The Shipwreck

The Shipwrecked "Turkestan"

llong hwyliau

The Turkistan was a square-rigger, probably similar to the above.

This is an account by the sisters Fanny and Ethel Holland Thomas – daughters of Captain Lewis Holland Thomas of Caerffynnon, Talsarnau – from the book The Caerffynnon Story written by Heulwen Isambard Owen and Hedydd Isambard Owen published 1973. The ship became shipwrecked on 18th February 1876.

“There’s a large ship lying on Harlech beach!” cried Fanny, flinging open the bedroom window in the early light after a night of mist and storm. She and Ethel stared at the pointing masts and the next thing was naturally to play truant from the schoolroom and race away to the sands to view the wreck of the century.

No coaster, this one, not even a stout ocean-going 300 tonner from Portmadoc but near 4000 tons of sheer beauty lying stricken in the shore waves. The Liverpool built square-rigger “Turkestan” returning from her maiden voyage. Laden with treasure from the far East, ivory and silk and spices, the wonder ship with her luxurious carpets and burnished teak and mahogany fittings, was making for the Mersey when, by some fatal miscalculation, her bows were turned into Cardigan Bay and she was full ashore at Harlech.

The truancy of Fanny and Ethel went unnoticed when they were joined on the beach by their father, Captain Holland-Thomas once more, urgently summoned by the local authorities to give his expert advice on this major stranding.

One thing struck him as highly unusual. “Tukestan” had two captains. Their authority appeared to be co-equal. Captain Black was the elder of the two. Captain Starr, young and blond, quickly became very popular in the vicinity. Captain Thomas’s advice was formal to both commanders.

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to invite you to my home but I cannot advise you to leave your ship. It could have the worst possible effect.”

From thence on for many days “Turkestan” was in everyone’s mind. All the strong arms in the neighbourhood were engaged in digging a deep, wide trench around her and down to the sea in which, it was hoped, the flowing tide would shift that mighty tonnage. Planks smeared with soft soap were manhandled under the keel. It was hot work and Captain Starr, labouring with the best, went below, mopping his brow and caught up a big jug of water to slake his thirst. Water? – it was raw oaraffin, a scorching and deadly draught and the stranding, though in nowise a wreck, claimed its first victim as the Captains short agony ended in death.

Everyone was waiting for the year’s highest tide. The trench was ready, the slippery planks were in place. The Caerffynnon family stood complete on the beach in the huge, waiting crowd that watched the two tugs steam in on the flood to take prisoner’s hawsers. In her trench she was quivering with life. The tugs foamed away, the trench water boiled as the long keel rose. “Turkestan” was afloat. The tugs backed into the deep tide. Snap! One great hawser leaped in the air and snaked away, broken. The defeated tug steamed to a distance and the crowd, in tense silence, watched the remaining one as it engaged in battle. Harlech sands held on grimly. The second hawser broke on the peak of the tide. A giant wave, tossing the four master like a toy, hurled it up – high – high on the shore to the point of no return where even the biggest tides of the year could only play along her sides.

There was nothing left to do but to dismantle her of her luxury fittings and to write her off as a wreck. But that was just what the local mariners could not accept. Purchaser after purchaser, in love with the beautiful ship, sank his all with that embedded keel in the sands, until with time the “Turkestan” began to break up. She was a favourite with the Caerffynnon children who played up and down her meaningless ladders and silent decks for many a long day. Local children fell ill with infected throats and workmen were sent in to hasten the slow decay of the once lovely ship. The last Ethel saw saw of “Turkestan” was when, newly married, she brought her husband to see her old home and they walked along the beach at Harlech. A vast, green pool shining on the beach marked the resting place of the proud old wreck.