Story of the wreck of the 'Norman Court'
By Mrs. DILYS EDMUNDS JONES
One of the owners, Thomas Baring named the ship after his home in Hampshire, and her figurehead, which eventually graced a Holyhead garden, was given the likeness of one of the family beauties.
Designed by Rennie, she was built at the Inglis yard, but they slightly altered his measurements in order to meet with Lloyds' specification for a 1,000 ton ship.
Launched in 1869, the same year as the Cutty Sark, the Norman Court resembled the Fiery Cross and the Black Prince, all tea-clippers of great beauty with graceful lines.
Although the alterations in the moulding of the iron frame did not interfere much with her build, it did somewhat affect he stability, but in spite of this she was perfect in build and finish, her bulwarks being panelled in teak with a solid brass rail running all round the top: indeed she was considered at the time the prettiest vessel sailing out of London.
Being very lofty and heavily sparred, her sail-plan had to be carefully considered and kept narrow lest she prove over-hatted. Her masts too, had more than the usual rake aft, which rather spoiled her sailing in light winds.
This raking of masts was necessary to keep a wooden ship from diving too much into a head sea, and to make her bounce up again like an india-rubber ball. However the Norman Court had to be watched when under press of sail for she was liable to go over too much for comfort.
She was launched in July 1869; sailed for Hong Kong in October under the command of Captain Andrew Shewan, senior, and made an excellent passage out in 98 days. In the winter 1870-71, she got to Shanghai in 104 days, a day ahead of Sir Lancelot, which had left England a fortnight before the Norman Court.
On the way out she was racing with Thermopylae, reaching South Cape, Tasmania in 67 days, while Thermopylae took 65 days to Melbourne, Australia.
The return passage from Macao to London in 1871 took 111 days, and in 1872 she sailed home from Macao in 95 days, during the early part of which she weathered a particularly severe typhoon in the China Seas.
Baring Brothers, the owners, were so proud of this feat, by the Norman Court, and her crew - for it had proved a most profitable as well as successful voyage - that they commissioned the artist Dalton (actually Dutton, Thomas Goldsworthy - Ed) to paint her picture for £100. He shows her picking up the pilot off the Ness.
The Norman Court, now with Captain Shewan, junior in command, made continual good passages of 116, 114, 106 days, etc., carrying tea until 1880, although in 1878 se was converted into a barque with a reduced crew, as more steamers were being used to carry tea.
This time she carried tea from Hong Kong to South Africa, actually out-racing a German steamer, for which feat the crew were awarded extra pay: then she took on a load of wool to bring home.
Upon arrival in the English Channel, Capt. Shewan found it difficult to secure a tug, because that January of 1879 the Thames was frozen, and tugs were asking very high fees for towing. Two ships only succeeded in beating up the Channel and entering the Thames that season, the Norman Court being one of them.
Capt. Shewan finding things too much of a strain gave place to Capt. Dandy Dunn in 1880, who brought the Norman Court home with her last cargo of tea. She then made a voyage to the Coramandel Coast, and was then sold to a Glasgow firm for the Java trade.
On her first homeward passage, now under Capt MacBride, for her new owners she was running up the Irish Channel before a stiff South West wind, when she ran aground hard and fast on the rocks at Cymyran, near Rhosneigr, Anglesey on the night of March 29th 1883.
She was pounded to pieces, but the crew managed to cling to the rigging, where most of them survived for 24 hours before they were rescued. One became too weak and was washed away, never to be seen again.
The Rhosneigr lifeboat, the "Thomas Lingham", with Coxswain Owen Morris, Ty Cerrig, in charge was launched, but was unable to reach the distressed vessel and was forced to return to the beach.
The Holyhead lifeboat was also unable to put to sea, but a Mr Ayres of Bryn Golau, Newry Street, hired a special train to carry the Holyhead crew to a position nearest to the scene of the wreck.
From there they trudged across the sands of Tywyn Trewan, where the present RAF station is situated, and succeeded in manning the Rhosneigr lifeboat. They effected the rescue of 20 men from the rigging of the Norman Court under terrible difficulties.
