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

About Queensland State Archives

For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au

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