Have another drink, boys. Well, have one with me.

We’re home from the sea. Yes, we’re back on the shore;

And if you get too drunk, boys, in this company,

You’ll roar’ round Cape Horn on the Rory O’ More.

Chorus of the Liverpool drinking song Dublin OShea.

The Rory O’More was a 295 ton barque, built in Kirkcudbright in 1842 for Moore and Co. of Liverpool. She was named after a celebrated seventeenth century Irish rebel leader, and was one of two barques built in Kirkcudbright, the other being the John Tomkinson, built in 1840. A barque is a sailing vessel with either three or four masts, square rigged on each mast except the mizzen. Rory O’ More and John Tomkinson were both three masted barques and Rory O’ More is the largest vessel known to have been built in Kirkcudbright.

The writing of this article was prompted by the discovery, in the course of other research, of a fine oil painting of Rory O’ More in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. Apart from a very small pencil sketch of the Prince of Denmark, built in Kirkcudbright in 1789, the painting referred to is the only detailed image of any of the 62 vessels known to have been built in Kirkcudbright between 1789 and 1858. It is therefore unique evidence of the scale and quality of the shipbuilding undertaken at Kirkcudbright, contradicting the assumption of many people that all locally built vessels were modest coasters engaged in the humble trade of carrying coals and agricultural produce.

Captain Andrew McMaster of Stranraer took command of Rory O’ More in Liverpool in 1842 and made a voyage to Barbados followed by several voyages to Quebec carrying general cargo and passengers. He encountered ice off the Magdalene Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, by which the Rory O’ More was damaged, causing the pumps to have to be manned continuously for two days. When leaving Montreal in the summer of 1846, the river was found to be so shallow that the yards and topmasts had to be sent down and floated alongside, while cables, chains and other rigging were put into lighters to enable the vessel to traverse Lake St. Peter, with her draft reduced to only nine feet of water. The following year Captain McMaster, again bound for Quebec, ran ashore in dense fog near Métis on the lower St. Lawrence River causing damage that forced him to abandon the vessel. After the cargo had been salvaged Rory O’ More was surveyed, condemned, declared a wreck and sold for £600.

Kirkcudbright ships were reputed to be more heavily built than their Canadian counterparts, and her new owners succeeded in salvaging her, refloating her, and bringing her to harbour in Quebec under sail after the tug that was towing her broke down. She is next heard of being loaded for a voyage to California in pursuit of gold, carrying a large number of passengers in addition to freight such as provisions, tents, frames for wooden houses, mining tools, etc.. She sailed on 13th November 1849 under the command of Captain McNab, rounding Cape Horn and arriving safely at San Francisco after a passage of 159 days.

Between 1850 and 1852 Rory O’ More made several voyages between San Francisco and Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), calling at Tahiti, Pitcairn Island, Sydney, Newcastle (New South Wales), under the command of Captains Brennan, Smart and Gardner. In 1853, she sailed from Sydney for Calcutta on the first of two or three such voyages commanded by Captain Joseph J. Church. On one of these voyages, Captain Church gave a very detailed account of the sighting of a waterspout, and accompanied it by his own sketch of the incident. Crew lists from this period give the names of 12 crewmen and 21 passengers. Of the 12 cabin passengers, six were children, and of the 9 passengers in steerage, one was a child accompanied by her father.

In 1855 Rory O’ More was in London but she soon returned to Australia from where she made frequent voyages between Sydney, Hong Kong, Perth, Singapore and Fremantle. She was sold to Singapore owners in 1863 and the last reference to her that I have found is her sighting by the Glasgow ship Bothwell Castle on 6th January 1866, while on passage from Foochow to Boston.

By a strange coincidence, three of the vessels mentioned in this article, the schooner Prince of Denmark, the barque Rory O’ More and the barque John Tomkinson, were in Tasmanian waters at various times between 1846 and 1856. In addition to the fact that they were all built in Kirkcudbright, they shared extremely good reputations as outstandingly fast vessels. It is gratifying to have finally produced evidence in the form of a fine oil painting confirming that Kirkcudbright’s craftsmen in the mid nineteenth century were building fine, fast and elegant vessels capable of distinguishing themselves in distant and dangerous waters.

Success in finding the painting inspires me to seek further information, so if anyone has in their loft a logbook, a painting or further details of any of the vessels or captains mentioned, I hope they will contact the Galloway News.

“Now Rory leave off sir you’ll hug me no more

That’s eight times today and you’ve kissed me before”

“Then here goes another,” says he, ” to make sure

For there’s luck in odd numbers.” says Rory O’ More.

From Rory OMore by Samuel Lover (1797-1868)

(copyright David R Collin)

(first appeared in Galloway News 2010)