Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shipwrecked watch returns to family after 128 years.

I love watch stories. I am attracted to them like bees to honey. Especially stories that are intertwined with a good dose of history, because history is time.

A pocket watch carefully crafted by North Wales watchmaker, Richard Thomas, lay on the bottom of the ocean amongst the shipwrecked remains of Barbara, a square-rigged barque which sunk during a violent storm off the Pembrokeshore coast in 1881. It lay there as the salty water washed across the engravings on the case, "Richard Prichard 1866 Abersoch North Wales.", for the next 117 years.

In 2000, Rich Hughes, a diver spotted the watch and brought it to the surface. He saw the engravings and began to research the watches origin. He had a start, the name of the watch owner, Richard Prichard, but he had to find out who he was and how did the watch end up amongst the shipwrecked remains of Barbara.

The watch was in excellent condition and extremely valuable. Richard Prichard was someone who could afford a timepiece of this nature. Possibly the Master and Commander of the ship. After much research, Mr Huges theory was correct, Richard Prichard had been the Captain of the Barbara, but had not been on the ship when it had sank. Mr Prichard had died under mysterious circumstances while on a voyage to load rice from Burma. He was buried at sea and Captain Jones replaced him as Captain of the ship. He had the watch in his possession probably meaning to return the watch to Mr Prichard's family. Captain Jones navigational skills were clearly lacking and this guided the ship into the Bristol Channel instead of St George's Channel leading to Liverpool. In the month of November 1881, a violent storm tossed the ship like a child's toy and unable to defend itself against the elements sank off the Village of Freshwater West, Prembrokeshire.

The crew was rescued except for Captain Jones who went down with the ship taking with him the silver watch. The watch was protected by sediments as it lay there in its murky grave.

The diver, Mr Hughes felt he must return the watch to Mr Prichard's descendants. Utilizing the Internet, he scanned old manuals and shipping records, but he could not find any clues. He handed the research over to amateur historian David Roberts. David Roberts noticed the inscription mentioned the village Abersoch, now a popular seaside resort, and visited two cemeteries in the area. He suddenly happened upon a gravestone that must have been Mr Prichard's father and later confirmed his findings by cross-checking birth, marriage and death records. He was able to trace the family tree as far back as 1788 and discovered Mr Prichard's father was once a sea captain as well. Going back along the family tree, he was able to go forward and discovered the family of Mr Prichard still resided in North Wales. A memory to Mr Prichard was mentioned on the grave of his parents and the grave of his wife and child.

The watch will never work again, but it has traced time merely by being in existence and surviving 117 years under the ocean. It took Mr Hughes almost ten years to find its rightful owner.

The watch will be given to a retired dentist Owen Cowell whose grandmother was Captain Prichard's cousin. He is the closest surviving relative. He is overjoyed that the watch has finally come home after so many years.