|The Wreck Of The Steamer Ajax |
Plymouth, October 14, 1854
The loss of this fine ship, only 300 fathoms from a rocky island on one side of the entrance to a harbour three miles wide in broad daylight, and when the weather was almost calm, risking at the same time the lives of 800 persons, has created considerable animadversion here among nautical men, and has led to the conclusion that the conduct of those in charge is a most fitting subject for inquiry by the constituting authority - the Board of Trade.
The engines of the Ajax were of 400 horse power; she was going between eight and nine knots. The engineer thought, when she struck, that they had run against a buoy ; he supposes the rock must have gone right into the bottom of the ship, which is of iron, as there was little or no shock. Where she first lay there were nearly four fathoms under her bow and full five under her stem with deep water on either side. After the ship's four boats were got ready, the passengers particularly the Irish, were so eager to leave that they jumped into and nearly stove two of them. The chief officer, Mr. Steele, who appears to have acted extremely well, then armed himself with a stick, and ordering the boats, allowed a sufficient number only to enter. In this manner about 30 were conveyed to the Mewstone, and 73 to the billyboy Pirate of Goole, from Dunkirk, whose master, Mr. W. Watson, behaved with great humanity. One soldier, who was insane; stripped and swam towards the rock, but was taken into a boat; another soldier, woman, and two children fell overboard, but were recovered. A husband was on board the steamer Confiance, his wife in the Pirate, and their only child on the island, neither knowing the fate of the others. The wife of one of the emigrants being much frightened, was taken in labour on landing, and was delivered of a child in the office of the Millbay harbour-master.
The cargo of the Ajax was chiefly for Cork, and included 400 boxes of tea, 140 barrels of salt provisions, and 160 tons of guano. For Plymouth, among other goods, there were 20 casks of oil for Messrs. Haycroft and Co., 20 barrels 6 firkins of beer for Messrs. Beckford and Co., and 8 trusses of drapery for Messrs. Lonsdale and Co. A quantity of goods, including some tea for Messrs. Underwood and Co., and 64 sacks of flour for Messrs. Mead, were shut out. The table plate and the captain's instruments were secured, the ship's stern being dry for some time after she struck. Mr. Brown, master-attendant at the dockyard, went out at midnight in the Confiance, towing a lump to the wreck, but it was soon found that any attempt to recover the steamer would be hopeless Today a great number of emigrants' boxes, and a large quantity of lucifer matches, directed to Mr. Montgomery, Cork, have been picked up, and it is possible that some of the cargo may be recovered, but it will be, in a measure, valueless. The Ajax was built about seven years since, when she cost £32,000. Her cargo bas been valued at £10,000. The ship is stated to be insured. Captain Rochfort was in command of the steamer Minerva, lost about three months since on the Victoria Rocks, off the Skerries, on the passage from Liverpool to Cork. Times, October 16. 1854
Source: Shipping Gazette & Sydney General Trade List Page 5, 1855
The last remnant of this once noble vessel his now totally disappeared. On Thursday morning a diver went out to the wreck, for (strange to say) the first time, for she was on the rocks from the previous Friday, and the weather during the whole of that time was beautifully fine ; but the diver did no good, notwithstanding his visit and his dive.
He found the whole of the afterpart of the vessel whole and sound, as well as the engines, but the forepart, from the mainmast forward, had parted and sunk into deep water ; the afterpart, including the aft-hold, had fallen ever on the larboard side, that is out to sea on the rock, and this portion was then full of water at low water. Captain Tooker who had had the command of the Ajax for several years, up to the last voyage to London, having heard of the calamity at Cork, came to Plymouth, and went out with a pilot to the wreck, and showed him where to go down. He did go down into the state cabin. but while there the tube which supplied him with air had got entangled, and be was obliged to come up ; had he gone down straight into the afterhold this could not have happened, and he might have sent up some valuable property. He came ashore and brought nothing, though he saw property of every description floating all around him.
Daring the greater part of Thursday night it blew a gale from the south west with heavy rain, the effect of which would be to create such a sea as would dash the remaining portion of the wreck to pieces. On Friday morning Captain Tooker went out again, but he had scarcely left the pier when the wind changed to W.N.W. and blew tremendously, and after passing the breakwater he found such a terrific sea breaking over the spot where the wreck lay that it would have been certain destruction to him and his crew (four hands in an open boat) to approach within a mile of the wreck, and he therefore returned.
Of course the same reasons rendered it useless for a diver to go out. In the meantime, the forehold having become completely exposed to the sea by the parting of the bows, the whole of the least perishable portion of the cargo burst out, and sank or floated about the sea according to its nature. Morning Chronicle.
Shipping Gazette & Sydney General Trade List Vol 12 ; Page 30 ; 29 Jan 1855
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