Site of Mary Celeste-style wreck, Tanybwlch, Aberystwyth

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Various ships were wrecked along the coast south of Aberystwyth, where entry to the harbour was difficult in stormy weather. The picture by William Daniell, courtesy of the National Library of Wales, shows the wreck of the Portuguese brig Piedade on Tanybwlch beach in 1814.

Drawing of Portuguese ship wrecked at Tanybwlch in 1814On 10 March 1858 rescuers dashed out towards a fine new Spanish barque which a gale was blowing towards the beach. They couldn’t stop the ship running aground about 0.8km (half a mile) south of the harbour. They boarded and found the ship had no crew – but the charts, telescopes and other apparatus were all in place. The ship’s lifeboats and cat remained on board, adding to the mystery.

This is reminiscent of the legend of the Mary Celeste, an American ship discovered crew-less on the Atlantic in 1872 with personal possessions in place but one of the boats missing, indicating the crew had fled.

The Spanish barque’s hull bore evidence of a collision at sea, and papers inside showed that it was named Tecla Carmen (or Tecla y Carmen) and had sailed from Cuba two months earlier carrying sugar for Falmouth, Cornwall. From there it had gone to Bristol before setting out for Liverpool empty, except for some iron ore as ballast (to improve stability at sea).

Only later did the full story emerge. The Tecla Carmen had been rammed at night off Ynys Enlli (Bardsey) by a much larger American ship named North American, to which the crew had transferred, fearing their barque would soon sink. The owner of the Spanish ship claimed compensation through the Admiralty Court, which eventually found the North American to blame but without awarding costs to the Tecla Carmen’s owner.

The wreck was sold at auction but some of the copper sheets on the underside were stolen before the new owner began to dismantle it. The ship’s captain alleged that valuables, including gold, had been stolen from the vessel.

Sources include the National Library of Wales and Ceredigion Shipwrecks, by William Troughton, Ystwyth Press 2006

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