Category Archives: Sea

What shall we do with the drunken sailor?

Liverpool Police. Saturday, Feb 17 [1827]

William Brown, the Sailor:
— a romance in real life

On Saturday last, as the Commerce steam packet, belonging to the City of Dublin Company, was starting from George’s Pier Head, Batchelor, the police constable on duty, called out to the commander of the vessel to hold on for a few minutes, and instantly went on board with two of his assistants, and after a few minutes’ search they returned on shore with one of the passengers in custody, who was dressed in sailor’s clothes, and passed by the name of Wm Brown.

The case of this person’s apprehension was a report which had been communicated to the Constable that a female in a disguise, the description of which corresponded with this person’s attire, had taken a passage for Dublin by the Commerce, which awakened in his mind, not unnaturally, a suspicion that it was some woman who had either escaped from prison, or had been engaged in some robbery, and was flying to evade detection, whom it was therefore his duty to detain for examination before a Magistrate. The dress had been so minutely described, that it was impossible to mistake the person, notwithstanding the addition of a still deeper disguise of intoxication, in which the party was found at the time of making the capture.

When safely lodged in Bridewell and about to undergo a personal examination by Mrs Clayton, the wife of the keeper, finding detection inevitable, the prisoner confessed the fact of her sex and disguise.

In the evening, when perfectly sobered, she stated her name to be Selina Augusta Hamilton. Inquiries which had been made in the interim led to the discovery of the house in which she had been lodging by the Old Dock, and one of the constables was engaged, in the course of the evening, in conversation with the landlady for the purpose of tracing her history, when a respectably dressed man entered the room, to whom the landlady pointed and said “here’s the very gentleman as can tell you all about her”. The gentleman in question proved to be the master of the brig Laura, of New York, lying in Prince’s Dock, whose name we have been told is Duffey.

From the account given by this person, who, we believe, was the cause of her detention, as well as from her own statement, the following particulars of this extraordinary being have been collected.

Her father is said to be a merchant in London, and owner, wholly or in part, of several vessels, one of which was stated to be now lying in George’s Dock. He was said, as we understood it, to have a counting-house at Topham’s (query Topping’s?) Wharf, and a dwelling-house at Shadwell. From his house, it appears that she absconded about three years ago, to follow a young man with whom she had fallen in love. He was the mate of a vessel in the North American trade; and hearing that he had sailed for St John’s, New Brunswick, she came down to Liverpool, and took her passage in a  vessel bound to that place. This part of her story is confirmed by several persons in this town, who recollect having seen her at that period, when they describe her to have been a young lady of fashionable appearance, elegantly dressed, and ladylike in her deportment.

On her arrival at St John’s, she found that the vessel to which her lover belonged had gone to Quebec; thither she therefore followed him, and there she learned that he had been drowned in the passage up the river St Lawrence.

Her determination was immediately taken to become a sailor for his sake, and, doffing her woman’s gear, of which she found means to dispose, and submitting the luxuriant tresses of her flaxen hair to the sheers, in the attire befitting a youth of the station which she assumed, she engaged herself as cook and steward to the master of a vessel bound for London, with whom she remained upwards of twelve months. While the vessel lay in the Thames, she met her father one day in the street, and touched her hat to him as she passed, but so completely was she altered as to defy recognition. In that vessel she served upwards of twelve months, and would still have continued in her, but that the Master, suspecting her secret, at length succeeded in extorting from her an acknowledgement of the truth, and afterwards wished her to remain with him, upon terms to which she would not submit.

Her assumption of the habits of a sailor, it seems, has by no means been limited to the “jacket and trowsers blue”, but the grog and the “backee”, and “the pretty girls to boot”, have all contributed their share towards the completion of the matamorphosis [sic]. Of the grog there was abundant evidence in her condition at the time of her being apprehended; of the tobacco, a token appeared in a well-filled box in her jacket pocket; and for the girls, she has unquestionably been humming them with a few adventures a la Paddingtoni. To one young woman she performed the honours of a regular courtship, underwent the threefold publication of the banns of marriage, and was only prevented from undergoing the ceremony itself, by a timely discovery of the parish officers, that the bride elect was in a condition very shortly to become a mother, when the creature was upon the point of declaring our heroine to be the father of her expected offspring; and then, says the latter, “you know I could not go any further”, and therefore the connection ended.

