French privateer cannons, Holyhead
French privateer cannons, Newry Beach
The naval cannons outside Holyhead Maritime Museum were dumped overboard by French privateers who tried to hold Holyhead men hostage but were thwarted by a storm.
Their ship flew British colours and fired its guns as a call of distress when it sailed into Holyhead Bay on a Saturday in 1710. Local customs officer Maurice Owen and his crew went to help, but once aboard they realized they’d been tricked. The ship was a French privateer known as Fox, heavily armed and with a crew of more than 150 men. Privateers were privately owned ships authorised by governments to attack enemy shipping.
Mr Owen and his crew were stripped and interrogated about Holyhead’s defences. The vessel anchored off Borthwen beach to await a ransom for the hostages’ return. As if by divine intervention, a storm arose and felled the ship’s masts. The crew had to jettison 14 large cannons to make the ship easier to handle. Now the crew fired the remaining guns in genuine distress, but the townspeople were too afraid to help. The ship eventually grounded on rocks between Borthwen and Penrhos point. On the Sunday morning, the hostages and privateers were removed by boat. Most of the privateers were jailed in Beaumaris, but 20 were sent to Dublin.
Some of the cannons were discovered by divers more than a century later, during construction of the Admiralty Pier. When King George IV had an enforced break of journey in Holyhead in 1821, the town had insufficient firepower to deliver a royal salute – so the heavily corroded cannons were fired.
The cannons were displayed or stored at various places in Holyhead, including at the corners of the new market building in the late 1850s, before Holyhead Town Council donated them to the maritime museum. They were restored by ACS Engineering and Stena Line maintenance staff. The wooden gun carriages were made by Tony Lloyd Evans.
With thanks to Peter Scott Roberts, of Holyhead Maritime Museum
Postcode: LL65 1YD