Wreck of New York ship, near Shell Island
A prestigious ship belonging to the Macy family of New York foundered near Shell Island in 1825 while carrying apples and other cargo to Liverpool. It’s thought that seeds from washed-up apples are responsible for a distinctive type of fruit which is still grown locally.
Countless ships were wrecked in the sea off Shell Island where a submerged ridge called Sarn Badrig extends far out under the waves. One of the most remarkable accidents there was the loss of the Diamond, built in Manhattan for the entrepreneurial Macy family – whose New York shop was said to be the world’s largest department store.
The Diamond had an iron-reinforced hull, to give it an edge over rival ships. It could cross the Atlantic in only three weeks, compared with the month or six weeks which was then the norm.
Most of the ship was given over to cargo, but some premium passenger berths were provided. Marine archaeologist Mike Bowyer has likened the Diamond’s passengers to those who flew by Concorde in a later era. The 28 passengers who embarked at New York on 12 December 1824 included people who had made their fortunes in the USA, and English cotton barons who had struck new deals with American cotton growers.
The ship was under the command of Henry Macy, rather than its usual captain Josiah, Henry’s brother. A navigational error on the night of 2-3 January brought the Diamond onto Sarn Badrig, about 1.5km offshore. Only nine of the passengers and crew reportedly survived. Henry, aged 33, was among the dead.
Local legend has it that American apples – an out-of-season delicacy in Britain in January – came ashore from the wreck and seeds were planted locally. In the early 21st century, Mr Bowyer and plantsman Ian Sturrock scoured the area for a surviving tree. After three years they discovered an old tree in a garden Dyffryn Ardudwy which bore vivid red apples, unlike any local varieties. The property’s previous occupant had been told in the 1950s that the tree was descended from the washed-up apples.
Experts were unable to establish the red apple’s identity, but its closest relative is probably a type of apple first identified in about 1740 in Massachusetts and often exported to Europe in winter. Mr Sturrock grafted wood from the tree and sells this type of apple, named Diamond, from his Bangor nursery.
Other SHIPWRECK HiPoints in this region:
Spanker wreck 1885 – master hadn’t realised Bardsey now had a flashing light
Barmouth lifeboat station – one of the first RNLI medals awarded in 1825 for rescue from grounded ship