SS Jeddah

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SS Jeddah
Name: SS Jeddah
Owner: Singapore Steamship Company
Port of registry:  UK
Builder: Dumbarton
Launched: 1872[1]
Identification: Official number 67990
General characteristics
Class and type: 100 A1 (Lloyds Register)
Type: Steamship
Tonnage: 993 Registered tons
Capacity: 1100 (Crew + Passengers)
Crew: 50
Notes: Abandoned

SS Jeddah was a British flagged Singaporean-owned passenger steamship of the late nineteenth century. Originally thought to be sunk, it was subsequently discovered that the ship had been abandoned by its British officers when she listed and appeared to be sinking, with more than 700 passengers on board.[2]

The incident[edit]

On 17 July 1880 Jeddah left Singapore bound for Penang and subsequently Jeddah with 953 passengers - 778 men, 147 women and 67 children on board. She also had 600 tonnes of general cargo, mostly sugar, garron wood and general merchandise. The Jeddah had been specially built in 1872 in Dumbarton for the Haj pilgrim trade and was owned by Syed Mahomed Alsagoff (Esq.), a rich Singapore based merchant. The passengers were Muslim pilgrims traveling to Mecca and Medina for the Hajj. Her crew consisted of a British Captain (Joseph Lucas Clark), 2 European Officers (First officer / mate Williams, and the second mate), a European third engineer, and a remainder of multinational crew and officers. The captain's wife, who was also a European, was also on board.[3]

On 3 August, while off Ras Hafun, due to bad weather conditions, hurricane speed winds and heavy seas, the ship's boilers drifted from their seatings. Initially, attempts were made to repair this with wedges.[4] On 6 August, the weather further worsened and the repairs to the boilers, which had been kept in place with wedges, began to give way. Further leaks developed and the ship was stopped for repairs. Thereafter she proceeded slowly on 6th night with only one boiler. However, the leaks increased and despite all the crew and passengers trying to bail out the water, she began to take in water, due to leaks in the supply lines in the bottom. She was again stopped for repairs, during which time she began to roll heavily and her boilers broke loose, all connection pipes were washed away rendering the engines ineffective. Sails were set to try to use wind power, but these got blown away.

On 7 August, while she was drifting off Socotra and Guardafui, her British Captain Joseph Lucas Clark and mostly British officers and crew prepared the lifeboats for launching. Upon discovering this, the pilgrims, who until then were helping bail out water from the engine room, got disorganised. They tried to prevent the crew from abandoning them. A fight ensued resulting in a few of the crew falling overboard and drowning. A nephew of the ship's owner, Syed Omar al-Sagoff (Arabic: سيد عمر السقاف Saiyid ʿUmar al-Saqqāf) was also on board among the passengers.[5]

The pilgrims were left to their fate as the officers escaped in the starboard lifeboat. The Department of Trade enquiry proceedings note that a scuffle broke out while the lifeboat was being launched, the passengers threw whatever they could on the lifeboat to prevent it from being lowered, and the first mate who was lowering the boat from the ship was pulled away by the passengers and fell overboard. He was later pulled into the lifeboat. Thus, the captain, his wife, the chief engineer, the first officer and a set of boat crew escaped in the lifeboat, leaving the passengers and a few of the officers and crew on board the Jeddah on their own.

They were picked up by another vessel, the SS Scindia, a few hours later at 10 am on 8 August, and taken to Aden where they told the story of violent passengers and the sinking of the ship with all her passengers. The Captain and officers reported that the Jeddah had sunk near Yemen with a great loss of life among the passengers, and that two engineers had been murdered by the passengers. However, to much astonishment, on 11 August, a French steamship, SS Antenor, towed The Jeddah into Aden. All pilgrims had survived and were trying to beach the ship off Ras Feeluk (near Bandar Maryah) when the steamship Antenor discovered her. After the Captain's boat had been launched, the Second officer also had tried to escape in another boat, with a few passengers. This had been prevented by the remaining passengers, and in the confusion that ensured, the boat fell into the water drowning the officer and the two passengers on board the lifeboat. Thereafter the remaining 18 ship's crew and 2 officers, with the help of the passengers, tried to bail out the water from the ship's engine room, and succeeded in this. They hoisted distress signals which were sighted by the Antenor. The Antenor was sailing from Shanghai to London, with 680 passengers. The Antenor approached the Jeddah, assisted its crew and passengers in making her stable, and then towed her into the port of Aden.[6]

Fate of crew and passengers[edit]

In all, the official enquiry established the number of people from the Jeddah rescued as 18 crew (one of whom was working his passage), one second engineer, one supercargo and 992 passengers (778 men, 147 women, and 67 children, not counting infants in arms).[2] In all, 18 lives were lost in the incident, including the 2nd mate, 3 Khalasis and 14 passengers.[7]

Court of inquiry[edit]

A court of inquiry was held at Aden by the resident and sessions judge G.R. Goodfellow. In this, in addition to establishing the above, the enquiry criticised the Chief Engineer for incorrect operation of the boilers, thus aggravating matters. It also found the Master's actions in swinging out the lifeboats prematurely, thus dissolving any hope from the passengers, and subsequently launching the boats unprofessional and that he showed a "want of judgement and tact". It also found him "guilty of gross misconduct in being indirectly the cause of the deaths of the second mate and ten natives, seven crew and three passengers, and in abandoning his disabled ship with nearly 1,000 souls on board to their fate". The Master's certificate was suspended for three years and conduct of the Chief mate Williams was criticised. The court also commended the actions of the Master of the Actenor and its chief officer Campbell.[8] The court was also critical that 1000 passengers could be allowed on board a ship such as this in inclement weather.

Aftermath and Joseph Conrad's book "Lord Jim"[edit]

The incident took UK in general and London in particular by storm. Newspapers were filled with reports and letters to the editors, from the public, from people who had actually sailed on pilgrim ships and described the grim conditions on board, and from merchants and owners of pilgrim ships.[9]

The SS Jeddah incident inspired Joseph Conrad who had landed in Singapore in 1883 to write the novel Lord Jim, using the name SS Patna for his fictional pilgrim ship.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Letter to the editor : A Singapore Merchant". The Times (London). 17 August 1880. 
  2. ^ a b "REPORT of a Court of Inquiry held at Aden into the cause of the abandonment of the steamship "JEDDAH"". British Department of Trade. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Report of a court of enquiry held at Aden into the cause of the abandonment of the steamship "JEDDAH" : No. 896. Port of Aden: British Department of Trade. 20 August 1880. 
  4. ^ "S.S.Jeddah" (Volume XIV, Issue 3994). The Wanganui Herald. 10 November 1880. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  5. ^ The Times 1880.
  6. ^ Sedgreaves, Sir Thomas (22 October 1881). Report on the action for salvage brought against the Jeddah. Vice Admiralty Court of Straits Settlements. pp. 3, 4. 
  7. ^ "Letter to Syed Mahomed Alsagoff by Cowasjee Dinshaw & Bros.". (Sent via Steamer Point Aden). Daily Times. 20 August 1880. 
  8. ^ "Official Report : Court of Enquiry" (PDF). Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  9. ^ Moore, Gene. "Newspaper accounts of the Jeddah Affair" (PDF). Joseph Conrad Society. University of Antwerp. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  10. ^ Moore, Gene. Newspaper Accounts of the Jeddah Affair. Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam.