Caernarfon Ddoe/Caernarfon's Yesterdays header


No! I shall not on this occasion discuss one of the religions of the world, but about a ship that was registered in the Port of Caernarfon. Her owner was no less a person than Humphrey Owen, Rhyddgaer, Llanidan, Anglesey, who became more well known as the owner of the Vulcan Foundary in Victoria Dock, Caernarfon.

Two centuries ago, earning a living in North Wales had become so difficult that many families had
Poster advertising the Hindoo's journey to New York in 1843
to pack their bags and leave the land of their birth in the hope of meeting with better opportunities on the other side of the Atlantic. Emigrating was a dangerous business in the 18th and 19th centuries, many risking their lives and that of their families on sailing ships unsuitable for crossing the ocean on a journey which could take from 3 to 6 months. On occasions almost half the passengers would lose their lives before reaching the coast of America. This happened in the mid 18th century in the history of one of our best known poets Goronwy Owen from Anglesey. He lost his wife and one child on the voyage.

But, by the end of the 1830's things improved. A three masted barque was built in Merigomishe District of Picton, Nova Scotia, in 1838, and her owners at that time were George Macleod, ship builder, Richard Jones, Merchant, Holyhead and Humphrey Owen. She was registered in Beaumaris on June 12, 1839. Later she was re-registered in Caernarfon as a barque 380 tons to carry 400 passengers and a crew of 15 was required to sail her. From 1840 to 1847 her captain was Richard Hughes and it is believed that she safely crossed the Atlantic 25 times there and back during that period. This is equivalent to three return journeys per annum and on one occasion completed the voyage in two months and twenty days.

She was a Caernarfon ship for 21 years viz. from 1840 to 1861, when she was sold to Liverpool. As a result many hundreds of Welsh speaking Welshmen from Anglesey, Meirioneth, Caernarfon and Denbigh sailed on her to the U.S.A. to start a new life.

Poverty had forced them to leave their country and to sail to the other end of the world, where they believed it would be easier for them to earn a living and that there would be better opportunities for their children. That without ever considering returning to Wales or to see again the loved ones they left behind. They all had a one way ticket.

The period with Richard Hughes as her captain was the one that brought fame to her as a passenger ship and the late Welsh Historian Bob Owen, Croesor, in an article on the Hindoo, relates the story of a huge storm on the ocean that lasted for four days. Many of the passengers suffered from sea sickness and others had given up all hope of ever seeing land again. It occurred in April 1842 and one person, Edward Rees of Llanegryn, Meirioneth went to the captain and asked him for permission to hold a prayer meeting. The captain agreed and Edward Rees gathered a number of regular worshippers from amongst the passengers and entered these words in his diary "Went to the Cabin and Griffith Roberts, Clynnog, fell on his knees and started to pray. It was 5 o'clock in the afternoon and by 9 o'clock not a gust of wind could be heard."

This gives us today an idea of what kind of people many of those who emigrated were. People from a religious background who wished only to improve their living conditions and to start a new life where they would be free to worship without fear of landowners and the like persecuting them for being nonconformists.

Captain Richard Hughes was himself of the same nature and deserved all praise that the passengers and crew all reached New York safely in 42 days despite the elements. The captain took command of another ship owned by Humphrey Owen named "Higginson" in 1847 and again crossed the Atlantic in her many times loaded with passengers, but by 1852 he became captain of a ship called "Jane" from Beaumaris. In a Welsh American Newspaper "Cenhadwr Americanaidd" he is described as an experienced sailor and Master Mariner ".........who once was master of the 'Higginson' of Caernarfon and had completed 25 return journeys to America in the vessel 'Hindoo' and in all these voyages he never lost a bolt or a sail, but merely 'one stencil boom.' He always sailed without alcoholic spirits other than a small amount for medicinal purposes."

On one occasion, however, the "Hindoo" got into difficulties
Report from the North Wales Chronicle dated 25th. February, 1840, about the Hindoo's launch at Carnarvon.
on arriving at the U.S.A. and was accused of carrying more immigrants than was legally allowed. The evidence of what happened is scanty, but according to one source the company had to pay $150 per head for 90 passengers which were over the limit of 150 allowed, even though the majority of them were children.

By 1853 steam ships had become far more popular with travellers and there was less call for sailing ships like the "Hindoo," due to them being faster and more comfortable. In the year 1861 the "Hindoo" was sold to Liverpool, putting an end to her connection with the Port of Caernarfon. Her importance in the history of the town lies in the fact that she was a truly Welsh ship with a crew of Welsh sailors and very many Welsh speakers from North West Wales immigrated to North America. It is estimated that during the 21 years the "Hindoo" was registered in Caernarfon she crossed the Atlantic, both ways, 60 times and carried a total of some thousands intending to settle in the "land of milk and honey."

There's no doubt that she was considered by everyone in Caernarfon as "The Hindoo from Caernarfon."

Here is a translation of what a Welsh poet said about the Hindoo:

The golden crown of Caernarfon
Is the Hindoo riding the waves.

© T. M. Hughes 2010