The Whiteford Disaster
A fleet of 19 sailing vessels carrying coal, 6 with steam tug boats aiding them, sailed from Llanelli up the Burry Inlet on 22nd January 1868. Despite appearing calm, once the tide turned the sea produced a tremendous swell (a wave) that travelled up the inlet, crashing into the fleet of ships. Despite using sails and anchors in a bid to stay safe, the boats were tossed against sandbanks and rocks where they were damaged, stranded, washed ashore or sunk. Of the 19 ships, three made it out into the bay and one of these was subsequently wrecked in Rhossili Bay. Many lives were lost and three ships sunk. The debris was found washed up between Whiteford Point and Burry Holms.
One of the more recent shipwrecks, the SS Dunvegan, ran ashore at Pennard in bad conditions after engine failure on 1st January 1916. The Lifeboat from Port Eynon was launched and sailed to the Dunvegan. Conditions forced the lifeboat to anchor nearby in order to wait for the waves to drop so that a rescue could be attempted. A land-based rescue was subsequently undertaken, rescuing all of the crew from the stricken Dunvegan. The lifeboat no longer being needed headed home.
A wave capsized the lifeboat and all the crew were washed out of it. After the boat had righted all but two of the crew managed to climb aboard. Whilst searching for their two missing crewmen the lifeboat once again capsized and the coxswain (captain) was swept away. The remaining crew managed to climb back aboard but all oars had been lost leaving the crew with no option but to drift.
They drifted for 30 hours, eventually anchoring at Mumbles Head. The result of the tragedy was the loss of coxswain Billy Gibbs, second coxswain William Eynon and lifeboatman George Harry. A statue of a lifeboatman in the churchyard at Port Eynon commemorates the three men.
In 1919 the Port Eynon lifeboat station was decommissioned because the use of steamers instead of sailing vessels had reduced the number of incidents. In 1968 an inshore lifeboat was established at Horton, further east along the bay, which is still in service today.
The wreck of the Helvetia on Rhossili beach is a well-known local landmark. The ship had been carrying a load of timber until it ran into strong winds on 1st November 1887, which caused it to drift onto Helwick sandbank before being blown into Rhossili bay. The captain refused to abandon ship but eventually he and the crew came ashore in lifeboats before the ship was wrecked. A local man bought the wreck and removed the deckboards, but it sunk into the sand and the copper keel was never recovered. Although the Helvetia is a famous landmark it is not permanent, as the sea is slowly reclaiming the ship, one tide at a time…
The Dollar Ship
There is no physical wreck of the Dollar ship, giving it an air of mystery and legend. It was wrecked on Rhossili beach in the 17th century. In 1807, silver Spanish dollars were found on the beach dating between 1625-1639. Further finds were made up until 1833. Nobody knows the true name of the Dollar ship or her reason for sailing. One theory is that the coins belong to the dowry of Catherine of Braganza from Portugal who was married to Charles II. She was born in 1638 and married in 1662, so this theory may be unlikely. Further treasure from the wreck supposedly remains buried under the sand and people still hunt for it at low tide. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find the buried treasure!
The City of Bristol
The sinking of the City of Bristol on 18th November 1840 is one of the most disastrous shipwrecks in Gower history. The ship was a paddle steamer and had been travelling to Bristol from Waterford, Ireland. During a severe storm the ship turned, after mistaking the islet of Burry Holmes to be Worm’s Head. The crew supposed they were heading into the Bristol Channel but instead ran aground in Rhossili Bay and turned broadside to the shore. By turning, the ship became exposed to the stormy waves, which were powerful enough to break the vessel apart. Of the 27 people on board only two survivors made it ashore: one clinging to the tail of a cow! Three bullocks and 75 pigs did make it to shore and were herded into a local farm. All that remains of the City of Bristol are the engines, which are visible at low water on spring tides.
Tidal Causeway, Worm’s Head
On the tidal causeway at Worm’s Head there is an anchor that is thought to belong to the Norwegian ship, Samuel, which sunk here in February 1884. Thankfully the coastguard was able to rescue all of the crew on board, although the ship broke apart spilling its cargo of coal. The local people cut a track through the cliffs and transported the coal back up to the village, where it was sold. The anchor is said to be the last remains of the Samuel, but there is evidence that the Samuel would not have carried an anchor of this type, suggesting it could have belonged to another ship that sank on the causeway.
This steamship was a casualty of war. On 7th February 1940 the ship hit a mine off Lundy. Heading inland, the ship sunk in Port Eynon Bay. All of the 37 crewmembers were rescued by the local lifeboat, which had to navigate through significant debris caused by the explosion to reach the ship. Disposal work was carried out on the ship in 1949; by then she had been officially notified as a danger to navigation. The broken hull is still exposed at low tide.
The Prince Ivanhoe is possibly the most recent shipwreck on the Gower Peninsula. On 3rd August 1981 the pleasure cruiser set off from Mumbles Pier with 450 passengers on board. At the headland of Overton the ship hit an unknown underwater object, damaging the hull. The captain had the ship run aground off Horton and an RAF helicopter worked with the lifeboats from Mumbles, Port Eynon and Horton to safely disembark all passengers. Unfortunately, one passenger died from a heart attack. The ship was left in situ but slowly broke up with the action of the sea. Salvage operations removed the majority of the wreckage.