Detailed historical account of the Dublin Bay lifeboat disaster

797px-The harbour in Kingstown Co. Dublin Ireland in about 1895 - Original

        Maritime historian Cormac Louth offers a vivid insight to the tragedy of 24th December 1895


                                            By Cormac Louth, reproduced by kind permission

In 1895, the Finnish registered sailing ship PALME was wrecked in Dublin Bay. The wreck gave rise to a great tragedy. By a terrible irony, all nineteen people aboard the ship were saved, including the Captains wife and child, while all fifteen of the crew of the Kingstown lifeboat, CIVIL SERVICE NO 7, were lost as they went out to try to effect a rescue. The loss of the lifeboat crew represents the worst tragedy ever to have occurred in the history of the R.N.L.I. in Ireland and it was one of the worst in the history of the lifeboat organisation since its foundation in 1824. Included in the crew were a father and son and two pairs of brothers. Most of the men were married and a total of thirty-four children were left fatherless including two who were born after the tragedy. An even greater disaster was narrowly avoided when the Kingstown No.1 lifeboat, the HANNAH PICKARD, capsized during an attempt to reach the wreck on that fateful morning of Christmas Eve, 1895.

     December 1895 had begun with south-westerly gales which continued to blow without moderating as the wind direction backed around to southeast. This brought a trail of devastation in its wake on land and sea. The River Lee overflowed its banks in Cork and the towns of Skibbereen and Bandon were flooded. Clonmel in Tipperary suffered the same fate. The Blessington steam tram found the road impassable at Tallaght and a local man, Mr. Nicholson, was drowned in a flood in the same locality. Pedestrians had difficulty walking due to high winds and there was great damage to windows from flying slates. Rainstorms swept Dublin city for days. The final week of the year saw the ferocity of the gales increase, bringing disaster around the entire coast with a great number of ships wrecked on the shore or sunk at sea. These included the MORESBY, MARY SINCLAIR CITIZEN, ELIZA, ARIZONA, ARDENDEE, PARAGON, VIOLET, BELLE O‘BRIEN and the schooner MOUSE in Kingstown Harbour. Many lives were lost but many more were saved by the heroic actions of the lifeboat crews around the coast in boats that were propelled by oars and sails and crewed by hardy seamen and fishermen who were prepared, at a moments notice, to risk their lives to save others. Such were the two lifeboats that headed out to the wreck of the PALME.

     The PALME was a wooden hulled, three-masted, full-rigged sailing ship of 997 tons, registered in Mariehamn. She was owned by Axel Eriksson of Lemland in the Aland Islands in Finland, which was then a province of Tsarist Russia. At the time of the wreck, the PALME was the largest ship owned in the Aland Islands, which are in The Gulf of Bothnia in the northern Baltic Sea. A nephew of Axel Eriksson, Gustav, continued to operate large cargo-carrying sailing ships at a profit until after World War 2.

      In 1895 the world of sailing ships was already in decline and ships like the PALME were being run on a shoestring with reduced crews, many of whom were just boys. It was an era of depressed freight rates and competitive hardship. Tall ships had not yet become cult objects and the era was largely devoid of the romanticism which later generations would attach to such sailing ships. The PALME was not insured at the time she was wrecked as the owner later indicated that he could not afford the premium.

     The PALME was built as the FREDERIC TUDOR in 1866 in the yard of John Taylor of Boston, Massachusetts and she represents a direct link with the great era of clipper ship-building which took place in the United States before the Civil War. The specifications would have been similar to those of the clippers although her lines were somewhat fuller with more cargo space. Ships like the PALME were known as ‘Downeasters’ and they were very strongly built to withstand the rigours of Cape Horn and the Roaring Forties. The fact that the PALME was so strongly built and did not break up when she grounded in Dublin Bay contributed in no small way to the salvation of the crew.  Frederic Tudor, for whom the ship was named, was known as the ‘Ice King of America’.  He conceived the idea as a young man of carrying natural ice by ship to the Tropics. He had made an enormous fortune by delivering ice to places as far afield as Hong Kong and Calcutta, packed in layers of sawdust insulation. Tudor died in the same year that the ship was built. In 1874 the ship was purchased by J.D. Bischoff & Co. of Bremen, Germany, and the name was changed to PALME. In 1893 the ship was sold to Axel Eriksson.

