It was dubbed the biggest tragedy to hit Warrington – the troubled launch of the Tayleur from Bank Quay.

Leased by the White Star Line for the emigrant trade, and acclaimed as the largest and safest iron ship ever built, the Tayleur achieved notoriety when she was wrecked on Lambay Island in Dublin Bay on her maiden voyage in January 1854.

More than 400 people died.

Contemporary reaction to the scale of the disaster can only be compared with the shock-waves which followed the loss of that other tragic White Star Liner, the Titanic.

The construction of the ship had only taken six months and the newly-launched Warrington Guardian reported: "She is double- riveted throughout, and will be the strongest built craft afloat, being divided into five water-tight compartments. The total quantity of iron about her 780 tons."

By September the Guardian was convinced that history was being made at Bank Quay.

"A vessel is rising to astonish Liverpool and make even the shipbuilders of our generation look grave.

"It is a tide that is floating Warrington into the sea of enterprise!"

It seemed that the whole of Warrington agreed and turned out to see the launch of the Tayleur on October 4, 1853.

On 19 January 1854 the Tayleur set sail for Melbourne crowded with 660 emigrants eager to seek their fortunes in Australia. On 23 January the stunned inhabitants of Warrington heard that the ship had run aground in a storm on 21 January, just two days into her epic voyage. Some 426 of the passengers and crew perished and the survivors had harrowing tales to tell: "Wives clinging to their husbands, children to their parents.

Warrington Guardian: Roger Jeffrey and Hannah White, from Warrington Museum, at The Tayleur exhibit

"Great numbers of women jumped overboard but three women only out of 200 were saved. The ship's stern now began to sink; the ship made a lurch and all the ropes were snapped asunder…every wave washed off scores at am time.

"We could see them struggling for a moment, then, tossing their arms, sink to rise no more. At length the whole of the ship sank under water.

"There was fierce struggle for a moment and then all except two, who were in the rigging were gone.

"From the time the ship first struck, till she went down was not more than 20 minutes."

At the ensuing coroner's inquest the owners were held largely to blame for a number of errors, but principally for failing to realise that the Tayleur's iron hull would cause misleading compass readings which would take the ship aground.

Further disasters befell the Tayleur's sister ships and to the superstitious maritime world the yard seemed jinxed.

As the Bank Quay site had also proved too shallow for the launch of large vessels the boatbuilding venture soon came to an end.