The Sinking of the S.S. Quetta

Freeman’s Journal
Sat 8 March 1890

Wreck of the S.S. Quetta
Fearful Loss of Life
123 Souls Perished

The R.M.S. Quetta, of the British India Steam Navigation Co.’s Anglo-Australia service, was on Friday night wrecked on the Queensland coast, after striking on a sunken rock not marked on the chart. The Quetta was well known as one of the favourite mail boats, and the news of her loss was received with profound regret throughout the colonies. The Queensland towns were, especially, cast into gloom by the receipt of the information on account of the passengers being mostly Queensland residents, and the officers and crew well known on the coast of that colony.


Lost in Three Minutes

The Quetta struck at 9 o’clock on Friday night on an unknown sunken rock and sunk in three minutes in deep water, near Mount Adolphus, where the passengers saved were landed. The vessel was on her homeward trip and was travelling at her usual spped up the coast, when suddenly a fearful crash shook the vessel from stem to stern, and created a panic among the passengers and a portion of the crew. The weather was fine and clear at the time and the sea smooth. As quickly as possiblea couple of boats were manned and lowered. The shrieks of those on board, especially the female passengers, were heartrending. Scarcely had the boats been cast off when the magnificent vessel sank, with nearly all her keel and keel-plates torn away, besides a large rent in her side. All on board were thrown into the water, and many were sucked down in the vortex to rise no more. Captain Saunders, who commanded the Quetta, was picked up in an exhausted condition after he had been struggling for life for over half an hour. The boats landed their passengers at Two Brothers Island and at Somerset, whence the news was forwarded. Steamers at once left Thursday Island for the scene of the wreck, which is about half-way between the island and Cape York.

The Conduct of the Coloured Crew

In the engine-room some unknown men did a deed of bravery none the less grand for being quiet and inconspicuous. The engineers waited to open the escape valves, and thus preventing the bursting of the boiler – and they were all drowned. All the engineers were drowned, but twenty five coloured firemen were saved.


The Death List

Among the steerage passengers one particularly sad case was that of Mrs Jacobsen and family. Her husband was drowned in the Brisbane river during the recent floods, and a subscription was raised for her and passages taken by the Quetta for England, where she had friends. She and her four children all went down.

One of the saloon passengers, numbered among the missing, was on his way to take over a fortune of between £50,000 and £60,000 which he had just inherited. He had been working for 20s a week for some months past, and paid a premium of £20 above saloon fare to secure a berth by the ill fated ship at the last moment. Another passenger, supposed to be lost, insured his life in Brisbane for £500 before leaving. He was on his way to some goldfields in Batavia.

Marvellous Escapes

The carpenter had a marvellous escape. Having been below when the vessel struck, he rushed to a boat, cutting the awning. When the vessel sank he went down with her, having his leg jammed between the boat and the davits. He got free when the vessel hit the bottom. Then the boat freed and he rose with her and got hold of some wreckage.

The eldest Miss Lacy had a miraculous escape. She clung to a raft till midday on Saturday, when she left it and tried to swim ashore, but the currents carried her away She then resolved to keep afloat, being thus without any support for over 20 hours before she was picked up, nearly 36 hours after the wreck.

Miss Lacy’s Escape

Miss Lacy, who was rescued, is 16 years of age, and the eldest daughter of Mr. Dyson Lacy, of St. Helen Station, Mackay, Queensland. When the search party reached her she was almost exhausted. One sailor took off his flannel shirt and wrapped her in it, but she had, in the meantime, fainted. She was much exhausted, but, thanks to the care of Dr. Salter, she fast recovered, though very weak and burnt by exposure to the sun. Her story is that she was writing a letter to her mother when the sad event happened. She rushed to get her younger sister, who had gone to bed, and brought her on deck. Both went over together, and she afterwards was dragged into a boat or raft, where she was very kindly treated by the purser. She remained on the raft till afternoon, so that she must have been swiming about till seen by Captain Reid. Her rescue was almost miraculous, as she was drifting out to sea swan from Mount Adolphus Island and she could not possibly have held out much longer. Perhaps her rescue and marvellous self-recollection is the most wonderful of all the melancholy incidents concerned with this terribly sad calamity.