      After an extensive re-fit in Mariehamn, the PALME loaded a cargo of timber and sailed for Liverpool in September 1895 with the owner’s son, Axel Wiren, as first Mate. On December 18th. she sailed in ballast, bound for Mobile in Alabama to load pitch pine with Axel Wiren now as captain as he had just gained his masters certificate. With him were his wife Lydia and his baby daughter of five months, Esther Miranda. The crew of seventeen included an Irishman, Thomas Mullen from Belfast, two Englishmen, a German and two Swedes. The remainder of the crew were from Finland and included one lad of thirteen who had stowed away aboard the ship in Mariehamn. When the ship left Liverpool he had been signed on as a full crew-member  

      When the tug was cast off, the ship immediately encountered gales and, after rounding Holyhead and heading southwards, down the Irish Sea, they spent many days beating about without making much headway. At one stage they sighted the Tuskar rock off Wexford but conditions were too hazardous to proceed further and the decision was made to turn about and sail back up the Irish Sea. In the early hours of Dec. 24th The ship was off the Rockabill Lighthouse with many of the sails blown out and hanging in tatters from the yards. The Captain, having decided that the ship was in danger as the crew had not had much sleep for several days and were exhausted, decided to make a run for Dublin Port. With some difficulty they turned the ship about. As they passed the Kish Lightship the visibility worsened with constant rain squalls and the captain now made a fateful decision to head for Kingstown Harbour in front of the howling easterly gale. Their course carried them directly to the mouth of the harbour but they were unable to alter course quickly enough to bear off into the safety of the great granite walls of the harbour. Both anchors were let go outside the end of the West Pier at about 9a.m. and, as the ship came to, she began to pitch and roll violently.

     An attempt was made to launch one of the ship’s boats but this was quickly abandoned and signals were made requesting a tug. Almost immediately, crowds began to make their way down the West Pier and they could hear the creaking and groaning of the tautened links of the anchor chains above the roar of the gale. Most eyewitness accounts agree that waves were breaking over the East Pier, sending sheets of spray over the lighthouse. The Bay was described as ‘a seething mass of foam and spray as far as the eye could see’. It is unclear whether the anchor cables parted or if the anchors began to drag, but shortly after, the PALME began to drift westwards into the upper reaches of the south side of Dublin Bay. The crew began to display the signal flags N &C, denoting, ‘I am in distress and need assistance’.

      The Harbour Master of Kingstown, Captain the Honourable Francis G. Crofton, R.N. was also the secretary of the Kingstown Lifeboat. He had been made aware of the plight of the PALME from the moment she was first sighted at the Harbour entrance.  He immediately went to the master of a small steam tug that was stationed in Kingstown harbour and asked him to go to the assistance of the PALME. The master of the tug looked out at the sea conditions and informed Captain Crofton that he could not risk his vessel or the lives of his crew by venturing out. Captain Crofton then made a telephone call to the Clyde Shipping Company’s office at 35 Eden Quay. Among their other shipping activities, the Clyde Company maintained a fleet of Steam tugs in various stations around the coast for towing sailing ships in and out of port. Two of their tugs, the FLYING SPRITE and the FLYING SWALLOW were kept in constant readiness at Customs House Quay in Dublin Port and on receiving word of the plight of the PALME from Captain Crofton, they set off immediately downriver with the intention of towing the ship to safety. When they arrived at the mouth of the river between the Poolbeg and the Bull lighthouses they found the sea conditions so bad they were forced to turn back. The FLYING SPRITE took a sea down the funnel while turning about which nearly extinguished the boiler fire. Word was sent by telephone to Captain Crofton who now decided to summon the lifeboat crews at about 10.30a.m. and the station signal-man fired the maroon rockets. By now the PALME had gone aground about halfway between Blackrock and the Poolbeg lighthouse at a spot known as the Razor Bank. In accordance with the recommended procedure for the management of a sailing vessel on the shore in heavy weather, the crew began to cut away the masts and rigging. The main deck was soon awash as the ship heeled over to port.

