Destruction of the Royal Mail Steamer Amazon and Loss of 140 Lives
It is with feelings of the deepest regret that we have to announce a most dreadful catastrophe which has befallen the Royal Mail new steam-packet Amazon. We have to deplore nothing less than the total destruction of the ship by fire, and the loss of 140 lives.
This shocking intelligence was brought to Plymouth on the midnight of Monday, by the brig Marsden, Captain Evans, bound from Cardiff to South Carolina, which ship also brought the only survivors, 21 in number, of the 181 souls that left Southampton in the Amazon.
The Amazon, of above 2000 tons measurement, was launched only a few months since, from the building-yard of Messrs. Green, at Blackwall, and having been fitted with her 800 horse power engines, proceeded to Southampton, and on Saturday afternoon last started thence under the most favourable auspices, and in sight of most of the directors, on her first voyage, with 50 passengers on board, and the mails for the West Indies, Gulph of Mexico, Spanish Main. &c.
She was commanded by Captain Symonds, one of the ablest of the company's officers, and the Admiralty agent in charge of her mails was Lieutenant Brady, who, in consequence of the illness of Lieutenant Wilkinson, was appointed to this vessel at the last moment. She had on board £17,000 in specie, 5000 bottles quicksilver, worth above £5000, and otherwise a very valuable cargo, and was laden with 1100 tons of coal. The ship gallantly ran down the Channel, and everybody on board was wrapped in the greatest self-security when, 60 miles to the west of the Scilly Islands, about 20 minutes to 1 on Sunday morning, the ship was discovered to be on fire, and the awful catastrophe ensued, which is described in the subjoined accounts:
Plymouth, 6 January 1852
The Royal Mail steam-ship Amazon, Captain Symonds, with passengers and mails for the West Indies, steamed from Southampton, on Friday, the 2nd instant, at three p.m. At noon, on Saturday, she was about 150 miles from Southampton, proceeding steadily on her voyage, and nothing occurred till about midnight, or rather a quarter to one an Sunday morning, the vessel then about 89 miles north-west of Ushant, when the fireman reported a fire in the engineroom to Mr. Treweeks, second mate, the officer of the watch, who immediately sent the quartermaster to the captain, who instantly came on deck in his shirt, and examined the state of the fire, and ordered all hands on deck to the fire-engine. The flames soon burst out from the engine-room, and ignited the hay, &c., for live stock, a portion of which was immediately thrown overboard in a blaze. The captain immediately ordered the ship to be put before the wind, and the engines to be stopped ; but so great a hold had the fire obtained that engineers and firemen were unable to remain below, or to get at the engines to stop them. At this time, which was less than half an hour from the discovery of the fire, it had obtained such a mastery as to baffle the exertions of the officers and crew, the flames ascending and cutting off all communication, and the vessel still under steam.
Efforts were made to launch the best life-boat, but the flames prevented their getting at her ; they then went to the second life-boat, just abaft the sponson, and succeeded in lowering her, into which two passengers and 14 of the crew rushed and towed alongside for about five minutes ; but the ship was going so fast through the water, and the flames increasing so rapidly, that they with extreme difficulty cleared themselves of the wreck. At the same time two or three boats were launched from the larboard side, but were swamped. Two boats hanging to the davits on either side, were crowded with passengers, and in the hurry of lowering them the falls fouled, and the boats hug on end and the people were washed out of them. Besides the life-boat, the stern-boat got clear of the ship, in which were four of the crow and one passenger. They were taken into the life-boat, and the dingy immediately swamped. At this time another boat wan seen, supposed to be the gig, riding like the life-boat head to sea, but was not afterwards seen by those in the lifeboat. It was blowing strong from the westward, and a heavy sea running.
About four a.m., those in the boat saw a barque, of about 300 tons register, under double reefed maintopsail, close, reefed foretopsail, and whole foresail, on a wind which was about west and by south. She was within hail of the boat, and also of the steamer ; and those on board hailed and shouted, but the barque passed on between the boat and the Amazon, to windward of the latter, but to leeward of the boat. The life boat did all that was possible in looking out for the other boats or any of the passengers or crew who might have been in the water, but she was obliges to be kept head to sea, which was running heavy ; one sea broke on board, and partially filled her. The steamer was at this time in a complete blaze fore and aft, and about 5.30 a.m. her magazine blew up, and in less than a quarter of six hour the vessel went down broadside on. At daylight there was a heavy fall of rain, which lessened the sea, and the boat, which had then drifted about three miles from where the Amazon went down, after searching for any portion of the wreck, and finding no vessel in sight, was put before the wind, and continued pulling towards the eastward, with five oars aside, till noon, when they descried a vessel about three miles to windward, on the starboard tack, standing to the southward ; they hoisted signals and pulled towards her, and the brig perceiving them bore down. She proved to be the Marsden, of London, from Cardiff, for South Carolina ; and from Captain Evans, his officers, and crew, the boat's crew from the Amazon received every kindness and attention, and after a sharp look-out from the mast-head for any other boats, or vestige of the wreck, the brig bore up for Plymouth, and landed them here about midnight on Monday. They were at once taken to the Globe Hotel, and received from Mr. Radmore every attention that their case demanded, and were subsequently provided for by the agent to the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners' Society.
One of the firemen saved accounts for the origin of the fire from the overheating of the cranks and other portions of the machinery, which it was found necessary to play upon with water frequently ; but at the time the fire was discovered a period of six or seven hours had elapsed without its being cooled. He imagines that the great heat of the same and the boilers ignited the felt and wood casing around the steam chest, and thus spread.
SG & SGTL ; Vol. 9 p. 126
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