The Dromahair

The 353 ton barque Dromahair was built in New Brunswick in 1841 for Pyne and Company and registered in Sligo. For close on two decades she was a regular voyager on the North Atlantic under the command of her very popular owner and Master, Captain Peter Pyne, formally the skipper of the Britannia of Sligo.

Her usual route was between Sligo and the ports of New York or Quebec, taking out emigrants and returning with a general cargo. In December, 1844, she made the voyage from Quebec in a record eighteen days.

In 1851 the vessel was chartered by Messrs O’Connor & Purcell of the Old Slip, Quay Street; and in the Spring of that year the New York newspaper, the Irish American, carried an advertisement offering accommodation, both cabin and steerage, on the Dromahair from New York to Sligo. The advertisement went on to state:

Those who desire to visit the Emerald Isle can do so economically and pleasantly by booking passage on the first-class barque Dromahair for Sligo. The Captain, P. Pyne, is a gentlemanly and agreeable companion and a safe and able seaman. Parties desirous of bringing out their friends have now an opportunity as this well known and fortunate ship will leave Sligo for New York in early July.

The Dromahair made news in rather unusual circumstances in1852. At the Sligo Petty Sessions on March 16th six of her crew were convicted on a charge of desertion after the vessel had berthed at Oyster Island. There was conflicting evidence as to the origin of the dispute- crew members contending that Captain Pyne’s conduct during a voyage from Glasgow was exceedingly violent and they were left short of provisions. A majority of the Magistrates, however, sided with the Captain’s version of events, found them guilty of unlawful desertion and sentenced them to a fortnight’s imprisonment. After being released on April 1st they were immediately taken under police escort to the Quays and put aboard the Dromahair which was ready to sail for New York.

The Dromahair sailed from Quebec on what was to be her last voyage on November 20th, 1858. Her Master on that ill-fated trip was Captain Hutchinson. She had a crew of twelve and carried a cargo of timber for the Clyde. On December 19th, at 51. 34 N. Long and 30. 20 W. Lat., while lying-to in a strong gale, the Dromahair was struck by a heavy sea which swept the decks fore and aft, washed away the wheel, filled the cabin with water and caused such damage as to leave the vessel almost a complete wreck. She then sprung a leak and made so much water that the pumps could not keep her free. As she quickly became waterlogged most of the provisions were lost and the crew were forced to take refuge either in the foretop or in the house on the deck. Food was rationed and they had no drinking water apart from what could be collected when it rained.

On December 29th a steamship passed near but paid no attention to their signals. Two days later another strong gale blew up and the crew were compelled to abandon the pumps. The vessel was completely waterlogged and nothing more could be done. Rations were running low, only thirty or forty pounds of bread but no water. On January 1st a crew member, named John McInnis, died of hunger and exposure. That night Harry Frost became deranged and went over the side of the vessel, hanging only by his hands. A number of the crew tried to pull him in but he was washed away. Altogether, five of the crew died of starvation or were swept off. About noon on January 6th, a ship, which turned out to be the Centurion on its way from Glasgow to New York, was observed steaming towards them. Observing the plight of the Dromahair, and not withstanding the howling gale, her Captain lowered his boats and went to the aid of the disabled vessel and took off the surviving crew members. They were later transferred to the Magellan and landed safely at Bristol.

News of the wreck of the Dromahair, the dreadful sufferings of the crew and the deaths from starvation, reached Sligo in mid March, courtesy of Lloyds. Widespread sympathy was expressed particularly for the relatives of those lost. There was also great regret that another locally owned barque had gone to a watery grave.