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April 1, 2010

For the few days Redding stayed with my family he told many tales of the sea to my daughter; which enthralled her as it did the rest of the household. Two of the stories I subjoined in my journal and I repeat here for the readers pleasure.


A SHIPWRECK On the 31st December, 1815, I was, as most sailors who have been paid off are, very anxious to obtain employment on the New Year’s Day, under the prevalent belief that they will therefore be in active service for the twelvemonth. I remember spending this evening with my sister, and drinking to the hick of the next day, and sure enough I did obtain a birth on new year’s day of 1816, having shipped on board the Sea Horse, No. 2, Transport, then lying in the Thames, and bound for Ramsgate, there to take on troops and thence to Cork.

She was a ship of about 280 tons; her Captain’s name, Gibbs; the Chief mate’s, Sullivan, by whom I was shipped, and that of the second mate, Wilson. We were in all a crew of 18 hands. After some delay we sailed for Ramsgate, and in about a couple of days received on board the skeleton of the 59th foot, just returned from France, where their numbers had been greatly reduced by the destructive carnage of the ever memorable battle of Waterloo. We received 384 rank and file, 30 women, and 40 children. The regiment was under the immediate command of Major Douglas, Colonel Halstead being happily on leave of absence.

About the end of the month we proceeded with a strong and favourable breeze down the Channel for Cork, where I understood the regiment was to be disembodied. In making land on the 29th of January 1816, a violent gale sprung up; we shortened sail, hoping to weather the storm, under close reefed topsail and foresail. At dusk in the evening, the Captain directed his chief mate, being more experienced than himself, to go to the mast head, that he might know what part of the coast we were making. Sullivan an obeyed his orders, but had scarcely reached the fore topmast-head, when slipping he missed his hold, and fell on the forecastle. I immediately ran to his assistance, and found him with scarcely an unfractured bone; he was senseless. I assisted carrying him below to his wife, who as soon as she was aware of his state became deranged, and so continued from that point on. Poor Sullivan died about 1 o’clock in that morning.

In consequence of the affecting loss of his chief mate, Captain Gibbs was very greatly annoyed during the night, and appeared to have lost much of that self-command so essentially necessary to the safety of the vessel, passengers, and crew. The storm increased, and all hands being on deck, I was ordered to keep a lookout from the lee gangway for land. About 4 o’clock in the morning I perceived what was either a fogbank or the land, and reported accordingly to the second mate, Wilson, who ridiculed the idea, and, on my persisting, called the Captain, who had been sitting for some hours on the companion, apparently lost in a reverie. They laughed at my report, and I was forced to content myself with observing that, if they kept on the same tack until morning, they would find themselves on the lee shore. I then turned in, and had scarcely been in my hammock an hour, when all hands were turned up to “clear the wreck.” On reaching the deck, I found the foretop mast gone, and one of the crew aloft, with his thigh broken, in the act of hoisting a signal for a pilot.

The poor fellow cried out for assistance, and we immediately fastened a rope’s end round his body and lowered him down. We then cut away the wreck, letting it go adrift” By this time the Captain had discovered his mistake, and was extremely anxious to stand out at sea, but the foretop mast being gone and the ship not answering to her helm, this was not practicable.

The main stay sail was then bent and set, but the sheets, stay sail, and all were carried away like so much paper. Afterwards we set the main sail, but that shared the fate of the stay sail. Several other expedients were resorted to, but in vain; and the only probable means of saving the vessel now appeared that of up-helming and bearing away for Tremore Bay, the entrance of which we at length reached, and let go an anchor, but the ship dragged, and a second was equally ineffectual to bring her up, she having struck abaft, knocking her sternpost in. Major Douglas then advised the Captain to cut away the mizzenmast, which was accordingly done. The vessel was now filling, and it was about 10 o’clock in the morning. At the time she struck, the soldiers rushed into the quarter-boats, determined on securing the first chance of saving themselves. Whilst the mizzenmast was being cut away, they were advised to leave the boats, which could no longer afford them protection, as they were rigged to the mizzenmast head, and must go over-board, to the imminent danger to those by whom they were occupied. This command, however, they refused to obey. There may have been five and twenty in each boat, and thus were fifty of these poor fellows, through their own obstinacy were dashed into the sea, with many a mangled limb, and lost. We were now in momentary expectation that the ship would founder: the sea was so heavy, and the wind so strong (on the land), that the windlass itself was snapped off, and the only stick standing was the bowsprit. All hands, or at least those who had any self-command or power of thought, were anxiously seeking the means of personal safety. One poor woman, who had been confined but the preceding night, finding the births filling, ran on deck, with her infant in her arms, and screaming for her husband. She was, indeed, distracted, as were many others, and the scene of misery which now presented itself was affecting in the extreme. Major Douglas, (whose wife, daughter of about sixteen, and son somewhat younger, were on board) came out of the cabin, and walking the deck with his hands in his trouser pockets, coolly advanced to the larboard side of the quarter deck, pulled out an elegant gold watch, and hitching the chain and seals round a belaying-pin, called out “This is for any man who lives to get on shore.” Without changing a feature, he descended into the cabin, and rejoined his wife and family. They perished together.