Since her arrival in Liverpool she has bamboozled more than one of the frail portion of its female inhabitants by affecting a serious attachment; and one night partaking too deeply of the potations to which she invited one of the beauties of Bridge-street, whom she had treated “to the play”, she was robbed by her of the greater part of her earnings by her last voyage.

The discovery of her sex on that occasion secured impunity to the plunderer, who afterwards buzzed it about; and to escape from the disagreeable consequences which the adventure had entailed upon her, she determined to go to Ireland in hopes of being able there to embark in one of the first vessels for British America, that being the trade to which she has attached herself in memory of her lover, William Brown, whose name she had assumed. She has stated since she has been in custody that she will have a fortune of £4000 at her own disposal when she comes of age — she is now not quite nineteen — and that she intends to lay it out in the purchase and equipment of a vessel, of which she expects by that time to have qualified herself to take the command.

She is in person of the ordinary stature of women, but rather stoutly made, and inclining to embonpoint; of fair complexion, with light hair and grey eyes, round face, features by no means handsome, though not unpleasing for a boy.

Yesterday, she was brought up for examination at the Town-hall, before Mr Alderman Peter Bourne, to whom a brief outline of her history had been sketched, the Mr Duffey, of the brig Laura, before named, appearing to state the grounds of her detention, in which, we must say, that for some reason or other, he cut as foolish a figure as any man could desire to do.

Before the lady made her appearance, Mr Duffey stated to the Magistrate that he had become acquainted with the prisoner from seeing her several times in her walk, near her father’s residence, but that he had no acquaintance with her father, whom, however, he knew to be a man of considerable property, as described above.

The prisoner, on being questioned by the Magistrate, said she knew that gentleman (Mr Duffey) very well, having often seen him at her father’s house.

The Magistrate then asked Mr Duffey if he had any thing to say against her; to which he replied, that he wished her to be given into his charge, that he might restore her to her father.

A look of something like surprise was the only comment of the girl upon this application; and the answer was, that he had no authority to give her into his charge. He, however, advised the girl to give up her present mode of life and return to her father.

She said she had made her own choice of her present mode of life, and she did not know why any one should wish to make her leave it. The Magistrate said he had no authority to prevent her from following her inclination, nor to detain her. She was therefore discharged.

Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier 22 February 1827

For qualified MIT pirates only

Curricukum: archery, fencing, pistol (or rifle) and sailing. But

The MIT Pirate certificate is for entertainment purposes only and does not give the recipient license to engage in piracy or any pirate activities.


h/t Tyler Cowen

Evasion of postage

General Post-office, Dublin, 17 March 1838


I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 13th instant, desiring some information as to the modes of sending letters otherwise than by post.

Every species of contrivance that ingenuity can devise is resorted to for the purpose of evading the payment of postage; and though I cannot state decidedly the extent to which it is carried, but judging from the cases wherein the practice has been detected, I can have no hesitation in believing that it exceeds any idea persons in general may have formed of it.

Every coachman, carman, boatman, or other person whose business leads him to travel regularly between fixed places, is a carrier of letters; of this we have daily proof from the number of letters put into this office to be delivered by the penny-post, which have evidently been brought to Dublin by private hands, and which the officers of the sorting-office have estimated at about 400 per day.

Previous to the consolidation of the Post-office laws in August last, an Act, 53 Geo 3 c58, was in force in Ireland, which empowered the Postmaster-general to issue a warrant, upon sworn information, to search for letters illegally conveyed; and in May last a warrant of that description was issued against Patrick Gill, a carrier who travelled regularly between Granard and Dublin, and on his person were found 57 letters directed to persons in Dublin, which he had collected on the road; this Act was however repealed, and the clause which gave that power to the Postmaster-general was omitted in the Consolidation Acts: the Post-office has not now, therefore, that means of checking the illegal conveyance of letters. The fly-boats on the Royal and the Grand Canals, I am informed, carry great number of letters; the former extends to a distance of 90 miles from Dublin, and the latter to 94 miles, and through the entire distance of each of these lines letters are constantly collected for conveyance to Dublin.

