The Wreck of the Packet Ship Albion

The packet ship Albion, sailing from New York to Liverpool, was wrecked on the coast of Ireland on April 22, 1822. Of the 54 people on board, only 9 survived. Napoleonic General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, who appears in Napoleon in America, was among the dead. As this was the first loss suffered by a North Atlantic packet line, the disaster horrified people on both sides of the ocean. Survivors left harrowing accounts of the Albion’s final hours.

Loss of the Packet Ship Albion, hand-coloured engraving after a print by Thomas Birch

Loss of the Packet Ship Albion, hand-coloured engraving after a print by Thomas Birch

Packet ships

Packet ships were small 19th-century vessels that carried mail, cargo and passengers. Most importantly, they departed from port according to a regular schedule. This was a novelty at the time. Most ships didn’t sail until they had enough cargo to justify a voyage, leaving passengers waiting for days or weeks until the holds were full.

The Black Ball Line was the first company to offer scheduled packet service across the Atlantic. Its vessels began sailing between New York and Liverpool in 1818. A ship left New York on the first of every month. The Black Ball Line started out with four ships. The Albion, under Captain John Williams, was the line’s fifth ship, added in 1819. It had a capacity of 447 tons. The ships took an average of 23 days to sail to Liverpool and 40 days to make the return journey to New York. (1)

The Albion’s fatal voyage

The packet ship Albion sailed from New York on April 1, 1822, with a crew of 25 and 29 passengers (23 in the cabin and 6 in steerage). The ship carried a cargo of cotton, turpentine, rice and beeswax, as well as a considerable sum of specie (gold and silver). Captain Williams was an experienced seaman and the first 20 days of the voyage passed uneventfully.

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 21, passing the south coast of Ireland, the Albion encountered a tremendous gale. Around 8:30 in the evening, a heavy sea struck the ship. It swept overboard six of the crew and one passenger (Alexander Converse); carried away the masts, boats, bulwarks and everything on deck; and drove in the hatches, so that every wave that passed over the ship ran into the hold. According to one of the survivors, William Everhart of Chester, Pennsylvania:

When the ship was thrown on her beam ends, a prodigious destruction took place below; the doors of the state rooms, the tables bound with iron, the furniture, were all destroyed and thrown into heaps. Many of the passengers were severely injured. Gen. Lefebvre-Desnouettes had one of his arms broken; Col. Prevost was wounded in the face. (2)

The Albion was then about 20 miles from shore. Captain Williams maintained his calm and steadily gave orders.

He cheered the officers and the crew with the hope that the wind would shift, and before morning blow off shore. … All who could do no good on deck retired below; but the water was knee deep in the cabin, and the furniture floating about rendered the situation dangerous and dreadful. (3)

Henry Cammyer, the first mate, who also survived, noted:

The ship being unmanageable, and the sea making a complete breach over her, we were obliged to lash ourselves to the pumps, and being in total darkness, without correct compasses, could not tell how the ship’s head lay. The axes being swept away, [we] had no means of clearing the wreck. (4)

A number of the passengers assisted at the pumps, including Anne Powell, daughter of the chief justice of Upper Canada.

Though things looked dire, Williams concealed the imminent danger from the passengers, thus saving them from much distress in the hours preceding the ship’s destruction. The crew, however, knew what was coming.

The sailors at an early period were in a state of insubordination: many would not obey orders, and got drunk. (5)

All night the wind blew onshore, towards which the Albion was drifting at the rate of three miles an hour. Williams was familiar with the steep and rocky coast, with its sharp reefs.

He must have seen, in despair and horror, throughout the night, the certainty of their fate. At length, the ocean dashing and roaring upon the precipice of rock near the lee of the ship, told them that their hour was come. (6)

About 10 minutes before 3 o’clock in the morning on April 22, Williams summoned everyone on deck and told them the ship would soon strike the rocks. He ordered everyone to move forward. Everhart, who had suffered from seasickness through most of the voyage and was very weak, was the last to leave the cabin, crawling. One passenger, Professor Alexander Fisher, who had been injured in the fall of the masts, remained in his berth. He had taken a broken compass and was trying to repair it. (7) When Everhart asked Fisher if he would come on deck, he said no. (8)

Some, particularly the females, expressed their horror in wild shrieks. Major Gough, of the British army, remarked that ‘Death, come as he would, was an unwelcome messenger; but they must meet him as they could.’ Very little was said by others, the men awaiting the expected shock in silence. General Lefebvre Desnouettes, during the voyage, had evidently wished to remain without particular observation; and to prevent his being known, besides taking passage under a feigned name, had suffered his beard to grow during the whole voyage; he had the misfortune before the ship struck to be much bruised, and one of his arms was broken, which disabled him from exertion, if it could have been availing.

