Although now nearly completely submerged in the sands of Rhossili Beach, the rotting skeleton of the Helvetia shipwreck can still just be seen, poking the tips of her rotting timbers through the golden sands. Originally from Norway, the Helvetia came to her final resting place on Rhossili Beach in 1887 and here is her sorry story…
Helvetia arrived off the Swansea coast on the stormy evening of October 31, in 1887.
Stevenson, the ship’s captain, had sailed Helvetia all the way from New Brunswick on the East coast of Canada, loaded with 500 tonnes of timber, he was heading for Swansea Harbour.
Ron Tovey, in his “Chronology of Bristol Channel shipwrecks”, describes how the crew were five miles from their final destination, when Stevenson ordered for “signals to be burnt” to guide them into the harbour.
But a “fresh breeze” sprang up from the South East, which meant that the crew were forced to stay where they were for the night.
The winds grew stronger the following morning, and the Helvetia was blown down channel and struck disaster 10 miles away from the harbour when she hit a sandbank at Helwick Sands.
The stormy waters swept the helpless Helvetia around Worm’s Head and into Rhossili Bay. Stevenson attempted to lower the anchor and ordered his crew to stay on board that night, in fear that looters would set in. However, the winds were at gale force and the Helvetia could not be anchored safely.
Stephenson and his crew reluctantly took the decision to abandon ship.
Stephenson and his crew returned to the beach the following morning to find that the ship had been reduced to a wreck overnight! However, no life had been lost and much of the timber was salvaged by local merchants.