Wirral Wreckers

Liverpool Mercury November 29th 1866

The wreck of the Elizabeth Buckham

None of the bodies of the crew of the ill-fated vessel the Elizabeth Buckham have yet been recovered The vessel was owned by a gentleman residing in Whitehaven and in consequence of some of the documents connected with the ship being at that place, the names of the persons drowned are not yet known in Liverpool. It was stated there was a pilot on board the ship. From what has been ascertained it is believed she had no Liverpool pilot on board, it is rumoured she had a channel pilot, but of this there is no confirmation.

Large quantities of wreck, including, sugar, rum and cotton, etc , have been washed up at New Brighton and the adjacent coast. There is a saying amongst Cornish men ”that a stormy winter is the wrecker’s harvest” The inhabitants along that stormy coast are notorious for their “wrecking” propensities, and the loss of a well-freighted ship is not by many of them regarded in the light of a calamity. The persons living on the coast in this neighbourhood have a better reputation than their Cornish brethren. It is seldom. It is seldom we hear of the cargo of a wrecked vessel being stolen in large quantities along these shores. It is therefore with regret that we have to mention that the honourable conduct has been departed from in the case of the Elizabeth Buckham, for it would seem in spite of the customs and other officials, large quantities of the cargo have been stolen, near one of the most staid and aristocratic of our watering places scenes of shocking debauchery and violence have taken place.

Since the wreck numbers of puncheons of rum have been washed ashore at New Brighton. It would seem that the loss of a “rum ship” spread like wildfire among the lower orders of the people on the Cheshire coast and crowds made their way to New Brighton to see what would turn up. Many of them actuated by no honest motives, they had been enticed there with the hope of picking up some rum cask which might float ashore and they get drunk on the cheap. The customs officers took charge of upwards of 130 puncheons of rum, several bales of cotton and sugar hogsheads, that had been secured, but many rum casks had been tapped before they fell into the hands of the coastguard men, and the drinking of the raw rum by those who procured it resulted in scenes of debauchery perfectly indescribable. The over drinking was attended with fatal results in one case and in other instances serious consequences were apprehended.

Liverpool Daily Post November 29th 1866

The wreck of the Elizabeth Buckham

Frightful Yesterday at New Brighton and fatal scenes of debauchery at New Brighton

Yesterday at New Brighton, the watering place of the Mersey, was a scene of great excitement in consequence of a large portion of the cargo of the brig Elizabeth Buckham having been washed ashore at that place. Upwards of 130 puncheons of rum and several bales of cotton, together with some empty sugar hogheads, lay close to the Ferry Hotel, guarded by the Customs officers. Many of the rum casks had been tapped before they fell into the hands of the coastguard men, and the raw rum which had been drunk by those who had procured it had caused a scene of debauchery totally indescribable.

One youth named FOULDS, related to Mr FIELDING, who keeps an hotel at New Brighton managed to get some of the rum, drank it, and such were the consequences that, notwithstanding every medical attention, he succumbed to the fatal effects of the drink.

Another man, a painter, emptied his paint can, wiped it with a bunch of grass, filled it with rum and took a drink, he fell on his head in a pool of water and had it not been for some passers, by would no doubt have lost his life. And it is he at present lies very ill from the effects of the rum. Hundreds of similar cases could be mentioned.

All through Tuesday night and yesterday morning, men and women, and even children were found in a state of unconscious intoxication among the sandhills, and were removed as soon as possible to their homes, where they were attended to by stomach pumps.

These are not the only disgraceful features connected with the wreck of the Elizabeth Buckham, several females, one especially who is respectably connected went down to the remnants of the wreck. They were induced to take some rum, which appeared to be the order of the night. They soon became helpless, and while in that state were treated in a most foul and atrocious manner. One of them was found lying on her back in the sandhills, quite insensible, and in such a state as to show that she had been unfairly treated.

Up top last evening none of the bodies of the crew of the ill-fated vessel had been recovered, and with the exception of the wreck washing ashore at New Brighton and Hoylake, all traces of the unfortunate vessel have vanished.

Liverpool Daily Post November 30th 1866

The wrecking at New Brighton

The system of “wreckage” indulged in on the Cheshire coast at New Brighton, arising out of the loss of the Elizabeth Buckham may now be said to be at an end. The casks of rum which have in so many instances been the cause of great intemperance, and, in one case the cause of death, have all been collected and taken possession of by the Coastguard officers, and placed out of reach of those who, had the opportunity afforded, would no doubt have inordinately indulged in the raw spirit, which was considerably over proof. Yesterday morning two women and two men were found lying in the Sandhills at Hoylake in a state of insensibility, and their condition testified to them having partaken of the fiery spirit. They were removed to their homes where for some time, we are informed, they remained in a critical condition. The shore from New Brighton to Leasowe yesterday was liberally sprinkled with bottles, which had evidently been used by dishonest persons in their work of broaching the rum cask.