It is barely possible to conceive the horror of their situation. The deadly and relentless blast impelling them to destruction – the ship a wreck – the raging of the billows against the precipice on which they were driving, sending back from the rocks the hoarse and melancholy warnings of death – dark, cold, and wet: in such a situation the stoutest heart must have quaked with utter despair. (9)

The final hour

About 3 o’clock, the Albion struck on some rocks jutting out of the water and then came to a reef where she lost her bottom. About half an hour later, the ship broke apart in the middle. The quarter deck drifted onto a ledge of rock, immediately under the cliffs, where huge waves swept over the passengers. Cammyer reported:

Up to the period of her parting, nearly twenty persons were clinging to the wreck, among whom were two females, Mrs. Pye and Miss Powell. Captain Williams had, with several others, been swept away soon after she struck; a circumstance which may be attributed to the very extraordinary exertions which he used, to the last moment, for the preservation of the lives of the unfortunate passengers and crew. (10)

Here is Everhart’s account.

In this situation every wave making a breach over her, many were drowned on deck. A woman, Mr. Everhart could not distinguish who, fell near him and cried for help; he left his hold and raised her up, another wave came and she was too far exhausted to sustain herself, and sunk on the deck; 15 or 16 corpses at one time, Mr. Everhart thought, lay near the bows of the ship.

Perceiving now that the stern was higher out of water, and the sea had less power in its sweep over it, Mr. Everhart went aft; he then perceived that the bottom had been broken out of the ship; the heavy articles must have sunk, and the cotton and lighter articles were floating around, dashed by every wave against the rocks; presently the ship broke in two, and all those who remained near the bow were lost. Several from the stern of the ship had got on the side of the precipice and were hanging by the crags as they could.

Though weakened by previous sickness and present suffering, he made an effort and got upon the rock and stood on one foot, the only one he could obtain; he saw several around him, and among them were Col. Prevost, who observed on seeing him take his station, ‘Here is another poor fellow;’ but the waves rolled heavily against them, and often dashed its spray 50 feet over their heads, gradually got those who had taken refuge one by one away, and one poor fellow, losing his hold, as he fell caught the leg of Mr. Everhart and nearly pulled him from his place. Weak and sick as he was, Mr. Everhart stood several hours on one foot on a little crag, the waves dashing over him, and he benumbed with cold. (11)

Among the last people Everhart saw alive on the ship were George Hyde Clarke and his wife, in her husband’s arms.

[A]t this period the swells entirely covered the forecastle, and drowned all who were there. Colonel Prevost by great exertions reached the rock which Mr. Everhart had gained, but was washed off. (12)

The view from shore

The Albion struck Ireland off Garretstown, near the Old Head of Kinsale.  John Purcell, a local eyewitness, provided the following account.

At some time before four o’clock this morning, I was informed that a ship was cast on the rocks…to which place I immediately repaired; and…found a vessel on the rocks, under a very high cliff. At this time, as it blew a dreadful gale, with spring-tide and approaching high water, the sea ran mountains high; however, I descended with some men as far down the cliff as the dashing of the sea would permit us to go with safety, and there had the horrid spectacle of viewing five dead bodies stretched on the deck, and four other fellow-creatures distractedly calling for assistance, which we were unable to afford them, as certain death would have attended the attempt. Of those in this perilous situation, one was a female, whom, though it was impossible from the wind and the roaring of the sea to hear her, yet from her gestures and the stretching out of her hands, we judged to be calling for and imploring our assistance. At this time the greater part of the vessel lay on a rock, and part of the stern, where this poor woman lay, projected over a narrow creek, that divides this rock from another. Here the sea ran over her with the greatest fury, yet she kept a firm hold, which it much astonished me that she could do; but we soon perceived that the vessel was broke across, where she projected over the rock, and after many waves dashing against her, this part of the vessel rolled in the waves, and we had the heart-rending scene of seeing the woman perish. The three men lay towards the stern of the vessel, one of whom stuck to a mast, which projected towards the cliff, to whom, after many attempts, we succeeded in throwing a rope, and brought him safe ashore. Another we also saved; but the constant dashing of the waves put an end to the sufferings of the others. (13)