       A total of twenty four volunteers arrived quickly at the lifeboat-house near the East pier and the larger of the two lifeboats, the CIVIL SERVICE NO. 7, was crewed and made ready for sea. Although this boat was designated as the second or reserve boat at Kingstown, she was the natural choice to be first boat away under the circumstances as she was kept constantly afloat. Her dimensions were 42 ft. x 12 ft. and she had been built in 1890 at a cost of £706. In command was Coxswain Alexander Williams and included in the crew was his father Henry, a former Coxswain and holder of the R.N.L.I. silver medal. Most of the other volunteers were harbour workers or fishermen who simply stopped whatever they were doing when the signals were made and hurried along to the lifeboat house.  While the crew of the CIVIL SERVICE NO.7 were kitting up with oilskins, sou’westers, sea-boots and cork lifejackets, Captain Crofton decided to send out the other lifeboat also. This was the HANNAH PICKARD, which was kept on a launching trolley in the lifeboat house. Her dimensions were 37 ft. x 8 ft. and she had been built in 1888 at a cost of £527.

         Captain Crofton went in his steam launch to the guard-ship H.M.S. MELAMPUS and made a request to the Captain for volunteers to make up the second crew. It is said that when volunteers were called for that the entire crew stepped forward. A party of six, under Chief petty officer George Albert Rodgers, were detailed off to make up the crew of the lifeboat and they were taken back to the lifeboat-house by the steam-pinnace of the guard-ship. The HANNAH PICKARD was made ready and the Steam-pinnace towed the CIVIL SERVICE NO. 7 down to the mouth of the harbour. The two lug-sails were set and as the towrope was cast off and the lifeboat surged out into the bay, they were cheered on by the crowds on the West Pier.

        There are many accounts in existence of the events that now unfolded. Many people were watching from the shore with binoculars and telescopes and several of the crew of the PALME later gave depositions at the various enquiries. As the lifeboat sailed towards the vicinity of the wreck of the PALME, the masts and sails were seen to be lowered and the oars were made ready with the probable intention of coming about on the lee side of the wreck. As this manoeuvre was being carried out, a huge wave completely capsized the lifeboat, throwing all of the crew into the water. This was the awful moment of tragedy. The lifeboat was designed to be self- righting but she remained upside down and although some of the crew managed to scramble aboard the upturned hull, they were soon swept away, encumbered as they were with sea-boots and oilskins. This happened in full view of the crew of the PALME, who now attempted to become the rescuers. They made an attempt to launch one of the ship’s boats but it was immediately dashed to pieces against the ship’s side. Had the lifeboat righted herself most of the men would surely have been able to get back aboard, however, in the overcast conditions they were soon washed out of sight in the heavy seas and all were to perish from drowning or exposure.

      The HANNAH PICKARD under Coxswain Horner had followed the other lifeboat about fifteen minutes later and they now headed in the direction of the wreck. When they were within sight of the upturned hull of the CIVIL SERVICE NO. 7, they too capsized and several men were thrown into the water. Unlike her larger sister, the HANNAH PICKARD righted herself and the men managed to get aboard. The boat now partially capsized again and when she righted, the mizzen-mast and sail had carried away and about half of the oars had been lost from the boat. There was now no hope of reaching the PALME or the other lifeboat and the crew let go the anchor while they managed to get the boat into some order. To turn about and head back to Kingstown harbour was out of the question so they headed for the only place on the shore that might afford them some shelter. This was the small pier near Blackrock known as Vance’s Harbour. They managed with great difficulty and some help from those on the shore to get the boat in behind the pier and some damage was caused to the hull in the process. Waves were washing over the nearby railway wall. Many of the distraught relatives of the other lifeboat men had come down to the pier and were greeted with nothing but bad news. The crew were given tickets by the railway Stationmaster to return to Kingstown by train and the coastguards took charge of the boat. Throughout the rest of the day, several boat builders worked feverishly to repair the boat in order to get it back into service. Later, a lifeboat crew remained on standby which included some of the men who had been out in the boat earlier.

