SS Gothenburg

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SS Gothenburg.jpg
SS Gothenburg
Career (Great Britain) Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Name: SS Gothenburg
Namesake: Gothenburg
Launched: 1854[1]
Commissioned: 1855
Renamed: RMS Celt, 1857
Fate: Sold, 1862
Career (Australia) Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Acquired: 1862
Out of service: 1875
Renamed: SS Gothenburg, 1866
Fate: Wrecked, 24 February 1875.
Notes: Rebuilt 1873
General characteristics
Tonnage: 501 tons
Length: 197 ft (60 m)
Propulsion: Sails & propeller
Sail plan: Barquentine
Complement: 34 crew

The SS Gothenburg was a steamship that operated along the British and then later the Australian and New Zealand coastlines. In February 1875, she left Darwin, Australia en route to Adelaide when she encountered a cyclone-strength storm off the north Queensland coast. The ship was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef north-west of Holbourne Island on 24 February 1875. Survivors in one of the lifeboats were rescued two days later by the Leichhardt, while the occupants of two other lifeboats that managed to reach Holbourne Island were rescued several days later. Twenty-two men survived, while between 98 and 112 others died, including a number of high-profile civil servants and dignitaries.

Description and history[edit]

The Gothenburg was commissioned in 1855 following her construction at Lungley's building yards in Millwall, London.[2] She was a 501-ton, 197-foot-long (60 m) vessel, with a 120-horsepower (89 kW), coal-burning engine. She was rigged as barquentine, with her funnel set well aft between the main and mizzen masts. She was fitted with four lifeboats, two port and two starboard.[3]

Her first owner, the North of Europe Steam Navigation Company, operated her between Irongate Wharf, near the Tower of London, and Sweden.[4] In 1857, she was acquired by the Union Castle Line and renamed as RMS Celt.[2] In June 1862, McMerkan, Blackwood and Co. of Melbourne purchased her for the Australian trade and in that year she made a protracted voyage from England to Australia by sail.[5][6] She was one of the most modern vessels working around the Australian coastline in the 1860s, and became a popular ship as she was considered reliable.[7] After many years on the Australia-New Zealand run, her owners transferred her to the Australian coastal service.[8]

In 1873, she was lengthened and refitted in Adelaide to enable longer distances under steam and greater passenger and cargo capacity.[5][9] Following her modifications, her name reverted once again to Gothenburg.[10][11]

SS Gothenburg docked at Port Adelaide wharf after her lengthening in 1873.

In November 1874, several shipowners were contracted for two years from the South Australian government to provide ten round trips between the colonial capital of Adelaide and its furthest outpost, Port Darwin.[7] Port Darwin was feeling the effects of a gold rush at Pine Creek and growing quickly as a trade post with the Dutch East Indies. However, all the local banks sent their money, together with government paperwork and the Royal Mail, around the east coast to Adelaide.[12] On successful completion of each voyage, the South Australian government would pay the owners £1000 sterling.

When the Gothenburg left Port Darwin on Wednesday, 17 February 1875, Captain James Pearce was under orders to make best possible speed. Pearce had been her captain on the Adelaide-Darwin run for some time and had built up a solid reputation. He was a man of the sea, a man of sobriety and kindness and was well respected by his fellow sea captains.[6]

Captain James Pearce

Amongst the approximately 98 passengers and 37 crew (surviving records vary) were government officials, circuit court judges, Darwin residents taking their first furlough and miners.[12] Also aboard was the French Vice Consul Eduard Durand and James Millner, the medical officer in George W. Goyder's 1869 expedition to found the first colony at Port Darwin. There were also several prisoners aboard, bound for the Adelaide jail. Locked in the Captain's cabin was approximately 93 kilograms (3,000 ozt) of gold valued at £40,000 consigned to the ES&A Bank in Adelaide.[11] (approx US$2.6 million in 2008). Durand reportedly also carried a tin box with him containing gold sovereigns and coins worth in excess of £3,000.[6]

In three days of fine weather, the Gothenburg travelled 1,500 kilometres (900 mi) from Palmerston (Darwin) to Somerset on Cape York. The weather began to worsen so the ship stopped to take on ballast at Somerset. While she was anchored, conditions deteriorated to a point where both anchor chains parted.[13] After the loss of the anchors, the Gothenburg was forced to prematurely steam out 13 kilometres (7.0 nmi) because of strong currents; at that point, she brought up for the night.[6]

Two days later, Tuesday 23 February, the Gothenburg passed Cooktown at about 2:00 pm.[14] The wind and rain severely increased and cloud cover became so thick it blocked out the sun. Despite this, she continued the journey south into worsening weather, in a deep water passage between the North Queensland coastline and the Great Barrier Reef, known as the inner route. Although taking this route provided some protection from the open sea, captains had to navigate and thread their way through a number of then uncharted reefs.[12] All passengers and crew expected to be in Newcastle on Sunday evening for a scheduled stopover.

