Perhaps the most disturbing shipwreck to occur on the Gower coast was that of the S.S. Agnes Jack – a Liverpool vessel en route to Llanelli from Sardinia. With a cargo of 600 tons of ore, the Agnes Jack took shelter in the Bristol Channel whilst waiting for the flood tide to dock at Llanelli on 26th January, 1883.
Whilst in the Bristol Channel, however, the Agnes Jack struck the rocks off Skysea, Port Eynon – infamous for being one of the most treacherous stretches of the Gower Peninsula coast for shipwrecking.
To make matters worse, one of the most severe storms ever to savage the Bristol Channel hit Gower around this point of time (2 a.m.) and it was these atrocious conditions that were eventually to lead to the loss of all eighteen of the Agnes Jack's crew.
Despite the howling wind and crashing sea, the woeful cries of those unfortunate men aboard the Agnes Jack were heard by villagers, who summoned the help of both the Oxwich and the Rhossili Rocket crews.
Whilst the Rhossili Rocket crew had problems attending the scene, the Oxwich crew arrived at the sea front at first light and found the cliffs full of Port Eynon villagers, who watched aghast at the scene which unfolded before them.
The Agnes Jack lay in a terrible state on the rocks, with its terrified crew grasping to its rigging and mast for their very lives. Five men, who had managed to float the ship’s boat, had already perished when their small vessel had been shattered on the rocks by the mighty gale and it was immediately evident that the fate of the ship's remaining crew was perilous.
The Oxwich Rocket crew took immediate action but, to everyone’s dismay and horror, the storm and ferocious tide battled against the rocket lines fired by the rescue team and not one was able to reach the ship’s desperate crew. All the while the Oxwich Rocket crew continued to fail to reach the ship’s crew with their line, more and more of the Agnes Jack’s crew succumbed to the sea as their numbed fingers and arms lost grip on the ship and they were swept to their merciless deaths.
The Rhossili Rocket crew finally reached the scene around 10 a.m. and, with the tide at last starting to retreat, they made their way out onto the slippery rocks in the hope that their rocket lines would reach the ship from this nearer vantage point. The wind, however, continued to prove an enemy and not one poor soul from the doomed Agnes Jack could be brought ashore alive.
Both rocket team crews, and the villagers who had lined the cliffs to watch the horror of the situation unfold, returned home in shock at what they had all witnessed.
Over the next few days, weeks and months, the crew of the Agnes Jack were washed ashore – their poor bodies battered, cut and eaten away beyond recognition from the sea and rocks which had devastated them. Only one crew member’s body failed to return from the sea. A grave in Port Eynon’s churchyard commemorates the crew.
The outcry from those who had witnessed the deaths of all these fine men’s deaths was so huge that it was agreed that a lifeboat, which had been argued for for countless years, would at last be situated at Port Eynon.
Charles Bevan, the secretary of the new lifeboat station, wrote a poem to commemorate the loss of the Agnes Jack:
“It was a dark and stormy morn
Long ere the break of day
When cries of deep distress were heard
Across Port Eynon Bay.
The villager’s quickly rose from bed
And hurried to the strand;
There, shattered spars and broken boats
Were washed up on the sand.
And woeful cries borne on the wind
Distinctly they could hear
Above the roaring of the sea
Sad wails fell on the ear.
Yonder o’er Skysea’s rugged rocks
A mast-head light was seen
And through the murky darkness there
That flickering light did gleam.
The wild waves seethed upon the shore,
And winds did howl and moan
And from the mountain breakers rose
The angry spray and foam.
When dawned the day upon the scene
Out through the misty gloom
The topmasts of a sunken ship
Above the waves did loom.
And in the rigging human forms
Were clinging for their lives
We gazed with pity on them there
For help we heard their cries.
Their ship had struck the fatal rocks
In the darkness of the night
Upon a wild and dangerous coast
For there’s no beacon light.
Cast on an iron-bound lee-shore
The rocks her sides did gore
And eighteen men on board were doomed
To see their homes no more.
They sought for refuge in the mast
And the shaking ropes they grip
Whilst the raging billows swept the decks
Of that ill-fated ship.
In fragments high upon the beach
Their every boat was cast
And all the hope, poor souls, they had
Was that frail breaking mast.
The coast-guards and the rocket-crews
Now did their duty brave
But with their rockets and their lines
Alas they could not save.
A sorrowful crowd stood on the shore
Tears filled many an eye
Yet sympathy could not avail
They all were doomed to die.
And good men offered prayers to God
For those in sore distress
For all the powers of man were vain
To recue them from death.
Small open boats upon the beach
There at Port Eynon lay
But these were useless in the waves
Of the foaming storm-lashed bay.
And men with hard and stony hearts
Were melted into tears,
While cries of those poor souls for help
Fell on their listening ears.
Five dreadful hours had passed away
And still for help they cry
No lifeboat to launch from the shore
No arm to save was nigh.
Out in the surges clinging there
To that frail mast and rope
They gazed upon the crowds on shore
Without a ray of hope.
Drenched and benumbed with wet and cold
They saw each foaming wave
That rolled in madness ‘neath their feet
And yawned their dreadful grave.
Some stripped the clothes from off their backs
And shoes from off their feet
While on the verge of death they stood
Their certain doom to meet.
The shrouds are gone, the frail mast bends
And it is breaking fast
And now their prayers to God for help
Were heard above the blast.
A mountain wave broke on the mast
Down in the surf it fell
And oh the sadness of that night
No human tongue can tell.
They battled with the raging waves
In vain the shore to reach
While scores of strong and willing men
Stood helpless on the beach.
Huge waves o’er whelmed them and they sank
So close, so near the shore
Their languid cries were hushed in death
Life’s voyage now was o’er.
The gloom of death spread all around
For them there tolled no bell
The moaning of the wind and waves
Seemed like death’s solemn knell.
Oh had there been a lifeboat there
To breast the stormy main
Those men might not have perished thus
Imploring help in vain.
But thus they perished – thus they sank
So very near the shore
The Agnes Jack and her brave crew
Shall plough the deep no more.”
Today, off shore from Port Eynon, the boiler of the Agnes Jack is all that remains of the doomed ship.