A Shipwreck from Two Hundred Years Ago

The Brig Trafalgar left Hull, Yorkshire, England “soon after” June 1, 1817. The passengers were immigrants bound for the New World to start a new life in either Saint John, NB, or Quebec City, QC. After being at sea for less than two months, the brig arrived off the coast of Nova Scotia. It sailed along the western point of the province where the crew became disoriented in fog and ran aground on July 25th.

A Saint John newspaper, dated July 26, 1817, reported: “Shipwreck!—On Friday evening last, about half-past eight o’clock, the ship Trafalgar, Capt. Welburn, went ashore on Brier Island in a very thick fog, the ship will be a total wreck; chief part of the materials saved—The Trafalgar was from Hull bound to this port, and from hence to Quebec, and had 159 passengers, which together with the crew were all saved.”

With the loss of their ship, the crew and passengers were temporarily stranded on Brier Island. They were fortunate because a small settlement existed there and the residents assisted them until they were able to find passage to resume their journey. But not everyone left for their initial destination; some settled in Nova Scotia.

According to Issue #14 of The White Fence published in February 2001, one family that had sailed on the Trafalgar eventually settled on Pond Shore Road, Middle Sackville, NB. Donna Beal writes about Thomas Beal, his wife Ann (nee Wilkinson) and their sons George, William and John in an article entitled “The Rogers (Beal) House”. She provides information on the shipwreck and gives genealogical details on the family. Thomas was a tanner, and his three sons grew up to follow the same path.

Jane Tims writes the blog Niche Poetry and Prose, and she tells the story of her great great-grandfather, William, who was aboard Trafalgar on that fateful evening. He was only seven years old. He arrived in Canada with his mother, step-father and brother. Tims does not provide a surname, only that William settled in Digby County, NS.

In her post “Briar (sic) Island Rock #2 ‘the shipwreck’”, she includes a letter from Captain J. Welburn to the owner of Trafalgar, H. Cochrane, dated July 30, 1817, that was published in the Hull Advertiser on September 27, 1817, which providing details of the event. “At low water, the ship was dry all round, amongst the rugged rocks, which went through her in different parts; the ship having as much water in the inside as there was on the outside at high water. The passengers were all safe landed that were brought out, and got all their baggage on shore.”

To read letters penned by the owner of the Trafalgar to the Earl of Bathurst before the ship left England, and to view the passengers’ list, visit The Ship’s Lists. Familiar surnames that appear on the list include Short, Watson, Burgess, Wilkinson, Nicholson, Forster, Atkin and Harrison.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of that historic voyage. A commemoration service is planned for July 25, 2017 at Brier Island. Descendants of all immigrants are welcome to join the festivities.

For further information, contact Al Short by email (shortjerusalem@yahoo.com) or by mail (133 Cherry Street, Middleboro, Massachusetts  02346  USA), Verna Mott by mail (219 Ellerdale Street, Apt. 159, Saint John, NB  E2J 3W1), or Ken Short by phone (877-806-7915 Toll Free).

**In the original printing of this article in the newspaper, I mistakenly said the Beal family settled in Middle Sackville, Nova Scotia; however, a keen reader alerted me to the fact it was Middle Sackville, New Brunswick.

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3 thoughts on “A Shipwreck from Two Hundred Years Ago

  1. Hi. My anscestor William, who was shipwrecked on the Trafalgar, was William Spavold and he later took his step-father’s name of Hill. The reunion is a wonderful idea and I wish I could be there. Have a wonderful day and enjoy the Briar Island scenery. My family visited in the 1990’s and found the area very picturesque. To think that our ancestors knew each other and shared in their dangerous experience. The geology is interesting there too, with columnar basalt similar to that at the Giant’s Causeway. Jane Tims

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