It may be that the gulfs will wash us down
One of the most dramatic incidents to befall BRITISH PRINCESS during Dum's apprenticeship involved a collision in which 19 men lost their lives and which was reported in both the London and New York Times but which Dum failed to mention in his Journal at the time. One possible reason for this might have been that he was not aboard BRITISH PRINCESS at the time of the collison. However, in a passing reference made in his Journal a couple of years later on 8 March 1900 he wrote “This is ths spot where we had the smash-up in March 1898.” Even if he was not on board, he must have been in contact with at least some of those who were, not the least being Captain Scott, and it is clear that Dum was better informed than the Times journalist as will appear. Dum made another passing reference to this collision a week earlier when, on 2 March 1900 he wrote of another demi vierge [near-miss]; “This is exactly the same thing that the steamer did off Lowestoft” - “the steamer” rather than name of the other vessel indicative perhaps that even then he did not know the identity of the other vessel rather than evidence of a poor memory. It is also unclear whether Dum was aboard BRITISH PRINCESS when she sailed from Lowestoft after repairs; his journal only recommences on 11 June 1898 when BRITISH PRINCESS set sail from Liverpool for Melbourne. The collision was reported in both papers as follows.
A LOWESTOFT correspondent telegraphs that early yesterday morning a collision took place about thirty miles off Lowestoft between an unknown steamer and the Liverpool barque British Princess. The former sank with all hands three minutes after being struck. The sailing ship, which was considerably damaged about the stem, was towed into Lowestoft by a Dutch tug, the Oceana, and was berthed about seven o'clock last evening. Those on board the barque were very reticent as to the occurrence, but a press representative was able to glean the following particulars:
The British Princess was a large iron ship of about 1400 tons register, owned by Messrs William Gracie & Co., of Liverpool, and carried a crew of twelve hands. She left Leith on Saturday afternoon, and all went well until yesterday afternoon. About 3 A.M. the barque was about midway between the Galloper and Gabbard Lightship, about thirty miles south-east of Lowestoft, and the weather was fine and clear, and the lights could be easily distinguished. The Leith pilot, (Captain Campbell) was on deck, a seaman named Alexander Wittrick was at the wheel, Captain Scott (in command of the vessel) was below, and about half the crew were on deck. The ship was going along at a good rate before a smart south-westerly breeze with all her canvas set, when the look-out man suddenly discovered the masthead and port lights of a steamer, about a mile off, apparently making straight for the sailing ship. The helmsman of the latter put the helm hard over, but before his vessel could respond the stranger crashed into the starboard bows. She seemed to hang for a moment, and then swing round and the barque's stem came down on to her stern, literally knocking it to pieces. Within two minutes, the unknown steamer disappeared beneath the waves, carrying every one of her crew with her. The British Princess was badly damaged about the bows, several plates being stove in, and had it not been for a collision bulkhead, she would inevitably have met the same fate. As it was the forepeak was filled with water.
Directly the collision occurred preparations were made to lower the boats, and as all the crew had rushed on deck this was soon done. The port boat was lowered, but before it had reached the water the steamer had gone down. This shows the rapidity with which the tragedy occurred. A good deal of wreckage remained in the hole in the bows of the sailing ship, but nothing by which the ill-fated ship could be identified. Finding there was no hope of being of any service, the British Princess kept on her way, and about half past one yesterday afternoon fell in with the Dutch tug Oceana, bound to Dunkirk for towage, which took her in tow and brought her into Lowestoft.
The most searching enquiries made among the members of the crew of the British Princess failed to elicit anything likely to establish the identity of the steamer. It was stated that she had a yellow funnel with a black band, but there is nothing certain. Another account of the collision contains the following:- The Liverpool barque British Princess, a steel vessel of 1400 tons register, owned by Messrs Wm. Gracie & Company, Liverpool, was on a voyage from Leith to Liverpool in ballast, and when between the Galloper and the Gabbard, about thirty miles south-east of Lowestoft, and about fifteen miles from the scene of the foundering of the North German liner Elbe, the lights of a steamer were discerned about half a mile off. There was a brisk south-west breeze, before which the barque was going at a good rate. Being a sailing ship she kept her course, and the steamer came right on, and never once altering her course, crashed into the starboard bow of the British Princess. The steamer swung round, and the force of the impact caused the bows of the sailing ship to lift out of the water. Then the stem of the British Princess crashed down upon the steamer, which foundered within three minutes, before anything could be done to rescue those on board of her.
The British Princess was badly damaged, but managed to make for Lowestoft. Her crew say they could not make out the name of the steamer, but she was, undoubtedly, a foreigner. At the time of the collision the pilot (Captain Campbell), who had joined the British Princess at Leith, was on deck. Alexander Wittrick, an able seaman, was at the wheel, Captain Scott, in command of the barque, and about half of the crew of fourteen were below. The shouting of those on deck speedily brought up those below, and orders were then given for the boats to be lowered. The order was smartly obeyed, and the port boat was nearly in the water when the steamer disappeared. As there was then no prospect of saving life, and as it was feared that the barque had sustained serious damage, the boat was got aboard again.
