The Coastguard Cutter Vol1 No5

May 2003
Vol 1 - No.5.

The "Lady Margaret"

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New Station Photos;

Arthurstown Co.Wexford
Watch-house and Boathouse.
Watch-house 9 ft. by 9ft. Boat-house adjoining 28ft. by 9ft.

Lease 1845.


Portnoo Co.Donegal
Boat-house. Lease 1867.
Station for an Officer and 6 men erected by the Crown in 1887.


Bannow Co.Wexford





During 1880 a trip by a Coastguard Officer Henry Robinson in a Coastguard cruiser to bring supplies to an island off-shore was delayed by the ship being diverted to intercept a gun runner rumoured to be en route from France to Costello Bay. But, unknown to the ship's crew, the police were also making preparations to capture the (non-existent) gun runner and, at night, mistook H.M.S. Goshawk for the gun runner. The engagement between the police in small boats and the cruiser, as described by Robinson, was high farce but could well have been a tragedy, as the cruiser fired on the approaching boats with her Gatling gun. Fortunately no one was injured and the episode ended with the Goshawk's crew entertaining the police to a 'well lubricated' party on the ship which lasted until the break of day. (5)

Dear Friend,

Welcome to the May edition of "The Coastguard Cutter". This month the theme is the actual duties of Coastguards, you may be surprised at some of the chores Coastguards of that era regarded as  routine.

I would be glad to receive any coastguard information, stories or general snippets and pass it on in to our readers.
As some may be aware there is now a forum for C.G. enthusiasts on the site, if you have a question then just post it on the forum and then check back from time to time to see if someone has the information you were looking for. You may also be able to answer queries others have posted.



Besides watching for smugglers and taking charge of cargos of wrecked ships the coastguards had a variety of other less well known duties to perform.

The Coastguards Station was nearer the shore. Among the Coastguards functions in Ireland was the prevention of removal of sand from the foreshores and the tracking down of poteen stills. In O'Rourke's History of Sligo there is the following reference: "On the summit of the Green (The hill between the first and second strands) may often be seen the Coastguards of Rosses Point signaling by mirror to the Coastguards of Raughley who flashed back in turn, question and answer."

Coastguard responsibilities, as attending to rare fish, mammals or birds washed ashore and maintaining effective signals.

Work Duties

In the early 1830’s smuggling was still a matter of concern to the Coastguard. The Chief Officer’s house was set apart from the rest and had to sacrifice its best room as watch house. All the arms were kept there together with the blue lights which the Coastguards used in colossal quantities, and the Ammunition.

All hands would be assembled shortly before sunset, and told off to their respective guards, each guard being a post on the shore or at a strategic point on the road. In order to prevent collusion with the smugglers, no man knew which guard he would have until he was told at the evening muster, and when the Chief Officer and Chief Boatman did their round of inspection in the early morning, they frequently changed the men about on the guards so that the smuggler who had reckoned on finding his friend in a certain spot was likely to be disappointed. The authorities saw no reason to trust the early Coastguards any further than they could see them, and so bad were the pay and conditions of service that it is not altogether surprising that the precautions were necessary.

If the men were wanted for any purpose, and secrecy was not necessary , blue lights burned from the watch house was the signal, each man burning one of his own in answer.


The steamship "Kinsale" left Waterford for Glasgow on the 19th.November 1872. She lost her rudder off Mine Head and a jury rudder was fitted. Driven back by the gale she made for Waterford. As she reached Duncannon the strain on the engine shaft caused it to snap, Captain Anderson made for Passage and anchored. When the anchors dragged she was driven ashore at the cliffs inside Hook. The mate was the first ashore by the coastguards rocket apparatus but the line snapped. Only two more of the nineteen crew were saved when they scaled the cliffs aided by the strong wind which kept them pressed against the cliff face. One of the passengers, a girl named Dunphy also made her way ashore. The cargo was plundered by the crowd which gathered. (2)


The 502 ton Italian ship RE DE SPAGNA was wrecked on the rocks at Duncannon on 23-11-1872. Captain and 14 of his 17 crew were eventually rescued after some initial confusion when they did not understand the operation of the coastguard apparatus. Three men were drowned when they were dropped in the sea as the rope on a breeches buoy broke.



MODE OF FISHING COMPLAINED OF. "Trawling is generally complained of, and it is considered that it ought to be prevented within bays and headlands. (Lt. Scudamore, Chief Coastguardv Officer, Islands Ikean.)"

BOATS. "The boats are in a miserable condition, being frequently stove in launching and hauling up, the people being obliged to drag them a considerable distance over a rough road to a place of shelter, and even there they are frequently exposed to high winds and storms. They are generally small, owing to the difficulty of hauling up large boats.-(Lt. Scudamore )

"I do not think that anything further is necessary, than to supply the fishermen with good boats and fishing tackle.—(Mr.Bagehot, Inspecting Commander,Waterford.)

BAIT. "Bait is sometimes exceedingly scarce, the fishermen being obliged to go ten miles for it, to the sprat weirs in Waterford harbour, while an abundance may be procured by erecting weirs in the back strand of Tramore".—(Lt. Scudamore)

MARKETS. "The quantity of fish taken not only never exceeds, but never equals the demand in the local markets, much Scotch and foreign fish being consumed in the neighbourhood. The demand for the fresh market is so great, that none are cured, or sold for curing".—(Lt.Scudamore.)

"The supply of fresh or cured fish is not half equal to the demand – Scotch and Newfoundland fish being sold in immense quantities"---(Mr.Bagehot.)

CONDITION OF THE FISHERMEN. "The condition of the fishermen, for the last five years, has been quite the reverse of improving—there is no instance of a man having become owner or partner of a boat within that period. The use of ardent spirits prevails to an injurious extent among them. (Colonel Curry.)

Family Life for the Coastguard.

"It seems that they must have moved around an awful lot, I understand being told when I was young that they moved them every two years, as soon as boys reached the age of leaving school they also had to leave the coastguard station. I understood that this was the ruling then, since all the boys reaching 14 joined the Navy. From stories told when I was young the coastguards travelled by boat or ship to each new station. Their groceries were ordered once a month and came by boat. I also remember them saying they all walked miles to school over fields. Wish I knew which schools they attended. I believe it cost two old pennies a week. It also seems that coastguards must have had gardens or some plots to grow their own vegetables etc. as it was said my Grandad was always teased by other coastguards as if he put in an extra row of potatoes, they would say "Now then Joseph, is there another canny bairn on the way ?. They all seemed to have had a very happy childhood in Ireland, as when alive they all spoke of their happy days there. They left Ireland in 1907". (4)



E.Carson, The Ancient and Rightful Customs (London, 1972)

N.A.M. Rodger, Naval Records for Genealogists (London, 1998)

G.Smith, Something to declare 1,000 Years of Customs and Excise (London, 1976)

You can also find links to other interesting websites here
References :
  1. ‘His Majesty’s Coastguard’ by Frank Bowen.
  2. ‘Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast’ by Edward J.Bourke. Vol. 1. p 75
  3. "Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast by Edward J.Bourke
  4. Some details of family life. Sent to me by Mrs. Sylvia Dorey.
  5. Galway Roots, Journal of the Galway History Society. Volume 5, 1998.

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