Shipwreck[edit]

SS Gothenburg is located in Australia
SS Gothenburg
Magnify-clip.png
Wreck of the Gothenburg

On the evening of 24 February 1875, the ship was still heading south in almost cyclonic conditions with fore, top and mainsails set and the steam engines running at full speed. Flooding rains lashed the entire Queensland coast and Captain Pearce reportedly could not see land or sun.[6] At approximately 7:00 pm, and for reasons undetermined, he altered course and shortly afterwards, at full speed (11 to 12 knots), hit a section of the Great Barrier Reef at low tide 31 miles (50 km) north west of Holbourne Island. The Gothenburg struck with such force that she was left high up on the reef. Immediately, an order came out to lower the sails. At first, there was no panic and many passengers returned to their cabin bunks expecting the Gothenburg would come off the reef at high tide.[15]

In an attempt to refloat her, Captain Pearce ordered the Gothenburg to be lightened forward. Water casks used as ballast and passengers were positioned aft in an endeavour to refloat her as the tide rose, but without success. Finally, a fatal attempt was made to refloat her, by reversing the engine hard. The vessel came half off the reef, but holed herself badly and then slewed broadside to the waves, in a much worse position.[3][16] However, with the tide rising and some cargo now being dumped overboard, all aboard still expected the Gothenburg to float free. With strong winds changing direction and seas increasing, the boiler fires were extinguished by water rising through the damaged stern. Around midnight, the chief engineer came on deck to report that the engine room was flooded and the engine was of no further use. With heavy seas now rushing down hatchways and into the cabins, the Gothenburg was doomed and Captain Pearce was forced to admit that the situation had become desperate.[16]

Steamer Gothenburg

The storm made launching the lifeboats almost impossible. At about 3:00 am, Captain Pearce ordered the two port lifeboats lowered, each with four crew on board. While being passed astern one of the boats broke the painter and became adrift. Its crew tried hard to pull up to the ship's side, but it was impossible in the heavy squall. The other was accidentally let go and both boats, in heavy seas, were unable to be retrieved.[14]

At about 3:30 am on Thursday, 25 February, the Gothenburg continued to heel over. The deck became so steep that passengers and crew had to climb over the rails to get on her side.[6] At about 4:00 am, the two remaining starboard lifeboats were lowered and were rushed by the passengers. One starboard lifeboat, crammed with women and children, capsized when others tried to board it. Some half dozen men righted her in the water, but, damaged and without oars, food or water, it quickly drifted away and was never found.[1] The second starboard lifeboat also capsized when the sea crashed over, washing all the occupants into the sea. One passenger recalled the sea on the downwind side of the ship being covered with human heads bobbing up and down like corks.[7] Five or six men and one woman climbed onto the upturned hull. The boat was still connected to its painter, but it was unable to be recovered from the heavy sea and wind which swept the woman off and drowned her.[14] A passenger, John Cleland, swam to the connected, but upturned lifeboat and further secured it with a rope tied to the Gothenburg. In less than fifteen minutes, nearly 100 people had drowned; washed away or trapped in their water-filled cabins.[6] By this time, several sharks were circling the wreck.[3]

Artist impression of the wreck of the steamer Gothenburg

Those still on board the Gothenburg tried to cling to the rigging, but throughout the early morning of 25 February, several more people were drowned after they were swept overboard by large broadside waves.[3][17] Many passengers associated with the gold diggings were unwilling to let go of their gold and money belts, as it was probably their life savings, insisted on keeping them tied and once overboard reportedly drowned very quickly.[13]

Survivors[edit]

By morning of the 25 February, only the masts were visible protruding from the water, with 14 people clinging to the rigging, where they remained for the next twenty four hours in cyclonic weather.[14] At low tide, the Gothenburg ground and twisted and broke her back between the fore and main masts. However, the remaining starboard lifeboat, which had capsized, was still held by her painter and the rope attached by Cleland. At first light on 26 February the weather eased and the survivors managed to right the boat and bail it out; they prepared a makeshift sail and paddled for the mainland. About seven hours later they realised they could not make mainland, so they altered course for an island that could be seen in the distance. When they arrived, they were met by four of the crew from one of the port lifeboats. Their lifeboat had been severely damaged on the rocks on the opposite side of the island in an attempt to land there the day before.[16]

