Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 10:40 UK

Wreck watch returned 128 years on

Captain Richard Pritchard's pocket watch
The watch had sat on the seabed off Freshwater West since 1881

A silver pocket watch which lay on the seabed for almost 130 years is being returned to the family of its owner.

Diver Rich Hughes spotted the antique glinting in the sand as he explored a shipwreck off the Pembrokeshire coast.

He then turned detective to trace the descendants of the watch's owner - Richard Prichard who was captain of the ship which sank in storms in 1881.

It will be handed to retired dentist Owen Cowell of Pwllheli, Gwynedd, the closest surviving family member.

When Mr Hughes first brought the watch to the surface he saw the words "Richard Prichard 1866 Abersoch North Wales" engraved on the casing.

Mr Hughes, 38, from Fishguard, then started work to trace the family.

He said: "I was amazed that the watch was in such good condition after laying at the bottom of the sea for generations.

"As soon as I saw the name it started me thinking about Richard Prichard.

"I knew he would be the master and commander of the ship - none of the crew would be able to afford a valuable timepiece."

Rich Hughes
I felt that although I'd found it the watch wasn't mine and I wanted to return it to its rightful owner
Rich Hughes

Mr Hughes discovered Prichard was the captain of the Barbara, a square-rigged barque which came to grief during a storm off Freshwater West in 1881.

He had mysteriously died earlier during the voyage to pick up a cargo of rice from Burma.

He was buried at sea and a new master, known only as Captain Jones, became the watch's custodian - probably intending to give it to the Prichard family after arriving in Liverpool.

But the ship never made it back.

Captain Jones lack of navigational skills meant he ended up in the Bristol Channel instead of St George's Channel heading towards Liverpool.

'Come home'

All the crew were rescued by lifeboat, with the exception of Captain Jones who went down with his ship.

Mr Hughes said: "It's possible that he died with the silver watch in his pocket.

"His remains are long gone but the watch survived, possibly because it became buried in sediment which would have preserved it.

"But I felt that although I'd found it the watch wasn't mine and I wanted to return it to its rightful owner."

He brought in amateur historian David Roberts to trace Capt Prichard's family.

Mr Roberts said: "I knew the inscription said he was from Abersoch so I visited two cemeteries in the area.

"Through his family tree I was able to trace Captain Prichard's descendants and was amazed to find they are still living in North Wales."

Mr Roberts discovered two memorials to Capt Prichard - one on the grave of his parents and the other of his grave of his wife and child.

The watch, which was seized up and will never work again, will be handed to Mr Cowell later this month.

His grandmother was Captain Prichard's cousin, making him the closest surviving family member.

He said: "I am delighted the watch has come home after all these years.

"It has come as a complete surprise to me that my ancestors had such a colourful, seafaring past."

The timepiece, made by north Wales watchmaker Richard Thomas, will go on display in the village hall at Porthmadog later this year.

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