Scavenged from Shipwreck, Heirloom Is Returned

August 18, 2009 at 8:33 am | Posted in Finds | 2 Comments

watchThis is one of my total fav kinds of scavenging story, the kind that made me decide at around age four that I wanted to be a beachcomber when I grew up. (And I did become one, for two years as a student at UC Santa Barbara and then, later, for about three months on the Oregon coast in 1989, but unfortunately I’m not one right now.) I mean, this story has EVERYTHING: A sea captain dying under mysterious circumstances. A shipwreck. A rhyming name. A sunken treasure discovered by a scavenger….

Burma. Rice. The surname Cowell. Everything!!!

According to today’s Daily Mail:

“A silver pocketwatch discovered near the site of a shipwreck has been returned to the family of its original owner 130 years after it was lost. Diver Rich Hughes spotted the timepiece glinting in the sand as he explored the seabed near a wreck off the Welsh coast. After bringing it to the surface, he saw the words ‘Richard Prichard 1866 Abersoch North Wales’ engraved on the casing. [Photo above, courtesy of Wales News Service.]

“The 38-year-old said: ‘I was amazed that the watch was in such good condition after laying at the bottom of the sea for generations. As soon as I saw the name it started me thinking about Richard Prichard. I knew he would be the master and commander of the ship — none of the crew would be able to afford a valuable timepiece.’

“Prichard was the captain of the Barbara, a square-rigged barque which sank during a storm off the Pembrokeshire coast in 1881. But he had already died, in mysterious circumstances, during the voyage to pick up a cargo of rice from Burma.

“The captain died during a voyage to Burma and was buried at sea. His name was etched into the memorial of his parents in North Wales. He was buried at sea and a new master, known only as Captain Jones, became the watch’s custodian — probably intending to give it to the Prichard family after arriving in Liverpool. But the ship never returned. Captain Jones’ lack of navigational skills meant that he sailed up the Bristol Channel instead of St George’s Channel heading towards Liverpool. The vessel was then hit by a storm and the Barbara sank off the village of Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire, in November 1881. All the crew were rescued by lifeboat with the exception of Captain Jones who went down with his ship.

“Mr Hughes said: ‘It’s possible that he died with the silver watch in his pocket. His remains are long gone but the watch survived, possibly because it became buried in sediment which would have preserved it. But I felt that although I’d found it the watch wasn’t mine and I wanted to return it to its rightful owner.’

“Mr Hughes, of Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, used the internet to scan old manuals and shipping records but his research came to a dead end. So he brought in amateur historian David Roberts to trace Capt Prichard’s family. Mr Roberts said: ‘I knew the inscription said he was from Abersoch so I visited two cemeteries in the area. I came across a gravestone of someone who might have been Capt Prichard’s father.’

“Eventually Mr Roberts traced the Prichard family tree back as far as 1788 and found out his grandfather was also a sea captain: ‘Through his family tree I was able to trace Captain Prichard’s descendants and was amazed to find they are still living in North Wales.’

“Mr Roberts discovered two memorials to Capt Prichard — one on the grave of his parents and the other of his grave of his wife and child. The watch, which was seized up and will never work again, will be handed to retired dentist Owen Cowell, of Pwllheli, North Wales later this month. Mr Cowell’s grandmother was Captain Prichard’s cousin, making him the closest surviving family member. He said today: ‘I am delighted the watch has come home after all these years. It has come as a complete surprise to me that my ancestors had such a colourful, seafaring past.’

“The timepiece, made by North Wales watchmaker Richard Thomas, will go on display in the village hall at Porthmadoc later this year.”


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  1. An amazing story! I’m glad the watch was returned.

  2. i am too like this comment An amazing story! I’m glad the watch was returned. /

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