Gothenburg's Turtle Shell Roll

The other port lifeboat, with four crew on board, was picked up by the steamer Leichhardt at an island at the entrance to Whitsunday Passage two days after the disaster. The steamer immediately reversed course back towards the wreck, which she reached at approximately 3.30 pm on Friday, 26 February. Gothenburg was a complete wreck, the funnel was gone and she had sunk to the eyes of the lower rigging. The Leichhardt's Chief Officer and four hands went alongside, but nothing other than her masts could be seen above the water except for the body of a naked man floating nearby. They assumed the other victims had been taken by sharks.[18] The Leichhardt searched for survivors until last light and then made way for Bowen where the alarm was raised.[16]

At Holbourne Island, the other 18 survivors were living off raw bird's eggs and rain water that had pooled in the island rocks.[15] Because rescue was uncertain, they engraved ship details and their names on the concave side of a large turtle shell, in the hope that it would be found in the future. On Sunday, 28 February 15 of them set off in the starboard lifeboat for an island about 20 miles away to the south, which appeared to be closer to the main shipping lane. A rescue ship, sent looking for survivors, picked up the group and took them safely to Bowen. Another rescue ship called the Bunyip from Townsville subsequently returned to Holbourne Island and rescued the three remaining survivors.[3]

Aftermath[edit]

Although reports vary, records show that between 98 and 112 people drowned.[19] Most records state the death toll at 102. Only 22 people survived (12 crew and 10 passengers).[20] All 25 women and children aboard and all the officers died.[21]

Thomas Reynolds

Edward W. Price, Magistrate and Commissioner Circuit Court of the Northern Territory, who remained behind in Darwin, lost his wife and six children.[22] Devastated by the news, he was given six months leave on full pay by the government. The retired fifth Premier of South Australia, Thomas Reynolds and his wife, Anne, both drowned as did Eduard Durand, the French Vice Consul.[1]

Other notable passengers who died were Dr James Millner and his family, Justice William A. Wearing QC,[23] Circuit Court Judge; Joseph Whitby, acting South Australian Crown Solicitor; Richard Wells, NT Times & Gazette editor; Lionel Pelham, a senior public servant; Commander Andrew Ross of the Royal Navy; C. J. Lyons, Justice Wearing's senior assistant; William Shoobridge, Secretary to several mining companies; A. L. McKay, Government Surveyor; and several Overland Telegraph employees.[24]

Never before in Australian history had so many high-profile public servants, dignitaries and diplomats died in a single tragedy.[16] Many passengers who died were Darwin residents and news of the tragedy severely affected the small community, reportedly taking several years to recover.[25] Most of Gothenburg's crew were from Melbourne and as a result of the shipwreck, 11 widows and 34 children were left destitute in Victoria.[7]

At Bowen, twelve survivors left with Captain Lake on the ship Victoria headed for Sydney. They all got free passage from McMerkan, Blackwood and Co, the owners of Gothenburg.[26] The four survivors from the second port lifeboat that were picked up by the steamer Leichhardt, remained with that ship and subsequently made way for Brisbane.[7][26]

From left: Robert Brazil, John Cleland and James Fitzgerald in 1875

Two weeks later a hard-hat diver, sent down to recover the gold and other valuables, found the bodies of two women at the foot of the saloon staircase, one with her arm around the other. The diver tried to reach them to take a lock of hair or some other personal item that could be identified by their loved ones, but the restriction of the air line made it impossible. The gold in the Captain's cabin was recovered after much difficulty.[27] While recovering the gold, several sharks that were caught near the wreck were found to contain human bones, remains and jewellery.[3][6]

There were three heroes identified that tragic night, all attested to by all the other survivors, for their attempts to save other passengers.[7] In recognition of their bravery, on 26 July 1875, the Governor of South Australia, Sir Anthony Musgrave, presented passengers James Fitzgerald and John Cleland and crewman Robert Brazil with gold medals and a gold watch.[15] The Gothenburg Relief Fund Committee also presented each of them with a gold chain.