Thomas Roberts was the Holyhead coxswain, and the other members of the crew were Edward Jones (Black), John and Richard Williams (Bardsey), John Roberts (Caley), George Jones (Pilot), John M. Jones (Moggy). William P. Elliott, the honorary secretary of Holyhead Lifeboat, was also there. The minutes of the Holyhead branch of the RNLI read:-
1883 - A meeting was held on March 31st to consider the conduct of the Life Crew in saving 20 men of the crew of the "Norman Court" in Cymyran Bay in the Rhosneigr Boat - T. Briscoe, Chairman.
April 7 - A letter from the parent Institution was read commendatory of the conduct of the crew in the matter of the "Norman Court", and stating that a Silver Medal had been adjudged to the coxswain and £3 in money, the thanks of the Institution on Vellum to each of the crew, also the thanks of the Institution on Vellum with a Binocular Glass, suitably inscribed to William P. Elliott, Esq., for his valuable co-operation on the occasion in question. The Holyhead crew went out to the wreck in the Rhosneigr boat, the Rhosneigr crew having refused to go. It was at dead of night. Capt Cay moved that the Secretary be requested to inform the Parent Society that the extra payment of £3 to the coxswain is scarcely as much as the Committee would have expected. J. Lloyd Griffith seconded it. It was unanimously carried.- T. Briscoe, Chairman.
Capt MacBride was one of the 20 rescued men. He stayed at Llanfair Bach near Penrhos Beach, Holyhead to recuperate from the effects of the terrible ordeal. He later married Miss Pritchard, the daughter of the house. Her brothers were also seafarers, one being a captain and two engineer officers on Holyhead ships. That is why the Norman Court's figurehead was brought there and had pride of place in the garden.
There is a hotel named Norman Court at Rhosneigr and there, appropriate enough, was held an auction sale a few years ago, when the old ship's bell and compass, and other bits and pieces from the Norman Court were sold.
The iron ribs forming the frame of the noble clipper are still there at Cymyran, sometimes exposed to sight at low tide, half embedded in the sand, a tribute to good material used skilfully by expert craftsmen, who did honest work, and a fitting memorial to the brave men who sailed in her.
The Wreck of the Norman Court
(To the Editor
Sir, - I have read with great interest the account of the wreck of the clipper Norman Court, in Cymyran Bay, on March 19, 1883, by Mrs Dilys Edmunds Jones.
It is an excellent account, but the minutes of the Holyhead Branch of the RNLI , need some slight correction. While they are correct in stating that the rescue was eventually carried out by the crew of the Holyhead lifeboat, manning the "Thomas Lingham", it is incorrect to state that the Rhosneigr crew refused to man their boat.
Francis Glazebrook, in his book 'Anglesey and the North Wales Coast' gives full praise to the gallant attempts made by the Rhosneigr Surf Boat to reach the stricken clipper; not one - but several attempts were made in the teeth of a raging 'Sou-West' gale.
On their last effort a vicious sea broke the rowing crutches and in the mountainous seas their boat overturned. Wet and utterly exhausted they succeeded in righting their boat and once more were driven ashore through the raging shoal water.
Coxswain Owen Morris sent his crew home for a change of clothing; he alone stayed behind with his boat. It was during this period that the Holyhead lifeboat men arrived on the scene, in fairness to those fine men, they requested that Owen Morris, the Rhosneigr lifeboat coxswain, lead them in another rescue attempt. This he refused, preferring, as he stated at the time, to await the return of his own crew. It was this refusal, no doubt, which has confused the records.
A further attempt was scheduled to be carried out at dawn by the Rhosneigr crew. The rescue was gallantly achieved by the Holyhead crew at the dead of night; they were excellent seamen, well versed in the moods of the treacherous seas. But it should also be recorded that repeated and rave attempts were also made by the Rhosneigr lifeboat crew.
Incidentally, the Rhosneigr lifeboat station was about three miles from the scene of the wreck. She had to be manhandled that distance, over soft sinking sands and a fast flowing river, to a point near the stricken clipper, and launched into the tempestuous seas. This effort alone entailed a tremendous effort.
However, I wish to thank Mrs Dilys E. Jones for her very vivid account. I hope she doesn't mind my very slight correction to the RNLI records.