The s.s. Aberllefeni Quarrymaid, unsurprisingly known usually simply as Quarry Maid or Quarrymaid, has two distinctions. First, she is the only steamer to have been built in Aberdovey, and second, renamed Orcadia, she was the first steamer to serve the North Isles of Orkney.
She was built by Roger Lewis (1815-1906) who Lewis Lloyd describes as a “maverick” and “an outstanding character.” According to Lewis, he came from Llanon in Cardiganshire, “a small but vigorous maritime community” where he was a master mariner (uncertified). He not only built vessels, but often commanded them, and was a coxswain of the Aberdovey Lifeboat for many years. Lewis says that whilst he was clearly a skilled seaman and had some experience as a carpenter, he never trained as a shipwright, and his instinctive approach led to results that were not always completely desirable. In spite of this, or perhaps to reassure other investors, he retained shares in most of his ships.
Roger Lewis had a long-standing shipbuilding business devoted to sailing ships, based on Penhelig beach, just outside the Penhelig Arms (see photograph above). It is interesting that Lewis went straight from sail to screw propulsion (propellers), bypassing the intermediary paddle steamer stage. Aberllefeni Quarrymaid was named for the three Aberllefenni slate quarries. According to Wikipedia Aberllefeni was the longest continually operated slate quarry in the world until its closure in 2003.
Quarrymaid was built by Roger Lewis to serve as a coastal vessel. According to Morgan she had a wooden hull, 83.1ft long, 58 tons. She was launched in October 1858 and sailed to Caernarfon where she was fitted out with two De Winton 50hp engines and associated machinery at Thomas and De Winton’s Union Foundry. I have have been unable to find an image, so have no idea about the arrangement of funnel and masts, but she is described in a number of contexts as an auxiliary schooner, presumably with two masts. Auxiliary ships usually still looked like sailing ships, with the funnel positioned between the two masts, and they could switch between sail and steam as required. Ships could save fuel when there was wind, but could fire up engines when they were sailing against the wind, in stormy conditions or when conditions were becalmed. This meant that steamers could stick to a timetable and maintain reliable schedules even when the weather was bad, which was particularly valuable to customers sending perishable goods and livestock and for passengers. Quarrymaid was registered at Aberystwyth, no.25.
The first shareholders were as follows (listed in Lloyd 1996, Appendix V, p.124-5):
- Robert Davies Jones, Trefri, Esq – 16 shares
- Roger Lewis, Aberdyfi, builder and master mariner – 10 shares
- Robert Gamlen Sweeting, Soutlan, Warwickshire, Gentleman – 8 shares
- Ann Pughe, Aberdyfi, widow – 4 shares
- James Webster, Aberdyfi, Gentleman – 4 shares
- Hugh Jones, Gelligraian, Farmer – 4 shares
- Evan Anwyl, Llanon, Gentleman – 4 shares
- Elizabeth Jones, Crosswood, Montogomery, Spinster – 4 shares
- Joseph Sheppard Draper, Haselbury, near Crewkerne, Somerset, Gentleman – 4 shares
- George Jonathan Scott, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, Gentleman – 4 shares
- David Jones, Machynlleth, Montgomery, Agent – 2 shares
There are often a diverse set of occupations listed, and widows are frequent shareholders, but what is surprising here is the sheer geographical scope of Quarrymaid‘s shareholders.
Quarrymaid undertook her maiden voyage from Aberdovey to London in April 1859, with several of the owners on board, some of whom disembarked at Aberystwyth. The Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald had this to say about her maiden voyage on April 20th 1859:
The steamer started on her first voyage to London on Saturday. Several of the owners and gentlemen were on board. Also some ladies who went as far as Aberystwyth. Robert Davies Jones, Esq., Trefi, and Lady R. Webster, Esq., Aberdovey etc, were on board. The Quarrymaid steamed beautifully out of the harbour and made about nine knots an hour.
Initially, Quarrymaid‘s standard route was between Aberdovey and London, averaging a round trip per fortnight, stopping at Barmouth, Aberystwyth and Aberaeron as well. An advert was placed in The Aberystwyth Observer on the 23rd April 1859 just after she was built, announcing her first commercial voyage on 25th April 1859. D.W. Morgan says that at one point her engineer was Tom Hughes of Gogarth, who had been an officer on the fabulous London tea clipper Cutty Sark and that at some stage she was lengthened by Roger Lewis. Her first master was also her builder, Roger Lewis, and she was managed by David Jones and Rowland Evans of Machynlleth.