Report[edit]

The report of the Marine Board of Queensland determined that:

Lifeboats[edit]

There was also much speculation at the time in the Adelaide and Melbourne press on why the lifeboats had not been launched earlier. Survivor James Fitzgerald pointed out in his recollection that, had the lifeboats been filled to capacity, no one would have survived the severe weather conditions experienced. He also commented that passenger vessels were not required to carry enough lifeboats, concluding that there were insufficient places for all Gothenburg's passengers and crew.[28] It was not until RMS Titanic sank some 37 years later in 1912, that it was made compulsory for all British registered ships to carry sufficient lifeboats for everyone on board.[29]

Present day[edit]

Today, only parts of the deteriorated iron hull and the coal fired square boilers of the SS Gothenburg remain. The wreck lies between 9 and approximately 16 metres (52 ft) of water on the western side of Old Reef, 130 kilometres (81 mi) southeast of Townsville.[30] The Gothenburg shipwreck is registered on the Queensland National Estate (place ID #8923) as a Heritage site, and is protected under Section 7 of the (Commonwealth) Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, which requires that divers have a permit to enter the 200m protected zone that has been declared around the wreck.[31] Its official location is: Old Reef, Great Barrier Reef, 75 kilometres (47 mi) north-east of Ayr, at 19°22′06″S 148°03′21″E / 19.36833°S 148.05583°E / -19.36833; 148.05583Coordinates: 19°22′06″S 148°03′21″E / 19.36833°S 148.05583°E / -19.36833; 148.05583.[32] The reef around the wreck provides good diving with an extensive coral garden. A strict non-disturbance policy applies to marine flora and fauna as well as to the fabric of the wreck. Pelagic fish and reef sharks are common.[33]

Legacy[edit]

Gothenburg Crescent with Darwin in the background.

The northern Darwin suburb of Millner was named after Dr James Millner who, together with his family, lost their lives on the Gothenburg. Most streets in the northern Darwin suburb of Coconut Grove and some in the adjacent suburb of Millner, were named after local Darwin residents, interstate visitors and crew who lost their lives during the shipwreck.[34] Gothenburg Crescent, in the inner Darwin suburb of Stuart Park, was named after the ship.[35]

The large turtle shell, which was engraved by the 18 survivors at Holbourne Island, is displayed at the South Australian Museum, on North Terrace in Adelaide.[15]

Survivors[edit]

In 1875, a detailed list of all passengers and crew was published by J.H. Lewis, Printer & Publisher, albeit with several errors and spelling mistakes.[24] That document was used as the main source of the following survivors table.

The survivors surnames have been reconciled against rescue ships' log books, other records and a photo of the engraved turtle shell. Known discrepancies have been clarified, where possible, in the comments section.[7]

Name Status Comment
Andrew, Stewart Passenger Gold miner; some records have spelt as "Andrews"
Bilts, Richard Crew Able Seaman; some records have incorrectly spelt as "Betts" or "Blyes"
Brazil, Robert (Paddy) Crew Fireman; awarded a Medal for bravery; Brazil Crescent in Karama named after
Burns, William Crew Trimmer; rescued by the steamer Leichhardt
Campbell, James, J. Passenger Died shortly after rescue from ill effects of exposure
Cleland, John Passenger Gold miner; Cleland Street in Millner named after; awarded a Medal for bravery
Cockram, Thomas Passenger Gold miner; some records have incorrectly spelt as "Cockburn" or "Cockerman"
Cooper, George Crew Fireman; some records have incorrectly spelt as George "Cover"
Falk, William, F. Crew Able Seaman
Fitzgerald, James, J. Passenger Fitzgerald Street in Millner named after; awarded a Medal for bravery
Griffiths, William (Bill) Crew Able Seaman
Harris, David Passenger Virginia Gold Mining Company; Harris Street in Millner named after
Halminson, Salin or Salve Crew Able Seaman; rescued by steamer Leichhardt; several incorrect variations of his surname exist
Hogan, Patrick, J. Passenger Gold miner
Hudson, Joseph Crew Fireman; rescued by the steamer Leichhardt
Kruger, Jack Passenger Gold miner
Marks, James Crew Able Seaman
Nelson, Harry Crew Forecabin Steward; rescued by the steamer Leichhardt
Reynolds, Jack Crew Able Seaman
Roberts, William Passenger Gold miner; some records have incorrectly spelt as William "Romers"
Thomas, William, S. Passenger Purser of Winns Gold Mining Company, NT; only Saloon passenger to survive
Wylie, David Crew Able Seaman; Helmsman at time of grounding

Full known passenger list[edit]

