A variety of factors influenced the tragedy in which 385 people lost their lives – including the sailing technologies of the time, the weather, human negligence and particularly, a hostile shoreline.
In 1807 Dublin was very different to what we see today. The Act of Union with Great Britain had been passed in 1801, which resulted in a mass exodus of the ‘gentry’ who lived in the big houses on the shoreline from Merrion to Dalkey. Houses were left empty and the area soon became desolate.
Booterstown and Blackrock were unsafe for travel after dark because of highwaymen and other dangerous persons. The coast roads and the railway had yet to be built, so the shore had a more hostile rocky appearance, and the small harbours that were there were badly lit, difficult to see from the sea, and not easy to enter.
Ships carrying anything of value made their way to Bullock Harbour or the Pidgeon House Harbour because they were fortified, but even these harbours were difficult to access by sailing ships. Seafarers complained constantly about the poor lighthouses around the bay.
On top of that, the seasonal Easterly gales were highly dangerous to sailing ships, since the square rigging used at that time made it almost impossible to make any progress against the wind, unlike modern fore and aft rigs.
There were several attempts to improve matters. Captain Blight of the Bounty mutiny fame had been commissioned to carry out a survey and various depositions had been made. However, all power had been transferred to London, matters were progressing very slowly.
After the double tragedies of the Rochdale and the Prince of Wales it was decided to build a safe harbour in a location that could be accessed in Easterly winds. This eventually led to the building of Dún Laoghaire Harbour and the development of the town in which the National Maritime Museum stands.
Text kindly supplied by the National Maritime Museum.