Oh, who would love or who would wed
A wandering fisherman, to be
A wretched lonely wife, and dread
Each breath that blows while he’s at sea.
No account of the history of fishing at Newcastle would be complete without including the terrible disaster of Friday, 13th January, 1843 – the worst that ever occurred around the shores of County Down.
On the mountain face overlooking the harbour stands a row of houses – ‘The Widows’ Row’ – which is a constant reminder of that tragic day when 46 fishermen from Newcastle and 27 from Annalong were lost in a storm at sea. T
he following details of the calamity are taken from an ‘appeal-for-funds’ document which was circulated at the time. It was a clear wintry morning when ten yawls (or skiffs) and their crews set out from Newcastle and six from the port of Annalong. According to a contemporary account they were manned by about six men each. The weather being unusually fine for the time of year the fishermen 111 decided to go a little farther beyond their normal fishing grounds – some seven or eight miles out in the channel and according to reports, they had ‘quite an uncommon take of fish’.
About noon the wind veered from south to northwest by west ‘with a terrifying suddenness that gave the crews no chance to prepare against. Worst of all it was accompanied by blinding snow.’ Many of the boats were swamped, and others that struggled to reach the shore against the hurricane, which swept down on them from the mountains with relentless violence, were overwhelmed in the waves. Some were seen to go down by the crews of the few boats which reached the shore, and the crews who did get in were in a state of complete exhaustion.
TWELVE WOULD-BE RESCUERS LOST
Fishermen on the shore realised the perilous position of their comrades at sea, and despite overwhelming odds gallant crews set out from Annalong and Newcastle to help in the rescue operations. One of the melancholiest incidents of the whole disaster was the loss of 12 courageous men who ventured out from Annalong. Throughout the day the families and friends of those in peril waited on the shore and prayed for the safe return of their loved ones. but hopes of seeing them alive began to recede as darkness fell.
Some of those who waited had vivid recollections of a frightening snowstorm 29 years earlier – on 10th January 1814 – when 37 men from Newcastle and Annalong were lost.
As for the number of lives lost in 1843 one of the several ballads written later says 72. another 74 but the official list puts the number at 73. King Street was literally swept of its menfolk – they being principally fishermen. How many souls were saved and the number of boats which succeeded in reaching the shore it is impossible to state exactly.
One account says that only one boat returned. while another states that three made their way to Newcastle and one reached the safety of Killough. John O’Neill of Glasdrumman could recall old timers naming two boats that were saved – the Victoria skippered by John Croskery and the Brothers skippered by ‘Blind’ McVeigh (so called because he lost his eyesight).
The direful effects of the 1843 snowstorm were felt around the entire coast of the British Isles. 154 vessels being reported missing (foundered) off the English. 17 off the Scottish. and 5 off the Irish coasts.
Two years afterwards a sad accident recalled the Newcastle fishing disaster. On Shrove Tuesday. 1845. a surviving boat of the storm of 1843 – the Victoria – was sailing gaily across the sand bar at Dundrum when she struck on the sunken wreck of the Frolic of Liverpool. and seven men and nine women were drowned.
FUND LAUNCHED FOR DEPENDANTS
A public meeting was convened at Newcastle for the purpose of raising subscriptions in aid of the numerous widows. orphans and other dependants who were left destitute as a result of the Newcastle calamity. The Rev. M Moore presided. At Kilkeel a similar meeting. animated by a kindred spirit. was organised. The Newcastle Committee adopted a proposal by the Kilkeel Committee to unite the funds collected for the relief of the destitute families of the lost fishermen and that two-thirds of the sums collected be placed at the disposal of the Newcastle Committee and one-third to that of the Kilkeel Committee.
Here is the text of their appeal: ‘On the morning of the 13th instant, a number of men proceeded to their Fishing Stations off the Morne and Newcastle coast and were for some hours engaged at their occupation when a tremendous gale sprang up against which they were unable to contend. And, after a lengthened but ineffectual struggle to reach the shore, 73 individuals perished leaving 37 Widows, 157 Children and 42 other dependants in a state of total destitution. Of this number 46 men belonged to Newcastle leaving 27 Widows, 118 Children and 21 dependants. And, 27 men belonged to Morne leaving 10 Widows, 39 Children and 76 other dependants. The humane and benevolent it is hoped will sympathise with these helpless sufferers by bountifully contributing to their temporal relief – “For he that giveth unto the poor lendeth unto the Lord”.
NB – Subscriptions will be thankfully received and acknowledged by the Rev J Moore, the Cottage, Castlewellan; William Beers Esq and William Waring Esq, Newcastle; Viscount Newry and Morne, Morne Park. Rostrevor; Rev J F Close, Kilkeel; T G Henry. Esq. Newry; Messrs Latouche & Co. and Messrs J B Ball & Co. Dublin; Messrs Puges and Bainbridge, St Paul’s Churchyard. and Messrs Goslings and Sharpe, Fleet-street, London.
Generous donations were forthcoming from the gentry, clergy and business people of the area ‘and a laudable emulation prevailed among all classes in relation to this work of charity. Notable among the subscriptions were:
- Countess Annesley and Earl Annesley’s trustees £60 to the Newcastle Committee and a further £30 to the Morne Committee
- trustees of the late Earl of Kilmorey £50
- the Misses Close. Bath £50
- His Grace the Lord Primate £30
- Sir J. and Lady Isham £20
- Countess of Caledon £20
- William Blacker, Co. Armagh £20
Here are the amounts raised by the various collectors –
- By the Newcastle friends £165/ 18/6
- Mr. Henderson, Newry Telegraph Office £56
- Mrs. Lanyon £24/10/4
- Rev. and Mr. Slacke £24/7/4
- Lt. Hill £13/17/6.
- Rev. JR. Moore £51/12
- Mr. Hyland £5
- Rev. Magill, PP £13/16
- Capt. Edwin £10
- Secretaries £19/7/6
- Wm. Beers £66
- B. Bankhead and T. Scott (Rathfriland) £19/13
- Rev. Hunt and Rev. McKee, Castlewellan £19/17/2l/2
- Servants at Donard Lodge £3/4:
- Wm. A. Moore £8/10:
- Capt. and Mrs. Hill £22:
- Mr and Mrs Jones £5
- Homan £35/l/6
- Mr. and Mrs. Edwin £9/5
- Capt. Hill £50
- By the Morne Committee £185/3/0
- Viscount Newry and Morne £29/6/6
- G. Henry £48/5/ 6;
- Rev. F. J. Close £117 /8/0;
- Rev. J. R. Moore £10;
- Mr. Floyd £2;
- Walmsley £1.
Grand Total £1,016/2/10l/2
LIST OF FISHERMEN LOST OFF COAST OF NEWCASTLE ON THE 13th OF JANUARY 1843 AND NUMBER OF WIDOWS, ORPHANS AND OTHERS DEPENDANT