The survey of Lough Derg in 1839

In 1839 Commander James Wolfe RN and Lieutenant R B Beechey RN surveyed Lough Derg; they produced an Admiralty Chart and Commander Wolfe wrote sailing directions (available here).

Lough Derg

But while surveying they also made drawings — watercolour Views of Lough Derg — showing what a ship’s master might see from certain locations on the lake. Those drawings were held in the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office until 2003, when they were transferred (with other historic documents) to the National Archive of England and Wales.

I have paid the appropriate fee permitting “reproduction of images of documents from The National Archives on an open non-commercial website” and I show some of the drawings here. I am required to show them at low resolution; you’ll get a somewhat larger version if you click on each in turn, but it will still be well below full size.

I have included expanded versions of two vessels. One, a cutter, seems to appear in several of the drawings and I guess that it might be the surveyors’ own vessel. The other is a steamer towing barges up the lake.

The first two drawings go together: at the right-hand edge of the first, and left-hand of the second, the letters a and b show where they should be joined. These drawings seem to have been made from a point inshore of a line between Youngs Island and Holy Island, off Mountshannon.

Scanning from Youngs Island to Aughinish

Scanning from Ballynagleragh to Holy Island

Here is a rough indication of the spot from which the sketches were made. Holy Island is the large island on the left of the field.

Youngs Island to Holy Island

The description of the next pair of drawings does not give the location and I have not been able to identify it; if you can do so, please leave a Comment below. The style is (to my untutored eye) different from that of the other drawings.

The small boat on the shore looks to have square ends. The sailing boat is the one that I think may be the surveyors’ vessel. The second drawing shows two items that might be barges moored close to the shore.

Unidentified view 1 of 2

Unidentified view 2 of 2

The next drawing is not part of a set. It shows a steamer, towing at lest two barges, coming north from Killaloe past Parkers Point. The drawing shows Holy Island on the right of the picture.

Steaming past Parkers Point

The drawing is from somewhere near the intersection of these two red lines.

The field of view from Parkers Point to Holy Island

Here is a close-up of the steamer.

Steamer passing Parkers Point

The next drawing is looking south to the bottom of Lough Derg, where the River Shannon leaves the lake to run through Killaloe. On the left is  the Derry estate slate quarry, with the ruin of Derry Castle a little to the right of it. In the centre of the drawing, a cutter (the one I think was used by the surveyors) is coming upriver. The smoke of a steamer can be seen to the right of that, with a small sailing boat further to the right. This last is of crude design, with a small square sail; its cargo is piled high, so it may be turf (peat).

Looking south towards Killaloe

It took me some time to work out what the next drawing shows. It has Tinarana House on the left, with what looks like a large wall around it. But the drawing seems to be done from close in to the western side of the lake, because the land on the right-hand side of the drawing is on the eastern side and the steamer is heading north up the lake, again towing barges. It’s on a different day from the Parkers Point drawing, because this time the steamer has sails set.

Tinarana (west side) to Castletown (east side)

Here is a relevant section of the map.

Off Tinarana

The final drawings constitute a set of three. They were done from off Nutgrove, on the west side of the lake, and take in a large area of the lake.


The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company originally used Nutgrove Harbour and the quay at Hollands but, in 1834, adopted a suggestion from Thomas Rhodes and built a new base at what is now Williamstown, by joining Cow Island to the shore; it also built a hotel there. The Grand Canal Company, however, used Hollands and Nutgrove; Williamstown was not used after the Dublin Company ceased carrying on the lake. Just to confuse things, by the time of the ~1900 OSI map, Hollands was being called Williamstown Quay.

From Nutgrove to Williamstown

Here is the first of the three drawings. It stretches from Belview Point on the left to Illaunmore on the right.

Belview to Illaunmore

In the second, Annagh Castle is just to the left of the small boat; Blackfort Castle (south of Puckane) is towards the right of the drawing.

Annagh to Blackfort

Finally, the third shows Dromineer Castle on the left and Nutgrove (on the Clare — but at the time Galway — shore) on the right. The cutter is anchored off Nutgrove; there is a steamer off Williamstown, as well as what looks like a sailing boat with its sails off.

Dromineer to Nutgrove

Here, to end with, is a close-up of what I think to be the surveyors’ vessel.

The surveyors’ vessel off Nutgrove

The equivalent drawings of Lough Ree are here.


12 responses to “The survey of Lough Derg in 1839

  1. Brian,

    Sorry I missed the launch but I had meetings that went on very late by th time I got out of Gaway city I was going to be very late.

    I hope that it went off well.

    The MURROUGH sank on Satuday night in our harbour diring the strong gale, so we have a lot of work now to get her back in commission. The joys of owning a barge!

    Best regards

  2. I have replied direct, offering sympathy on the sinking of the Murrough. The launch of Donal Boland’s chart in Mountshannon was standing room only. bjg

  3. Sorry to hear that John. Hope all goes well in the recovery.

    Mick F

  4. I think that the first un-identified drawing is from the shore near the barracks in Luska bay out towards Scariff. The second one looks to me like it’s from the shore to the west of “Judy Snuff” (at the mouth of the river in Killaloe) looking NE to Tountinna.

  5. Thanks, John (and welcome aboard). Whence the name “Judy Snuff”? bjg

  6. Pingback: A problem in trigonometry | Irish waterways history

  7. I believe that photo “Unidentified view 1 of 2” is Ballyvalley looking north on the Clare shore. Taken near Brian Boru Fort

  8. Aha! Thank you. I think you’ve got it: that makes sense, and would fit with John L’s identification of the second part as looking west to Tountinna. The barges then are moored off Ryninch. bjg

  9. Great to see the drawings and survey
    Brings back great childhood memory’s growing up
    In Garrykennedy and all the great boatmen and boat builders
    On lough derg
    Best wishes
    Donal Devaney

  10. You’re welcome. Plenty of water in Lough Derg at the moment. bjg

  11. Please can you tell me what type of anchor to use in loughderg and what does the bottom of the lake consist of??

  12. I’m afraid I don’t know about anchors. Your best bet might be to join the IWAI Forum and ask there. bjg

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