Online Exhibitions & Stories

Enhancing Welsh Shipwreck Records

The boundaries for Welsh waters. The project seeks to identify new and enhance the existing records of shipwrecks within these boundaries.

What Resources Are Used?

The project, ‘Making the Link: Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the National Monuments Record of Wales’ used Lloyd’s Register's recently digitised Casualty Returns for 1890-2000 to identify ‘new’ shipwrecks in Welsh waters that had not been previously recorded as well as updating current records with any newfound information.

Coflein is the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales – the national collection of information about the historic environment of Wales. The name is derived from the Welsh cof (memory) and lein (line).


Coflein, the online repository for the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW), is currently being revamped by the Royal Commission, and its new form will include hyperlinks to the Casualty Returns for all Welsh shipwrecks from 1890-2000. This will enable users to access a key primary source for the wrecks at the click of a mouse and connect users with the vast resources held by LRFHEC.

Sometimes geographical names are given, sometimes only latitude and longitude coordinates, and sometimes both! Here we see the location of the British steamer, Tree Villa, which sank near Skokholm Island off the Pembrokeshire coast in 1921.

Lloyd's Register Casualty Returns.

The Casualty Returns present an array of information on merchant ships over 100 gross tons totally lost in incremental periods. The vessel’s name, registration number, tonnage, flag, description, cargo, voyage, circumstances and place of loss, and date of loss can all be found in the Returns. Their location details allows for mapping the sites and identify those that lie in Welsh waters.

Links to contemporary newspapers will provide an additional layer of information to users.

Contemporary Newspapers

In addition to this, the updated records will include links to contemporary newspapers which reported the losses, with some articles including vivid descriptions and testimonies from correspondents, survivors and eye-witnesses. These newspaper links provide human stories to accompany the cold statistics of the Casualty Returns.

Captain Williams was responsible for the cargo ship SS Orianda. She was constructed Evans R. & J.& Co., of Liverpool in 1879. In 1907 she sank after a collision with the Swedish vessel Heliopolis with a loss of 14 lives.

On our website we hold two survey reports for the Orianda.

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The Agile’s entry in Lloyd’s Casualty Returns for 1 July – 30 September 1909, p.9.

The Resources' Limitations

Sometimes, however, not all this information could be recorded and therefore some details for some vessels may be missing. There are occasions too when the location is quite vague. See here, for example, the wooden brigantine, Agile, which appears in the 1909 Casualty Returns.

Map of the Agile's Maritime Named Location.

Agile Casualty

The Returns only provide ‘Bristol Channel’ as the location. As there is no more specific information to locate the shipwreck, the Agile is given a Maritime Named Location of ‘Bristol Channel’ for its site location. These Maritime Named Locations are a geographical system that the Royal Commission use to locate sites when specific location details are lacking, and instead a central grid reference is allocated. Many Welsh shipwrecks have been allocated Maritime Named Locations, pending further information which may allow a more precise location to be assigned. Following these protocols, the Agile would lie in Welsh waters, as we see from the map here.

Newspaper report noting the Agile’s shipwreck in Barnstaple Bay.

Agile Casualty

However, by searching contemporary newspapers for the Agile, we can discover more details. In this instance, the article notes that the shipwreck occurred in Barnstaple Bay, off the Devon coast.

Map showing roughly where the Agile collided; quite a way away from its Maritime Named Location site and not in Welsh waters! Source:

Agile Casualty

This would place the site of the Agile’s wreck outside Welsh waters. In this case, then, the Agile was not added to the Commission’s shipwreck records.

This page of the April-June 1918 Casualty Returns show the Damão as well as the Norwegian steamer, Janvold, listed under the ‘War Losses’ category.

'War Losses' Records

During the two world wars of the twentieth century it became particularly difficult to record much detail for those ships sunk from enemy action or other war related causes. Categorised as ‘War Losses’, these lists were very long and reflect the importance of logistics and supplies to the Allied war effort.

