Thursday, 1 September 2011

A Shipwreck

I don't think the earliest northern Irish newspaper, The Belfast Newsletter, is on-line, though as part of an academic project Dr. John C. Greene of Louisiana has supervised the compilation of an Index, the result of which is that some 'abstracts' are on-line. I'm not quite sure what all the symbols they used signify, but two extracts exist relevant to our clan. The first has the code ID 185206 from the Newsletter of 4-8 August 1786, page 3, viz.: 'port news arrived 2... $ Mary = McIlhago + Malaga'. I think this means that at an unnamed Irish port the ship called Mary had arrived on the 2nd of August, captained by her Master whose surname was McIlhago. A first thought about Malaga is that she may have come from the Costa del Sol on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, but I think this unlikely. Maybe a second ship called 'Malaga' was accompanying 'Mary'.

Was the McIlhago, Robert born about 1770 in Irvine, Ayrshire, who we know was a Sea Captain? Surely a teenager of 16, who may indeed have 'gone to sea' would not have been a ship's master in 1786! I wonder whether it could have been Robert's father? I have postulated, in an attempted reconstruction of the Ayrshire clan family in the 18th Century that Robert (born about 1770) might indeed have had a father named Robert who might have been born about 1745, who therefore in 1786 would have been 41 and may well have been a ship's master. I based my conjecture on the simple possibility that the first son is often called after his paternal grandfather and Robert (born about 1770) certainly had a first son Robert in 1789. Other than this possible reference in the Belfast Newsletter, at present we know nothing else about 'grandfather Robert'.

The second reference is most interesting, with new information for us. It is news from the paper published on 8th December 1797. It has the code DOC ID 278650 and is found on page 2. The abstract reads as follows: 'Drogheda 6 $ Industry + Irvine = McElhago master vessel wrecked + Drogheda! Bar + Clogher! Head sloop $ Jenny. crew drowned interred St. Peter's Church-yard + Brabazon, Wallop + Rath praise humane exertions'. I take it that on 6th December 1797 Captain McElhago was sailing his sloop Jenny in to the River Boyne at Drogheda when his vessel was wrecked with all hands lost. They all, including the master, were buried in the church-yard of St. Peter's Church of Ireland, Drogheda. It is extremely unlikely, given the circumstances, that the grave(s) would have been marked in any permanent way, and unfortunately there are no paper records, as St. Peter's registers are missing from the end of 1782 to the beginning of 1803.

Once again, we must ask the question, is this master Robert McElhago born about 1770? I think we must answer that in all probability it is, despite the fact that he would only have been about 27, quite young to have had a Master's ticket. Until now we have not had a death date for Robert. All we have known is that he died before 1820, the year his wife is listed in a town census as a widow. We do know that between 1789 and 1796 Robert and his wife Elizabeth (nee Jamieson) had four children, Robert, James, Samuel and a second Robert. In my attempted reconstruction of this family's 'tree' I have been assuming (hoping!) that I could add two other children, John (born about 1800) and Margaret (born 1803), but I now think this is not possible! The identification of Master McElhago as Robert is surely confirmed by the reference in the newspaper to Irvine, which is where Robert and his family lived. The last paper reference to 'praise humane exertions' was I imagine lauding a rescue attempt to save the crew, which was, tragically, unsuccessful.

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