      Crowds of people walked the shore well into the night and lights were placed in windows around the bay. It was all to no avail. When Christmas morning broke, those on the shore began to find the bodies of the dead lifeboat-men. Thirteen bodies were recovered, nine at Merrion and four at Seapoint. The lifejackets belonging to Henry Williams and William Dunphy were also found and their bodies were not recovered until several days later. Henry William’s body was found off Ireland’s Eye at Howth and that of William Dunphy was found near the Poolbeg Lighthouse. The gale continued unabated throughout Christmas Day and an attempt to tow the Poolbeg lifeboat from the Liffey by the tug FLYING SPRITE was abandoned. The crew of the PALME had spent a miserable night aboard the wreck and on Christmas Day they managed to make some coffee. Mrs. Lydia Wiren was afterwards commended for the encouragement that she gave to the crew. Everything aboard was awash and all hands crowded into the starboard side of the poop-house to gain shelter when the tide was low. The main deck-house had been swept away and all hands had to come out on deck at high water.

      On St. Stephen’s Day the weather had abated to some extent and a ship was seen steaming towards the wreck. This was the Irish Lights tender TEARAGHT under Captain Thomas Mc Combie that was stationed in Kingstown. Captain McCombie had kept steam up after failing to get out into the bay on the previous day. They dropped anchor about a mile from the wreck and the ship’s long-boat, with Capt. McCombie in command and his fourteen year old son Leopold Henry in the crew, made two trips to the wreck and took all hands to safety aboard the TEARAGHT. On the second trip to the wreck the boat was almost upset. They were given a rousing reception at the Harbour and Capt. McCombie was first ashore carrying baby Esther Miranda. The crew were accommodated in the Royal Marine Hotel and later at the Seamen’s Rest Home on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.

       An inquest was convened on Christmas Day in the Morgue on Londonbridge Road where nine of the bodies reposed. Verdicts of death by drowning were arrived at after much debate as to the cause of the failure of the boat to right itself. A great many theories about this were advanced at the inquest and at subsequent enquiries carried out by the Board of Trade and the R.N.L.I.. This became the crux of the matter and a ‘blame culture’ quickly arose. There was even some imputation upon the dead lifeboat-men implying that various procedures were not carried out by them. It was a mystery that has never been solved. Many were of the opinion that the boat may have been damaged by touching the sea-bed when she capsized. In addition, many holes were made in the boat when it came ashore to see if anybody was trapped underneath and people took away pieces of the boat as souvenirs.  The lifeboat was built to an incredibly high standard and had been designed by the foremost naval architect of the day, George Lennox Watson, the man who designed the first Royal Yacht BRITTANIA. Several righting tests were carried out on a sister lifeboat in Cork Harbour shortly after and during each test, the boat righted itself. Captain Crofton received some very unfair criticism also to the extent that he felt obliged to publish a pamphlet about the matter.

      A public funeral for the lifeboat-men took place on Saturday, December 28th. to Dean’s Grange Cemetery. Shops and businesses were closed and flags flew at half-mast on ships in the harbour. Thousands of people filed past the coffins beforehand and huge crowds lined the route all the way to the cemetery. The funeral procession left the Town Hall at about 1 p.m., led by the band of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, followed by the crew of the PALME, the men of the HANNAH PICKARD, officers and men of the TEARAGHT and the local fishermen. Thirteen hearses, each pulled by four black horses, came next, followed by the carriages of the mourners and the civic dignitaries and then the general public. The route took them out of Marine Road and into Cumberland Street, into Old Dunleary and along the seafront by Seapoint to Temple Hill and up Stradbrook Road to Deans Grange Cemetery. The dismal sight of the black hull of the wrecked PALME and the upturned lifeboat, which by now had drifted ashore, would have been visible en- route. The funeral procession took about an hour to pass and the entrance to the cemetery was lined with a guard of honour from H.M.S. MELAMPUS. Rev. R.N. Somerville with Rev. Darling of the Mariner’s Church in Kingstown, and Rev. Father Flavon from St. Michael’s Church, officiated at the gravesides and there were scenes of unimaginable grief as the coffins were lowered.

      Six of the lifeboat-men were Protestants and their graves can be seen to the left of the main entrance.  Nine were Roman Catholics and they are interred to the right of the central path a short distance in. The funerals were paid for by the R.N.L.I. and the graves are cared for in perpetuity.  It is a little sad that the fifteen lifeboat-men from various religious persuasions who were united in life in pursuit of a common purpose of the most noble sort, the saving of human life, should be divided in death. Their actions convey a very powerful message across more than a century to everybody on this Island today.

