Wreck of the brig Thornton, 1811

Burbo Bank was an unlucky place for vessels named the Thornton.
Fifty-six years after the brig Thornton ran aground at Burbo a steamer of the same name met a similar fate in the same place.
And the brig Thornton proved unlucky for her masters named William Turnbull. Burbo Bank (c) Dr Mark Adams, 2002

The brig grounded and became a wreck on the 16th December 1811, the steamer on the 6th of December 1867.
(source: 2002 study by Dr Mark Adams) Liverpool Museum Field Archaeology Unit (Adams 2002, pp.8-9,).
Burbo Bank is one of the approaches to the Mersey River, Liverpool (U.K) and the remains of the steamer are believed to remain where she grounded and sank in Victoria Channel near the V3 red buoy (Adams).
The brig however went to pieces when she went aground, on her way home to Liverpool from Maranham on the coast of Brazil.

Chart of Brazil Coast including Bay of Maranham http://www.loc.gov/resource/g5402c.ct001509/
Chart of Brazil Coast including Bay of Maranham http://www.loc.gov/resource/g5402c.ct001509/

The brig Thornton has departed Liverpool in January 1811 under the command of William Turnbull, who threw himself overboard at Galway ten months later. Command was then handed over to another William Turnbull, who was her master when the vessel went aground at Burbo Bank.

Source: Lloyds Register, GOOGLE Books
Source: Lloyds Register 1811, GOOGLE Books online

The 222t brig Thornton seemed on a condemned voyage. She had departed her home port of Liverpool with a crew of 12 on the 22nd January 1811 for ‘Marinham’ (Maranhao) in northeast Brazil.
Her master William Turnbull was from Liverpool and his chief mate on the voyage was an American by the name of Jacob Post. Half the seamen were from Liverpool, the rest Europeans, from Prussian or Sweden if you believe the ship’s Muster.
Little more than a week into the voyage one seamen – John Thomson, of Liverpool, drowned and another, John Robinson ran from the ship.The following week the chief mate also deserted ship.
On the 28th of March the two runaways were replaced when the ship took on two more seamen (Peter Koss from Prussia and John Batist from Italy) and the vessel continued her voyage to Maranham.
On the 1st of August a Portugal seaman named Philip Antonia was taken on board to replace James Sloan a Liverpool seaman discharged that day.
The vessel made its way from Maranham for Liverpool but put into Galway on the 1st of November “in distress.’”
Her master, William Turnbull “jumped overboard and drowned” though no clues are given as to why the experienced mariner would take his own life. Two days later Phillip Antonio deserted ship. Morning Post 9 Nov 1811, GALE, BRITISH NEWSPAPERS).

Another master named William Turnbull was next appointed in command of the brig. The vessel got underway for Liverpool but was reported soon after as having become “stuck” on Burbo Bank on the 16th December 1811.

‘The Thornton, Turnbull, from Maranham to Liverpool, was lost on Burbo, on Monday, Crew and part of the cargo saved.”

(Edinburgh Advertiser 24 Dec 1811,Midlothian)

GALE, Lancaster Gazette, 19 Dec 1811.
(Lancaster Gazette, 19 Dec 1811, GALE BRITISH NEWSPAPERS)

William Turnbull is possibly the same Turnbull named in Lloyd’s registers from about 1809 as master of the brig Thornton built in Flensburg about 1798.
Researcher Mr Peter Klein found her registered in the 1809 supplement, and the 1810 and 1811 volumes of Lloyds where she was reported variously as a brig or a snow of 222 tons. The Thornton had only a single deck with beams, and had undergone repairs in 1809 when she was also sheathed in copper.
As early as 1809 her owner was Thornton and Co of Liverpool, and her regular voyages were to Prince Edward Island in 1809 before switching to the Liverpool – Halifax trade in 1810 and the Liverpool – Lisbon trade in 1811.

Muster of the brig THORNTON, 1811 (c) J. Fawcett
Muster of the brig THORNTON, 1811 (c) J. Fawcett

According to Mr Klein the the difference between a brig and snow was the rigging: “Both were two-masted square riggers – with a gaff sail on the main mast in the case of a brig; but with the gaff sail carried on a small mast of its own, immediately behind the main mast, in the case of the snow.”
Both the brig and steamer Thornton are among 45 known wrecks on Burbo Bank which today is the site of an off-shore energy farm by DONG Energy.

Special thanks are due to the following records specialists who have contributed to the story of the Thornton:
Mr Peter Klein (Ship researcher and historian)
Mr Geoff Nobbs (Bristol, Researcher and historian)
Mr Carl Smith (Wales, Ships,Wrecks and Rescues) shipwrecks-wales.co.uk
Mr Mick O’Rourke (Irish Shipwrecks.com)

(c) Jenny Fawcett Feb 2014