The Aberdovey schooner Maglona, launched 1876

Maglona, showing off her very beautiful lines.  Source:  D.M. Morgan. Brief Glory.

The shipbuilder Thomas Richards launched the topsail schooner Maglona at Aberdovey on March 11th 1876.  Maglona was one of the larger Aberdovey schooners, at 114 tons and 87.3ft long.  She had a figurehead in the form of a woman.  She was registered at Aberystwyth, no.6 and was named for a Roman fort that was thought to have existed near Machynlleth.  Topsail schooners combine the usual schooner gaff rig (sails parallel to the hull sides) with two or three square sails, perpendicular to the hull sides), on the fore mast, to take advantage of following winds to pick up additional speed.

Of the 64 shares, timber merchant Richard Owen of Machylleth had 52 shares and ship owner Morgan Owens of Aberystwyth had 12 who became the ship’s managing owner (responsible for all commercial decisions regarding the ship’s career) in May 1876.   Initially, the ship’s builder Thomas Richards did not have any shares in the ship, although he did have shares in other ships that he owned, including his successful 1878 ship Mervinia, in which he held 10 shares from launch.  Almost immediately Richard Owen sold 24 of his shares between 12th May and 19th May 1876, retaining 28, after which the ownership stood as follows (listed by Lewis Lloyd, 1996):

  • Richard Owen of Machynlleth, timber merchant – 28 shares
  • Morgan Owens, Ship Owner and Managing Agent of Maglona – 10 shares
  • David Hughes of Machynlleth, Slate Agent – 4 shares
  • Robert Rees, Machynlleth, Slate Agent – 4 shares
  • Thomas Richards, Aberdovey, Shipbuilder – 4 shares
  • Griffith Griffiths, of Tynhir, Montgomery, Farmer – 4 shares
  • John Jones of New Quay, Cardiganshire, Sailor Retired – 4 shares

It seems a little odd that Thomas Richards only bought shares in his own ship after Richard Owen sold off some of his own shares.

The announcement of her launch in the Cambrian and Merionethshire Standard was both brief and prosaic, suggesting that for Welsh people in general, this was worth noting but was not an extraordinary or unusual event.  Ships were being launched all the time along the Welsh coast.

A fine new schooner was launched on Saturday March 11th, from Mr Thomas Richards’s building yard. The new vessel, named the Maglona,” is of about 200 tons burden, and intended for the foreign and coasting trade. The usual ceremony of christening was performed by Miss Owens, of Machynlleth.

It was probably much more of an occasion in Aberdovey itself.  Buddug Anwylini Pughe (quoted in Lloyd 1996, p.96) wrote a memoir of her life in the village, and in it she says “I quite vividly recollect, young though I was at the time, the intense excitement that pervaded the whole village on the occasion of a launch.”

The site of the yard where Thomas Richards built his schooners, now the memorial park on the edge of Penhelig. Source: D.W. Morgan, Brief Glory (1948), pl.40

Thomas Richards (1819-1880) was brought up locally, attending school in Bryncrug.  Together with John Jones and Roger Lewis, he was a leading shipbuilder in the Aberdovey/Penhelig area.  His shipyard was somewhere near Penhelig, and although his first ship of 1858 was Elizabeth and Margaret, a 44 ton smack (a traditional fishing boat) he specialized in schooners that were big enough to tackle long distance trade, around and above 100 tons burden. Lloyd comments (p.100) “He was soon recognised as a shipbuilder of quite outstanding ability, as an artist.”  D.W. Morgan says (p.126) that  all of his schooners “sailed and looked like yachts.” He built 14 vessels in 22 years, of which only Elizabeth and Margaret and Olive Branch were not schooners His largest vessel was the 204 ton brig Naomi (brigs had two masts, fore and main, both square-rigged, with a gaff-rigged sail on the main mast). Richards was responsible for Aberdovey’s last sea-going vessel, the 99 ton schooner Olive Branch, but died before her completion.  Shipbuilders all had different approaches to the task.  Lloyd says that John Jones often had many ships on the go at a time, but Thomas Richards preferred to concentrate on one at a time, giving full attention to the job at hand.   He did not live to see Maglona wrecked in 1887, dying in 1880.  His obituary in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard on January 30th 1880 is a measure of the respect in which he was held as a shipbuilder.

