‘Shamrock’: the last Tamar sailing barge

‘Shamrock’ is the last Tamar sailing barge. Ketch rigged, she was built in the Stonehouse yard for Frederick Hawke in 1899. Funds are urgently needed to safeguard her future. Can you contribute to the National Trust appeal?

A brief history of ‘Shamrock’

17.5m (57ft 6in) long, she has a beam of 5.51m (18ft 1in), hold depth of 1.62m (5ft 4in) and was initially registered as 31.71 tons gross. Her hold is 6.7m (22ft) by 3.5m (11ft) and main mast is 12.5m (42ft) high. For 20 years ‘Shamrock’ hauled fertiliser between Plymouth and the Torpoint Manure Works, and in 1919 she was sold to a group of stone quarrymen and converted, to comply with the Board of Trade regulations, for trading to the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. 

Tamar barge ‘Shamrock’ c.1970 Credit: Alec Friendship

Listed on the National Trust Collections website, with an inventory number 348277, ‘Shamrock’ is also listed on the UK National Historic Ships Register, maintained by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, and has Certificate number 665. She was named after the unsuccessful Irish challenger for the 10th America’s Cup Race in 1899 and considered to be the most advanced Tamar sailing barge ever built. It was a conscious effort to design a vessel which would carry the maximum cargo for her size on the minimum draft and at the lowest operating and maintenance costs.

Tamar barge ‘Shamrock’ Photo: James Hunter

During the First World War, ‘Shamrock’ worked in Plymouth Sound, carrying charged, but not fused, 18lb shells from Canadian ammunition ships for completion at Ocean Quay. She was bought for £600 by Charles Oakley Steed of the Notter River Stone Co. in 1919. Structural alterations were made to her hull to enable registration as a seagoing vessel including modifications to the rig and installation of an auxiliary 30 ihp four-stroke paraffin engine. Until 1962 ‘Shamrock’ carried road stone from Lynher, Plymouth and Porthoustock (east side of the Lizard) quarries. A usual load would be 40 – 50 tonnes of 2.5 inch or 1.5 inch blue elvan, a very hard stone.

In July 1962 she was sold to Eric Norman Richardson of Falmouth representing Coastal Prospecting Ltd., London. No longer equipped for sailing, she was fitted with two 65 ihp diesel engines and converted to a prospecting dredger for tin ore off the Red River in St Ives Bay. Four years later she was sold for £750 to Richard Curnow of Helston, engineer, and used for salvage work on wrecks in Mount’s Bay and adjoining coasts. Guns, propellers, coins, and bronze and other metal objects were recovered by the crew operating with minimal involvement by the owner. By the mid 1960s she was
detained in Falmouth as unseaworthy, being regarded as a wreck, ending up being used as a scrap iron store in Hooe Lake, Plymouth.

‘Shamrock’ was acquired by the National Maritime Museum in conjunction with the National Trust and taken to Cotehele Quay in 1973 as a full restoration project completed in 1979.

40 years on and she remains at Cotehele Quay, in the custodianship of the National Trust on the River Tamar in South East Cornwall. Funds are urgently needed to continue with her conservation and safeguard her future. The undated painting is attributed to John Dyke and published with permission from the National Trust. To contribute to the appeal, visit the National Trust website.

Find the full story on the ‘Shamrock’ blog

Contributed by Joe Lawrence, National Trust, 2014