Margaret Storey | TIDE Project Officer, Donegal County Council
Coming soon… we are excited to announce that there will be two Virtual Reality experiences launched in Donegal this summer! The two experiences marry Maritime History and the latest technology in the form of Virtual Reality!
‘The Storm, The Sea, The Saldanha’
Go back in time to the Napoleonic era and experience the last hours of the HMS Saldanha (1809) which shipwrecked off the coast of Fanad Head (1811) hitting the Swilly rocks in Donegal, Ireland. The World had been at war for 18 years from 1793. France were at war with Europe and often attempted to use Ireland as a back door to England with attempts from 1796 to as late as 1811 to gain entry into Ireland. The HMS Talbot and HMS Saldanha guarded the Western Seaboard together as they patrolled the waters along the South of the Irish Coast. It was during one of these trips that the ships took for shelter during strong gales and heavy seas, both heading for Lough Swilly for shelter.
Captain William Packenham last lodged HMS Saldanha papers in Cork Harbour on 18th November 1811. On 30th November both HMS Talbot and HMS Saldanha sailed together, Talbot lost sight of the Saldanha on the night of 30th November 1811 due to poor visibility. Talbot could not make it to Lough Swilly and had to seek shelter from the storm around the Arranmore Islands.
On the night of 4th December 1811, there was a sighting of two ships in Lough Swilly which later shipwrecked - it was believed at the time, that both the Talbot and the Saldanha had shipwrecked, to later find out that the ship Saldanha had in fact split in two. According to the logs, 274 men lost their lives with over 200 bodies and materials washed up on Ballymacstocker Bay. One person survived the shipwreck alive, local folklore believe he was administered poitín (a traditional Irish distilled beverage), but died later. Captain Packenham’s body was also washed up wearing his nightcap and gown, along with 273 crew. Captain Packenham’s green parrot also survived the shipwreck, but met it’s fate in August 1812, when a farmer in Burt (20 miles from the shipwreck and 8 months later) mistook the bird as a hawk and shot it – it had a gold ring around it’s neck ‘Captain Packenham of His Majesty’s ship Saldanha’.
It is believed the resting place of the crew is at Ballymackstocker Bay but this is yet to be confirmed. Both Captain Packenham’s final resting place in the Old Priory at Rathmullan and Lieutenant Harry Salter of the Marines has been buried locally at Linsfort Church. Some artefacts have survived to today, cannons, anchors, the ship’s bell and one of the ship’s mast which is located in Rathmullan Presbyterian Hall (now a library). Due to the tragedy, Fanad Lighthouse was built and opened on 17th March 1817.