Richard Owen, who was the principal shareholder in Maglona, was a timber merchant based in Machylleth.  I was hoping to find out more about him and his business, but have not found anything so far.  Do get in touch if you have any information.  Timber merchants were responsible for the provision of timber for a variety of trades including the building trade, cabinet making and, of course, shipbuilding, and for each of these trades different types and classes of timber were required, both from British sources and from overseas.  The Baltic, North America and Canada were popular sources of timber for shipbuilding and local timber merchants were also exporting oak and oak bark to other parts of the country.  According to Samuel Lewis in 1833, Derwenlas on the River Dyfi, the furthest navigable port on the river, handled 500 tons of bark, 40,000 ft of oak timber and 150,000 oak poles for collieries.  Timber merchants, often investors in the trades to which they supplied timber, were often very wealthy merchants, and could become people of considerable local influence.

Maglona was initially engaged in local coastal and Baltic trades under Owen Williams of Church Street, Aberdovey and then John Williams of Barmouth, before entering the trans-Atlantic and Mediterranean trades under a Master Mariner David Richards (certificate 97179), who had built up considerable experience in the trans-Atlantic timber trade and, by 1880 was living in a house in Aberdovey called Dovey Villa.  Maglona‘s history seems to be fairly trouble-free until she was wrecked.  The only reference I can find to her on the Welsh Newspapers Online website is in April 1878 when, according to a very brief comment in the South Wales Daily News of 4th April, she arrived at Milford Haven under Captain Owens carrying a cargo of manure, with her foremast mast missing, but there are no further details in this report.  Losing masts was commonplace, if regrettable, and usually occurred in heavy storms.

Her voyages, tabulated from information in Lewis Lloyd’s A Real Little Seaport, are as follows.  I won’t do this for every ship that I talk about, but it seemed worth doing at least one, as it shows  the reach of Aberdovey schooners of this tonnage, the length of individual voyages, the time they took en route between ports, and the time typically spent in each port.  Not all of Maglona‘s home and coastal trips are captured by Lloyd, so more of those were undertaken than are shown here.  I did have a column labelled “cargo,” but the records that were available to Lloyd apparently didn’t record this information, which is a real shame.  D.W. Morgan, however, says that her traditional cargoes when her destination was Newfoundland, was slate from Aberdovey or Portmadoc to Cadiz, sea salt from Cadiz for St John’s, in ballast (with no cargo) to Labrador where she awaited the arrival of cod that was then salted and dried and brought alongside in small boats.  The salted cod was then taken to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.  “The cargo having been sold, iron ore for Mostyn, barrels of olive oil for for Goole, marble for Exmouth as the case might be would be shipped, and the vessel pointed for home.  Usually Aberdovey or Portmadoc were reached in ballast.”

Maglona was wrecked only 11 years after she was built on September 2nd 1887, off the coast of Newfoundland at Mistaken Point, southwest of Cape Race.  Fortunately, the entire crew of five was saved.  D. W. Morgan provides an account of how this may have occurred, “derived from one who was a ‘Boy’ aboard her at the time.”  The vessel had arrived late in Labrador due to the loss of her foretopmast and jib-boom on her way from Cadiz, and it was therefore late in the season when she left Labrador for Newfoundland.

All was going well until a fog, the like of which Capt. Richards had never before experienced, enveloped the ship, marooning her in a padded, unreal world of her own.  In this she lay for four or five days, the captain hoping devoutly that nothing untoward might befall them before the sun shone again to hive him his bearings.

It was not to be howeever, for early on the fifth morning the boy on the watch forrard, cried “Brekers ahead” and even before the echo of his voice had died away land loomed out of hte fog dead ahead and no more than a buscuit toss away.

Fortunately for the crew, although the ship struck the rocks, she became wedged in a narrow gully.  Although she was tossed fiercely by the sea, and began to break up, the crew were able to clamber to safety and were spotted by fishermen who were able to rescue them.  The remains of Maglona were put up for auction, where she fetched £15.

Morgan says that after the death of Thomas Richards, his shipyard furnishings and equipment were sold at auction, including sheds, stove and surplus timber: “they were all knocked down for £19/1-/0;  So much achieved with so little.”

Sources:

Welsh Newspapers Online: https://newspapers.library.wales 

  • Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard
  • South Wales Daily News

Jenkins, J.G.2006.  Welsh Ships and Sailing Men.  Gwasg Carreg Gwalch
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

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