The wreck of the Irishman

by MAT

Volunteer Andrew Daw explores the story of the Irishman and its possible origins.

One of several wrecks and hulks within the reaches of Langstone Harbour is the vessel Irishman. It lies at 5048.33N 01 01.41W (Ref: Wrecksite #19213) and it was lost on May 8‘” 1941, after having struck and detonated a magnetic mine dropped by German bombers. At the time of loss, the Irishman was operating with the grab dredger Percy and a lighter, and was manned by a crew of five, all of whom were lost. The Irishman now lies at a depth of 12m, with its badly broken structure showing at low spring tides near an isolated danger marker buoy near Sword Point. It predominantly consists of substantial amounts of bent and twisted metal around a structure spread over an area of at least 30m, with elements of the wreckage rising over 2m from the seabed. Discernible elements also included a bucket (possibly from a paddle-wheel) and hull frames. The upper parts of the structure were predominantly covered with kelp (Laminaria digitata) which became sparser with depth.

Whilst the ultimate demise of the Irishman is documented and agreed, the origins of the ship are a little more confused. Heritage England and Wrecksite present two contrasting records for a vessel called Irishman. Heritage England describes a vessel built in 1929 by Cochrane & Sons of Selby, with a single boiler, and a 3 cylinder triple expansion engine delivering 89hp through a single screw (from Earl’s Ship Building & Engineering Co. Ltd). Its dimensions were 100’ x 25’ 1” x 12′ 3” (30.5m x 7.65m x 3.73m) and its tonnage was 222t. At the time of the loss the vessel was owned by United Towing Co ltd (Hull).

In contrast, Wrecksite describes a vessel of Irish nationality, built in 1896 by Cook, Welton & Gemmell Ltd., Beverley (Hull), with an engine by Tindall & Co.(Hull) delivering 70hp and 10.5 knots. With incomplete dimensions of 26.2m x 5.2m x unknown depth, the vessel had a gross tonnage of 99grt. At the time of loss, the Irishman was owned by Vectis Transport Co., Ltd.(Cowes), after serving with Thomas Gray and Co (Hull), the Medina Steam Tug and Water Co. (Cowes), the Royal Navy (as HMT Irishman) and the Cowes Steam Tug Co.

These documents describe the engine as being a compound inverted type from Tindall & Co. Interestingly the Lloyds Heritage Foundation has a record of numerous documents and invoices regarding a vessel called Irishman that was built in 1896 (ref: LRF-PUN-HUL412-0110—F), but doesn’t have any records for a vessel named Irishman built in 1929.

Archival information from Humper Packet Boasts identifies the ‘Irishman‘, but gives no information as to its end (many other ships demise are recorded in that archive).

Due to the confused and scattered nature of the site, only a limited survey was undertaken, with survey measurements giving only an estimate of the extent of the remaining debris. Since the survey, the Navy has cleared the site with explosives.

An anomaly 100m to the west of the Irishman has been investigated (isolated object marker buoy located a 50 48.28N 01 01.22W). The object had been the cause of net fasteners (i.e., snagged fishing nets) and recorded as an anomaly on echo sounders when traversed by boat. The object was a boiler, possibly from the Irishman. It measured 2.35m wide, 3.54m long, standing 1.77m from the sea floor. The boiler has been sketched and  its position plotted. It is now believed to have been cleared by the Navy.

The five crewmembers of the Irishman are all commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial: Robert Adlerton, Colin Charles Duke, Albert Lofting, Harry F. Underdown, Clement John Young.

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