The living

As soon as it was light enough and the tide ebbed, some of the locals descended the rocks as far as they could and dropped William Everhart a rope, which he fastened around his body so he could be drawn to safety. Everhart was the only cabin passenger to escape the wreck. Stephen Chase, a steerage passenger from Canada, was also saved. Henry Cammyer, the first mate, described how he survived.

after gaining a rock in a very exhausted state, I was washed off, but by the assistance of Providence, was enabled, before the return of the sea, to regain it; and before I could attempt to climb the cliff, which was nearly perpendicular, I was obliged to lie down, to regain a little strength, after the severe bruises and contusions I had received on the body and feet. (14)

The other survivors were crew members William Hynt (or Hyate) (boatswain), John Simson, John Richards, Francis Bloom, Ebenezer Warner and Hierom Raymond.

The dead

(An asterix * denotes those whose bodies were found, identified and interred. Four bodies that could not be recognized were also interred.)

Napoleonic General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes (sailing under the name of Gravez), age 48, was returning to France after six years of exile in the United States. He was looking forward to joining his wife Stéphanie and the daughter he had never seen. See my article about Lefebvre-Desnouettes.

Professor Alexander Metcalf Fisher, age 28, was head of the Mathematics Department at Yale College (now University) in New Haven, Connecticut. His fiancée, Catharine Beecher (sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe), took the money Fisher bequeathed her and founded the Hartford Female Seminary. She also wrote Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book, one of the 19th century’s most successful cookbooks.

*Anne Powell, age 35, the daughter of William Dummer Powell, the chief justice of Upper Canada, came from one of the most prestigious families in York (Toronto). She had been sailing to England in dogged pursuit of the man she loved. See the Dictionary of Canadian Biography for the sordid details.

Major William Gough, age 44, a member of Britain’s 68th light infantry regiment, had fought under the Duke of Wellington at the Battles of Salamanca and Vitoria in Spain, where he was severely wounded by grapeshot in the leg.

*Lieutenant-Colonel John Augustine Prevost, age 52, of Cooperstown, NY, was the son of Augustine Prevost Jr. and the grandson of Augustine Prevost Sr., both of whom fought on the Loyalist side in the America Revolution.

*George Hyde Clarke, of Albany, NY, was the eldest son of George Clarke (1768-1835). The latter was the descendant of a prominent colonial New York family and the owner of Hyde Hall in Cooperstown, NY. George Hyde Clarke’s brother, who lived in England, was married to Colonel Prevost’s sister. Assuming that George Hyde Clarke was born after his parents’ marriage, he was no older than 29 years.

*Mrs. George Hyde Clarke, wife of the above, described by Everhart as “young,” also perished in the wreck.

The other cabin passengers who died were: Alexander B. Converse, age 24, of Troy, New York, the son of Hon. John Converse; *Nelson D. Ross, age 20, of Troy, New York, Converse’s brother-in-law (Converse’s wife Julia had died in November 1821 at the age of 22); *Rev. G.R.G. Hill, lately of Jamaica (he was returning home to England); *William H. Dwight, Boston; Mr. G.W. Beynon, London; Mr. William Proctor, New York; *Mrs. Mary Pye, New York; *Mrs. Gardiner (or Garnier), Paris; Mrs. Gardiner’s son, about 8 years old; *Victor Millicent, Paris; Mr. Chabut, said to be the nephew of Lefebvre-Desnouettes, Paris; Mr. Lemercier, New Orleans; Philotime Depla, Bordeaux; John Gore, North Carolina; Mr. Bending.

