News from 1864: Royal Standard hits an iceberg

Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
MAB Note: Royal Standard was not a White Star ship in the same sense as the other ships discussed in this subtopic. She belonged to a White Star Line which preceded the creation of Thomas Ismay's Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. in 1869; in 1864 that White Star Line was operated by H. T. Wilson & Chambers, a partnership consisting of Henry Threlfall Wilson and brother-in-law James Chambers. (Wilson was a member of all three partnerships that operated the pre-Ismay White Star Line: Pilkington & Wilson, Wilson & Chambers and Wilson & Cunningham.) When this last went into liquidation in 1868, Ismay purchased its trade name and house flag for £1,000. This first White Star Line, then, although a different entity, was the source of the name of the Ismay Line and its familiar burgee; its history is discussed to some degree or other in virtually every history of White Star; and there's an entire chapter of Eaton & Haas' Falling Star devoted to Royal Standard's maiden voyage. Thus, this article.

The Times, 6 June 1864

COLLISION WITH AN ICEBERG---The screw steamer Royal Standard sailed from
Melbourne on the 21st of March for Liverpool, under the command of
Captain T. H. Dowell (her former commander, Allen, having died on the
outward passage), with a large number of passengers, a full cargo of
wool, and upwards of 20,000oz. of gold. From the extract of the log of
the Royal Standard it will be seen that on the morning of the 4th of
April, in lat. 54 S., long. 105 27 W., the ship suddenly entered a dense
fog, and immediately afterwards came in collision with a very large
iceberg. The ship's safety is mainly owing, under Divine Providence, to
her great strength (being constructed of iron) and to the fact of her
having auxiliary steam power. Being completely disabled by the loss of
her spars, &c., the screw was lowered, and the vessel gradually steamed
clear of the ice:---"Left Melbourne for Liverpool March 21, and, though
experiencing light and variable winds, made good progress for the first
fortnight, the machinery when required working admirably. On the morning
of the 4th of April, at 11a.m., in lat. 54 40 S., lon. 145 27 W., with
screw triced up, royals and mizentopgallant sail stowed, the ship
suddenly ran into a dense fog, at the same moment the lookout sung out,
'Broken water ahead !' The next moment saw a large iceberg upwards of
600 feet high close under the starboard bow. We did all that human power
could to prevent a collision but the ship was too close on it to clear
it altogether. The helm was immediately put hard a starboard, called all
hands and braced the yards sharp up, bringing the ship parallel with the
berg on its weather side. The ship would not lay high enough to clear
the berg; to stay her was impossible; the sea gradually settled her down
upon it, and as the sea on the port side knocked her against the berg,
so the rebound of the sea knocked her hull away from it by going under
her bottom, thus bringing the yards in contact with the berg. Before
they broke the yards struck the berg several times, bringing down large
masses of ice on the deck. At last the main and mizentop mast snapped at
the cap, bringing down all the yards, masts, and gear belonging to them
and breaking the truss-heads of the lower yards; the ship forging
slightly ahead the foretopgallantmast, jibboom, foretopsailyards,
stunsailboom then went, and all their gear, damaging all the sails more
or less. The resistance having gone from aft brought the ship's upper
works into contact with the berg, smashing starboard, lifeboat, and
davits carrying away bumkin, stove in starboard quarter in several
places, smashing in the captain's room, seriously damaging the ship's
chronometers and instruments, lifting the poopdeck beams a foot, and
damaging the entire cabin. Another heavy crash split one upper plate
amidships At the moment destruction seemed inevitable; but as the ship
slowly forged ahead under her main and fore sails, hope still remained.
At last the end of the berg came in view, and we forged clear.
Immediately ordered the pump to be sounded in all the compartments, and
found that the ship was not making any water; ordered steam up and the
screw to be lowered, which was done in less than three-quarters of an
hour. The berg appeared entirely enveloped in a dense fog and about 600
feet high; in its immediate vicinity and surrounding the ship were
several others, apparently of equal size and magnitude. Proceeded under
steam and jury-rig, and arrived at Rio de Janeiro on the 9th of May."
The Royal Standard will only wait to take a fresh supply of coal there,
and would leave again for Liverpool on the 12th of May. The rumour of
the Royal Standard being overdue or of their [sic] being any anxiety
about her safety is entirely unfounded.-Liverpool Paper.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
MAB Notes: 1. See the note above. 2. This ad relates to the same trip as the story immediately above*, although the sailing date actually turned out to be 23 November.