None, however, thought the glittering bauble worth their care, and personal preservation alone engrossed every thought.

In half an hour, none but myself and a young Captain of the regiment were on deck; but many bodies were floating between decks, and many had been washed overboard.

I was standing on the larboard side of the forecastle, supporting myself by the weather belaying pin, and whilst pensively looking towards the shore, reviewing with some regret, my past sins, and bewailing my almost certain separation from home and friends, the Captain addressed me thus:- “Well, sailor, can you swim!” “Yes Sir,” I replied, “but swimming will be of little service with this sea and wind on shore, and against an ebb tide.” Yet if we can swim, we should endeavour to save ourselves. Will you keep me company in the water?” I told him I would. He had previously striped himself to his shirt, and I could not but remark, as somewhat strange, that the only other part of his dress which he retained, was a white night-cap. He said he was ready but asked me whether it was better to keep his shirt on. I replied that it should removed, which he thus did. He jumped into the water, and I was not a minute after him. We kept company, making way towards the shore, for nearly a quarter of an hour. He proposed making towards the rocky. shore which was less than half a mile distance. To this I objected, and advised making for a sandy beach about a mile and a half off. He agreed, but almost immediately sank, and I saw no more of him. I had been a full hour and a half in the water, when I neared a raft formed of spars from the wreck and lashed together. Captain Gibbs and James Thompson, a seaman, were made fast to it, they having resorted to this shift for self-preservation, as they were unable to swim. I speedily joined them in a state of exhaustion, but an overwhelming sea almost immediately washed me beneath it. I was now fully aware of my imminent danger, and heartily glad a few seconds afterwards, to find myself clear of that which had threatened my immediate destruction. I then made for a cask which I perceived floating between me and the shore. From this I derived some assistance, but a sudden wave dashed it against my breast, and I was glad from that time to trust to my own strength as the only chance of gaining land.

A merciful providence protected and strengthened me, and I at length felt the sandy bottom of the Irish coast, and with great reason thanked God for my wonderful delivery from a danger which had been fatal to more than four hundred and fifty of my fellow creatures! I had no sooner felt the ground than two farmers on horseback dashed to my assistance; one on either side, and each catching hold of an arm, carried me, scarcely sensible, to a neighbouring inn. There a gentleman of the name of Hunt was serving out liquor, and attempting to resuscitate others in a like situation. The warmth of the fire, and plenty of good whiskey soon brought me to myself, and I have ever since been fond of Irish whiskey. Most of the very few who reached land alive, died from the cold, a consequent of the lengthened exposure in the water, at that, the coldest period of the year. The Captain, Thompson, and myself, were the only sea-faring men saved, and I do not think there were more than six of the soldiers who also survived the wreck.

We three proceeded the next morning to Waterford, about six miles distant, and experienced every kindness from Mr. Alcock, the then Mayor of that City, who raised a subscription in the Commercial Rooms for the purchase of cloths and other necessities.

I and Thompson reached Bristol with the joint stock balance of 2.1/2d. and we went into the tup of ‘The Artichoke’ public-house at Saint Augustine’s Back, then kept by Mr. Bullock and who is now the landlord of ‘The Ship,’ in Steep Street. Whilst we were considering what we could get for our money, the humane landlady gleaned a knowledge of our situation; and when we asked her for twopence halfpenny worth of bread, she enquired if we had belonged to the Sea-Horse. On receiving an answer in the affirmative, she ordered meat, beer, and bread and cheese to be set before us, provided us with comfortable beds, and the ensuing morning, before we started for London, gave us breakfast and a glass of grog each.