     There is a piece of granite near the present lifeboat house in Dun Laoghaire, dedicated to the memory of the dead lifeboat-men. It once formed part of the base of the nearby King George Monument and it was moved to a higher spot when the walkway was constructed. The stone is inscribed with the names as follows,

               Alexander Williams, Coxswain.

Henry Williams, ex Coxswain              Henry Underhill  
Francis Saunders                        John Bartley
George Saunders                        William Dunphy
Edward Shannon                        Thomas Dunphy
Patrick  Power                          Edward Murphy
Edward Crowe                          Francis McDonald
John Baker                             James Ryan

       The entire country seemed shocked with the horror of what had happened and public meetings were immediately organised for the purpose of establishing a fund for the dependents. On the evening of the tragedy, a meeting was held in the Kingstown town hall, which was chaired by Mr. Adam Findlater, Chairman of the Kingstown Commissioners. He was a man of boundless energy who spared no effort in trying to raise money for the fund that was established that evening. The bulk of the fund was eventually drawn together from three strands, The Lord Mayor’s Mansion House Fund, The Irish Times fund and the Kingstown Commissioners Fund. The hearts of people everywhere were touched by the tragedy and they responded generously. Money came in from all parts of the country and beyond and all contributions were listed meticulously in the newspapers. The names of some prominent people of the day are to be seen there and many well-known business firms, whose names still figure prominently in Irish commercial life, donated generously.  The R.N.L.I. made the biggest contribution of £2,200. Lord Cadogan, the Viceroy, contributed £25 and his wife sent £5. Arthur Guinness & Co. donated €100. The Lord Mayor of Dublin sent three guineas and the Lady Mayoress gave two guineas. The Trustees of Nelson’s Pillar gave £10 and Master Willy Fearon, aged three, sent the contents of his moneybox, thirteen shillings and a penny, “for the children who had lost their fathers”.  All of these were considerable sums of money at the time, nevertheless, when Queen Victoria sent a telegram of sympathy and donated £30, an amount that was seen as paltry by some, it inspired the following piece of satirical verse that was published in the Evening Herald on Tues. Dec. 23rd.

    Widows, orphans, loudly crying,
    Gracious Majesty is sighing
    While her purse strings she is tying,
    What the Queen does must be right.
    Of her subjects growing fonder,
    In her royal palace yonder,
    Sends she, (after days to ponder),
    “Sympathy”, her widow’s mite.


    The practise of writing ballads about current events was seemingly still in vogue in 1895 and the author has collected eight poems and ballads about the lifeboat tragedy, some from ballad sheets and others from the newspapers. The late Mr. Robbie Brennan, former Manager of the Maritime Museum and long serving Chairman of the Dun Laoghaire Borough Historical Society, was at one time associated with a theatrical group and, while moving some of the stage in the Dun Laoghaire Town Hall, he found one of the original programmes for a concert given for the lifeboat fund, which he gave to the Author. Admittance to the concert cost two shillings and sixpence and the programme was as follows,
             PART 1.                                      PART 11.

1. Duet.   -   “Echoes”  -          Moin.      1. Piano solo.                         --
Miss Clara Lepier and Miss Mary Douglass.               Miss Florence O’Connor.
2. Recit. And Aria. “Di Tanti Palpiti”  Rossini.    2. Song . “The Wedding Day”    Blumenthal
        Miss Mary Douglass                           Miss Mary Douglass.
3. Old English Ballad “Hearts of Oak.” Boyce     3. Song.   “The Maid of the Mill”  Adams
        Mr. Charles Kelly                             Mr. Melfort D’Alton.

4. Scena.   “Son Vergin Vezzosa”    Bellini      4. Song.   “The Kerry Dance”      Molloy
        Miss Lucy Ashton Hackett.                      Miss Lucy Ashton Hackett.

5. Violin Solo. “Romanza Appassionata”          5. Song. “ Rocked in the Cradle Of the Deep”
        Miss Victoria Delaney.      Popini                      Mr. Charles Hanlon.

6. Song.    “Heaven and Earth”     Pinsuti      6. Song (by desire) “The Lady of the Lee”
        Miss Jeanie Rosse.                            Miss Jeanie Rosse.       Smart.