Full known crew list[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c SS Gothenburg (2009). Queensland Museum. Retrieved 16 June 2009.[dead link]
  2. ^ a b Murray, Marischal (1933). Ships and South Africa: A Maritime Chronicle of the Cape, with Particular Reference to Mail and Passenger Liners from the Early Days of Steam down to the Present. London: Oxford University Press. OCLC 8228940. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Holthouse, Hector (1971). "The Gothenburg's Gold". Cyclone. Adelaide: Rigby. pp. 16–24. ISBN 0-85179-290-1. OCLC 251985. 
  4. ^ Murray, Marischal (1953). Union-Castle Chronicle, 1853–1953. London: Longmans, Green. OCLC 1962878. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  5. ^ a b Plowman, Peter (2007). Coast to Coast: The Great Australian Coastal Liners. Dural, New South Wales: Rosenberg Publishing. ISBN 1-877058-60-2. OCLC 174284555. Retrieved 2007-02-19. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h McInnes, Allan (1982). "Wreck of the Gothenburg". Royal Historical Society of Queensland (Royal Historical Society of Queensland) XI (3): 26–44. ISSN 0085-5804. OCLC 5823772. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Wilson, Helen (1992). "The Loss of RMSS Gothenburg". Journal of Northern Territory History 3: 67–86. ISSN 1034-7488. OCLC 31683149. 
  8. ^ Hocking, Charles (1969). Dictionary of disasters at sea during the age of steam including sailing ships & ships of war lost in action 1824–1962. London: Lloyd's Register of Shipping. p. p. 280 (pdf). ISBN 978-0-900528-03-3. OCLC 47378. 
  9. ^ Parsons, Ronald (1981). Australian coastal passenger ships. Adelaide: Magill, S. Aust. p. 86. ISBN 0-909418-20-9. OCLC 27577759. 
  10. ^ "The Gothenburg". 2000. Archived from Supreme Court Library the original on 17 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  11. ^ a b "Historic Shipwrecks: Gothenburg". Queensland Government. 20 December 2006. Archived from the original on 14 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  12. ^ a b c Shoobridge, Gonzalo E. (14 July 2000). "The SS Gothenburg's Tragedy". Archived from the original on 30 September 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  13. ^ a b "Gothenburg". Shipwrecks. 2003. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.abc.net.au/backyard/shipwrecks/qld/gothenburg.htm.
  14. ^ a b c d Crowley, Frank K. (1980). "The Gothenburg Tragedy". Colonial Australia, 1875–1900. West Melbourne: Nelson. ISBN 978-0-17-005410-2. OCLC 7032667. 
  15. ^ a b c d "The Wreck of the Gothenburg: Presentation to the Bowen Historical Society". Bowen Independent. 1978. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Edwards, Hugh (1978) [1976]. Australian and New Zealand shipwrecks and sea tragedies. Phillip Mathews. OCLC 27505119. 
  17. ^ Meston, Archibald (4 August 1907). "Tragedies of the Sea". Archived from the original on 12 March 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  18. ^ Meston, Archibald (20 October 1923). "Wreck of the Gothenburg". Archived from the original on 12 March 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  19. ^ "History of Northern Territory Health Services" (pdf). Northern Territory Library. 26 February 1985. Retrieved 2007-12-31.  (page 2)
  20. ^ "Wreck of an Australian Steamer; Loss of more than 100 lives" (pdf). The New York Times. 9 May 1875. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  21. ^ a b Heath, G. P. (23 February 1875). "Report of the Marine Board of Queensland". Gary Standen. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  22. ^ "Edward William Price" (pdf). Government House Northern Territory, Office of the Administrator. 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  23. ^ Searcy, Alfred (1909) [1907]. In Australian Tropics. Australia: G. Robertson. ISBN 1-152-33175-2. OCLC 152275931. 
  24. ^ a b Lewis, J. H. (1875). The Wreck of the "Gothenburg" on her voyage from Port Darwin to Adelaide. Adelaide: J. H. Lewis. pp. 5–24. 
  25. ^ "Previous cyclones in Darwin". Cyclone Tracy. Northern Territory Library. 21 April 1998. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  26. ^ a b "Mariners and ships in Australian Waters: Leichhardt". State Records Authority of New South Wales. 4 March 1875. Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  27. ^ "Underwater Eden: Encountering the Great Barrier Reef". Britannica.com. 2000. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  28. ^ "Narration of wreck by Mr Fitzgerald, passenger". The Argus. 20 March 1875. p. 5. 
  29. ^ Lord, Walter (1978) [1955]. A Night to Remember. England: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-553-01060-3. OCLC 37337880. 
  30. ^ "Gothenburg Wreck". World Dive Site Atlas. wannadive.net. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  31. ^ "Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976". Australian Commonwealth Government. 1976. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  32. ^ "Gothenburg Shipwreck". Aussie Heritage. 29 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  33. ^ "Gothenburg Shipwreck". Sport Extreme. Archived from the original on 9 September 2005. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  34. ^ "The Origin of Suburbs, Localities, Towns and Hundreds in the Greater Darwin area (Coconut Grove)". Northern Territory Lands Group. 21 June 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  35. ^ "Place Names Register Extract: Gothenburg Crescent". Northern Territory Government. 26 October 1966. Retrieved 2008-01-18.