A FAMILY’S LUCK RUNS OUT

By T. Meirion Hughes, 34 Stryd Garnon, CAERNARFON, Gwynedd LL55 2RB

On Page 17 of Journal 29, November 1995, the first of the entries under the heading From Parish Records refers to John Williams, Tynllwyden (an abbreviation of Tyddyn Llwyden). He is said to be aged 24, and to have been drowned on the night of the 24th of July, 1818, having lost his way in thick fog. The following morning his horse was found grazing, and later, his body was discovered at around half ebb."

What readers were not told is that John was the son of Hugh Williams (1748 – 1808) of the same address. The father was the sole survivor of a ferryboat disaster of 1785 whereby 54 of the 55 people aboard perished on the night of December 5 of that year.

It was a fair day in Caernarfon and the boat cast off for Anglesey around 4pm that day. The tide was within an hour of full ebb and the wind and current forced the ferryboat off its course and onto the treacherous sandbank known as Traethau Gwylltion. The boat capsized and sank leaving the crew and passengers stranded on a cold, wet and wintry night. Attempts were made to go to their assistance, but it was far too dangerous for the small boats to get within reach of those unfortunate people.

As the tide was about to cover the sand bank, Hugh Williams attempted to swim to the Anglesey shore. He had previously lashed an oar to the mast of the boat in order to make an improvised raft and after two long hours struggling against the odds, he eventually reached a spot within a few hundred yards of Tal-y-Foel Ferry House, where he was cared for and given a warm bed. By morning, he was sufficiently recovered to make his way home to Tyllwyden, before his bride of a few weeks learned of the disaster.

Those readers wishing to learn the fully story regarding the disaster and of Hugh Williams’ remarkable swim to safety are advised to refer to pages 281- 286 of Rev. William Bingley’s book "North Wales, including its scenery, Antiquities and Customs" 1804, Vol. 1. Hugh Williams, in an interview with the Rev. Bingley, 15 years or so after the disaster, gave a detailed account of the happenings on that night of December 5, 1785.

The John Williams referred to in the Journal, was the youngest of three children born to Ann, the 2nd wife of Hugh Williams, and his date of birth was December 4, 1793. (See Pedigrees of Anglesey and Caernarfonshire Families. J.E. Griffith 1914 page 378.)