The steerage passengers who lost their lives were: James Baldwin, cotton spinner, Yorkshire; Dr. Carver, veterinary surgeon; Mr. Harrison, carpenter; *Mrs. Mary Hunt; *Mrs. Mary Brereton (or Brewster).

The deceased crew were: Captain John Williams, age 37 (he left a wife and seven children); Edward Smith, second mate; Alexander Adams, carpenter; Harman Nelson; Harman Richardson; Henry Whittrell; William Trisserly; James Wiley; Robert McLellan; Thomas Goodman; Samuel Wilson, boy; William Snow, boy; *William Dockwood; Lloyd Potter, steward (black); Samuel Penny, steward (black); Francis Isaac, boy (black); *Thomas Hill, cook (black); *Adam Johnson, cook (black). (15)

The aftermath

Everhart and Cammyer both spoke highly of the local population. The residents of Garretstown and Kinsale offered every kindness to the living, prepared coffins for the dead, and salvaged what they could of the vessel and its cargo. Jacob Mark, the US Consul at Kinsale, James Gibbons, the agent for Lloyd’s at Kinsale, Mr. Pratt, surveyor of Kinsale, and John Purcell, the steward of a local landowner, were singled out for praise. The bodies were buried at Templetrine churchyard, about four miles from Kinsale and one mile from the site of the shipwreck. Some were later moved.

Sadly, there was a subsequent tragedy related to the wreck of the packet ship Albion. A few days later, a boat trying to salvage a piece of the Albion capsized, drowning seven of the eight men on board. (16)

It was feared that the Albion’s fate would, for a time, make packet ships “somewhat unpopular.”

There are two lines of them from New York to Liverpool – and they must be content for a short time to come to discard the spirit of competition, and to consult their safety instead of expedition. (17)

The wreck of the packet ship Albion was lamented in poetry and in song.

The morning smiles, the ocean billow sleeps,
But where’s the tall ship that late ploughed its breast,
The gallant ALBION? Pity, shuddering weeps;
No more, – only on the dark wave’s crest
That night, at times, were dimly seen, ’tis said,
Some forms of misery, whose hands in vain
Were lift imploring, – they sank with the dead,
And piteous cries and shrieks were heard, – ’twas still again. (18)

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  1. Adam Hodgson, Letters from North America, Vol. II (London, 1824), p. 345.
  2. “The Albion Packet,” The Times (London), September 7, 1822, p. 3 (a communication from survivor William Everhart).
  3. “Ship Wreck of the Albion Packet,” The Times (London), October 12, 1822, p. 3 (an interview with survivor William Everhart).
  4. “Loss of the Albion,” The National Advocate (New York), July 30, 1822 (survivor Henry Cammyer’s account of the wreck).
  5. “The Albion Packet.”
  6. “Ship Wreck of the Albion Packet.”
  7. Charles Edward Stowe, Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe (Boston, 1891), p. 24.
  8. Mary Grey Lundie Duncan, Memoirs of the Life and Character of the Rev. Matthias Bruen (New York, 1831) p. 138.
  9. “Ship Wreck of the Albion Packet.”
  10. “Loss of the Albion.”
  11. “Ship Wreck of the Albion Packet.”
  12. “The Albion Packet.”
  13. “Melancholy Shipwrecks,” The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser (Lancaster, England), May 4, 1822.
  14. “Loss of the Albion.”
  15. These names are based primarily on Cammyer’s “correct list of the crew and passengers” in “Loss of the Albion.” However, since Cammyer’s cabin passenger list falls short of the 23 he says were on board, and includes four unnamed “French gentlemen,” I have supplemented it with passenger names included in other newspaper accounts. No single account lists all of the 54 people said to be on the Albion. The final determination is complicated by the fact that different spellings of the names are used in different accounts of the wreck.
  16. “Melancholy Shipwrecks.”
  17. Louisville Public Advertiser (Louisville, KY), July 6, 1822.
  18. William B. Tappan, The Poems of William B. Tappan (Philadelphia, 1834), p. 60.

