The Great Storm - 22nd December 1894

I’ve seen a few good storms in my time, although probably nothing that would match the one below.  The description of a great storm in 1894 (in bold and italics), again comes from the local history booklet by C.F. Milliken.


In Bangor Town Hall you will see some photographs of old sailing ships which were blown ashore on 22nd December 1894.  Out of six sailing ships anchored in Belfast Lough only one escaped.  This was the Norwegian full rigged ship “The Malone”, which early on Friday morning slipped her anchor and went to sea.

The three-masted schooner “Doctor”, went aground on Ballymacormick Point and was in matchwood in about five minutes.  The greater part of her crew were drowned.

The barque “Lancaster” ran aground at Grey Point, but the crew were all rescued by the rocket apparatus.

The Italian barque, “Espina” was demasted and afterwards brought into Belfast.

The “Noel”, probably on poor holding ground, dragged her anchor and was driven ashore on the rocks to the east of the Royal Ulster Yacht Club starting battery, her crew were saved by the rocket apparatus, which had to come from Grey Point: the journey was almost impossible, the road being blocked by fallen trees and telegraph poles.
A ship aground after the storm. (This is probably the "Noel")

Onboard the “Romanoff” however both anchors were down and at midnight all hands were called to give her the last of her available cable.  She had no sooner tightened her cables than the windlass broke, both cables disappeared over the side, and the “Romanoff” was now completely adrift.  The vessel was helpless, and rapidly drifting down on the Copelands, with no response to the distress signals.

Captain Anderson gave everyone a life-jacket and told them to jump overboard the minute the vessel struck as there was no chance of her holding together for more than a minute or two.  But although there was only the stump of the mizzen mast standing, the little angel that sits up aloft must have been sitting in it, as the “Romanoff” instead of striking the rocks, was driven stern first through the Blind Sound (between the Great Copeland and Mew Islands), a place that a vessel like her would never attempt to navigate even in fine weather, and out into the channel (Irish Sea), without touching anywhere.

On Saturday morning the wind went round to the North East, and drove the “Romanoff” in towards Cloughey.

The Ballywalter lifeboat came off just as it was getting dark, and at the same time the “S.S. Test”, belonging to Granger Co. came in sight, and Captain Anderson accepted the offer of a tow to Belfast, where she arrived on Sunday morning 23rd December.

Captain Robert Davis supplied the information given here.  The previous heavy gale of which there is a record was in 1839.

On shore in both Belfast and Bangor damage was extensive.  At Knock, St. columba’s iron church and also a new Roman Catholic chapel were levelled to the ground and many people were injured.

In Bangor, the sea wall was broken in several places, also the old bridge at Ballyholme was badly damaged, and the remailder of the old roar and the sea wall protecting it were washed away between the bridge and Duffern villas.  The houses at Duffern Villas lost a few windows and a few slates.

All bad storms and shipwrecks in Belfast Lough occur with winds starting in the South West and veering into NW.  During the last war a large steamer was caught in this way without power, and came ashore at Wilsons Point, became a total loss, and after the war was removed to the east side of Ballyholme Bay where she was broken up.


First a little more information on the Romanoff which I found here:  She was a fast clipper, built in Aberdeen in 1874 by Walter Hood & Co.  Her dimensions were: length 222.1' x breadth 36.3' x depth 22.2'.  Gross tonnage 1277 tons.  The picture of the Romanoff below is from this site:  She ended her days in 1917, at Anholt Reef in Denmark, where she was stranded and broke in half.  The distance between the inner and outer Copeland Islands through which the drifting ship passed is about 1.2km.  Add the storm and strong currents to the ships lack of power or steering, and it’s passage through that gap was remarkable.

The "Romanoff" Under Sail in 1885

Another ‘miracle’ escape was also reported during this storm.  A smaller boat caught out by the storm was trying to navigate into the town’s small harbour (locally known as ‘The long Hole’).  It lost its rigging, and the crew lost hope.  They had knelt to pray and take their leave of the world before being dashed on the rocks on the harbours outer edge, when a massive wave came, lifting their entire boat completely over the harbour wall and depositing it safely inside, leaving the crew shocked, but able to come ashore normally.

 AT Kingsland, not far from where the "Noel" was wrecked, there was a wooden funicular railway (pictured below).  From the picture it looks to have been a sort of big dipper.  It too was wrecked in this storm.
The funicular railway at Kingsland


The storm itself must have been truly ferocious.  A story here:, reports that 47 ships were wrecked around the British coast, and that 49 more simply disappeared!  These figures represent only British registered vessels of 20 tons or more, smaller boats, and foreign ones are not included in that figure. Worse yet, Wikipedia (, shows that an even worse storm on the 6th and 7th January 1839, was “The most severe windstorm to hit Ireland in recent centuries, with hurricane-force winds, killed between 250 and 300 people and rendered hundreds of thousands of homes uninhabitable”.

And they say that global warming will bring more of these extreme events!


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