Prompted by the news in The Times of 30 August 2019, that the wreck of the paddle steamer Lelia has been found off North Wales and granted protected status on the advice of Historic England, I unearthed my notes on a similar story with a Bangor connection. It occurred two years later in 1866. I came across this neglected tale many years ago – the disappearance in the Irish Sea of the paddle steamer Arran Castle.
This was the time of the American Civil War. To beat the Union blockade of Confederate ports, fast steamers were built at British yards with the hope of making fortunes by bringing in supplies and armaments and exporting cotton, hitherto a source of great wealth in English mill towns and cities. Scores of such steamers were built mainly in the many Clyde yards. The Lelia was built at Toxteth, Liverpool, but on her maiden voyage foundered in a gale. The same year, the Arran Castle was built at Port Glasgow by the yard of Kirkpatrick and McIntyre. It is unclear whether this was on a speculative basis or whether it was for Captain Alex. Watson of Glasgow and Captain William Brown of Bangor. The war ended, though, and it may be that the two Captains only became the owners when a new use had to be found for the yard's product.
Captain Brown was with his brother John a pioneer of the popularity of the paddle steamer routes on Belfast Lough with their steamers Hero, Heroine and Lady of the Lake which was the regular caller at Holywood's long pier (stumps of which can still be seen at low tide) Another brother, Robert, also involved in the shipping ventures which included interests in large sailing ships, had an address in Cheapside, London. The Heroine was sold to Confederate interests for blockade running, and in 1864 a much larger steamer appeared also from the yard of Kirkpatrick and McIntyre, the 'Erin'.
The Arran Castle was employed in 1865 on the popular 'doon the watter' sails from Glasgow city centre to Rothesay, but early in 1866 it was decided to take her to the Thames to run from London to Gravesend. The intended new name was Palmerston.
She left the Clyde on 21 March 1866 with about 20 on board including the owners, two stewards and Captain Watson's 11 year-old son. A south-westerly gale sprang up, and the last sighting of the Arran Castle was off the Wicklow coast. Some days later, quantities of wreckage were found between the Copelands and Portpatrick, examination of which gave rise to the theory there had been a boiler explosion, probably en route back to the Clyde owing to the gale. It is of note that her engines were built by Rankin and Blackmore, Greenock, whose nameplate can be seen to this day in the engine room of the world's last sea-going paddle steamer, Waverley – a ship dating from 1947 but not, in fact, radically different from the Arran Castle.
The Erin appears in many of the old photographs of Bangor as does her similar consort Bangor Castle which, ironically, came from the Thames to join the Erin in 1873. Her name there: Palmerston !