Yesterday afternoon Mr H. CHURTON, coroner, held an inquest at the Royal Hotel, New Brighton, on view of the body of Joseph FOULDS, aged 25, who was in the service of Mr FIELDING, the proprietor of the hotel, as “boots” and who died on Wednesday morning from the effects of drinking the rum.

Edwin PEAT, a painter, living at New Brighton, was the first witness called. He said he knew the deceased. On Tuesday afternoon last he was walking up the shore, and a little beyond the Red Noses he saw the deceased drinking rum from a bottle, which he said he had got from the wreck. Witness went home and left the deceased, who was neither sober nor drunk, but “half and half,” walking along the shore. He had often seen the deceased intoxicated. He [witness] took some of the rum, but it did not affect him. He always managed to take just enough, only about a teaspoonful. Rum imported from Demerara. He believed was very strong, but probably would not affect a person who was case hardened.

Elizabeth BEVAN, cook at the hotel, deposed that about 3pm of Tuesday afternoon the deceased left the hotel to go on shore, and returned in a state of half intoxication at 20 minutes to 5pm. He then said he had taken some rum which was very strong, and he would take no more. Witness cautioned him to take no more. He went out again immediately and near 6pm he came home very much intoxicated. He then had a small bottle containing rum with him. Having frequently seen him drunk before, he was allowed to go into the house and remain in a chair until 9.pm. An attempt was then made to rouse him but without effect. Dr BENNET was sent for, who ordered hot vinegar to be applied to the head and mustard poultices to be applied, but he died at 5.30am the next morning. He was insensible from the second time he came into the house until he died.

This being the whole evidence, the Coroner submitted that the evidence the jury had received was conclusive to the cause of death, that there could be no doubt the deceased took a quantity of rum which they all knew was very strong, generally 40 degrees over proof, and the effect such had upon persons generally was to render them almost insensible, and if they took any undue quantity of it apoplexy supervened and death was the result. With the evidence before them the jury could not resist the conclusion that death was the result of excessive drinking, which produced apoplexy.

The jury concurred, and at once returned a verdict in accordance with the suggestion of the coroner.

The Coroner said it would appear that people living in the neighbourhood of Wallasey had not taken warning from previous occasions, some thirteen or fourteen years ago 3 or 4 men had partaken of some spirits much of the same strength as the rum in the present case, and were found dead at various places at the north end of Birkenhead. He had supposed the neighbourhood had in some measure reformed from the olden times.. He remembered as a boy reading of the Wallasey “wreckers” and in that account it was stated that if a wreck took place on a Sunday the congregation was apprised of it, and the rector seeing his congregation diminishing, asked them to give him a fair start.

Mr HAMMOND superintendent of the county constabulary, said he was astonished after reading the accounts in the newspapers, to find there had only been one death, seeing that so much rum had been washed ashore to which there was easy access.

The Coroner said no doubt but for the activity of the police many more lives might have been sacrificed. He believed the police had done good service sending for the medical men, who applied the stomach pump in cases where it was necessary.

Mr HAMMOND remarked he had only heard of one or two instances where the stomach pump was required and therefore he gave credit to the inhabitants for refraining from drinking the liquid.

The inquiry then terminated.

RHYL RECORDER 14th January 1905



Extraordinary scenes have recently occurred, and still continue, on the shores of the Mersey, which have been like a revival of the old smuggling days of the last century. A Spanish steamer, the Ulloa, laden with a Christmas cargo of oranges, lemons, and pipes of port wine, foundered on the Burbo Bank, outside New Brighton, in a gale, and, somewhat unexpectedly breaking up amidships, her cargo came floating ashore with the next morning's tide, strewing the Wallasey shore for many miles with fruit and casks of wine. The inhabitants of Wirral soon got wind of this, and flocked in hundreds with basket and bag and barrow to glean this harvest of the sea.

Perambulators, lorries, and traps were soon filled with boxes of the fruit by the local market gardeners and greengrocers to replenish their shops. The waves literally threw the fruit at everyone who wanted it as they rolled in from the Irish Channel. The owners had given permission for this perishable cargo to be public property, but not the wine. The local police and the full strength of the coastguard (not half-a-dozen men) endeavoured to protect the incoming casks, but there were too many of the " unemployed," who took matters into their own hands when night fell.