The illegal transmission of letters to and from Great Britain has very much increased since the introduction of steam navigation: with the exception of Sunday, private steam-vessels pass daily between Dublin and Liverpool, and in the offices of the agents of such vessels a tin box is kept for the reception, they say, of consignees’ letters; but it is well known that vast numbers of letters of all descriptions are put into them, and the commanders not being compelled by the Custom-house to make the declaration required from masters of vessels from foreign ports, that all have been delivered at the Post-office, do not hesitate to convey them; but I have not any means of giving you a correct idea of the number of letters thus illegally conveyed.

The evasion of postage by means of newspapers, which is similarly injurious to the revenue with the illegal conveyance of letters, is also carried on to a great extent; it is the duty of the Post-office to examine newspapers to see that they are duly stamped and do not contain any writing or enclosure, and it is the practice to do so, as far as the vast number of them and the shortness of time will admit, without delaying the dispatch of the mails. I enclose an account showing the amount of postage charged in Dublin during each month from the 6th July 1836 to 5th January 1838 on newspapers containing writing or enclosures, amounting to a total of £2828 15s; and in the country offices the amount charged on newspapers in the year 1836, was £2122 9s 11d, and in 1837 it amounted to £3196 16s 11d. The practice is therefore increasing, and this I am inclined to believe scarcely amounts to one quarter of the postage on what are liable to charge, if it were possible that all newspapers could undergo a proper examination. I fear the practice is not absolutely confined to second-hand newspapers, but that the accounts of many news-agents are transmitted to subscribers in the same way; their papers are, however, so numerous, and are put into the office so short a time before the despatch of the mails, it is quite impossible to examine them.

Another mode of evading the payment of postage, or rather the writing of letters, is resorted to by factors, who publish printed circulars showing the state of the markets as respects their own particular trade; such circulars they get stamped as newspapers, which entitles them to free transmission by post, and their correspondents are distinguished therein by numbers. I have one now before me with the following communications in one of its columns: “No 17, You have a remittance this post.” “No 20, 84 sacks at 18s are sold.” “No 27, Yours not yet received.” “No 50, Nothing as yet done in yours.” These are taken from Mooney’s Corn and Flour Circular, which is published once a week, and 15s a year is the charge for it.

No instance of the illegal conveyance of letters to or from the villages in the neighbourhood of Dublin has ever come to my knowledge; many may be carried by occasional passengers, but I have not had any reason to suppose that an illegal collection of letters is made at any of the villages.

The enclosed piece of paper, which shows the pains and trouble taken to evade the payment of postage, was put into my hand this morning by the president of the sorting-office; it was found in the letter-box, and seems to be part of an old letter with a memorandum directing the person it was intended for, to inquire at two very respectable and well-known houses in Dublin, if they could send some letters to Tralee.

I have communicated to the solicitor (Mr Thompson) the postscript to your letter; he will search his books and papers and extract any useful information he possesses on the subject; he is summoned as a witness before the Kinsale Election Committee, and is to be in London on the 27th instant; perhaps, therefore, you may prefer examining him before the Committee on Postage, to any statement he may be able to make in writing.

I have &c
Aug[ustus] Godby

From Appendix 9 to First Report from the Select Committee on Postage; together with the minutes of evidence, and appendix Ordered to be Printed 10th May 1838 [149]

Killaloe/Ballina talk on steamers

Wednesday 28 February 2018, Wood & Bell café, Killaloe, 7.00pm; details here.

