LLANALLGO CHURCH - MOELFRE & The Royal Charter Disaster
The much loved Llanallgo Church is located just outside of the seaside village of Moelfre. It has an unique history reaching back to the arrival of St Gallgo and his brother and sister in the Sixth Century from war-torn Clyde (intriguingly, then part of Wales)
However, it is its connection with one of the most appalling maritime disasters - the sinking of The Royal Charter in the early hours of October 26th 1859 - that has established its place in world renown.
The village of Moelfre distinguished itself to the world with its remarkable courage, nobility and compassion.
Over 400 souls were lost in hurricane storm conditions and it is to this small parish church that they brought 140 of those bodies washed ashore at Moelfre.
The role of The Reverend Stephen Roose Hughes and Maltese Joe Rogers was marked in print by Charles Dickens who visited the village soon after.
Reverend Roose ensured that the bodies were brought to the church and treated with reverence. A role that probably caused his too early death a few years later.
Joe Rogers performed an act of remarkable courage by swimming to shore and climbing up a cliff to bring a line from the Royal Charter.
I refer to Reverend Hughes later and provide you with a link to another page which records the bravery of Joe Rogers.
The churches of both Llanallgo and Llaneugrad were established during the 6th Century, as were a great many of Anglesey’s churches .
Gallgo and Eugrad arrived on Anglesey with their sister Peithian after being granted land by Maelgwn, King of Gwynedd.
Both brothers established their churches on the east coast of Anglesey and, allegedly, are buried beneath the altars in the oratories that they built.
Again, as mentioned on my other pages about specific Anglesey churches, these 6th Century churches, or oratories, were temporary structures that would have been maintained and rebuilt over the centuries.
Therefore, other than the putative location of graves of the saints, nothing remains of the original structures, which would have been constructed of locally available materials such as wattle and daub.
Anglesey churches, in essence as seen today, were first constructed of stone in the Early to Mid 13th Century.
St Gallgo’s Church of Llanallgo was restored in the 15th & 19th Centuries, which presents today with the simple and familiar form of a cruciform plan with nave, transepts and chancel.
General descriptions of Llanallgo Church offer it up for consideration as of rude construction; however, possibly because of its age, it lends a reassuring atmosphere born of 800 years of established presence.
I respectfully guide the gentle reader to the website of the Parish of Llanallgo at bottom of this page.
Of course, after you have perused the remainder of the information I present below.
Llanallgo Church - Obelisk Commemorating Royal Charter Disaster
THE ROYAL CHARTER DISASTER
It is no exaggeration to state that in its time the wrecking of ‘The Royal Charter’ was the greatest maritime disaster in history.
I have provided a link below that will take you to more information about the disaster; however, allow me to offer you a generalised overview of the events.
Built in Sandycroft on the River Dee in North Wales, this 2719 ton iron-hulled steam clipper was launched in 1855. It was designed to offer a swift service for the Liverpool-Australia route; mainly as a passenger ship capable of completing the journey in 60 days.
The Royal Charter could carry over 600 people with a capacity for luxury cabins. In late October 1859 the clipper was nearing Anglesey on the last leg of its journey to Liverpool when it encountered a ferocious Hurricane Force Storm with 112 mph winds.
On that fateful journey it is thought that there were 371 passengers and 112 crew and employees. Most of the passengers were Gold Miners bringing home their fortune in gold.
Approaching Anglesey in appalling conditions it is not inconceivable to imagine that the Captain Thomas Taylor must have thought about heading for safe port in Holyhead. I further imagine that any of the passengers must have expressed their desire for a safe harbour.
Regardless, Captain Taylor decided to proceed toward Liverpool. As it passed Point Lynas on Anglesey’s north east coast, the storm rose to a Hurricane Force 112mph.
Even with the aid of the steam engines at full ahead no headway could be made to safety.
In an attempt to ride out the storm Captain reduced sail to storm sails to maintain headway ride with the storm. When this proved dangerous in the extreme he eventually dropped anchor.
As it turned out, dropping the anchor proved to be a futile gesture in such an appalling maelstrom. The anchor chain snapped.