*Actually, it doesn't; this is the ad for Royal Standard's next sailing, not her first.

The Times, 15 October 1864

20th November, the auxiliary screw steamer ROYAL STANDARD, 1,963 tons
register, 500-horse power indicated, Capt. DOWELL. This magnificent steamer
was built in 1863 expressly for the Australian passenger trade in connexion
with this line, she combines in an eminent degree the elements of great
sailing speed with large auxiliary steam power, and is one of the handsomest
and most completely equipped steamers afloat. The Royal Standard has now
three spacious and handsome saloons, including ladies' boudoir, all
elegantly furnished and provided with piano, library, baths & c.; the state
rooms in poop and main deck are roomy, with unusually large ports for light
and ventilation. A cow is carried for the use of saloon passengers, who are
also found with linen, bedding, and every necessary for the voyage. Has very
superior accommodations for second cabin, intermediate and steerage
passengers. For terms of freight and passage apply to the owners, H. T.
Wilson and Chambers, 21, Water-street, Liverpool; or to Wilson, Bilbrough,
and Co., 27, Leadenhall-street, London.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 August 1864
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site

(From the Illustrated London News, June 18)
We have been favoured by Captain G. H. Dowell, commander of the screw
steamship Royal Standard, one of the White Star line of Australian packets,
refitting in the port of Rio de Janeiro, with an extract from his logbook
describing this perilous adventure. It was on the homeward voyage from
Melbourne to Liverpool, on the 4th of April, when the vessel was in latitude
54°40 south, and longitude 145°27 west, which is somewhere about midway
between Melbourne and Cape Horn, in the South Pacific Ocean. Our readers may
recollect that the Himalaya and other homeward-bound vessels in the earlier
months of this year had found those seas beset with icebergs, but the
Royal Standard had a very near escape of being dashed to pieces against one
of those formidable floating masses which, in the summer of the Antarctic
region are frequently detached from the frozen waters of the South Pole, and
drift into the highway of Australian navigation. The weather was hazy at
eleven o'clock in the morning; the vessel was sailing with a fresh breeze
from the north-west, ten knots an hour; her steam-engines, therefore, were
not at work, and her screw propeller was raised, while she made use of the
favourable wind, suddenly, she ran into a dense fog. The look-out man
reported that she was in broken water, and immediately afterwards saw a
large iceberg on the right hand, close under her starboard bow. The captain
instantly had the helm put hard a-starboard, called all hands, and braced
the yards sharp up, thus bringing the ship alongside of the iceberg
instead of running into it, as she would otherwise have done, for it was
impossible to stay her course. The iceberg lay just under her lee, its
precipitous cliffs, 600 feet in height, were towering above the ship on
the right hand, their ends being concealed by the fog; the only question
was whether the ship could get past without being driven against them. The
sea, running high that way, gradually settled her against the iceberg
broadside on. Each wave now knocked her against it; the rebound of each
wave carried off her hull, but struck her yards against the iceberg above.
They bore one or two of these shocks, while causing a shower of great lumps
of ice to fall upon the deck. At length the maintopmast and the mizentopmast
snapped asunder just above the caps, and fell, bringing down with them all
the upper masts, yards, and gear belonging to each, and breaking in their
fall the brass bands of the lower yards. The ship meanwhile still moved
slowly on. Next went the foretop-gallant-mast, the jibboom, the
foretopsail-yards, the studdlngsail-booms, and all their gear, broken
against the side of the iceberg; and the remaining sails were more or less
torn or damaged by the fall of these spars. The ship, having thus lost much
of her sailing power, could not now keep her hull from coming into violent
contact with the iceberg, The life-boat, suspended by davits to her side the
bumpkin and all starboard bulwarks, were presently smashed. In several
places the starboard quarter was stove in. The iron beams of the poop-deck,
across the breadth of the vessel, were bent so as to bulge up the deck as
much as one foot. The walls of the cabins were damaged, and the captain's
cabin stove in, breaking up the case which contained the ship's
chronometers, and scattering them, with other wreck of the cabin and its
furniture, on the floor. By another crash, an upper plate amidships was
split, with considerable damage besides. At this moment the destruction of
the ship seemed quite inevitable; but, as she continued slowly to move
ahead, under mainsail and foresail, there was still some hope. The Royal
Standard had thus rubbed shoulders with the iceberg for about half an hour,
scraping along half a mile of its length, when, happily, the end of it was
seen through the surrounding fog, and at last the ship got clear. Captain
Dowell immediately ordered the pumps to be sounded in all her compartments,
and found that there was no leak, after all the rough ordeal she had passed.
Here we may refer to a short note by Mr. Hugh Jobison, one the [sic]
passengers, who says that they all acknowledged their gratitude to Almighty
God for their preservation from this fearful danger; and he adds that they
would bear testimony to the good conduct of the captain, officers, and crew,
by whom the discipline of the ship was perfectly maintained, and whose
efforts to save her were at length crowned with success. As soon as she was
clear of the iceberg, the captain ordered steam to be got up, and in an hour
and a quarter the engine was at work. She thus made her way to Rio do
Janeiro, steaming or sailing under jurymasts as best she could. In this
crippled and disabled plight, she arrived in the Brazilian port. Captain
Dowell acknowledges with gratitude the generous offers of assistance by the
commander of the United States frigate Onward.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
Sacramento Daily Union, 2 November 1864
Retrieved from the California Digital Newspaper Collection web site,
California Digital Newspaper Collection