The bows of the barque were considerably damaged, a great hole was knocked in the starboard side, and the fore-peak filled with water. Had it not been for the collision bulkhead the vessel would certainly have foundered. As it was, no water whatever entered the main hold. The British Princess continued her course, and at half-past one yesterday afternoon she fell in with the Dutch tug Oceana, which took her in tow and brought her into Lowestoft Roads. The crew of the barque are of opinion that from the course which the steamer was shaping she was bound for a Dutch port. Some wreckage stuck in the smashed plates of the barque, but there was absolutely nothing which could lead to the identity of the steamer. The British Princess is now in Lowestoft Harbour waiting for instructions from her owners.
LOWESTOFT, March 16th. The bark British Princess, from Leith for Liverpool, was towed in here to-day with her bows stove and forepeak full of water, having been in collision at 3 o'clock this morning off Gabbard lightship with an unknown steamer. The steamer sank within three minutes with all on board.
Capt. Scott to-night said: “The steamer simply dropped out of our vision within the briefest space of time.”
A member of the crew of the bark said that the force of the collision was so great that the steamer was cut in two and as the steamer's crew tumbled out of the forecastle they simply stepped into the sea and dropped out of sight without uttering a word. There was no time to discover the name of the luckless steamer. The accident occurred near the scene of the disaster to the North German Lloyd steamer Elbe, Capt. von Goessel, which was sunk in a collision with the British steamer Crathie on Jan. 30, 1895, with the loss of 334 lives, while on the voyage from Bremen to New York.
Although I cannot be certain, it seems possible that Dum was aboard BRITISH PRINCESS at the time of the collision. His references to it in his Journals read as if written from first-hand experience. The collision clearly preyed on his mind because within a week, even after a lapse of two years, he made two references to it, suggesting a vivid recollection of personal experience rather than an event recounted at second-hand. The crew may have been compelled or sworn to silence pending any enquiry; note for example in the contemporary published account, those on board the barque were very reticent as to the occurrence.
Another reason there is no contemporaneous reference to the Lowestoft incident in Dum's Journal is that no entries exist between the entry made on the 8th January 1898, the day after British Princess was some 40 miles off Kinsale bound for Queenstown; Foggy, raining, lashed anchors, cables, etc. There is a barque going along the coast, we are away somewhere in mid-channel. Gone round 4 times. Hove lead about 90 times. Lee wheels again. Western ocean liner passed firing her rockets. and the entry made on the 11th June, 1898 Hove out of dock at 2.15 this morning and towed to Tuskar. All day spent in getting things “Ship shape.” the dock in question being Liverpool, destination Melbourne after the collision and subsequent refit. Of course he may have made a record at the time which was subsequently removed for some reason. All apprentices were obliged to keep Journals which may have been requisitioned as evidence by the skipper or those enquiring into the collision. A month and a half after departing for Melbourne another journal entry, for 29th December 1898, reads:
Great excitement this morning at 12 a.m. Just as the
watch was relieved a large three master suddenly hove out of the darkness
and tried to cut across* our bows. Both ships were running about 10
knots as there was a stiff breeze on. If we had collided there would
have been a little heap of old iron at the bottom of the Pacific by
this time. We of course gave way to her and went past her astern. They
seemed to have had a bit of a fright too, because someone kept waving
a white light over their stern till she was about two miles away. The
Old Man was up in his night-shirt. I think he remembered Lowestoft.
Strong wind and now going North. Still holystoning.
* She was doing the same thing as the Magnet tried in the Lowestoft affair.
The above footnote is in Dum's Journal and without it the identity of the Magnet as the lost ship might have remained unconfirmed, but with this lead, and as a result of diligent sleuthing by Andy O'Hare, a descendant of Captain Scott's, the following corroborating references were unearthed. The first is from the Hartlepool History Then and Now website, the rest from contemporary newspaper reports.
Official No. 58763; Code Letters KSLC; well-deck; iron cargo ship.
The captain of the British Princess, in an interview with representative of the Eastern Daily Press said: “The barque is an old ship, having been built some thirty years, and is owned Messrs. Gracie, Beazley, and Co., of Liverpool. This morning, after midnight, whilst I was in my berth, I was awakened by the sound of a collision. I immediately went on deck. The weather was fair, all our lights were burning, and the wind was in a south-westerly quarter, with no heavy sea. We were somewhere off the Gabbard Light, which is near Orford Ness, when the collision occurred. The steamer which had run into us went out of sight like a breath upon the air. She simply dropped out of our vision within couple of minutes of the impact. I heard just one voice, a sort of murmur, and that was all. I at once took steps to ascertain our damage. There is a large hole on either side of our bows, through which the water poured with great volume. Our fore peak is full of water. The boats were swung out in readiness for any emergency that might arise, but in the darkness nothing much could done. It was not till daylight that the full extent of the damage could be ascertained. At about one o’clock in the afternoon, the tug Oceana was sighted, and she brought us in tow to Lowestoft. We were about twenty miles off this port when picked up. ”
One of the crew, in the course of conversation said, “The force of the collision was so great that the steamer was cut clean in two. The crew rushed out of the forecastle, and I saw them come. They simply stepped into the water and dropped to the bottom with their ship, which went down like a stone.” The collision took place about fifteen miles from the spot at which the Norddeutscher Lloyd steamer Elbe was sunk three years ago. The steamer is supposed to be a foreigner, and the crew of the barque are of opinion that from the course which the steamer was shaping she was bound for a Dutch port.
