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Author: Public Record Office Victoria
The Royal Charter was one of the fastest ships traveling from Liverpool to Australia during the Victorian gold rush.
In August 1859 the Royal Charter passenger ship left Melbourne for Liverpool, carrying 452 men, women and children, and a cargo of gold valued at £320,000 – the equivalent of more than A$170 million today!
In the early hours of 26 October, the clipper was near Moelfre (off the north-west coast of Wales). Winds began to pick up dangerously: the ship had sailed into the worst storm to hit the Irish Sea that century. Sending up distress signals, but finding no pilot to respond, the captain dropped the anchors and powered the coal engines, but it was too late.
The Royal Charter was driven onto rocks only 50 yards (46 metres) from the shore and was battered against them with such force that the ship broke in two. Many people were thrown from the ship; some swam valiantly for shore but were weighed down by the gold in their pockets.
Seaman Edward Wilson, one of the crew to survive, described the terrible confusion on deck: ‘Fathers and mothers clasping their children in their arms, wives clinging to husbands, shrieking and crying, “Save me!”’. Another seaman, Joseph Rogers, was a hero. He tied a rope around his waist and managed to swim to shore. He secured the rope and aided the rescue of the 39 survivors – all men.
The Royal Charter Shipping List is preserved within the Public Record Office Victoria shipping records, here you can see John Bradbury's name at the top of this record, the only man who survived off this list. Shipping lists of those individuals who migrated to or from Victoria between 1852 and 1923 are now available to search online, and a valuable resource for family historians.
What's in the Archives?
Passenger list record citation: PROV, VPRS 948/P1, unit 17; Image: Courtesy of John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.