Pickle Herring Wharf, Quarrymaid‘s destination in London, was in Bermondsey, part of a vast complex of wharves that lined both sides of the Thames. The etching on the left, by well known artist Joseph Pennell, shows how the warehouses were linked to the waterside wharves across the cobbled road. Where it once stood is now the section of Thames Path in front of the HMS Belfast. However, it looks like a clone of the contemporary Butler’s Wharf, which survives today as a major tourist destination just upriver from where Tower Bridge (built 1886 -1894) is now located. The warehouses were great terraced blocks of multi-storey buildings, and for the general public and watermen to reach the river, staircases were provided, the watermen’s stairs. Those that ran down to the river were just behind this image, to the left, and were marked on contemporary maps as the Pickle Herring Stairs.
Later, Quarrymaid switched routes at some stage before 1862, running between Aberdovey and Liverpool. Although it is not explicitly stated anywhere what her cargo may have been, it seems likely that she was carrying slate, at least when she was running into London, but may have switched to perishables when she switched to Liverpool. Steamers were comparatively expensive to run, costs being accrued both in fuel and additional crew requirements. Their cargo carrying prices were therefore higher, meaning that they were often used mainly for time-sensitive cargoes, when the risk of spoilage merited the extra cost of reliable steamers. that were far more predictable to scale, and arrived to schedule.
Lewis Lloyd gives details of the Crew Agreement for the Aberdovey to Liverpool half year ending 30th June 1862. He says that it is the only one that was available at the Dolgellau Record Office, from which he derived the following information:
- Captain: David Lloyd of Cardigan, aged 24
- Mate: Richard Davies of Merioneth, aged 25
- Engineman: William Davies of Anglesey, aged 30
- Stoker: Griffith Evans of Merioneth, aged 28
- Able Seaman: Thomas Jones of Merioneth, aged 30
- Able Seaman: John Griffith of Merioneth, aged 23
- Cook: Evan Lloyd of Cardigan, aged 13 (possibly the younger brother of the captain)
Lloyd says that during the period covered by this contract, Quarrymaid made 13 voyages between Aberdovey and Liverpool, about one per fortnight.
In 1860 it was reported in the North Wales Advertiser and Chronicle of 15th December, that the captain of the Quarrymaid was pursuing a case against a deserter, more to make a point than to pursue any heart-felt grievance:
James Webster, Esq., the princi- pal owner of the steamer Quarrymaid,” plying between Aberdovey and London, preferred a complaint against a lad named Jonas Jonas, (who did not appear) for leaving the steamer on the 3rd ult., just as she was ready for sea, and thereby causing a delay of two days before another lad could be procured. He did not wish to press the case but for example’s sake he wished to bring the case before their Worships, to know whether these sort of things were to be carried on with impunity.
On February 9th 1861, Quarrymaid collided with the Ann Jones from Porthmadog, the cause apparently being a particularly strong tide. The Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald reported that both ships were damaged, the Quarrymaid losing her jibboom and the Ann Jones losing ropes and the gaff, which fell on deck, striking the mate. There were no fatalities but there were two casualties, one on each ship, both taken away for medical care. Later in the same year, the 14th September edition of the North Wales Advertiser and Chronicle‘s review of the Petty Sessions of Friday September 6th contained this fascinating and amusing story about the second mate stealing bottles of wine from a hamper that had been loaded in Liverpool for one Miss Griffiths of Trefri, although perhaps not so amusing for the accused, who was sentenced to two months imprisonment with hard labour:
Stealing Wine.—Mr. D. Pughe appeared for the prosecution. Roger Lewis, captain of the steamer Quarrymaid, of Aberdovey, preferred a charge of felony against the second mate Hugh Davies. It appears that a hamper of wine, consigned to Miss Griffiths, of Trefri, had been put on board in Liverpool, on the 20th of May last. It was a two dozen hamper. The captain stated that he stove it away himself in the hold, in Clarence Basin Dock, and that on his arrival at Aberdovey it had disappeared. The prisoner’s berth was in the forecastle, and there was an access from there to the hold without coming on deck. The vessel was not full at the time. The hamper was put on the starboard side, and was approachable for any one. Thomas Morgan, a sharp lad, about 17 years of age, who had evidently imbibed