36 commments on “The Wreck of the Packet Ship Albion”

  • Tim A Williams says:

    Thank you for such a thorough and gripping article on the wreck of the Albion. I’m a direct descendant of captain John Stanton Williams and it’s nice to see him honored in this way

    • Shannon Selin says:

      You’re most welcome, Tim. I greatly admire Captain Williams, who by all accounts did everything he could to save the lives of the passengers and make their final night on the ship less terrifying than it otherwise might have been. It’s nice to learn he has descendants to carry forward his memory.

  • Gary W. Williams says:

    Thank you Shannon, for writing this account of the ship my ggg-grandfather Captain John Williams commanded. I understand there is a memorial at the top of the bluff but I have not been able to locate any pictures, do you know of any? It would make a great addition to our family tree that I am working on.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      You’re welcome, Gary. I have not come across any pictures of a memorial. Perhaps someone reading this blog has seen one (or lives near enough to take a photo) and will leave a comment.

  • Christopher Prevost says:

    Very interesting account. Colonel Prevost was a family member. Is there any record of the names of those interred at Templetrine Cemetery, Kinsale.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, Christopher. I’m glad you liked the article. It’s good to know that poor Colonel Prevost, who worked so hard to make it to the rock, still has family who remember him. There’s a list of the marked graves at Templetrine Cemetery here: I don’t see Colonel Prevost’s. Perhaps his grave marker deteriorated such that it can no longer be deciphered, or maybe his body was repatriated to the United States and buried there (or perhaps in England, if his sister and brother-in-law took charge of it).

  • Larry Violette says:

    I just read the account of the shipwreck in the book “ERROR SEA” ARLINGTON EDITION published in the USA seemingly in the late 1800s (the title pages are missing). After the table of contents, it is titled “The Book of the Ocean”

  • Larry Violette says:

    Updating my posting of yesterday: The book is “TERROR of the SEA”

  • Mitch Owens says:

    George Hyde Clarke was born in 1795. His wife apparently hailed from Strasbourg, France, per a fragment of a GHC letter that seems to refer to her as “my lady of Strasbourg.” Would appreciate knowing anything more about her (name?). Have searched high and low. Am also seeking the location and a photograph of their gravesite (have gotten nowhere with the apparent church). Am a board member of Hyde Hall, in Springfield, NY.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      It’s nice to hear from you Mitch. I don’t know anything more about George Hyde Clarke’s wife, or about their grave-site. Perhaps someone reading this post will have more information.

  • Anne Gough Philpot says:

    Our oral family history says that my great grandfather Alexander Gough born in 1820 in Kingston Ontario, was the illegitimate son of William Gough and an unknown French woman from Quebec. This would make William Gough who died in the wreck of the Albion, was my great great grandfather.

  • Raymond white says:

    I found the exact spot of the Albion wreck site in 1970 her ballast stone are scattered dived on it at the time found some coins no timbers some copper pins I know most of the grave locations , one of levebre gold ring was found when digging a grave 1940s I wrote account of the wreck in my book their bones are scattered

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks for these details about the wreck, Raymond, and for alerting me to your book Their Bones are Scattered: A History of the Old Head of Kinsale and Surrounding Area (2003). It sounds interesting.

  • Frederick Tahk says:

    This is an excellent account of the fate of the Albion. The loss of passenger Professor Alexander Metcalf Fisher, a brilliant young mathematician, was a blow to Yale U. Hathi Trust has his 1822 memorial eulogy given at Yale online and his portrait by Samuel F. B. Morse is also online at the Yale U. Art Gallery. What is seems puzzling, however, is the identification of the young passenger Mr. Clarke as “George Hyde Clarke, of Albany, NY, was the eldest son of George Clarke (1768-1835)” and also noting that at the time of the wreck “he was no older than 29 years.” George Clarke (senior) did have a son of named George Hyde Clarke but, whose dates being 7-7-1822 to 8-9-1889, was born just two months after the Albion disaster. I assume this son could have been named after his newly deceased elder sibling but the latter is not included in the listings I have seen of the children that the elder George Clarke had with either of his wives. I would much appreciate a reference to the son and/or his wife. Thank you for whatever information you may provide.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Thanks, Frederick. The reference is in John Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, Vol. I (1847), which says that George Hyde Clarke (d. 1822) was the son of George Clarke and his first wife Elizabeth Rochfort (p. 224).

