Updated: Apr 29
One of my passions is the local maritime history of Anglesey, it gives new meaning to each and every paddle stroke I take, as I round our treacherous headlands with their overfalls and tide races, exciting and adrenaline fuelled playgrounds for our shallow drafted, manoeuvrable sea kayaks, but graveyards for any larger vessels that ply our coasts. Wales is not often thought of as a maritime nation, far less the scene of many dramatic and tragic shipwrecks, but one look at any sea chart is very revealing. Shipwrecks seem to me fateful happenings, acts of providence which show how puny we humans are, and how futile our efforts when pitted against the elements. But paradoxically, the deeds that are done on such occasions out of desperation and disaster can be those of heroic dimensions.
Here is one such incredible story of courage!
The bravery of animals during times of crisis and their loyalty and devotion to their owners is well documented. The RSPCA have a version of the Victoria Cross which is specifically for animals, known as the Dickin Medal, though often a small animal performing a loving service of devotion is not awarded any such medal, other than the fond thoughts and remembrance of their master... however, such a hero deserved of the medal was Tyger, who willingly gave his life in a shipwreck off the west coast of Holy Island, in order to save the crew of his master's vessel.
The night of 17th of September, 1819, was pitch black with heavy fog. A ketch bound for Liverpool, was feeling its way through the murk off the coastline near Rhoscolyn , she struck the Maen Piscar rock, 1.3 km north west off Rhoscolyn head, and immediately began to sink.
Since the fog was so thick, it was impossible for the crew of four to make out where the coastline was, so they did not know in what direction to swim, in order to save themselves. But the captain’s retriever, Tyger, barked eagerly and seemed confident as to which direction they should swim. With the ship's boy clinging to his collar, the gallant animal struggled the 1.3km through strong tides to reach safety, then as tired as Tyger was, the faithful dog swam back to his master and the other survivors who were still clinging grimly on to what wreckage was left, and trying to stay afloat. One of the men was in difficulties, and with the other two managing to stay together and follow his lead, Tyger tugged the stricken seaman ashore by the collar of his jacket.
All four managed to escape drowning thanks to the gallantry and faithfulness of one small dog. Though sadly, the efforts proved too much for Tyger and he died from exhaustion in his masters arms, on the very shores that they had struggled so hard to reach.
Other animals - dogs, cats, ships' pets of whatever kind have almost certainly performed acts of heroism in the long history of ships wrecked on the Welsh coasts. As they have not been documented, we may never know of their brave deeds, we may never know their stories.
As for Tyger, he was buried in the south eastern corner of Penrhos Bay close to Rhoscolyn Head, overlooking the sea which had been the scene of his heroic rescue.
A stone to mark his grave was erected with the simple inscription:
‘Tyger, September 17th ,1819’
And there he rests......