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How The Sea Horse Might Have Looked

Wreck Of The Seahorse On The Irish Coast

By James Donahue

The wreck of the English warship Seahorse just off Tramore, Ireland, in 1816, and the loss of 363 lives, made such a mark on the people of that coastal community that the tragedy has been embedded in the social structure of the town to this day.

The Sea Horse was adopted as a symbol for the town and has been used as a logo for Waterford Crystal, produced there, since 1955. A monument to the disaster stall stands on Donneraile Walk and an Obelisk marks a burial plot at the Church of Ireland on Church Road.

While there have been many shipwrecks in Tramore Bay over the years, none of them have brought about the incredible loss of life of not only the crew, but all but 30 of the 16 officers, 287 soldiers, 38 women and 38 children who were passengers on that wreck.

Such a mass loss of life at one time, and at one place, left the town caught up in the mystique of the tragedy. That many of the dead were buried in the local cemetery also brought a permanent mark on Tramore.

On that deadly voyage the Sea Horse, a former fighting ship in Admiral Nelson's Navy, was serving as a troop transport, carrying soldiers home from the wars in Europe and sailing from Ramsgate, England, to Cork, Ireland. She was under the command of a Captain Gibbs. The first mate was John Sullivan. The crew consisted of another 17 men.

The ship set sail from Ramsgate on January 25 in calm weather. She anchored overnight in the Downs, and the next day set sail with light breezes from the north-northwest. Two days later the Sea Horse was off Lizards Point with the wind blowing from the south, sending the ship past St. George's Channel and into the Atlantic.

On January 29 the wind was blowing strong out of the south-southeast. Captain Gibbs steered the ship for Kinsafe Lights with intentions of sailing down the coast to Cork. Mate Sullivan, the only man on the ship who knew the coast, climbed into the rigging to get a view of the land. While in the ropes a fierce gust of wind tore him from the rigging and he fell to the deck, suffering fatal injuries that took his life three hours later.

Visibility was so bad that Captain Gibbs could not fix his position. The wind and seas were blowing the ship toward the rocky coast. When land was finally sighted at about 5 a.m. on Jan. 30, the gale was blowing so hard the ship was drifting out of control. With sails tattered and the vessel rolling in a frothing sea, the Seahorse was driven hard aground in Tramore Bay, less than a mile from the safety of the shore.

The land may have been in sight, but it was out of reach for all but 30 of the men aboard that doomed wreck. Everyone else perished in the wreck or drowned in the ugly cold sea. It was said that bodies floated ashore for days afterward, as did the wreckage from the ship.

One of the survivors, a Lieutenant Harford, told of being hurled from the deck, landing in a shower of timbers. After hitting the water he said he grabbed two of them and held on, letting them keep him afloat. The terrible seas occasionally tore the timbers from his grasp and he said he found more to hold onto. Then, when he was so exhausted he could no longer fight the seas, he said a wave hurled him into a plank full of nails. He was impaled by several nails that held him up until that piece of wreckage washed ashore, with him still attached. He was unconscious, but still alive.

They said none of the women or children survived. Mrs. Sullivan, who accompanied her husband on the trip, chose to remain by the side of her dead husband rather than attempt the hazardous trip to shore. She died on the wreck.

We could not find a picture of the Seahorse, but believe it may have been either a gallion or a caravel, from the general description. With a crew of only 19, we would opt for the lighter caravel.

The ship was built in London in 1784 when both types of vessel were used for naval warfare. It was well constructed of Irish Oak. She had three decks and three masts when it joined Nelson's fleet in 1799.

 
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