No news has been received at Lowestoft to-day of the steamer sunk through collision with the Liverpool barque British Princess. It is thought, however, she may have been a Norwegian steamer for Billingsgate with herrings, as a message reached Lowestoft to-day asking if the vessel was the Reservine, which was due at Billingsgate last evening. There was nothing to identify the ill-fated steamer, and no information can therefore be given.
A Reuter telegram, dated Antwerp, March 25th, says:- “In shipping circles here it is believed that the steamer which was run down on the 16th inst. by the British barque British Princess is the German steamer Magnet, from Pomarin for Stettin, laden with minerals. This vessel, which passed Dungeness on March 15, has not yet arrived in Stettin.”
A West Hartlepool correspondent states that it is feared that the vessel run down by the British Princess on the 16th inst. is the steamer Magnet, formerly owned at that port, but sold to foreign owners. She was under the command of Capt. Buchholtz. The Magnet was bound from Pomaron for Stettin with iron ore, and about the time of the collision was spoken off Dungeness. Since then she has not been heard of. The description given by the captain of British Princess of the vessel he collided with agrees with that of the Magnet, which carried nineteen hands.
The statement that the steamer which sank after collision with the British Princess was the Magnet, formerly named the E.S. Jobson, has been confirmed. She was in charge of Captain Paul Buckholtz, of Konigsberg. His brother arrived in Lowestoft on Saturday and on being shown the wreckage which was found wedged in the bows of British Princess, he unhesitatingly declared that it belonged to the Magnet. She carried a crew of eighteen all told.
There was presumably an enquiry into the collision and sinking of the Magnet, especially considering the number of lives lost, but whether a record still exists I don't know. Presumably Scott was exonerated as he did not lose his master's ticket. Nor should he have; the blame must surely fall entirely on the captain and unfortunate crew of the Magnet. From my recollection of the Rule of the Road, which I had to learn the by heart as a youth, many moons ago, it is axiomatic that power gives way to sail. As British Princess was under sail and was not fitted with any auxilliary engine she clearly had right of way; whereas Magnet, a coastal steamer, was under power and obliged to keep clear of British Princess. The only things which might have absolved Magnet from her duty to give way, e.g. being engaged in fishing, not under command, or restriced in her ability to manoeuvre, would seem not to be applicable and, assuming British Princess was showing the correct lights, Magnet had a clear duty to pass astern of British Princess and not try to cut across her bows at such a reckless speed that part of the Magnet remained embedded in the hull of British Princess until they were identified as belonging to the Magnet by her skipper's brother a week or two after the collision.
There exists a CREW LIST [see midway down page] for the British Princess dated 27th January 1897 compiled after her arrival in Sydney from San Francisco which indicates roughly how many might have been aboard British Princess at the time of the collision. The crew listed in Sydney has 26 names in total. The names of three A.Bs. and the Steward have been crossed out. Presumably they were on board when British Princess left San Francisco but either jumped ship, or deserted, or went to the gold fields after arriving in Sydney as Dum did at a later stage. Had they fallen overboard, been eaten by sharks or other members of the crew Dum had seen fit to mention it in his journal, but their passing went unremarked. The remaining 22 names in the Sydney list were the master; 1st, 2nd and 3rd mates; a carpenter, cook and sailmaker - three separate men, not one multi-tasker; 6 A.Bs. [Able Bodied seamen - regarded as semi-skilled]; 2 O.Ss. [Ordinary Seamen - regarded as unskilled]; and 7 apprentices. Bearing in mind British Princess was bound for Liverpool in ballast at the time of the collision, the full compliment may not have been aboard. One other bizarre thing to note is how few Scots were apparently on board - none! The existence of Wales is acknowledged, but not that of Scotland, in spite of the fact that both Linklater and Skuse came from Leith.
Finally the route chosen by Captain Scott strikes me, a mere landlubber, as odd. Leith to Liverpool via the English Channel is some 400 miles further than going via the Pentland Firth. Seamen are notoriously superstitious and all manner of things are taboo or omens of ill luck or worse. Doing anything widdershins or anticlockwise rather than sungates or clockwise is anathema to those afloat whether it be passing the port or going to Liverpool from Leith. Via the Pentland Firth would be widdershins; could an addition of 400 miles to the journey have been justified merely to avoid bad luck? Who knows, but had Captain Scott chosen the shorter but widdershins route the tables might have been turned and Dum's last journal entry been written on the Ides of March 1898. While the Pentland Firth is notorious for its strong tides and currents - the worst in British waters - surely nothing to worry any skipper who regularly faced Cape Horn? and beating westward down the Ebnglish Channel must always have been tedious. The Pentland Firth can be avoided by sailing northwards to the east of Orkney before turning westerly between North Ronaldsay, which has had a lighthouse since 1789, and Fair Isle, lit since 1892. Piece of cake really.