With gimlets they bored holes in the barrels, and filled every kind of can, cup and bucket. In one lonely hollow the police patrol came on an unsuspecting group round a 100 gallon cask, and those who were unable to run were promptly arrested. Port wine is to be found in nearly all the villages round between Wallasey and Hoylake, despite the authorities. These "up-to-date" wreckers went further still in boldness. In the shelter and gloom of the old sandstone caves (originally made tor storing unlawful spoil in the "good old days "), they buried a barrel for future use. The coastguard, however, had in someway received information, and ten adventurous spirits, expecting to find some opposition, came prepared to overpower him. One or two had heavy bags of sand to fell the handyman should he come. While they were all enjoying themselves he came. The men sprang up, but one blow knocked down the first of them, and in the gleam of their lantern was seen the flash of a cutlass. There was a scuffle, in which the coastguard received a cut on the hand, and they precipitately fled, leaving everything behind them. As nearly half the cargo still remains on board, the watching crowds continue their visits to the sandhills, as if every day were a Bank Holiday.

Evening express 13th December 1904


A brave mariner of the old Norse who was prepared to risk his life for his ship and backed his opinion with a revolver. stepped sullenly from a steam-tug on to the Prince's Landing Stage, Liverpool last evening and walked into the Customs House with a bag under his arm. His name is Vincent Berrojain, and he is the captain of the Spanish vessel Ulloa, which ran on to the Burbo Bank at the mouth of the Mersey on Friday night. The Ulloa was bound for Liverpool with, fruit and wine from Barcelona.

It was a wild night, and a blizzard was blowing when, the vessel struck on the treacherous bank, The crew declined offers to leave on Saturday, but on Sunday the gale increased. The Ulloa, swaying like a cradle, drove her keel deeper and deeper into the sand, while the sea poured over her and penetrated the second hatch. Several members of the crew put off at the risk of their lives in the ship's boats and were picked up, but the rest stood by the captain. As evening approached the whole channel became lashed up into foam and presented a terrible sight. The New Brighton lifeboat went to the rescue, and the remaining members of the crew were with great difficulty taken off by the lifeboat. Faith in his vessel Captain Berrojain, however, declined to leave the ship. Had he done so it would have become a derelict in the eyes of the Salvage Association, and, although conscious of the personal risk he ran, he preferred to stand the awful night out in the tumultuous channel in a ship that threatened to break up. He backed with his life his faith in the vessel that he had commanded long. Once he tried the vessel by throwing many boxes off overboard, but still she stuck immovable, and the cargo in the hold floated in a cauldron of red wine and sea water. To all but the engineer he gave permission to leave the ship, and the engineer escaped only by strategy. "You stay with me, Nicholas," commanded the captain in Spanish. "But you must come off, captain. She'll break up to-night. You must come, the engineer pleaded, taking the captain by the arm. The crew were preparing to depart, the lifeboat was dancing up and down in dangerous proximity to the Ulloa, and the shrill voices of the lifeboatmen were heard by Berrojain. He was still obdurate. "She will not break up and I'm sticking to her, you cowards!" he yelled in rage. Then the sturdy Norseman backed into his cabin, and, whipping out a revolver, threatened to shoot the first man who laid hand upon him. With a. painful feeling that they were leaving the brave man to his death, the life boatmen at last turned away.

At daybreak yesterday morning am officer of the Salvage Association visited the Ulloa on the steam-tug Reaper. The waves were breaking hard against the Vessel, but she was still apparently intact. A lonely figure, that of a sturdy, well- built man of about fifty, was patrolling the deck. When hailed, however, he again declined to forsake his vessel. There was some parleying and at last the captain promised that if the salvage officer could prove that he had the authority of the owner's to leave the boat he would come ashore. This the officer promised to obtain, and later in the afternoon he appeared on the scene with a letter from the firm. Seeing this, Berrojain reluctantly left the ship and went ashore.

Cardiff times 7th January 1905


Disgraceful Carousal.

The taste for port wine, which is said to be declining in England, has caused a fillip during the last six days along a stretch of Cheshire coast near the mouth of the Mersey. The steamer Ulloa, carrying a cargo of Spanish fruit and wine, was wrecked recently in this neighbourhood, and in the gale much of the cargo was washed ashore. Oranges, raisins, lemons, figs, and Spanish onions strewed the shore for miles, and among the flotsam were five 100-gallon casks of port. The folk from the countryside visited the sands, removing the fruit in bags and finally one adventurous soul tapped a cask of port wine with a gimlet and called on all hands to drink. Soon every cask was broached, and there was a great demand for bottles and other vessels to hold the generous liquor. One provident person bought out the whole stock of mineral waters held by a neighbouring store, and pouring away the contents of the bottles laid in a good supply of the wine. They drank it in great beakers, too, and danced and made merry on the sandy shore. The scene developed into a drunken orgy. Men sank down on the wet sand, overpowered by the fumes of the unaccustomed liquor, and slept. Camp fires were lighted round the huge casks, and for several nights men drank and caroused on the beach, inviting all who came near to help themselves to the free wine.

Finally the crowds became so large that the coastguards drew their swords to protect the remains of the casks.


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