The sinking of the Royal Charter

poster with illustration of large sailing ship

Sailing bill of the Royal Charter from the Martime Archives and Library. 55.507.3 Archive reference SAS/33F/3/8

26 October 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of the loss of the emigrant ship Royal Charter. Find out more about some of the objects from this famous ship that are on display at the museum in the collection highlights below.

History of the Royal Charter

Owned by Gibbs, Bright and Co of Liverpool, the Royal Charter was one of the fastest and most famous emigrant ships during the years of the Australian Gold Rush.

In October 1859 she was on the last leg of her two month journey from Melbourne to Liverpool, carrying 452 men, women and children, and a cargo of gold valued at £320,000. Unfortunately she sailed into the worst storm that had hit the Irish Sea that century. The storm was later referred to as the Royal Charter storm as the tragedy became so infamous.

As conditions worsened in the evening of 25 October Captain Taylor had to decide whether to shelter at Holyhead, or to carry on towards Liverpool. He chose the latter and she slowly made her way towards Anglesey and into Liverpool Bay. Near Point Lynas the Captain signalled to Liverpool Pilot Boat number 11, but conditions were so bad that the pilot could not reach the ship.
After all efforts to control the ship failed they anchored the ship, as the hurricane-force winds and waves battered against her. Both anchors broke and the ship was driven towards Moelfre Bay.

In the early hours of 26 October the Royal Charter was forced on to rocks only fifty yards from the shore. The ship was repeatedly battered against them with such force that she broke into two pieces.

Many passengers perished as they were hurled against the rocks. Others made attempts to swim to shore but were weighed down by the gold in their pockets and drowned. One seaman, Joseph Rodgers, tied a rope around his waist and managed to swim to shore. He secured the rope and aided the rescue of the 39 survivors - all men.

Bodies continued to wash up on the beach over the weeks following the shipwreck, and a memorial was placed on the cliff top, reading:

"Where the Royal Charter met its end and the memory of those who died."

Collection highlights

Some significant objects related to the Royal Charter wreck from the museum's collection are on display in the Emigrants to a New World gallery.