7 Song.    “The Sailor’s Grave.”    Sullivan.     7. Violin Solos, (a) Nocturne no.2.   Chopin,
         Mr. Melfort D’Alton.                      (b) “Hungarische Tanze”      Brahms.

8 Song.      “Sognai.”            Schira.      8. Song. “I’ve Something Sweet ToTell You”
          Miss Clara Lepier.                   Miss Clara Lepier               Faning.

                                          9. Trio.          “The Gipsies”     Glover.
                                         Miss Hackett, Madame Rosse & Mr. Hanlon.

Several other benefit concerts were organised including one in the Star Theatre of Varieties, which was owned by Adam Findlater and run by the renowned Dan Lowery.  Special collections that were taken up in churches were listed in the newspapers and a great many anonymous donations were sent in. Various sums were also donated for the crew of the PALME. By the following March, the fund was closed and the total amount in the bank stood in excess of £17,000-00. The widows were being paid one pound per week from the outset of the fund and in addition they were given the one pound and ten shillings gratuity that would have ordinarily been given to the lifeboat-men for the service. It is difficult to arrive at a figure with which to multiply the amount in the fund in order to equate it to the values of the early Twenty-first Century. An approximate figure might be 150. This would represent about two and a half million euro in today’s money. I could find no account of how the fund was eventually disbursed or what became of the residue of the fund. Such funds were normally wound up about seventy years after the event. It is significant that the Trustees of the TAYLEUR fund, which was initiated in 1854 in the aftermath of the tragic wreck on Lambay Island, donated £100 to the lifeboat fund in 1895. The residue of this fund was given to the R.N.L.I. in 1919 towards the cost of the first motorised lifeboat in Kingstown.

     The crew of the CIVIL SERVICE NO. 7 were all highly experienced seamen,
Alexander Williams, aged 37 had been permanent Coxswain for several years, he lived at the Harbour Yard Cottages beside the Town hall and was married with six young children .

Henry Williams, father of Alexander, aged 66 had preceded his son as Coxswain when he retired in 1893. He had about forty years experience in lifeboats and he was the holder of the R.N.L.I. silver medal that had been awarded to him as Coxswain of the lifeboat HECTOR, following a most arduous and heroic attempt to rescue the crew of a sailing ship, the GEORGE H. OULTON, which had stranded at Sutton Creek on the north side of Dublin Bay on October 31st., 1881. He, also, lived at Harbour Yard Cottages and he was employed as the pilot of the Harbour Master’s launch since his retirement as Coxswain in the R.N.L.I.

George Saunders, aged 31, married, lived at 9 Wellington St. Kingstown. He was employed as master of a 250 ton steam yacht called the IVOR based in the Royal St. George Yacht club in Kingstown that was owned by a Mr. Gough.

Frank Saunders, brother of George, aged 28. He was a professional yacht skipper. The father of the Saunders brothers was also a yacht skipper. Frank lived at 11 Clarence St..

Edward Crowe aged 33, was a ships captain who lived at 11 Tivoli Rd.

John Baker aged 33 was a sailor who lived at 3 Wellington place. He may have been a professional yacht crewman as in a photograph he is wearing a jersey with the name FINOLA and the initials of the Royal Irish Yacht Club.

Edward Murphy aged 30 was a deckhand on the dredger in Kingstown and he lived at Kelly's Court, off Patrick St., Kingstown.

Patrick Power, aged 22 and the youngest of the crew. He lived at 10 Wellington St. and he was employed as assistant boatman and store-keeper at the Royal St. George Yacht Club. He was renowned as a very popular and likeable young man. His brother James was head boatman at the Club.

John Bartley, aged 45 of Clarence St. was a sailor.

Henry Underhill, aged 32 was a Harbour boatman and he lived at Harbour Yard cottages.

Edward Shannon, a boatman aged 28, lived at Harbour Yard Cottages.

Thomas Dunphy, aged 31, lived at Hilton’s Court, which was off Cumberland St. and he was a fisherman.

William Dunphy, aged 28, brother of Thomas and also of Hilton’s Court, fisherman.

Frank McDonald, aged 28, of 7 Crofton Ave., Sailor.

James Ryan, Clarence St., sailor.