Statement by Miss Nicklin

Miss Nicklin states: The ladies were singing and practising for a concert in the music saloon when the ship struck. Mrs. Lord and the youngest Miss Lacy and my mother were in their cabins. Captain Whish and Miss Waugh were in the saloon writing letters. The noise caused by the vessel striking sounded like a tank going overboard; then there was a grating sound and then a smell of water from the engine room. I ran down to my mother, who returned with me on to the deck. I heard the captain say, “All who want to be saved go aft.” Mother asked father to go down and try help Mrs. Lord up. He went down and we never saw him again. We rushed aft, and just had time to get upon the railing over the stern so as to avoid the awning when the ship went down. We did not jump off.

The ship seemed not to sink, but the waters seemd to rise around us. The vessel went down suddenly at the last moment, leaving nearly 200 people all huddled together in the water treading upon each other. When the vessel went down I lost mother, I sank twice, and then floated for a while as I could swim. I then caught hold of a grating to which the purser and two or three Javanese were also clinging. Another Javanese tried to get on to the grating, and frightened me so I let go. I floated a little longer and then caught a dead sheep, to which I clung until I got hold of a plank. I was alone. I called out to the boats, the people on which could hear, but not see me, as the moon had gone down. I tried to swim and paddle away to the shore, which I could plainly see and got near the shore, but became too weak to work any longer. I then waited for daylight and fell partially asleep several times while lying upon the plank. At daylight I swam towards the shore, still holding the plank and reached land in about three hours. All through the night I could hear people calling out for help, and I could also hear boats. I think most of the ladies were caught by the awning when sinking.

Later Particulars

The drowned were 27 saloon and 49 steerage passengers, 12 European crew; total missing 123; total on board 282. Number of European passengers saved 14, six saloon and eight steerage; European officers and crew, 12; also a little girl.
Queensland State Archives Item ID 436296, Photographic material

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32 Responses

    1. Nola Ward Page

      Helen I have just discovered this item about the QUETTA – Mrs Frances Salter would be your great great grand mother buried in our cemetery here on Thursday Island – you may already have visited here and seen her grave.At the time of buriel her grave wouldve had the best resting place looking out to the harbour without interrupted views as there is now with trees blocking the view.
      Kind regards
      Nola Ward Page on Thursday Island

      1. Helen

        Thank you Nola. No, I have not visited TI yet. On the list!
        Friends of ours lived on TI for a while and very kindly cleaned up around the grave and mended the fence.

    1. Suzanne Henze

      Hi, do you still have the newspaper articles re the sinking of the Quetta. I am researching my family tree and an ancestor of mine was on the ship.

    2. Peter Robbie

      Hi, I know it is late , but if you still have copies of the “Quetta” documents, I would appreciate it, as I have an interest in William Blackford who was on the boat when it went down. You could email them to

    3. Warren George Francis

      Good afternoon, I am very interested in the rescue phase of this sinking of the SS Quetta.
      In particular how the alarm was raised and the involvment of the indigenous residents who lived in the area and participated in the rescue.

  1. Tony Richards

    Just discovered this event. I understand that my Great Grand Father perished on this shipwreck. He was George Buckle Binns of Northern Queensland, and I also understand that he was a stowaway on the ship at the time of the disaster. Any more information would be welcome as I can’t find a record of his illegal passage (it’s probably my computer skills)

    1. Nola Ward Page

      I will double check if there is a headstone for Binns in our TI cemetery.
      I know the grave of Dr Harry Poland whose body was found amongst the wreckage of the QUETTA Also the grave of E L Brown who adopted a little girl from the wreckage & named her Quetta Brown

  2. Debra Kuss

    If anyone has newspaper articles or documents about the Quetta, I’d love them please. I’m one of Alice Nicklin’s great-grand-daughters, and I’ve been researching her and her experiences on the Quetta for years. Many thanks!

