Shipwrecks

Jhelum (1849-1870)

The Jhelum, a three-masted sailing barque, was built in Liverpool by Joseph Steel and Son and launched on 24th May, 1849.  

For more than 20 years the Jhelum carried cargo between Britain and South America.  She made at least 12 voyages from England to Chile, Peru and Ecuador and back, carrying cargoes such as steel on the outward run and guano fertiliser on the return.

On 26th June, 1869, the Jhelum sailed from Cardiff, south Wales, under the captaincy of 41-year-old Charles G. Beaglehole from Dartmouth, England. He was accompanied by a First Mate and 11 crew, the youngest of whom was 14.  The destination was Montevideo, Uruguay, and the cargo was Welsh coal.  Once in South America, she was loaded with guano bound for Dunkirk in France.  As she rounded Cape Horn, she was battered by a fierce storm and sprang a leak, with water getting into the cargo. 

Key Facts:

Three-masted Victorian merchant ship

Leaky sailing barque

Size: 428 tons, 123 ft
Launched: Liverpool, 24th May 1849
Fate: Deserted by mutinous crew

Video footage © 2023 Mark Spicer

She headed for the Falklands, where she arrived on 18th August, 1870.  It had taken a year and two months for her to get there. Once in Port Stanley, her crew rebelled and refused to set to sea again unless she was repaired.  According to some reports, when she entered the harbour, only three of her original crew were still on board – the others had either deserted or signed off along the way.

When her owners refused, or were unable, to send money to Captain Beaghole to repair her, the Jhelum was surveyed and declared “unseaworthy”.  A local firm, Dean and Co., bought her and she was scuttled to serve as a jetty head and workshop.  At one time, she was the only surviving vessel of her type in the world.  But, since 2008, the Jhelum has gradually deteriorated, despite passing into the ownership of the Crown Receiver of Wrecks.  In 2014, the Falkland Islands Government announced that whatever was left of the wreck would be removed.

According to FMHT Trustee, Mensun Bound, the Jhelum was an unusual visitor to the Falklands, in that she was travelling from west to east, rather than the more dangerous east to west route. She was forced to put in to Port Stanley because her cargo of guano had taken on seawater, which not only clogged her pumps but also gave off dangerous ammonia fumes.

Mensun paints a vivid picture of what life for sailors in and around the south Atlantic was like in the days before the Panama Canal opened, when Cape Horn and the Drake Passage were ever present dangers:

‘Every vessel sailing from Europe to the west coast of the Americas, or from one side of the New World to the other, had to do so by way of Cape Horn – the most atrociously ship-hungry patch of ocean on the planet. These ships represented immense trades: coal, nitrate, guano, lumber, grain, copper ore, mixed merchandise and, of course, people. The worst passage was from east to west, which took them into the face of the prevailing winds and currents. 

For many days, sometimes even months, the old square-riggers would battle their way back and forth beneath the continental tip in search of that vital slant that would allow them to escape the Atlantic and slip up into the more congenial waters of the Pacific.The so-called Battle of Cape Horn began off the Falklands, and, when things went wrong, it was to the Falklands that they ran for refuge and repair. Not for nothing were the Falklands known as ‘the downwind companions of Cape Horn. 

For those that did not make it, the seabed around the Islands became their final resting place. And of those that managed to limp into Port Stanley under a few scraps of jury-rigged canvas, many – battered, dismasted and leaking – were condemned as unseaworthy, meaning the cost of their repair exceeded their value as a ship. Usually they ended their days as storage hulks or jetty heads. Truly, there cannot be many places on this globe as rich in stories of heroism and disaster at sea as the Falklands.’

Jhelum is a predominately Muslim district in Pakistan, on the Jhelum River, with a long history, dating back to Alexander the Great. At one time or another, it has been colonised by Persians, Greeks, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and the British.  At one time, the Jhelum was known for its shipbuilding, with wood harvested from the nearby Kashmir forests.

In 2003, the Falkland Islands Government issued a 55p postage stamp showing the Jhelum in full sail during her last voyage from Callao, Peru, in 1870.

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