  • Julia Lane says:

    I have been researching and transcribing folksongs collected in the early 20th c here in Maine and have found several versions of songs commemorating the wreck. Thanks for this wonderful article

    • Shannon Selin says:

      You’re welcome, Julia. It’s interesting that the songs were still known a century after the wreck.

  • Christiane Hyde Citron says:

    Thank you very much for doing all this research. It is such an amazing story. Captain John Williams was my 5x great-grandfather, and i have some pictures of him. i have been trying to figure out if there is a memorial monument about the shipwreck. I am not sure where he is buried. I don’t see his name on the Templetrine Cemetery listing.
    His daughter, my 4x grandmother, is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in NYC, along with other family members.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    You’re welcome, Christiane. It’s great to hear from another descendant of Captain Williams. I don’t think his body was ever found.

  • Judith Sutherland says:

    Loved this account of the horrific Albion wreck. I am not related to anyone here, crew or passengers as far as I know. However, Andrew Converse, son of the Honorable John Converse, swept overboard with 6 crew in the beginning of this saga, and his brother-in-law Nelson D. Ross, son of Stephen Ross, all Troy, New York natives are of interest to me as I had first read of their deaths on an old cemetery list. The cemetery, known as Old Troy or Old Mt. Ida was deeded to the city by Stephen Van Rensselaer in 1815, but for whatever reasons, was bulldozed many, many years later. I have an interest in that cemetery, so had to research the Albion. I did not find the young men’s names listed in the Templetrine Cemetery, so figure their remains may have been shipped home. Thank you for this very thorough read.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      You’re welcome, Judith. I’m glad you found the article interesting. Thank you for the information about Andrew Converse, Nelson D. Ross, and the Old Troy cemetery. What a shame that it was bulldozed.

  • Adam D'Arcy says:

    Well done Shannon on this very interesting story. It may interest you (and all others who commented here) that there is a plan to create some sort of memorial to General Lefebvre-Desnouettes whose body is apparently buried in Templetrine Church graveyard. I imagine it will be in place by the 200th anniversary. The Napoleon Society of Ireland are organising it. It would be nice to have some sort of memorial at the coast too because I don’t think there is any memorial.

  • Adam D'Arcy says:

    Actually it turns out that The Napoleon Society of Ireland is not organising it but may take part in the project. I will try to keep you updated from time to time.

  • Cormac O Brien says:

    Very good research in relation to this story. I am Vice president of the Irish Napoleonic Society. We are helping a group in France in establishing if the French General was definitely buried there, but myself I am currently researching into the Folklore/Myth of the subject and I thought this piece was a good starting point into this topic. Do you know if there was any survivors to this story?
    All the best,
    Cormac F. O Brien

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Yes, there were nine survivors of the shipwreck: William Everhart, Stephen Chase, Henry Cammyer, William Hynt (or Hyate), John Simson, John Richards, Francis Bloom, Ebenezer Warner and Hierom Raymond.

  • Cormac O Brien says:

    Thanks for your response.

  • Gary W Pender says:

    Very interesting article. One name that I did not see was Nathan Ball of Deer Isle, ME. The information I have on him is that he was part of the crew and he went down with the ship. I don’t know if there was anyone else that had gone down with the ship that had not been identified.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Thanks, Gary. That’s interesting as I haven’t come across Nathan Ball’s name in any list of victims of the Albion wreck. I did see on one website a note that he piloted the Albion out of Boston on at least one occasion, and that, during the return to Boston, his pilot boat was wrecked and his body was not found. See

  • Micah Eldred says:

    Did the newspaper or other period publications or accounts provide a description of the specie carried on the ship?

    • Shannon Selin says:

      I have not seen a detailed listing or description of the specie. One account said that “different gold coins in a small box” were found near the wreck, “amounting to upwards of 300 pounds.”

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It is barely possible to conceive the horror of their situation. The deadly and relentless blast impelling them to destruction – the ship a wreck – the raging of the billows against the precipice on which they were driving, sending back from the rocks the hoarse and melancholy warnings of death – dark, cold, and wet.

The Times