The Strange Legend Of Hugh Williams
By James Donahue
There is a story circulating on the web, and perhaps it has been passed around for years along the
waterfronts of the world, about a strange coincidence involving three ships that sank on the coast of Wales.
As the story is told, there was one survivor in each of the three shipwrecks and his name was Hugh
This can’t be the same Hugh Williams since the wrecks occurred at intervals ranging from 1664
to 1820. That is, if they even happened. Somehow the names of the vessels that sank under Mr. Williams are excluded from the
Part of the strangeness, however, is that the dates of the wrecks were not omitted.
The first sinking happened on December 5, 1664 in the Menai Strait. There were 81 passengers on the
ship and only one survivor . . . a man named Hugh Williams. Or so the story tellers say.
The second wreck, also on December 5, allegedly occurred in 1785, and also in the Menai Strait. There
were some 60 souls on the decks that fateful day, but only one man survived. His name was said to have been Hugh Williams.
And finally, on December 5, 1820, a third ship foundered in the Menai Strait. This time there were
25 people aboard and all but one of them were lost. That one man was said to have been named Hugh Williams.
Was this an amazing coincidence or just another of a long line of yarns spun by the old salts who
liked to gather along the waterfront and tell their stories after years on the high seas. Surely they had exciting true stories
to tell, but they also gained a reputation for spinning ghost stories and strange yarns involving encounters with sea monsters
and oddities like the Hugh Williams tale.
The newspapers of those days were always looking for good stories and published them, whether true
or not. Thus research through the pages of the old papers did not always back up the truth in a yarn.
The strangeness of the Hugh Williams story sounds too much like a sailor’s yarn. Yet the Menai
Strait was the site of hundreds of shipwrecks over the years, and the name Hugh Williams was a popular name in that corner
of the world. Thus the possibility of such a strange coincidence exists.
And there has been a more modern version of the story added to the cocktail. It speaks of a British
trawler that struck a German mine and sank in the straits on July 10, 1940. There were two survivors, a man and his nephew.
And both of these men were named Hugh Williams.
As one wit suggested on a web site that spun the William yard: "The moral of the story is: If you
are going to sail off the coast of Wales on December fifth, you may want to change your name to Hugh Williams."