Many ships were named after the town of Carmarthen including several Carmarthen packets and the Carmarthen Castle. This does not seem to be the case for the town of Llanelly. The archives suggest that there were only three ships of substantial size named after Llanelly. The first steamship the SS Llanelly was built by the Llanelly Iron Shipbuilding Company in 1867 and was engined by Richard Neville at The Wern Foundry. This would have been a single shaft double compound steam engine producing 75 horse power from a single boiler. The foundry had been manufacturing marine engines since 1849 and it is worth noting that The Old Lodge Ironworks had also been producing marine engines as they had done for the Oliver Cromwell in 1864.A full description of the SS Llanelly appeared in the Cambrian Journal of 9th August 1867:
...an arrangement was entered into with Mr. William Nevill, of the Llanelly Iron Ship-Building yard, for the construction of a steam ship. The keel was laid down in January, and in due course the vessel launched, and has now for sometime been lying in the New Dock receiving her engines and other fittings. The name she has received was the "Llanelly". She is an iron vessel, built on the most approved plan for ships of that material. Her masts and funnel are slightly raked, and she is rigged in the usual fore and aft style. Her length of keel 147ft. and length over all 153ft. She has 22 feet beam, and her greatest depth of hold is 13 ft. Her construction is such that she is capable of division into four water-tight compartments, an arrangement which it has been proved is no inconsiderable safeguard against the danger of foundering from leakage. Her means of propulsion is by a three-bladed screw fan the diameter of which is 9ft. 6 in. Her engines have been built and fitted by Mr. Richard Nevill, of the Wern Iron Works, Llanelly. They are 75 nominal horsepower, but are capable of being up to 400. The registered tonnage of this vessel is 162, but she is supposed to be capable of carrying 300 tons. Her internal fittings are perfectly suited in point of elegance and neatness to her external appearance. The saloon is a moderately sized and carefully fitted cabin, and displays both a refined taste and a genuine appreciation of comfort, in the adaptation of its various conveniences. The furniture is of highly polished mahogany with the usual ornamentations, and the upholstery is done in bright scarlet morocco leather, which imparts a cheerful appearance to this apartment. The sleeping arrangements are no less perfect, and both cabins – the ladies and gentlemen's – have all those modern and commodious adaptations calculated to render sea travelling as tolerable as possible, to the unused and the "squeamish". The accommodation provided is for about 20 passengers.
On December 21st 1886 a headline appeared in the New York Times titled "Steamship Founders". This article went on to report the loss of the Steamship Llanelly off Amlwch, Anglesey, while steaming between Liverpool and Llanelly. The reason that the New York Times was interested in this disaster was that several South Wales tinplate exporting agencies had offices in New York including that of the well known company Phelps Dodge. On this occasion, probably to the confusion of many, the newspaper had got it wrong as the headline should have read "The Loss Of The Llanelly Steamship Fawn". This steamer had been built by the Samuel Brothers alongside the Carmarthenshire Dock in 1884 for the South Wales and London Steamship Company. During a fierce force nine gale she had run aground on the Coal Rocks, and despite all the efforts made by the Captain David Edmunds to save her she was eventually lost along with all twelve aboard.
Of the four ships mentioned half were lost and this seems to be an accurate figure for the extraordinary casualty rate of the many ships of this period whether under sail or steam.
Notes and Citations:
Tinplate and Shipping by Robin Craig
The Cambrian Journal 9 August 1867 "The New Steamer Llanelly"
Llanelly Guardian 9 May1867
Photograph of the ship's bell courtesy of the owner, Goran Malcic