|[Introduction]||[Report]||[Capt.Murdock's account]||[Capt.Hunter's explanation]||[Robbery of survivors]||[A Nobel Act]||[Aftermath]||[Poem]|
From 'The Illustrated London News', September 2nd, 1848
Ocean Monarch, Captain Murdock. Sailed on Thursday morning, August 24th, from Liverpool for the United States with a total of 398 persons onboard. When 5 - 6 miles to the east of Great Orme's Head, in Abergele Bay, fire broke out. The flames were seen by Mr Littledale, Commodore of the Royal Mersey Y.C , who was returning to Liverpool in his yacht Queen of the Ocean. He proceeded at once and saved 32 persons. Mr Littledale described the flames as burning with a fury from the stern and centre of the vessel. Passengers, men, women and children, crowded to the fore-part whilst many others jumped into the sea. In a few minutes the mizen and main went overboard but the foremast remained standing. As the fire moved forward, passengers and crew clung to the jib-boom in clusters as thick as they could pack, one lying over another. At length the foremast went overboard, snapping the fastenings of the jib-boom, and the jib-boom plunged into the sea, taking all with it.
The Brazilian frigate Affonso, Captain J.M. Lisboa, was on a pleasure cruise in the area with Brazilian dignitaries, Prince de Joinville and the British Admiral Grenfell aboard. She bore down to the Ocean Monarch and launched five boats to assist. The Admiral took charge of one boat and Captain Lisboa, another. Because of the numbers of people in the water, and the tangle of floating spars, the boats from the frigate could not get as close they wished. The Affonso, nevertheless, rescued 156 persons including 13 seamen.
Captain Murdock deposed that his ship left the river at daybreak, in tow. At 08:00 the tug and pilot left. At 12:00 the order was given to tack ship, being then six miles from Great Orme's Head. As the yards were hauled a steward informed him that a passenger had lit a fire in one of the ventilators in the afterpart of the ship. An officer and a seaman were sent to put out the fire and bring up the delinquent. The Captain then went below and discovered smoke entering the main cabin through one of the staterooms.
Water was almost immediately applied but within five minutes the afterpart of the ship burst into flames. The ship was put before the wind to lessen the draught but had to be brought-to again. The fire produced terror amongst the passengers and all control over them was lost. His voice could not be heard or his orders obeyed. Both anchors were let-go, because nothing could be done with the yards, in an attempt to bring the ship's head to wind and keep the fire aft. The passengers crowded to the bowsprit and many leaped overboard. Spars and loose material was thrown overboard to give them something to cling to but the majority were drowned. The flames increased and orders were given to get the boats out. Two were got out but before the lashings of the others could be cut, they were enveloped in flames. The Mate and several passengers, with part of the crew, got into one and a portion of the crew and passengers got into the other. The last thing the Captain did, assisted by the carpenter and two men, was to throw over a topgallant yard, with a rope attached to it to make it fast alongside, and the passengers were then told to jump into the sea and cling to it. The flames were by then approaching so rapidly that he was obliged to jump himself. He clung to the spar for a short time but it was so crowded that he swam away to a piece of dunnage from which, after 30 minutes, he was picked up by a boat belonging to the 'Queen of the Ocean'. The ships on the scene by then were the Queen of the Ocean, yacht, Affonso, Brazilian frigate, the American packet New World and the Prince of Wales, railway steamer bound to Bangor. The Queen of the Ocean remained until 15:00, when she departed for Liverpool.
Commenting upon the origin of the fire, the Captain said that, contrary to published statements, there were no wooden ventilators onboard the ship. The ventilators were iron. In his opinion, the fire started because of smoking amongst the steerage passengers. The night before, several pipes had been taken from them. In this respect, one of the seamen who escaped said that one Edward Jenkins, a seaman, was seen going into the lazarette with a lighted candle about 08:00 and twenty minutes later, came up without it. About 12:00, smoke was seen issuing from under the cabin which is above the lazarette. The door was broken open and the cabin was found to be on fire. Edward Jenkins was asked where the candle was and he said he had put it in his pocket, to grease his shoes. There was wine, spirits and straw in the lazarette at the time. The ship sank at 01:30, Friday, August 25th. With the exception of the solid timbers about the stem, on which was the figurehead in almost perfect condition, the fire had consumed the whole of her upperworks to within a few inches of the water's edge. The destruction was so even that it looked as though carpenters had done it.
