The Story of the
Wreck of the Thames Steamer
Transcribed by Todd Stevens
Leeds Times. Saturday 16th January 1841.
Dreadful Shipwreck. Loss of the Thames steamer on the Scilly Islands.
St Mary’s, Scilly Isles, 6th January 1841:
"I beg the liberty of sending you an account of the total loss of ‘The Thames’, steamer, of Dublin, which sailed from that port for Plymouth and London, on Saturday afternoon, the 2nd instant, with a general cargo, and sixty-five souls on board including crew and passengers, and, dreadful to relate, only four persons saved. From the evidence of the survivors, taken before the jury, summoned this day, to inquire into the death of those bodies found on shore, which, at present amount to nine men and one woman. It appears that the ship was a great way out of her course, and, when she made the Scilly light, mistook it for that of the Longship light at Lands End. The seaman saved, says the light was in sight when he came on deck at 4 a.m. (of Monday the 4th instant), but how long the light had been seen previous he could not say, and that the other sailors said it was the Longship light; but about half an hour after she shipped a sea that filled her, and this stopped the engines; they then discovered the rocks around them, and that it must be Scilly; The captain had sail put on her, the ship became quite unmanageable, and about 5 o’clock struck on some rocks near the uninhabited island of Rosvere. A boat from St Agnes, the nearest inhabited island, went to the ship at imminent risk and succeeded taking off the wreck a miss Morris, one of the passengers and the two stewardesses. The boat dared not near the ship, fearing a rush from those on board; they had, therefore, to draw the females through the sea by a rope fastened around the waist, one end on board the ship, the other end the boatmen had. This was about half past eight o’clock a.m; and shortly after a very heavy hail storm came on, when all hopes vanished of having any more assistance from shore. The flood set in, and the wind increased to a heavy gale, with very severe hail storms from the N.E. to E.N.E. The boat which had the survivors on board, and another boat attempting to make the ship, were both nearly lost; the former was not found till some hours, by a large pilot boat, when the people were taken an board, and the boat towed to St Agnes.
The scene of the wreck is about three miles to the N.W. of that island. The ship had only two boats; one was stoved in by the sea, the other some recruits got into and lowered her into the water, before any on board were aware of it; two gentlemen jumped for her, but jumped short, sank, and were seen no more; the recruits not being able to manage the boat, she filled, went down, and they also soon perished. Thus were sixty or seventy human creatures left without any means of saving themselves, and in such a dangerous place; three miles from any inhabited island, and, after nine o’clock a.m. no hope whatever of any assistance from the shore. The seaman saved states that about ten a. m., the quarter deck began to give way (all underwater forward), when the captain, with about twenty more, got into the main rigging. They were not long there before the mainmast went overboard, and all soon perished, either by drowning or killed by the fall. At this time there were many more on the quarter deck, when about eleven o’clock it was lifted up by a body by the sea and afterwards separated into several pieces; on one of which this sailor stood with seven more fellow creatures; four only besides himself reached the island of Rosevere, (a short distance from the wreck), the others were washed off whilst floating between the wreck and the shore; When the raft reached shore, they were all washed off by the heavy sea; the man saved fortunately got hold of a rock, held till the sea receded, and then scrambled a little higher up till he found he was safe; he then looked arounf for the others, but never saw them. He soon began to look for shelter for the night, when shortly he found a porter barrel; he knocked in the head and crept into it, otherwise he likely would have perished of cold; the night (Monday) was very severe. Next morning, by break of day, he was taken off, as were also the dead bodies of seven men and one woman; two other dead bodies were left that day (Tuesday 5th), in consequence of the wind freshening, and a heavy sea round the rocks. The two bodies left yesterday were brought to this island today (Wednesday), the other eight were brought yesterday. The stewardess recognized the bodies of Jack (the steward), a seaman, Griffiths, the stoker, name unknown, another seaman named quin ,or Quinlan, belonging to Dublin; another seaman, name unknown, and one recruit. The female was the wife of a soldier, who also perished, as did also the little infant, which the mother was suckling. The names of those saved are a Miss Morris, first cabin Stewardess; Mary Gregory, second cabin stewardess; and J Kearnes, seaman. Unfortunately for this shipwreck, all the large Pilot boats were high and dry when this would have been of vast service; for had they been afloat, they, early in the morning, - say from seven till nine o’clock,- in all likelihood, would have saved every soul, as they are large enough, and could have received the passengers and crew from the smaller boats, as they took them from the ship, but this could not have been done later than half past eight or nine o’clock. It has been a most heart rending shipwreck. The frantic cries of the sufferers could be heard occasionally at St Agnes.
You are at liberty to make any use of this communication you please; only, if published, I should wish that my name be withheld. I have embraced the first mail leaving this for the main, after this melancholy occurrence, therefore this information will be as early as any.
Letter from a Stewardess of the Thames written from the Lighthouse on St Agnes.
Lighthouse, Island of St Agnes, Jan 3rd 1841.
“My dear father & mother,-god in his mercy has spared me and Mary Gregory, and one more young lady, the name of Miss Morris. I tremble to write, and be obliged to say the steamer Thames is gone to pieces. Captain Gray saved our lives, and, what shall I say? Must I say? He is gone, he may be alive, but if he is, he must surely be on the rocks and if it were pleasing to my good god, may he be spared. May he be spared to his family: his praise is beyond my pen, but to say that he saved our lives. As far as our state will allow we are receiving every kindness. The storm is so severe here that no boat can venture out. Pray for Captain Gray, I can say no more”
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