Launch of the Ship Aurora & Messrs Charles Connell.

		The Belfast Ship they Christened with a Bottle of Whiskey.
[photograph of painting] This illustration of the launching
of the Aurora, the first passenger steamer ever constructed
in Ireland, hangs in the Linenhall Library.  Belfast's
shipbuilding fame is in the news this week with
the inclusion of the head of the Queen's Island in the
Honours list.  Here CAPTAIN R.H. DAVIS tells some interesting
stories about another famous Lagan shipbuilding concern.

  Our local historians appear to have given very little
prominence to the shipbuilding firm of Messrs. Charles
(afterwards Alexander) Connell & Sons, and yet this name
Connell has been continuously associated with
shipbuilding in Belfast since the year 1808.  It was this
firm that in 1838 built the Aurora, the first passenger
steamer ever constructed in Ireland.  A writer of that day
said she "might be denominated as a floating palace."
  Connells built their ships on a site practically where
our Harbour Office stands to-day, the same site whereon
William Ritchie, out first shipbuilder, who had retired
about 1820, turned out the majority of his ships.  The
blacksmith's shop in connection with Connell's yard is
the only trace left standing, and at present it is used
by Messrs. W.D. Henderson & Son as a cement store.

  All Connell's ships, of course, were built of wood.
Their No. 1 vessel was the schooner Jane, launched in
June 1825, so that they probably took possession of
their site some time in 1824.  Previous to this date,
Mr. Charles Connell must have been well known as a
shipbuilder in connection with a most original salvage
job in 1820.
  In June of that year the sloop John and Mary, with
a cargo of coal on board, stranded at the mouth of
Belfast Harbour in such  a way that she completely
blocked the entrance and no vessel bigger than a rowing
boat could get either in or out.
  Belfast was a small port in those days, but the blocking
of the channel even at that period was a serious matter
for the inhabitants, and when the "powers that were" gave
Mr. Connell the contract for clearing the channel of
this obstruction I am sure they gave it to the man whom
they considered best able to carry it out successfully.
  Connell went about the job in a most original manner;
he did not trouble about pumps or pontoons or camels
or any of the salvage equipment used even in those days.
Instead he went to Captain Cockburn, the commander of
the Belfast garrison, and prevailed on him to lend him
a regiment of soldiers.
  Next morning before high water every man of the
regiment who could be spared from duty attended to
the strand and tailed on to a seven-inch hawser which
had been secured in the sloop.  When all was in
readiness, at the word of command, they marched, and,
although the hawser parted on two occasions, they
finally succeeded in hauling the sloop for a
distance of about fifty yards and into a position
where she would ebb nearly dry and could be discharged.
Thus the channel was again left open.
  One of Connell's early vessels was a fine brig called
the Brian Boru.  She was coppered on the stocks, and was
about 300 tons burthen.  She was launched on December
4, 1826, and was the property of John, William, and
Robert Murphy, of this town.  Although only 300 tons,
the Brian Boru traded all over the world.
  Another fine brig called the Joseph P. Dobree was
launched on September 15, 1829, for the old-established
firm of West India merchants, Messrs. John Martin &
Co., of Belfast.  The Joseph P. Dobree was kept
continually in the West India trade.
  On one occasion when bound home she encountered very
heavy weather, and had to jettison part of her cargo,
and afterwards had to put into Falmouth with her decks
lifted owing to her cargo swelling.  Early in 1845 she
stranded on the Folle reef (Hayti) [Haiti?] and became
a total wreck.
  In 1832 another particularly fine vessel, the Fanny,
of 310 tons, was built for the Eastern trade, and she
made history by being the first Belfast ship to bring
a cargo of tea direct from Canton to Belfast.  This tea
trade at one timer promised to be of considerable
importance.  Sir William Bateson at a dinner to the lord
Lieutenant in November 1855, speaking of Belfast ships
said : "They trade to China for teas which are shipped
direct and landed here, and the shipping of Belfast
extends over every part of the world where shipping
can go."

