"Saw from the ladder's elevation as he looked down by chance towards the shore, some dark troubled object close in with the land" by Edward G. Dalziel. Wood engraving. From Dickens's "The Shipwreck" in The Uncommercial Traveller. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham. Image correction, formatting, and caption by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Realized

Yet, only two short months had gone, since a man, living on the nearest hill-top overlooking the sea, being blown out of bed at about daybreak by the wind that had begun to strip his roof off, and getting upon a ladder with his nearest neighbour to construct some temporary device for keeping his house over his head, saw from the ladder's elevation as he looked down by chance towards the shore, some dark troubled object close in with the land. And he and the other, descending to the beach, and finding the sea mercilessly beating over a great broken ship, had clambered up the stony ways, like staircases without stairs, on which the wild village hangs in little clusters, as fruit hangs on boughs, and had given the alarm. And so, over the hill-slopes, and past the waterfall, and down the gullies where the land drains off into the ocean, the scattered quarrymen and fishermen inhabiting that part of Wales had come running to the dismal sight — their clergyman among them. And as they stood in the leaden morning, stricken with pity, leaning hard against the wind, their breath and vision often failing as the sleet and spray rushed at them from the ever forming and dissolving mountains of sea, and as the wool which was a part of the vessel's cargo blew in with the salt foam and remained upon the land when the foam melted, they saw the ship's life-boat put off from one of the heaps of wreck; and first, there were three men in her, and in a moment she capsized, and there were but two; and again, she was struck by a vast mass of water, and there was but one; and again, she was thrown bottom upward, and that one, with his arm struck through the broken planks and waving as if for the help that could never reach him, went down into the deep. [3]


First published as part of the opening number of The Uncommercial Traveller essays in the 28 January 1860 number of All the Year Round, "The Shipwreck" is very different in subject and setting from the more satirical and London-based articles in the series since it is set on the Welsh island of Anglesey, and reconstructs events of a night three months earlier, when an iron-hulled ship, the "Royal Charter," carrying 498 passengers and eight-hundred-thousand pounds in gold, foundered on the night of 26 October 1859. Since only 39 passengers and crew survived and the vessel had such a valuable cargo, the incident received considerable press coverage.

Dalziel's illustration is very different from contemporary graphic accounts of the shipping disaster in such journals as The Illustrated London News (see, for example, "The Wreck of the 'Royal Charter' on the Coast of Anglesey, near Moelfre Five Miles from Point Lynas Lighthouse", 5 November 1859) in that it relegates the shipwreck to the background, and involves several elderly residents of Llanallgo on Anglesey surveying the wreck of the "Royal Charter" (lower right in Dalziel's picture), although Dickens did not arrive at the site of the disaster until 29 December, by which point there was little left of the gold ship — although divers were continuing to salvage coin and ingots from the wreck. However, at least Dickens in reconstructing the horrific events of that night could draw on numerous newspaper accounts and illustrations to make readers on 28 January 1860 credit his account. Since Dickens was obviously not present on the night of the storm, Dalziel has not tried to work Dickens's iconic image into his illustration. Moreover, he presents the scene from an unusual perspective, as the storm that has destroyed the ship and nearly five hundred human souls has also torn the shingles off the roofs of the cottages nearby. Only when they attempt to address problems with their houses occasioned by the overnight storm do the cottagers even notice the catastrophe unfolding beneath their village. In contrast to many depictions of the wreck in the popular press in 1859, in 1877 Dalziel has foregrounded the experience of the bystanders rather than those of the victims or quarrymen on the beach and rocks of Muffa Redwharf Bay. His version of the shipwreck, de;liberately downplays the violence and loss of life, and lacks the sensationalism of contemporary images, which focussed on the surging sea and battered vessel.


Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller. Il. Edward Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877.

Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens; being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings, by Fred Barnard, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz); J. Mahoney; Charles Green; A. B. Frost; Gordon Thomson; J. McL. Ralston; H. French; E. G. Dalziel; F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes; printed from the original woodblocks engraved for "The Household Edition." New York: Chapman and Hall, 1908. Copy in the Robarts Library, University of Toronto.

Slater, Michael, and John Drew, eds. Dickens' Journalism: 'The Uncommercial Traveller' and Other Papers 1859-70. The Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens' Journalism, vol. 4. London: J. M. Dent, 2000.

Last modified 19 February 2013