOURQUENNOIS, which also state ‘Bristol Channel’, but no additional source could be found to pinpoint its location. So, for now, the TOURQUENNOIS is allocated the Maritime Named Location and given a general grid reference, which puts it in Welsh waters.

The TOURQUENNOIS as it appears in the Casualty Returns for 1 July – 30 September 1909
The TOURQUENNOIS as it appears in the Casualty Returns for 1 July – 30 September 1909

Sometimes information in documentary sources is lacking. Cross-referencing a variety of sources allows for more precise locations to be established, though, in the meantime, if an example such as the TOURQUENNOIS appears, where its location simply states ‘Bristol Channel’ or ‘Irish Sea’, its loss will be assigned a spatial coordinate defined to represent the centre of the generalised area mentioned.

It is likely that many other sites are noted in the same place, but these are subject to change pending further additional information becoming available, whether through documentary sources or site visits.

Identifying the location of some vessels in the Casualty Returns can sometimes be challenging, but the information gathered in the process adds to our knowledge of Welsh shipwrecks, allowing us to refine our records and strive for greater accuracy.

If you would like to learn more about this fascinating project, Meilyr Powell, Maritime Research Assistant (Lloyd’s Register Foundation), will be giving a number of free online talks over the next few weeks on the Recording Welsh Wrecks project.

  • The first talk will be hosted by the Lloyd’s Foundation Education Centre and will be held on Thursday 8 September at 1pm (https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/4737491448083353358).
  • On 17 September, 1pm, Meilyr Powell will be speaking again on ‘Making the Link : Lloyd’s Casualty Returns and the National Monuments Record of Wales’. This talk will be available in both English and Welsh on the Royal Commission’s Facebook page and Meilyr will be onhand during the afternoon to respond to any questions and comments. https://www.facebook.com/Royal-Commission-on-the-Ancient-and-Historical-Monuments-of-Wales-146120328739808/

    Both talks will then be available to view on the Royal Commission’s YouTube channel. A wide selection of our talks are already available to view on this channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHp_OWuWtBOaBe6zn99fwXA

    Making the Link: Lloyd’s Casualty Returns and the National Monuments Record of Wales’ is a collaborative heritage project which seeks to enhance Welsh shipwreck records through the use of Lloyd’s Casualty Returns. The six-month collaborative project between Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales has so far added over 100 new shipwrecks to the Commission’s records, the National Monuments Record of Wales, in addition to enriching existing records with new information. The revamped online catalogue of Welsh shipwrecks will now include hyperlinks to the Casualty Returns, enabling users and researchers to seamlessly sift from one resource to another and to contextualise Welsh shipwrecks further in global terms. The project has also linked with contemporary newspapers for many of the shipwrecks, ensuring that the Commission’s records include an additional avenue of research for users. By linking Lloyd’s Casualty Returns with the Royal Commission’s shipwreck records, the project enhances the visibility of both institutions and raises awareness of how much of our information on shipwrecks derive from these important documentary sources.

By Meilyr Powel, Maritime Research Assistant (Lloyd’s Register Foundation)

09/07/2020

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