On her last voyage from Australia to Liverpool, the Australian packet Royal
Standard narrowly escaped destruction by contact with an enormous iceberg
off Cape Horn. The following graphic narrative from the pen of one of the
passengers is published in the English papers:

I was very recently a passenger from Australia to Liverpool on board one of
the noblest ships, the Royal Standard, belonging to the celebrated "White
Star" line of packets. We were upwards of three hundred adults on board,
exclusive of the Captain, officers, stewards and seventy-one crew, and had
as a cargo three thousand bales of wool and $120,000 worth of gold. After
the genial intertropical climate of the antipodes we rapidly approached "the
Horn," when the weather became intensely cold. Morning, noon and night
groups of passengers huddled or crept round the huge funnel of our ship, for
we were an auxiliary screw, to gather a little extra warmth. On Sunday,
April 3d, latitude 56 deg. south, longitude 149 deg. west, we saw the first
iceberg, and a beautiful sight it was.

Monday, April 4th, opened with thick, heavy weather, and a good breeze,
before which we were going, without steam, ten knots an hour, apprehensive
of no danger. Suddenly we ran into a dense fog and almost immediately one of
the double lookout gave the alarm. "Broken water ahead!" and almost
immediately after, "Ice on the starboard bow!" At that moment, I was writing
the newspaper I conducted on board in the engineers' mess room; but hearing
the noise and the ominous cry, " Helm hard a starboard!" I rushed on deck
and looking over the bulwarks saw, to my horror, an immense mountain of ice
towering far above our maintopgallant mast which was two hundred feet above
the water-line, and so close to us that any man could have jumped on to it.

All hands were immediately summoned on deck, and every thing done to prevent
what now appeared inevitable---a collision between our ship and the iceberg.
The yards were trimmed, the sails adjusted, and everything done to prevent
this fearful catastrophe, but in vain. The monster mountain of ice drew
nearer and nearer to us, and we drifted nearer and nearer to it. At length
the inevitable moment came; one heavy roll of the ship, and the yards of the
foremast grated right into the solid mass of ice, tearing out and hurling
down upon the deck immense blocks of ice, some of them of enormous size. At
the same moment the main and mizzen-topmast snapped at the cap with a
tremendous noise, and being made of iron, hung over with all their gear
amidst the rigging, to the great danger of every one on deck. While this was
going on the men at the wheel stood faithful to their duty, although one of
them had his overcoat rent in two by a lump of ice that fell in front of
him, yet did not touch him.