From this moment onwards the doom of The Royal Charter was assured. With cruel inevitability it was pushed toward the shore and rocks off Moelfre. It first ground to a halt on a sandbank and began to break up.
The rising tide of the early hours of October 26th 1859 drove the ship onto rocks a mile or so north of the village of Moelfre, where she broke up rapidly.
When the disaster was over only 39 people survived. The remainder, probably numbering over 450, died and hundreds of bodies were discovered washed ashore along the coast as far north as Amlwch and as far south as Pentraeth/Red Wharf Bay.
That anyone survived was the result of a miracle of human courage.
First of all, a Maltese sailor Giuseppe Ruggier - known as Joe Rogers to his shipmates - dove into the sea and swam to shore with a rope tied about his waist.
How he made it to shore is a secret known only to the Fates.
Wounded and battered on the rocks, Joe Rogers proceeded to climb to the cliffs to the outstretched hands of the community that had gathered on the cliffs to helplessly watch the nightmare unravel.
All this occurred with cruel closeness to the shore and safety.
With a rope connection between the ship and shore 28 members of the community formed a human chain to bring the few survivors to shore. Winds of over a 100mph were driving massive waves onto the shore.
It is thought that many more could have been saved but would not commit themselves to the sea. Instead, they ended up broken on the shore to be laid out for identification by loved ones in Llanallgo Church and others up and down the coast.
REVEREND STEPHEN ROOSE HUGHES - RECTOR OF LLANALLGO CHURCH
The Reverend Stephen Roose Hughes, rector of Llanallgo Church died on February 4th in 1862 at the age of 47 years.
It is very probable that the superhuman endeavour with which Reverend Roose Hughes sought to lend a final dignity to the 140 victims that came ashore at Moelfre that brought about his death three years after the disaster.
The role of the Rector of Llanallgo Church following the Royal Charter Disaster was recorded and brought to the world by Charles Dickens, who visited the village soon after.
In his book The Uncommercial Traveller Dickens articulately records the lengths to which the Rev Roose Hughes, with the assistance of his brother the Reverend Hugh Robert Hughes, went to ensure the identification of as many of the victims as he possibly could.
It must have been a nightmare for all involved. After all furniture was removed from the interior of Llanallgo Church the many broken bodies were all laid out respectfully. Stephen Roose Hughes and his assistants then set about creating identification packages for the bereaved families.
Noting the attire of individual, items in pockets (papers, bills, watches and so on), an identity was constructed for as many of the victims as possible.
It must have been an appalling time for everyone. One must be frank and state that many of the bodies would have been broken and battered by the rocks. After a few days the smell of decay would have been awful, and yet, Reverend Stephen Roose Hughes continued with their task until he could do no more.
While this task was being carried out many relatives arrived in Moelfre to find their family members. Dealing with the outpouring of grief of a few people would have strained any person.
To deal with the number that arrived must have drained his resources and harmed his constitution. In all probability it could only his faith and sense of duty that impelled him to the end.
But that was not the end of it for the Reverend. Dickens writes that Stephen Roose Hughes replied personally to 1075 letters from loved ones.
The pressure that this man endured was unrelenting. The impact on his physical and psychological health must have been immense.
On his passing in 1862 his reputation was elevated to the highest by the reports of Charles Dickens and the newspapers. The inscription on his tomb in the Llanallgo Church graveyard is a testimony to his humanity, and reads:
“His noble and disinterested exertions on the memorable occasion of the terrible Wreck of the “Royal Charter” are well known throughout the World. The subsequent effects of those exertions proved too much for his constitution, and suddenly brought him to an early Grave"
For each it was a nightmare that must have lived with Joe Rogers for years after. Sadly, for Roose Hughes the constant and cruel preoccupation with the deapair experienced must have been significant in his early death.
It is only fitting that he now lies in the grounds of Llanallgo Church with those for whom he sought to bring dignity. He achieved that task and worldwide renown but at an enormous personal cost, for him and his family.
What else would he have done?
I invite you to investigate Llanallgo Church further to discover more about the maritime history of the village of Moelfre.