Draining the Shannon

Lough Allen to Sligo (OSI 25″ ~1900)

In looking at the map of Ireland, it has appeared to me that it may be found of advantage to prevent the waters of Lough Allen from flowing into the Shannon, and to cut a channel in a north-westerly direction, along which they may run into Sligo Bay. By this disposition of the waters of Lough Allen, not only will the channel of the Shannon be relieved from the superabundant water which now flows along during the rainy season, but they will act very beneficially in scouring out the harbour of Sligo. The Shannon might likewise be made available to the supply of power to several valuable mills to be erected on its course.

The Report of Mr George Stephenson, Civil Engineer, London, 9th July, 1831, to the Committee appointed to inquire into the practicability of improving the navigation of the Shannon, and for draining the lands in the vicinage

Anglo-Irish livestock trade: balls to Brexit

Kevin O’Rourke here.

A summons from the sea

Older readers may, at some stage, have been forced encouraged to read some part of In Memoriam A H H, an extraordinarily long poem [make sandwiches (preferably anchovy) and a flask of coffee before you start reading it] written by Alfred Tennyson about the early death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. The poem was finished sixteen years after Hallam’s death in 1833.

In 1830 Tennyson and Hallam visited France and returned from Bordeaux by steamer. The steamer was the SS Leeds, owned by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, which had been operating on the route from Belfast to Dublin and Bordeaux, in the summer months, since 1827. Passengers from England were given free transport from Liverpool to Dublin [Saunders’s News-Letter 11 June 1827 via the British Newspaper Archive].

CoDSPCo ad from the Dublin Evening Mail of 8 August 1827. Image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved.



On their homeward journey, Tennyson and Hallam met the Tipperary-born landowner John Harden and his family. Harden lived in the English Lake District; he and his wife were “talented amateur artists”. The shipboard meeting is described in this extract from Leonee Ormond’s Alfred Tennyson: a literary life [Macmillan Press, Basingstoke 1993]. Harden sketched the group on deck`; here it is.

Tennyson, Hallam and the Harden family on board SS Leeds 1830

I cannot remember where I got that image. I presume that Harden’s copyright is long expired but it may be that a publisher or someone owns rights to the image. If I am in breach of copyright, leave a message below and I’ll remove the image.




Eels from Killaloe

Great quantities of salmon have been recently exported from Limerick to England, and the abundant supply of eels in the Shannon is furnishing a new and productive traffic in the English market. There are ten tons of this prolific fish now in tanks at Killaloe, awaiting a conveyance to London, and a vessel adapted for the trade will take on board from Limerick in the ensuing week forty tons of eels for the London market.

The Dublin Monitor 23 October 1844

Broharris and Ballykelly

I have revised and expanded my page on the Broharris Canal, distinguishing between it and the Ballykelly Canal. However, there are still mysteries, and I will welcome comments from anyone who can cast light on the two subjects.

Down the Suir


Andrew Doherty runs the Waterford Harbour tides’n’tales blog which, starting with a focus on the traditional fishing community of Cheekpoint, has broadened out to take in the whole of the Suir estuary and a few other things besides. As he says

My unending passion is researching and writing about our way of life and more fully understanding the history and heritage that surrounds us here.

Before the tide went out

Andrew has now written a book, Before the tide went out, and it will be launched at Jack Meade’s on Friday 20 October 2017 at 7.30pm.

From the blurb:

Andrew Doherty vividly brings you into the heart of a now practically vanished fishing community, deep into the domestic lives of the people making a hard and precarious living from the river, only 6 miles from Waterford city centre. You share his affectionate memories of the local people and the fun that was to be had as a child playing in and around the fishing boats and nets on a busy quayside.

He also takes you out on the river, on bright and beautiful days, and on wild and dangerous nights, which he describes with a naturally story telling turn of phrase. You feel the cold, the misery of sea-soaked clothing and the pain of raw hands hauling on fish-scaled nets.

But what keeps you going is what kept him going for 15 years, the camaraderie and pride of spending time with brave, skilled and wise fishermen who could be grumpy, hilarious, sometimes eccentric, but never

Update: to buy the book see Andrew’s page here.