  The next vessel built by the Connell's was a 500-ton ship,
the Penninghame, for Mr. John Harrison, of Belfast, and in the
same year he built for his own account the schooner Rowena.
This latter vessel was lost some five years afterwards
(1833) when bound home with a cargo of oak timber for her
owner.
  Bound from Liverpool to Rio the Penninghame got ashore on
February 22, 1854, and after being on the rocks for a
fortnight ( a hard test for a wooden ship) she was got
off and brought into Holyhead, and some twelve months
afterwards Mr. Heyn sold her to Liverpool owners.
  Next in succession was launched the Tickler, Hindoo,
Brigand, and Splendid.  Of these four vessels the Hindoo
was outstanding, and she made a record by being the
first full-rigged ship ever built in Ireland.  She was
built for the China and East Indian trade, and was supposed
to be of 800 tons, and was also one of the largest vessels
built in Ireland up to that time.
  Her owners were Messrs. Sinclair & Boyd, Messrs. John
and Thomas Sinclair, and J. M'Namara [McNamara?].  Her
career was a short one.  On August 9 in the following year
she was lost in a heavy gale in Regedopore Bay, 38 miles
south of Bombay, and became a total wreck.  It is mentioned
that for a period of seventeen days the sun had not been
seen at Bombay, an almost unprecedented experience there.
(This date would be about the change of the Monsoons).
  In 1837 and 1838 Connells built two steamboats and a
schooner.  The SS Victoria (1837) was the third steamer
to be built in Ireland.  Her engines, which were the
work of Messrs. Coates & Young are described as being 200
h.p.  The SS Aurora (1838), which I have mentioned at the
commencement of this article, was a well-known craft,
which in the following year made the record passage
between Glasgow and Belfast and in 1847 she very probably
broke another record when more than two days on the the
same passage.
  The James Duncan, which was launched in September, 1839,
for M'Connells [McConnell?] own account, got ashore near
Bangor in 1840 and filled with water, but was successfully
salved and brought to a safe anchorage at Garmoyle.  In
1841, bound out to the Black Sea, she made the record
passage of the season to Constantinople (Istanbul) and
in the following year made another fast passage of 22 days
to Leghorn.
  The output of Connells Yard appears to have averaged
about two vessels annually, as in 1842 he constructed
his No. 32 ship.  This was a brig named the John Cunningham
of 300 tons.  Three of his vessels were particularly
described as clippers - the Mischief, Faugh-a-Ballagh, and
the Vivid.
  The first appears to have justified her description, as
in 1845 she went from London to Cronstad in 12 days, and the
report says : "This is the quickest run we have ever heard
of."  On another occasion when she sailed from the Cove
of Cork with 16 other vessels, a heavy on shore gale came on,
all with the exception of the Mischief put back for shelter.
A writer who describes the incident says that she weathered
the gale, going to windward like a powerful steamer. In
1833, when bound out to Demerara she had a deck load of
mules, every one of which was washed overboard in a gale.

  On Sunday night a few weeks ago, with a number of friends,
I was listening-in at question-time and trying to answer
each question as it came along.  The announcer asked who
was Catherine Hayes, and I was the only one in the company to
answer.  Connells built a clipper schooner of that name,
and naturally I was curious as to who she was.
  I discovered by the press of the period that she was a
world-famous Irish vocalist who sang not only in Belfast,
but to audiences all over the world.  The announcer informed
us that she was born in Limerick and was reputed to have
been the model for the Statue of Liberty at the entrance to
New York Harbour.
  The Oceanica was also one of Connells ships. She was
owned by Mr. James Lemon, and was built specially for the
East India trade, in which she remained for many years.  She
was a very Irish craft.  Her hull was painted a bright
green, she flew a green burgee with an Irish harp on it,
and she was christened with a bottle of Irish whiskey.
The Oceanica was lost in 1868 near Great Orme's Head
when bound out from Liverpool to Merimachi [Miramichi?].
  In 1841 the new cut to the first bend of the river was
completed and the river channel from the Queen's Bridge
had been deepened.  Improvements to the harbour and the
port were made for the next decade in all directions.
These necessitated the removal of Connell's and other
shipyards on the County Antrim side of the river.  In 1854
the old Harbour Office was removed to make room for the
proposed new Custom House and a new harbour office was
built practically on the site of Connells shipyard.
  During the "forties" Mr. Alexander Connell was the head of
the firm.  He was a well-known figure in Belfast and was
often to be met with at the Plough Hotel in Corn Market,
where there was a sporting club of which he was a prominent
member. His residence was at Rifle Lodge, Whiteabbey.
  He died in 1875 and was buried in Carnmoney Old Churchyard.
The business of shipwright, ship-joiner, etc., was carried
on by his son Alexander, and is to-day being carried on by
his grandson, William Connell, whose office stands on a
patch of ground which at one time was adjacent to if not
part of Connells shipyard.