Originally published in the Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology in 2004, we’ve posted below Eoghan’s paper by way of commemorating 154 years since the sinking of the Tayleur in January 1854.
Tayleur, a victim of technological innovation
On 21 January 1854, the British-built Iron Clipper, Tayleur was wrecked on Lambay Island, 21 km north-west of Dublin Bay. This much lauded vessel was on her maiden voyage to Melbourne, with a miscellaneous cargo and over 600 passengers and crew. The sinking of this revolutionary new ship during a time of great industrial advancement shocked many people and highlighted how a failure by contemporary mariners and designers to understand the effects of recent technology in vessel form, construction and material could be so costly.
Tayleur was the largest of eleven iron ships built by the Bank Quay Foundry during a short-lived programme of shipbuilding lasting from 1852 to 1855 (MacGregor, 1973). Prior to the commencement of this programme the company was more noted for its proficiency in heavy castings and iron working. The ship was designed by the renowned clipper designer William Rennie of Rennie and Johnston, Liverpool, who had just begun to develop an interest in iron shipbuilding (Starkey, 1999). The ship was originally designed as a screw steamer but whilst on the blocks its form was changed to that of a clipper owing to the lack of availability of a suitable engine. One consequence of this modification of the ship form was an increase in the ship’s dimensions; they increased from 204 ft x 36 ft x 23 ft (62.22 m x 10.98 m x 7m) to 225 ft x 39.4 ft x 27.6 ft (68.62 m x 12 m x 8.4 m) (MacGregor,1973). The ship was built at breakneck speed and on 5 October 1853 it was launched, just six months after its keel was laid (Warrington Guardian, 9 October 1853). Tayleur was then towed down the Mersey River to Liverpool where it was fitted out for its journey. This was also undertaken with considerable speed and on 14 January 1854 the ship was taken to anchorage in the Mersey Channel to await passengers and crew.