No.36 The Charlwood and the Duke of Buccleuch

Through A Glass Darkly

Tomorrow marks the 112th anniversary of the wreck of the Charlwood, an English barque which was struck amidships and cut virtually in two to founder off the Eddystone while en route from Antwerp for Valparaiso, Chile, with what was described in contemporary sources as a ‘general cargo.’

In an age which was increasingly dominated by steam, iron barques such as the Charlwood were able to hold their own on an ultra long-distance route from Europe to the Pacific coast of Chile where Valparaiso lies, negotiating Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. They had one great advantage over the steamers – no need to put in for bunker coal in vast, empty oceans. It might be thought that there would be access to coal at calling points en route on the Atlantic coasts of South America, but there was a difficulty getting coal from the hinterland of South America to the ports – this is put into context by the fact that 10 out of the 14 wrecks recorded as lost in English waters with the destination of Valparaiso had a cargo of coal from the coalfields of Durham, the Welsh valleys, or the Ruhr. Coal was generally a popular import from Europe for various South American ports in the 19th and early 20th centuries. [Indeed, the Zoodochos mentioned in Wreck of the Week 29 was exporting coal to Buenos Aires.]

No wonder, then, that the cargo of the Charlwood was described as ‘general’. Yet she is a popular dive and her cargo is regularly seen to comprise glassware, including numerous wine and sherry glasses and decanters – so much so that she rejoices in the alternative sobriquet of the ‘Glass Wreck’. Her cargo suggests a demand for prestige goods from Europe and an appropriate destination in a country now one of the world’s largest wine exporters.

She has an almost contemporary parallel: only two years previously, in 1889, the Duke of Buccleuch also sank after a collision amidships with a significant cargo of glass- and chinaware, again on a long-distance route from Antwerp, this time to Calcutta. The Times, reporting on the incident, revealed that her ‘general cargo’ included iron nails and hardware. She is unusual in that her cargo, bound for a key outpost of the British Empire, originated in a non-British port – although she was, of course, a British ship. It was not until 1953 – after Indian independence – that another wreck in English waters bound to Calcutta began her voyage outside Britain, and this time it was a Swedish vessel.

Wrecks such as these are tangible evidence of the ebb and flow of international trade throughout time.

On another note: Does anyone have any ‘information challenges’ they would like to send me for inclusion in a future WOTW? Keep them coming!

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