    1. Anonymous

      The Qld State Archives has a file with many pages of handwritten reports – incl one from the Master of the “Albatross” which was sent to search for survivors, also many telegrams are in the file. I have just converted the PDF file into JPEGS and then I Googled Quetta.

      1. Debra Jane Kuss

        Hi would it be possible to access your files please? Happy to pay reasonable postage costs for photocopies, or share electronically on Google Drive, Dropbox etc.

  3. Nola Ward Page

    Hi Debra i hope you have made a trip to Thursday Island to see the Quetta Memorial dedicated to the ship Quetta at the Anglican church here. I have read about your Great grand mother Alice Nicklin.Some years ago I had the opportunity to visit the site near Mt Aldolphus – the weather was fine and I was out fishing with a friend and we ventured to the spot. I am a 4th generation local & very much love the history of the past in our region

  4. Marcia Blackford

    My great grandfather was William Blackford who lost his life in the wreck of the Quetta. He left a large family in Brisbane . Are there any other descendants out there?

    1. Peter Robbie

      Hi Marcia, I have just seen your comments about William Blackford and the QUETTA sinking at Thursday Island. My son-in-law is Russell Brown and is a descendant of David Watson Brown who married Louisa Rebecca Beatrice Blackford, a daughter of the William Blackford and Alice Johannah Blacker in 1909 in Queensland.
      I was wondering if you were able to get copies of the documents that “Anonymous” was referring to in her post. Maybe we could communicate and exchange details if you are interested. My email address is
      I do family genealogy as a pastime.

  5. norma watts

    I worked as a nurse on Thursday Island in the 1960s and have always wondered if the story I heard about a little girl rescued from the Quetta were true. It was said that the little girl was not listed on the ships manifest, and she was unable to give her name so was called Quetta. She grew up around Thursday Island, and eventually married a Mr Brown, so was known as Quetta Brown. This story was one of the reasons we have named one of our daughters Susan Quetta. I would love to know if there is any truth in this story.

    1. Debra Jane Kuss

      Hi Norma, yes, the story of Quetta Brown is true. She was a baby at the time of the sinking, so was too young to know her own name or those of her parents. She was separated from her family in the wreck and could have been one of a number of infants on board the Quetta who weren’t named, but only listed as “infant” on the passenger manifest. No one ever knew for sure who she was. John Foley’s book “The Quetta: Queensland’s Worst Disaster” is worth a read. It’s no longer in print but 2nd hand copies may be available from and 2nd hand bookstores.

  6. Sarah Wallace-Turner

    My fathers great uncle the Rev. E.B. Dawson was on board and lost his life on the Quetta. I have a newspaper cutting from the Wangaratta newspaper which includes the letter of the condolence (we also have the original) to his mother from the Guardians of St Judes where he had preached. We also have a copy of a fundraising pamphlet for the memorial church and a number of his letters home. Let me know if this is of any interest to anyone.

  7. Anonymous

    Hi all
    I hope someone can assist. i am looking for information on the little orphaned girl, from the RMS Quetta tradgedy, who was adopted by Captain Edmund Lechmere and Mrs Margery Brown, and named her Quetta Cissy aka Cecil aka Cecelia] Brown.Also any information on Edmund and Margery Brown. Quetta Brown married my Great Grandmother’s brother, Malcolm Charles MacDonald on 16.9.1927. I would Love a photo of Edmund and Margery Brown and a photo of his grave on Thursday Island. also any photo of Quetta Brown , i only have the sketch of her as little girl with her father and their dog. if anyone can assist i would be truly greatfull. a her story has interestted us for many a year.

    Lynn Pearce on ‘’.

  8. James Perry

    Thanks for all the info linked above. Would love to see more if available. My gg grandfather died on the Quetta. He was chief engineer Andrew Orr McMurchy. My grandfather used to tell me that his grandfather had been ‘boiled alive as the waters rushed into the engine room’. Such an awful event.

  9. Marilyn Stewart

    My Great Grandmother Alice Murphy of Innisfail told her children and grandchildren that she saw the wreck of Quetta on her voyage from England to her new home Queensland. She said that the masts of the ship were still visible in the water as their ship passed by it.

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