     It has been difficult to trace the subsequent lives of most of the thirty-four children of the lifeboat-men. The widow of George Saunders had a baby named George after his death. She later had a small drapery shop in Dalkey Village and young George qualified as a doctor from Trinity College. He served at the front in France during the Great War as a medical officer and afterwards he became a colonial medical officer in the Gold Coast in West Africa. He retired in 1960 and went back out to Africa to do voluntary medical work but was killed in a car crash. The widow of Alexander Williams, Harriet, forbade any mention of the lifeboat ever again in her house and asked her sons never to go to sea. The eldest son Harry joined the Royal Naval Flying Corps during World War1 and he became a pilot officer of a motorised airship, stationed at Polegate. While on anti- submarine patrol over the North Sea, he was shot down but was picked up by a British destroyer. His co-pilot on that occasion was killed. He later emigrated to America and settled near Philadelphia where he married his childhood sweetheart, Emily Clegg from Blackrock. Thomas Dunphy’s daughter, Sarah Wall, died in 1981, aged 91 and she is buried with her father in Dean’s Grange. She would have been about five at the time of the tragedy and would probably have remembered it. Frank Saunder’s widow, Frances Elizabeth, is buried with him as is his daughter, Janet Owens of Holyhead. An inscription on their headstone reveals the melancholy fact that Frances was lost on the mail-boat, R.M.S.LEINSTER, which was torpedoed by a German submarine six miles east of the Kish lightship on Oct. 10th. 1918. She was travelling over to Holyhead to visit her daughter Janet who died during childbirth three days later.

     Captain McCombie was almost immediately awarded the gold medal of the R.N.L.I., its highest award. In 1874, while serving as second mate on the Irish lights vessel PRINCESS ALEXANDRA, he had participated in the rescue of some of the crew of the brig HAMPTON that went ashore on the North Bull in Dublin Bay and for which he had received the R.N.L.I. silver medal. He gallantly asserted that he was accepting the gold medal on behalf of the crew of the TEARAGHT. He was also awarded the Royal humane Society’s gold medal and he became their representative in Ireland. The Russian Government, at the request of the Tsar, presented the Captain with a silver gilt cup showng a lion holding a shield and a raised lifebelt motif with an inscription which mentions the rescue. This cup and his medals are in the possession of Mrs. Tannis Pond of Vancouver, his great granddaughter. His son, Leopold Henry, was awarded an inscribed pair of binoculars by the R.N.L.I.. He was also given the PALME medal and an inscribed gold watch by the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House Fund Committee. Leopold later joined the British Colonial Service and served as a colonial officer in East Africa. While engaged in a military action there against a force of Germans during World War 1, he was shot and fatally wounded by one of his own men, “A crazed native policeman”, as the report mentions.

      In 1924, the R.N.L.I. celebrated its centenary.  The Institute’s gold medal has often been referred to as the Victoria Cross of the lifeboats and there were eight recipients of the award alive in 1924, including two from Ireland, Thomas McCombie and Father John O’Shea from Waterford. All were invited to Buckingham Palace to receive the British Empire medal from king George V but Father O’Shea did not travel. Those honoured included Coxswain Henry Blogg of Cromer who had received three gold medal awards in addition to four silver medals and the George Cross in a career that spanned two World Wars.

      The crew of the PALME were given some money from the lifeboat fund and all were repatriated. Captain Wiren stayed in Leopardstown for some time in the house of Mr. James Talbot Power, the owner of Power’s Whiskey Distillery in Dublin, before he returned home. One of his last acts before he left was to put the wreck of the PALME up for sale. It was bought by a carpenter named Gaffney from Blackrock for £50 and he built several barns and outhouses from the timbers that he salvaged. There are various artefacts that survive from the wreck. The main companionway from the cabin was used as a stairs in a house in Ringsend named ‘Sandefjiord’. The name-board from the stern of the ship is in the Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire with some model lifeboats made from the timbers of the wreck, and a cork lifejacket. The Dun Laoghaire lifeboat station service-record boards state that the CIVIL SERVICE NO. 7 remained on station until 1898, however, records in R.N.L.I. headquarters in Poole, Dorset, indicate that she was broken up on the shore. This might be borne out by the fact that there is a small table with an inscribed brass plate made from part of the hull of the boat in R.N.L.I. headquarters in Windsor Terrace, Dun Laoghaire. It was purchased in an antique shop in Dublin and given to the R.N.L.I.. There are two paintings of the PALME in existence. One, by the Liverpool artist W.H.Yorke, is in the Alandsjofartsmuseum in Mariehamn. This was owned by Captain Wiren and was donated by his family after his death. The other, which is an obvious copy of the painting by Yorke but unsigned, is in the possession of Mr Daniel Gillman of Bray.