An act of heroism was performed by one Frederick Jerome, a native of Portsmouth and a crewmember of the New World. He stripped himself naked and swam through the wreckage with a line, climbed aboard the Ocean Monarch and succeeded in lowering the last helpless victims into a boat before he, himself, was forced to leave. On arriving at the Affonso he was congratulated for his bravery and received a gratuity from the Duke d'Aumale.
Captain John Hunter of the Cambria, the Beaumaris to Liverpool packet, had been castigated for not lending assistance when in sight of the blazing Ocean Monarch. He justified his actions in a letter written on Saturday, August 26th, at Liverpool. In it, he said that, on the day, and before leaving Menai, he had given all his disposable coals to the steamer Medina. He only had sufficient coals left to take his vessel to Liverpool, a fact he said his two engineers would attest to. He sailed from Beaumaris about 09:30 and passed the Ocean Monarch at 11:30, when that ship was standing-in towards the shore. Soon after, he saw her tack and stand to the north. At 12:30 his attention was drawn to smoke arising from the ship, as if she was on fire, and he asked his engineer if they had enough coals to get to the Ocean Monarch and back. The engineer replied that they did not. At that time they were 10 - 12 miles from the ship. They saw the Affonso much closer and also the Prince of Wales, another ship and a yacht. He hoisted a signal to those ships that there was a vessel in distress. He said that he didn't know the Ocean Monarch was an emigrant ship and he considered there was sufficient assistance at hand. In any case, he wrote, he had 200 passengers onboard and his decks were completely crowded with livestock which would have rendered it difficult at any time to render assistance. He also said that the sea state was unfavourable. If he had proceeded, he averred, he would have had to remain at anchor until a supply of coals was procured and, in that position, if it had come on to blow, the Cambria would have been in great danger. Bearing all these points in mind, he said that he would not have been justified in running the risk of sacrificing the lives of his passengers. He finished by saying that it was no disinclination, on his part, to render assistance and reminded his readers that when the engine of a rival steamer broke-down off the Great Orme, he saved her passengers and crew.
One Henry Powell, of Portman Place, Maida Hill, London, was a survivor from one of the Ocean Monarch boats who was picked up by the pilot boat Pilot Queen, of Chester. He published a narrative in the Liverpool papers in which he claimed that robbery was the motive for their rescue by the pilot boat. He said that as soon as and other survivors arrived aboard, they went below to strip off their wet clothes and rest. An hour later, he heard a loud quarrel on deck and went to investigate. It appeared the pilot boat's crew were determined to take them no further, their excuse being that it was too dangerous to approach the coast. The survivors reckoned, though, that their objective was to return to the scene of the wreck and pick up what they could find. They had already secured several boxes and a trunk belonging to one of the cabin passengers and insisted that these be left onboard, together with the Ocean Monarch boat. The survivors resisted this proposal and the quarrel arose. One of the crew then threw the trunk into a small boat of their own and rowed away. They couldn't follow because they had no oars. A fishing-smack then approached so they got into their boat with the purpose going aboard her. He had a blanket around his neck and one of the seamen grasped it, trying to wrench it away. Powell gave the seamen a silver lever-watch, instead. The survivors were then allowed to leave. One of their companions was left below, in a berth, naked and too ill to dress himself. He was a young man named Coombes, whose parents kept a shoe-shop in Liverpool, and he had some money about him for he offered the crew a sovereign to take him ashore. In the confusion, he was left behind and wasn't heard of again. They mentioned this to the crew of the fishing-smack who replied, "If they find out he's got money about him, they'll murder him and throw him overboard. They'll never think to be found out." They also observed, "That we had no idea of the black work going on in these quarters." The smack took the survivors to Seacombe, where they were landed, and a few days later police arrested a part of the pilot-boat crew and returned the silver watch to Mr Powell.
The Ocean Monarch had the following onboard when she sailed from
|1st Class and 2nd-Class:||32|
|Captain and crew:||42|
Those saved were:
|Queen of the Ocean||32|
|Prince of Wales||17|
|Total saved :||218|
|Total lost :||178|
ALLEGED CAUSE OF THE FIRE
From 'The Illustrated London News'
One of the seamen who escaped from the burning ship thus explains the
cause of the fire: - "Edward Jenkins, a seaman on board, was seen
going into the lazarette with a lighted candle, at about 8 a.m., and, in
20 minutes after, came up again without the candle. About 12 o’ clock a
smoke was seen issuing from under the cabin which is above the lazarette,
and the door was broken open, when the place was found to be on fire. A
seaman on board afterwards asked Edward Jenkins where the candle was?
He said that he had put it in his pocket to grease his shoes. There
was some wine, spirits and straw in the lazarette at the time."