The steamship Shotton was built for her original owners, T Coppack and Co Ltd., of Chester in 1909. Through her long career she was to pass between no less than nine different owners and four different names (1938 Tory Island, 1946 Springland, 1949 Christana Dawn). In September 1941, while owned by Efford Shipping Company of London she ran aground in fog at Rockhall near Kincardine but on this occasion she was lucky and was successfully refloated to re-enter service before she was sold to her final owners, I P Langford, in 1948 and named Christina Dawn.
Only a few months later, in April 1949, Christina Dawn was en route from Port Talbot to Irvine with a cargo of carbide in drums. As she approached Irvine harbour on the early afternoon of 3rd April in a strong south westerly gale she missed the narrow entrance into the harbour and went ashore near Ardeer. The ship’s distress signal was quickly answered by the Troon lifeboat and the crew safely removed but the ship was hard aground jammed between rocks on the sandy beach with propeller, rudder torn off and stern post badly damaged. Initial inspections of the stranded ship, which indicated that the hull was not badly damaged, raised hopes that she could be successfully refloated.
However, at 6:30 am on the morning of 14th April a violent explosion, which was felt by many of the local residents, occurred in her cargo of carbide and as the initial smoke cleared the onlookers could see that a huge fire had broken out on the ship and that she was ablaze from the bunker forward to the bow. The bunker coal, of which there was about 40 tons aboard, was believed to be keeping the fire alive. Crowds of sightseers watching from the harbour and nearby pilot station could see the flames in the hold through a gap in the ship’s starboard side torn by the explosion.
Harbour officials expected the fire to continue to burn for at least a day or even more. Salvage officials issued a warning that the cargo of carbide is likely to throw off more gases which could accumulate in small pockets and cause more explosions. Irvine harbour was closed and firemen kept watch on the sand hills of explosives factory at Ardeer where special precautions were taken to protect the magazines.
The following day, as the fire subsided, the remains of the Christina Dawn appeared out of the clearing smoke revealing the majority of the ship, with the exception of the stern, almost flattened by the explosion and the fire. It was clear she was a total wreck which was removed later by salvors. No signs of the incident remain at the location which was only two hundred yards north of the harbour entrance at Irvine.
We would also like to thank Lloyd’s Register Foundation – Heritage & Education Centre for allowing us to reproduce documents from their archive in this article.