     Captain Wiren and his father, Axel Eriksson, purchased another vessel soon after but it was not a success and Captain Wiren became a customs officer for the Russian Government . He finished his days in Mariehamn working as a builder. His daughter, Esther Miranda later lived in New Zealand and reputedly visited Dun Laoghaire in the 1960s

     The Wreck of the PALME remained visible above water until about 1910 before finally disappearing beneath the surface to become a snag for fishermen who trawled in Dublin Bay illegally. In 1986 an echo sounder revealed that there were substantial remains of the vessel beneath the seabed. A strong reflection would have been gained from the yellow metal with which the bottom of the ship was sheathed. On a subsequent dive on the site, a few pieces of iron and some weed covered timbers sticking out of the sand were all that was visible of a once proud ship.

     Every year since 1970, the Dun Laoghaire lifeboat has been taken out to the site of the wreck of the PALME for a wreath casting ceremony and on the hundredth anniversary of the tragedy on Christmas Eve 1995, I was privileged to be asked to accompany the lifeboat crew. The sea was flat calm and the sun shone as the Trent class lifeboat ANNA LIVIA sped along at nearly thirty knots, in contrast to the dreadful conditions which prevailed one hundred years earlier. The question has often been asked, why did the lifeboat men venture out on that awful day when there was no compulsion to do so? The simple answer given to that question by many other lifeboat men in similar conditions is that they felt that they had to go out to try to save the lives of their fellow seamen. Later there was an ecumenical prayer service at the granite memorial to the lifeboat-men, given by Rev. Canon Wynne of Christchurch and Rev. Father Cassidy of St. Michael’s, which had a large attendance. The old lifeboat-house, which once housed the HANNAH PICKARD, has been refurbished and now houses the inshore inflatable lifeboat. There is a marble plaque there with the following inscription.

     From this stone boathouse in 1895 in a terrible storm, fifteen brave men from this lifeboat station rowed out to rescue the crew of a wrecked ship. Their boat overturned and they were all drowned. Their memorial is a rough granite stone nearby with their names engraved.

        It concludes with the words.

    Their sacrifice is not forgotten.

For as long as men continue to use the sea, and for as long as lifeboat-men continue to go out to attempt to save the lives of those who are in peril on the deep, their sacrifice will never be forgotten.


The lateRobbie Brennan of the Maritime Museum, Dun Laoghaire,
Anita Pensar of the Alands Sjofartsmuseum, Mariehamn.
Barry Cox, R.N.L.I. HQ. Poole, Dorset.
Merseyside Maritime Museum.
National Library of Ireland.
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.
Baker Library, Harvard University.
Commissioners of Irish Lights.
The Mariners Museum, Newport News, VA..
The Deutches Schiffartsmuseum, Bremerhaven
Hart Nautical Collections, M.I.T .Museum, Cambridge, Mass,
Sea Breezes.
Dr. John de Courcy Ireland.
Dr. Edward Bourke.
Desmond Branigan.
Peter Pearson.
Daniel Gillman.
Roy Stokes.
Tony Haynes.
John Stafford.
George and Joan Williams.
Alex Williams.
Stella Archer.
Jim and Berit Love.
Joe Varley.
Tannis Pond of Vancouver
Stephen Wynne.




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The RNLI in Dun Laoghaire Lifeboats have been based on Dublin Bay for more than 200 years and this service is one of the oldest in the world. The RNLI is a charity operated locally by volunteers with the support of professional staff experts. The RNLI has one primary aim: to save lives at sea.
For Emergencies at sea: Dial 999 or 112 and ask for Marine Rescue
For routine calls: Dun Laoghaire Station: + 353 1 280 2667
RNLI Divisional BaseAirside
Co Dublin
Telephone + 353 1 8951800
Fax + 353 1 8951801
Location The Lifeboat Station
Harbour Road
Dun Laoghaire
Co. Dublin