Reaching Bath, we applied to the Mayor for assistance on our route, which he not only refused, but threatened us with imprisonment for our impudence and (as he called it) imposition.

With some trifling difficulties and much distress, we at length reached London, terminating our troubles by looking out for and finding fresh employment.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Barb permalink
    February 18, 2011 10:51 pm

    Thank you so much for the story a brother of my 4xG grandfather was on the Sea Horse Transport.
    Lieutenant Robert Scott

  2. February 25, 2011 9:30 pm

    My pleasure Barb. No other account of this tragedy is as detailed as Thomas Redding’s, and it seems this story sheds much light on a little understood tragedy. I am pleased to be able to share it here, for the record.

    Best wishes,


  3. George Thompson permalink
    December 29, 2011 3:44 am

    The Colonel Halstead, mentioned in the story was, probably, Lt. Col Frederick William Hoysted (1759 – 1818) of Nurney, Co Kildare, Ireland. He was severely wounded in the chateau of Barrouillet on 9th Dec1813 in the Peninsular War but obviously had recovered to be able to be sent to Waterloo.

  4. January 24, 2012 1:10 am

    Thank you George! Most interesting, please feel free to add any more background to this story. Its been a while since I’ve checked in here and there is still much to tell!

  5. Tim Mcneive permalink
    February 12, 2012 7:18 pm

    v interesting from here in Tramore bay

  6. April 14, 2012 1:27 pm

    Thank you for posting this first hand account of a terrible tragedy. Shame on the Mayor of Bath.

  7. August 10, 2012 9:21 am

    Hi James, I am interested in finding out more about Thomas Redding, I am part of a group hoping to comemorate the sinking of the Seahorse in 2016. Any help appreciated.

  8. August 23, 2012 4:10 pm

    Dear James, I have made four posts on this blog about my relationship with Thomas Redding, it is quite exhaustive. I believe it is the only account of his life, as told to me, in existence…. Please correct me if I’m wrong!

  9. Captain Gibbs permalink
    July 7, 2013 10:39 pm

    Reddings’ memory must have been failing him through the grog. No doubt you met him in prison, avoiding excise on Brandy no doubt! I wrote my own account of the shipwreck. My ship, the Seahorse had a burden of 350 tons, and on board were 12 officers, 287 men, 33 women and 38 children and a crew 17 in number.

  10. October 27, 2013 12:53 am

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know who the Mayor of Bath was, by name? Also as a native of Tramore and from a fishing family I was always told it hit ‘Pollock’ rock. However in all my years fishing I never saw the rock, so I am not sure if there is any truth to it. Nice posting James, fascinating to read. Nearly everyone in Tramore has climbed the mound half way to the sand dunes which is where i understand most of the victims were buried.

  11. January 8, 2014 2:42 am

    Thank you for your comments Captain Gibbs and Keith!

    I do not have the answer to your question Keith, sorry. This is indeed a fascinating first hand account of a terrible tragedy. Wether Thomas Redding’s version is a true account of proceedings or not it adds another dimension to the history.

    Captain Gibbs, it seems unlikely that Redding would have invented the story completely. I suppose it is likely he embellished some things here and there as the art of storytelling demands.

  12. January 8, 2014 2:48 am

    It would be most interesting to read Captain Gibbs’ account of the tragedy too, if, as he claims above and I have no reason to doubt, he wrote one.

  13. Captain Gibbs permalink
    April 5, 2014 1:52 pm

    Here’s my account of it, damning as it may be.