The scene on deck was now indescribable. Loudly were the orders passed fore
and aft to the hands, and as heartily obeyed, to adjust the yards and trim
the ship so as to help her to forge ahead of the iceberg, many of the
passengers rendering good service in the emergency. Under the forecastle
deck were gathered groups of men, pale, silent, awestruck. Two strong
stalwart men had hold of my hand, and with big beads of tears rolling down
their cheeks cried for mercy. Between decks women and children were loud in
their passionate cries, and in the intermediate was an elderly gentleman, a
widower, with five children, in the agony of woe, expecting his and their
immediate destruction. Still the worst was not come; again the ship's yards
crunched into the iceberg; where I stood I looked up and saw that this
mountain of ice actually overhung the ship, standing then six hundred feet
out of water. There were two large fissures running from the top a
considerable way down, and as the ship rolled over I feared the yards would
go into one of these fissures. Had they done so they would have brought down
tons of ice that would have sent us to the bottom in a moment. We were
spared that doom, for the next instant the fore-top-gallant mast, jibboom,
foretopsail yard, studdingsail boom, and all their gear went at the next
crunch, tearing and splitting the sails to ribbons. At the same time over
the forecastle deck came rolling vast torrents of water, flooding the decks
and creating a fresh source of danger. The Royal Standard was now all but a
helpless log, crippled and dismantled; she presented the most pitiable
appearance and with her masts, yards, chains and ropes all hanging over and
dangling about in most dangerous confusion, the marvel is that no one was
seriously injured if not killed.

Still the worst had not come, and but for the amazing strength of her iron
bull, all on board must have gone down to the bottom, leaving no record of
their fate behind them. Bodily the ship drifted up against the berg, her
whole side coming violently in contact with it---I quote from the ship's
log, lest my account should be regarded as the natural exaggeration of a
landsman's fears---"smashed the starboard lifeboat, carried away the
bumpkin, stove in all the starboard bulwarks, stove in the starboard quarter
in several places; also the captain's cabin, and sent the chronometers
flying about, lifting the poop-deck beams one foot, thus damaging all the
cabins; and, with another crash, split our upper plate amidships, and did
other sundry damage. At this moment total destruction seemed inevitable; but
as the ship slowly forged ahead under mainsail and foresail, hope still
remained. At last the end of the berg came in view, and we forged clear. The
berg appeared to be entirely enveloped in a dense fog, and about six hundred
feet high. We passed along about half a mile of it, and from the time of
seeing it to clearing it, it was about half an hour."

So far the ship's log. "Half an hour;" yet what a half hour! Who can tell
the agony, the suspense, the wild and all but frantic emotions that were
crowded into that thirty minutes? Beyond the noise of our ship's wreck
knocking about and the orders given to the men, all was silence after the
first wild cry of terror and dismay.

Pale and trembling men gazed, first at the iceberg, then at the ship,
presenting a picture most desolate, and then at each other; many shook hands
and bade each other good bye; and all stood, expecting a certain watery
grave. For myself, I was too stunned and startled to feel excited; I seemed
incapable of any feeling but that of dumb amazement. Not a tear came to my
relief, not a word escaped my lips. Wife and children I felt I should never
see any more; and so, holding a fellow-passenger's hand, I calmly awaited
the awful moment, the summons to which had come so unexpectedly, and under
such fearful circumstances. Meanwhile the Captain was shouting to the
boatswain, " Do you see the end of the berg?" again and again, for all our
safety lay in our speedily gaining open sea. At length, after many times,
"Not yet, sir," he said, " Yes, sir, close by;" and in another minute we had
passed our enemy, and were in open sea once more.

Three loud cheers passed fore and aft, and again we shook each other by the
hand, and thanked God for our deliverance. The saloon passengers immediately
held a special religions service, and so did the intermediate and steerage,
and these services were continued daily till our arrival in Liverpool.