HORSESHOE REEF COAL BLOCKS

Introduction: Denis Trelewicz is a resident of Key Largo and for several years working with Chuck Hayes has photographed wreck sites and coral formations from Fowey Rocks to Long Key (see History Talk, Issue 3, page 41). JW

Scattered on the sea bed at Horseshoe Reef off Key Largo are numerous rounded blocks of coal buried under a few inches of sand and/or lodged underneath coral formations. Obviously, the blocks were jettisoned from a ship grounded on the reef – but when?

I have long wondered where these blocks came from and how they got there. With respect to where they came from, I have come up with information with the assistance of Mrs. 1. M. Heginbotham, General Secretary of the Coal Merchants Federation (Great Britain) Limited, who put me in touch with members of the Federation familiar with the blocks.

These rounded blocks were called “fuel blocks” and came from the Cardiff district of Wales. They were produced by the Crown Preserved Coal Co. Ltd. of Cardiff and Port Talbot, a company established in 1860. They were marketed under the trade name “Crown Patent Fuel.” According to a copy of a 1913 publication provided to me by Federation member R. B. Selby, “Crown Patent Fuel” was made exclusively from the screenings of the best steam coal obtained in the Cardiff district, carefully washed and blended by the most modern appliances: The powdered bituminous coal was bound with coal tar pitch which was then heated and pressed into blocks. Some were marked with an inscription depicting a crown and underneath it, the words “Patent Cardiff’. I have seen a block from Horseshoe Reef with this inscription.

Two sizes of blocks were produced. The larger ones measured 10 x 8 x 6~ inches and weighed about 24 lbs. This is the size block found on Horseshoe Reef. Dr. David Jenkins, Curator of the Maritime Collections of the Welsh Industrial & Maritime Museum wrote me that actual production ceased in the 1960s and it was his opinion that the blocks on Horseshoe Reef were cargo shipped from Cardiff.

According to historian Love Dean in her book Reef Lights, Seaswept Lighthouses of the Florida Keys at about 6:30 a.m. on August 14, 1894 the British steamer Moonstone, bound for Tampico, Mexico with a cargo of coke was seen to have grounded on the reef by Francis McNutley, the Carysfort Light Tower keeper. Maritime records from Lloyd’s of-London indicate that the ship was re-floated and sailed on to Key West where it was examined for damage

My guess that the Moonstone left these blocks may not be correct, however. Federation member David Walters wrote to me that he does not think the fuel blocks were being made and sold as early as 1894. More research to solve this mystery of coal in coral at the Florida Keys is needed. Mr. John S. Bachelor, operations manager of CPL PALCO Shipping and Trading, Cardiff, is researching records for vessels loading in Cardiff during 1894 in the hope that the Moonstone shows up.