    The Seahorse took on board at Ramsgate, on the 24th January, 16 Officers, 287 men, 33 women and 38 children. Crew 17 in number; she sailed on the 25th and the evening falling calm, she anchored in the Downs. About 11 o’clock in the morning of the 26th we weighed anchor, with the wind at N.N.W. Light breeze-about midnight off Dungeness. On the 27th Beachy-Head bearing about north -at seven in the evening off Dunnose, Isle of Wight, and about midnight Portland lights N. E. On Sunday the 28th Off the Start in the morning at daylight, with a fine breeze at N. N. E. -about in the afternoon passed the Lizard lights-at 11 passed the Longships 1 ½ mile distant-at 12 it bore N.N.E., 8 miles distant.
    The 29th in the morning a fine strong breeze at S.S.E.; and at noon freshening very much; about 4 P.M. saw the land about 12 miles distant; observed that it was Ballycotton Island. The mate, John Sullivan, going up the forerigging to look at the land fell down on the forecastle, broke both his legs and arms, and never spoke more-died almost three hours afterwards. Hauled our wind for Kinsale light, blowing a strong gale, and coming on very hazy and dark intending when we saw the light, to run down along the land for the entrance of Cork.; but having run two hours, and not seeing the light, the I began to get doubtful to proceed any further, the weather being so thick and hazy, and a most tremendous sea running, so we close reefed our topsails, and hauled close to the wind, lying W.S.W.
    About 8 o’clock she fell off-wore around on the other tack-most of the night lying, about S.E.-wind about S.S.W.; but owing to the flood tide setting strong on the shore, and a heavy sea running, she drifted very fast inshore. About 5 in the morning saw the land on our lee beam, which was Minehead, and which forms the southern part of Dungarvan Bay-drifting very fast to leeward. At six let a reef out of the topsails and set the mainsail-blowing very hard. About half past 10 a.m., the foretopmast went over the side, and a seaman who was in the foretop had his back and thigh broken. About 11, just after the wreck was cleared, the mainsail split all to ribbons-drifting to leeward very fast-saw the Hook light-house under our lee bow, but the sea sending us so fast to leeward we could not weather Brownstown Head. Clewed up the sails, and brought up under the head in seven fathoms, with both anchors, and near 300 fathoms of cable a-head-the sea making breaches right over us from stern to stern. About 12 the anchors dragged the wind and sea still increasing.
    At ten minutes past 12 she struck; we then cut away the mizzen and main masts; the rudder went off the second strike, the sea breaking most tremendously; in one hour the ship parted by the main hatchway; all the boats had been washed away before. It was a most awful scene-394 souls on board, all clinging to different parts of the wreck! One Officer’s wife and two children in her arms met their fate in the great cabin; a Serjeant’s wife, with her three children clasped to her breast, resigned herself to her fate between decks; women were heard encouraging their husbands to die with them! There was not the least disturbance among them, most of them ejaculating prayers! After she parted we were all washed off.
    About 60 in all reached the shore, but for the want of assistance only 4 officers, 25 soldiers, (two of whom are since dead) myself, and two seamen were saved. Mr Hunt, of Tramore, and his man, Mr. Duckett, jun. and two countrymen, one named Kirwan, were the persons who contributed most to save the lives of the unfortunate people. To the indefatigable exertions of Mr. Hunt, in getting us up to the cottage at the Rabbit Burrow, and sending for spirits to his own house, and lighting large fires for our accommodation, we are principally indebted for our lives.


  14. john permalink
    October 13, 2014 5:22 pm

    Great story, when you think back about self navigation and all the crew giving all together to save first ship and passengers. Would love to here more about related stories.
    John, from tramore.

  15. July 30, 2015 1:40 pm

    That “Mr Hunt” was my 4X great grandfather Arthur Powell Hunt. Thanks very much for posting!

  16. October 17, 2015 1:07 pm

    Could you please contact us at: Many thanks

  17. July 3, 2016 10:10 pm

    Hi James,

    I am a swimmer and blogger whose main haunt is Tramore Bay. Today was the bicentennial ceremony to remember the Sea Horse tragedy with the Irish Navy in attendance. I’d read your article some years ago, but the ceremony crept up on me. I’d like to use parts of it for a two part article I’m writing on the tragedy, (including the sister ships that were affected) combined with my feelings about and familiarity with the bay , and since my readers are familiar with bay through me. I’ve never gotten around to writing about it. I’d fully credit and link you and your site of course. I’m about half way through my draft and will finish and publish it this week, if that’s okay with you.

  18. August 7, 2016 3:00 pm

    Hello, That’s absolutely fine. I’d like to read the article once published. Sorry for slow response I don’t check in here very often.


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