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A brutal storm raged off the north coast of Wales on the morning of Sunday, January 4, 1857 and three ships were floundering in the roiling sea. At 10 am, the Point of Ayr lifeboat was launched to go to the aid of the ship Temperance.

In the 1800s, lifeboat stations had been formed at Liverpool and Hoylake, staffed with men who could reach a wreck regardless of the direction of wind or sea. At Point of Ayr, however, there was a lack of skilled rescue men. Their crew was composed mainly of local tradesmen, gardeners and miners. To complement this group of volunteers, two fishermen were sent over from Hoylake — Robert Beck as captain, and John Sherlock as mate. They were provided with housing and an allowance that could be supplemented by the sale of any fishing catch. It was a meagre life.

lighthouse at Point of Ayr

The lifeboats supplied to the crew at Point of Ayr were 42 ft. clinker built boats similar to a ship’s boat intended for either rowing or sailing. When rowing, they pulled 10 oars. Under sail, they had two fixed sails and a foresail. Buoyancy was provided by air cases under the thwarts and a large cork fender around the outside of the boat. Total crew was 13 men.

men and horses pulling lifeboat from the sea

As the lifeboat launched that morning of Jan 4, onlookers watched from the shore. Off the coast of Rhyl, the stormy sea caught and overturned the lifeboat. None of the men on board were wearing lifejackets as they were made of cork at the time and the men found they hampered their movement in times of rescue. Three men were seen clinging to the overturned keel of the Point of Ayr lifeboat. After half an hour, though, the raging sea took them under.

The crew on this unfortunate occasion was composed of three miners, three labourers, two gardeners, a shopkeeper, coachman, and sawyer in addition to Robert Beck and John Sherlock. All 13 men perished that day.

A public subscription was opened for the dependents of the lost men. It was liberally subscribed to, reaching the total of £3,025.19s. This was more than enough to meet the demands and the balance was held to meet the needs of other sufferers. The Dock Board held an inquiry into the matter. The boat was recovered and carefully examined but found to be in good condition. One thing that did come out of the tragedy was a tightening of the rules about wearing lifejackets. A fine was imposed for not wearing them. In addition, fixed sails on lifeboats were no longer permitted.

John Jones Sherlock, b 23 Sep 1804 in West Kirby, Cheshire, England; d 7 Jan 1857 in Point of Ayr lifeboat disaster was my husband’s first cousin 6x removed. Left to mourn his death were his wife, Sarah (nee Williams), his parents Joseph and Margaret, and 8 siblings: Anne, Mary, Margaret, Thomas, Richard, Joseph, Peter and Jane, as well as 42 nieces and nephews.