The iron paddle steamship Earl of Dublin was launched from the Port Glasgow East yard of Robert Duncan & Co Ltd (Yard No 23) on 27th December 1866. She measured 250.0′ x 27.0′ x 15.0′ and her tonnage was 684 gross tons, 411 net tons. She was powered by a paddle steam engine by Rankin & Blackmore, Greenock delivering 300 horse power. Built for the Dublin and Glasgow Steampacket Co Ltd, Dublin. She operated mainly on Irish Sea routes between Dublin and the Clyde. The Duke of Edinburgh was not a lucky ship. Her short career was a catalogue of accidents and disasters which ended on a foggy night in 1870 under the gannet infested cliffs of Ailsa Craig.
Only three years earlier, on her maiden voyage from Glasgow to Dublin, the then Earl of Dublin ran aground near Ballyherbert and became a total wreck. The wreck was purchased by Harland & Wolff, who dismantled her where she lay and rebuilt her in their yard in Belfast, adding thirty feet to her length in the process. If her owners thought that the change of name to Duke of Edinburgh would also change her luck they were to be disappointed because, on her sea trials, she ran into a wooden lighthouse in Belfast Lough, almost killing the keeper and his wife. The incidents continued under her new owners, the Dublin & Glasgow Steampacket Company Ltd., when she grounded in the Clyde early in 1870, losing her rudder in the process.
The final chapter in the Duke of Edinburgh’s eventful history began as she left Dublin on her usual route for Glasgow on 18th January, 1870 with a general cargo, some cattle and thirty passengers. The trip across the North Channel was uncomfortable as the sea pounded on their port quarter and the passengers and crew were relieved to reach the Clyde estuary and the shelter of the Kintyre peninsula from the worst of the Atlantic swell. As they headed north, through the night, the weather became foggy and Captain Byrne ordered engines slowed as they neared the vicinity of Ailsa Craig.
The Duke of Edinburgh was still travelling at thirteen knots when the lookout reported a fog bank off the port bow. Captain Byrne took this fog bank to be Ailsa Craig and turned slightly to starboard to pass the island to the east. Almost immediately another fog bank appeared dead ahead but, inexplicably, the Duke of Edinburgh steamed straight into this second fog bank which, in fact, was shrouding the treacherous rocky shores of Ailsa. The Duke of Edinburgh ran ashore on the west of the island with such force that more than half the length of the vessel reached above the high water mark. The horrendous crash was heard by a number of other vessels up to two miles off, who rushed to the vessel’s assistance. Meanwhile, on board, the passengers, who had been thrown into a state of total confusion and terror by the impact, were being calmed by the crew who explained that they were in no immediate danger as the vessel was high and dry on the rocks and the sea was fairly calm.
Over the next few hours a number of vessels arrived on the scene in answer to the Duke of Edinburgh’s distress rockets and soon the passengers, crew and even the cattle were on their way to the mainland. This was followed by the removal of most of the cargo to lighten the ship before attempts were made to refloat her. A number of unsuccessful attempts were made to drag her from the rocks until, on 28th January, the weather broke with a strong south westerly gale. Huge waves crashed over her stern section bumping her already badly damaged hull on the rocky seabed until, on 3rd February, she broke in two amidships and became a total wreck.
The wreck thought to be the remains of the Duke of Edinburgh lies close inshore on the south west coast of Ailsa Craig in approximate position 55° 14.833’N, 005° 07.317’W (GPS). It is not certain that the wreckage at this site is the Duke of Edinburgh as there have been a number of wrecks in this vicinity and nothing has been found, to the authors’ knowledge, which positively identifies the name of the wreck. The wreckage lies between 10 and 20 metres and is mainly the hull plates and ribs of what has obviously been a fairly large vessel. Little else recognisable remains. The shingle seabed in and around the wreck is littered with shards of broken crockery. The site is very exposed and can only be dived in calm conditions.