some strong potations previous to coming into court, stated that he was on board the Quarrymaid, but never recollected seeing the hamper stowed away. Remembers seeing Hugh Davies, the prisoner, coming up out of the hold one day with four bo-tles before they left Liverpool. We were about half laden at the time. We were the only two on board at that time. The Captain and others had gone ashore. I saw him tap one of the bottles; and as he had no cork screw he did it with his finger and thumb. He gave me some of the wine, but I did not know then that he had stolen it. I thought perhaps he had some of his own, until he said “mind and don’t split,” then I smelt a rat. He gave some to Daniel Davies, and told him it was teetotal stuff, and Dan drank some then. I saw four bottles on his bed at supper time, but had no more of it after I left Liverpool. John Richards swore having seen eight bottles on Hugh Davies’s bed the day the vessel sailed. Thos. Smith, fireman, recollected having something to drink out of a bottle at Aberdovey from Hugh Davies, but could not say whether it was wine or not, for he never accustomed himself to drink it. He could manage porter as well as any man. (Laughter.) Cross-examined—Can’t say it was wine; knew it was not porter, nor gin, nor brandy, nor physic, nor ink. Could not say what it was; it went down very nice. Daniel Davies swore that he saw bottles on the bed of the prisoner. Had tasted the wine because he told him it was teetotal stuff. After reaching Aberdovey the Captain went to Machynlleth, when the prisoner said it was a good chance to dispose of the hamper; he said, what hamper; and he answered, the wine hamper, he would throw it overboard. Believe prisoner cut the hamper with his knife. P.C. Roberts deposed that he apprehended the prisoner on Thursday. Told him the charge. He asked what imprisonment he was likely to get, and acknowledged he had done it. Prisoner was then asked whether he was guilty, which he owned, and was sentenced to two months imprisonment with hard labour.
On one occasion, very late in her life, she was chartered for a pleasure cruise to Aberystwyth and back, as reported in the North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser:
ABERDOVEY.—On Thursday the Steamer Quarrymaid from Aberdovey took a trip as far as Aberystwyth and back. The weather was beautifully fine, and a rich treat was thus afforded. About eighty from Towyn and Aberdovey, visitors, &c., availed themselves of a trip, H. Webster, Esq,, of Aberdovey bore the expenses of the excursion, to whom great praise is due for his kindness and liberality at all times in Aberdovey and vicinity. During the passage, singing was kept up with spirit. After spending about six hours in Aberystwyth, the Quarrymaid steamed off at about nine knots an hour, and Aberdovey was reached in good time. Three hearty good cheers for Mr. Webster was given on board, which was joined in by the multitude on shore, who greeted the company on their return. A private company was entertained by the same gentleman at the Hotel, and a pleasant evening spent.
In 1865 she was sold, renamed Orcadia, and entered service in the Northern Isles of Orkney on March 29th 1865, remaining in service until 1868, when she was replaced by a larger steamer.
There is no record of where or when she was broken up or lost. Perhaps she was scrapped after going out of service in 1868, but the above story about her taking a group of people on a jolly to Aberystwyth is dated 3rd September 1869, so perhaps she returned to Aberdovey to be be broken up, and this was the party to commemorate the event. A guess.
If anyone knows of an image of her, please get in touch!
Update: Thanks to Dai Williams for the information that an earlier and bigger Quarrymaid was built at Pwlleli by William Jones. Just to avoid confusion, here are a few details about the earlier ship. She was a sailing schooner built in 1840, was 116 tons, and foundered in 1866 off Flamborough Head. Jones built another ship, Quarryman, in the same year (source: rhiw.com).
Welsh Newspapers Online: https://newspapers.library.wales
Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald
North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser
The Aberystwyth Observer
Deayton, A. 2015. Steamers and Ferries of the Northern Isles. Amberley Publishing Ltd
Hague, D.B. 1984. A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Mid-Wales.
Lloyd, L. 1996. A Real Little Seaport. The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 1. ISBN-10 1874786488
Lloyd, L. 1996. A Real Little Seaport. The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 2. ISBN-10 1874786496
Morgan, D.W. 1948. Brief Glory. The Story of a Quest. The Brython Press
Richards, J. 2007. Maritime Wales. Tempus