Wreck of the ‘Alfred D. Snow’ near Wexford, 1888

Sometimes discovering a pearl that you are not looking for can be as exciting as finding the diamond you were searching out; regardless if others have touched it earlier.

I’ve been reviewing U.S. consulate in Ireland records for my ongoing research on the murder of John Foran and other “agrarian outrages” of the late 19th century Land War period. Both paper and microfilm records from consulate offices in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Belfast are stored at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

During a recent review, I read letters and other documents related to the 4 January 1888 wreck of the “Alfred D. Snow” in the Irish Channel near County Wexford. The three-masted wooden ship was sailing with a cargo of wheat to Liverpool, England, from San Francisco on the U.S. west coast. The grain originally came from Australia.

The ship had just turned northward in St. George’s Channel when it encountered a gale, ran aground and broke apart near the entrance of Wexford Harbor. Capt. William J. Willey and his crew of 28 men scrambled to their lifeboats but were drowned in the churning sea.

A registry of the dead sent to the consul office at Cork shows the crew were from Russia, Norway, Germany and one Irishman, Thomas Lloyd. The Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales Blog, which offers a fine account of the wreck (with images), identifies the Irishman as Michael O’Sullivan. Other crew were from New York, Delaware, Illinois and Maine, including Capt. Willey.

His body was shipped home to Thomaston, Maine, in a brandy-filled lead casket, while other bodies that eventually washed ashore were buried locally. The New Ross Poor Law Union contacted the consul office for reimbursement, including whiskey for those involved in washing and “coffining” the corpses. The U.S. State Department approved the expenditures, as reported by Bernadette Whelan in her excellent book, “American Government in Ireland, 1790-1913: A History of the U.S. Consular Service.”

Here’s another blog post about the wreck.

A traditional Irish folk air was written in 1890 to memorialize the “Alfred D. Snow.”  The song begins:

Of shipwrecks and disasters we’ve read and seen a deal
But now the coast of Wexford must tell a dreadful tale
On the 4th day of January the wind in a gale did blow
And four and twenty hands were lost of the Alfred D. Snow

From the port of San Francisco she sailed across the main
Bound for the port of Liverpool her cargo it was grain
On a happy day she sailed away to cross the stormy foam
There’s not a soul alive today to bring the tidings home

The Wexford Song Project blog has the full lyrics. According to the website, timber from the wreck was auctioned off for other uses, including the bar counter and shelving of the Strand Tavern in Duncannon.