The Wreck of the Albion at Albion Sands
This is the wreck of the Bristol General Steam Navigation Company paddle steamer Albion at Albion Sands, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK. Its UK OS Grid Reference is SM770075.
The Albion was a two-masted two-decker schooner-rigged wooden paddle steamer of 270 tons burthen built at Hotwells Dockyard in Pembroke Place, Bristol and launched on Tuesday 5th July 1831. Her engines, almost certainly dual-cylinder sidelever single-expansion engines developed around two hundred horsepower and gave the ship a cruising speed of 11 statute miles per hour, equal to a fresh four on a good turnpike. The engine maker was probably Winwood and Company of Cheese Lane, Bristol and the machine is forged of hand-beaten fibrous iron, material that, unpainted and neglected, takes several centuries to rot away in the British climate, even in salt water. The Albion could steam from North Quay, Dublin to The Cumberland Basin, Hotwells in twenty-one and a half hours. At her launch “she went of the stocks in magnificent style, amidst the firing of cannon, and the exultations of the surrounding spectators; the band of the 3rd Regiment of light dragoons … playing several delightful airs”.
American practice was to lever sidewheels with a “walking beam” superstructure similar to a standard beam engine but with the bob of wrought-iron lattice to keep the ship’s center-of-gravity as low as possible. Around Britain, exposed to the full fetch of the Atlantic waves, and played by sudden squalls and storms at all seasons, such an arrangement would have been unseaworthy. Instead, the “sidelever” mechanism was developed, with a heavy cast-iron beam placed well below the waterline in order to maintain metacentric stability in heavy seas. The paddle format offered great manoeuvrability at slow speeds in calm waters; but, combined with the ponderous sidelever engine, was unhandy and inefficient in heavy seas, or where tide races and whirlpools were at play. Paddle steamers cost three times as much to cover the mile as did sailing packets, so the fact that they could work against normal winds and tides was a distinct market advantage, as was their ability to cut the corners of sea room by sailing through narrow channels.……
At around four o’clock on the afternoon of the 18th April 1837 George Bailey, commanding twenty crew, steamed south towards the 300 meter wide Jack Sound, a strongly tidal defile between Skomer Island and Great Britain. Aboard were five Army officers, three clergymen, Mr Sergeant Jackson, the MP for Bandon, five horses, numerous women and children and four hundred pigs, not to mention enough whiskey and porter to keep all in high spirits for a season or two.
With all his skill, Bailey navigated the chicane formed by the Tusker Rock to port and The Bitch to starboard. Suddenly, a rowing boat with four men appeared ahead and the helmsman made hard to starboard. The ship of course veered left, missing the small boat and the wheel was put hard to port but the Albion answered too slowly and struck The Crab rock of Midland Isle. Immediately the ship turned on its beam ends and then suddenly righted as it slid off into deep water.
Using all speed, Bailey powered the vessel toward a sandy cove visible a mile South-Eastwards, under the shelter of the tidal islet of Gateholm. The broken timber shipped water very quickly and the fires flooded just as the Albion reached the beach that was to bear its name.
The smoke and steam caused some suffering, but the women and children were placed in a boat and rowed ashore whilst some men chose to swim or wade there also. Others embarked in a sloop that had hove-to to render assistance.
All were saved, but after a few days the wooden hull had completely fragmented, and though there was orderly salvage of the cargo, including the drink and the Ship’s Plate, the £20000 steamer itself was an uninsured total loss.