With no information on the circumstances and place of loss, these war losses could not really be added to the project’s database unless a vessel had already been identified in a previous project. This was the case for several vessels that were sunk by German U-boats during the First World War, such as the Portuguese steamer, Damão, which was part of a convoy from New York to Liverpool in April 1918 when it was sunk by a torpedo from the submarine U 91 in the Irish Sea. You can read more about the Damão and explore the Royal Commission’s U-Boat project here.

An example of the information held in the Lloyd’s Register Casualty Returns, here showing the first page of steamships lost during the first quarter of 1895.

Contextualising Shipwrecks

Directly linking the Royal Commission’s shipwrecks to the Casualty Returns provides users with a key documentary source and allows for greater contextualisation of Welsh shipwrecks

Image of Primrose Hill at Bristol.

Primrose Hill Casualty

In linking with contemporary newspapers too, via the National Library of Wales’ Welsh newspapers online resource, users can discover more about the stories behind the wrecks. In 1900, for example, when the sailing ship Primrose Hill sank near Holyhead, all but one of the thirty-four crew members drowned.

On our website we hold two documents for the Primrose Hill: an Iron Ship Report and a Freeboard of Sailing Ship Form.

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The report from the Evening Express on 31 December 1900 detailing the events following the Primrose Hill’s shipwreck.
'A gang of marauders pounced upon casks of liquor which were part of the cargo washed ashore, and some of them became helplessly drunk. Others tried to do away with other commodities. Several loafers who had previously declined to assist in recovering bodies without assurance of payment were afterwards found lying drunk among corpses.’ 
The Evening Express regarding the Primrose Hill, 31 December 1900
Notice the different nationalities of the crew aboard the British steamer, Mareca. The Cardiff Times, 29 Januray, 1898, p.6.

Mareca Casualty

Newspapers can also give us information on the crew aboard the ships. Notice, for example, the nationalities of the crew of the British steamer, Mareca, which sank near the Pembrokeshire coast in 1898. In the Cardiff Times, we see Wales, England, Scotland, Sweden, Iceland, Germany, Norway and Russia listed as countries of origin of the crew, reflecting the international nature of merchant fleets.

Our website holds five documents for the Mareca. The vessel was constrcuted by Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co Ltd in Newcastle and had a gross register tonnage of 2211.

A photograph of the sailing ship, Amazon appeared in the Evening Express on 14 September 1908, p.4.

Verajean Casualty

On very rare occasions we also get photographs of the wrecks. Here is the British sailing ship Verajean which became stranded at Rhoose Point, Barry Island in September 1908.

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Photograph of an unidentified shipwreck.

Project Progress

Over 50 ‘new’ Welsh shipwrecks have been recorded during this project which can be added to Coflein. Each shipwreck on Coflein has an individual page with catalogue details and information about the vessel and its loss.

Coflein’s page for the Eleazar.

Project Progress

This collaborative project between the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage & Education Centre has managed to enhance Welsh shipwreck records by adding further information to existing records and adding over 50 ‘new’ entries. Altogether, over 500 Welsh shipwreck records will now have hyperlinks to their entries in the original Casualty Returns. One such vessel will be the British steamer, Eleazar, which can be found here.

By linking the Royal Commission’s records with Lloyd’s Register's Casualty Returns and contemporary newspapers, Welsh shipwreck records for this period will now provide easy access to valuable primary sources. A more connected network of resources has also been established, and from the Casualty Returns users will be able to see how our knowledge of shipwrecks derives from these important documentary sources.

About the Author

This online exhibition showcases the research of Dr Meilyr Powel. Meilyr is a Maritime Research Assistant at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. Below he describes his experience in the heritage profession and his passion for history.

As Maritime Research Assistant I have been responsible for this project  for the past four months after Dr. Adam N. Coward began the project back in April. History and heritage have always been important to me and after gaining my PhD in history at Swansea University in 2018 I did some tutoring at the Department followed by voluntary work with the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh working on the Highlands and Islands Transcription Project, and more locally at Swansea Museum.