Issacher R Marks (1836-1859)
by Tricia Adam
Issacher was the second of the ten children of Aaron Marks (born Lublin, Poland) and his wife Louisa Aaron, who was descended from of one of the Joseph families of Plymouth, a Jewish family who had been in England since the mid 18th century.
Issacher was born in Falmouth about 1836 but, around 1839, the family moved to London. Aaron was a trimmings manufacturer and, in 1851, 15-year-old Issacher and his elder brother were working for the family business.
By 1855, Issacher was in Australia and, on 6th June, at the age of 20, married Sarah Lawrence in the Melbourne synagogue. He was described as a merchant of Ballarat. Sarah was 24, a spinster and dressmaker of Melbourne, born in London.
In 1857, a daughter, Hannah Tristman Marks, was born, followed in 1858 by a son, Solomon Joseph Tristman Marks. Both were registered in Ballarat, a town founded only in 1851 when alluvial gold was discovered in the neighbourhood. It became the main gold-mining centre of Victoria.
In 1859, the Marks decided to return to England to help Issacher’s father. They travelled on the Royal Charter, a steam clipper and the fastest ship on the route between Liverpool and Australia, usually making the trip in under 60 days. The ship left Victoria on the 24th August carrying over 400 passengers and gold valued at £320,000.
On the 24th October, the ship left Cork for Liverpool. On the 25th, a gale developed with winds of hurricane force. The ship tried to shelter in Moelfre Bay, Anglesey, but, around dawn on the 26th October, it was driven onto rocks only 50 yards from the shore and broke in half.
Surviving witnesses gave harrowing accounts of the Marks:
“…a Jewish couple, with two children, were clinging to the rail. Mr & Mrs Marks had made their money at the gold fields. As another wave rocked the hull and burst over the deck, one of the children was torn away and Mrs Marks was swept into a corner of the wrecked stern and trapped there. A sailor rescued the child, while Mr Marks, frantic with grief, rushed towards his wife, pulling and tearing at her clothes in trying to get a grip and so wrench her free.”
“…did not see what happened to Mrs Marks and one child, but he was a witness of the fate of the husband and the other child. He saw Marks swim away desperately from the side of the ship. On his back sat a terrified child, clinging chokingly to its father’s neck, its hands tight around his throat. A wave, the great, foaming crest rearing high above them, struck the struggling pair. In the bubbling water behind it, only the father could be seen, looking around with desperate eyes. After the next wave had passed, he too was gone.”
Only about 40 people were saved. The Rector of Llaneugred and Llanallgo, the Reverend Stephen Roose Hughes and his brother, the Reverend Hugh Hughes, buried many of the victims in St Gallgos churchyard, “the former going to meticulous lengths to record everything he could about each body, including the contents of their pockets”.
The body of Issacher Marks was finally buried in Deane Road Cemetery on 16th November with a note in the burial registers, “Wrecked in Royal Charter”.
Royal Charter shipwreck 26 October 1859
A list, written soon after the accident, of the bodies laid out in the church, includes “Mrs Marks, the Jewess who had been trapped on deck.” However the announcement by Issacher’s family in the “Jewish Chronicle”, dated 2nd December, contradicts this, stating. “Hopes are still entertained that the bodies of his wife and children may yet be found.”
On the 30th December, Charles Dickens visited Anglesey and later wrote of the response of the Jewish community to the work by Reverend Hughes to look after the bodies. Included was the following letter from the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation’s secretary:
The wardens of this congregation have learned with great pleasure that, in addition to those indefatigable exertions, at the scene of the late disaster to the Royal Charter, which have received universal recognition, you have very benevolently employed your valuable efforts to assist such members of our faith as have sought the bodies of lost friends to give them burial in our consecrated grounds, with the observances and rites prescribed by the ordinances of our religion.
The wardens desire me to take the earliest available opportunity to offer to you, on behalf of our community, the expression of their warm acknowledgments and grateful thanks, and their sincere wishes for your continued welfare and prosperity.”
- Jewish Chronicle, 2 December 1859, page 1 (available via JC archive (subscription required) at http://www.thejc.com).
- McKee, A (1977), “The Golden Wreck”, New English Library, London. ISBN 0-450-03471-2.
Issacher R Marks (1836-1859): A 05.15