News from 1874: Wreck of British Admiral


Mark Baber

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7 January 1874: The sailing ship British Admiral, on charter to White Star, leaves Liverpool for Melbourne. Continued 15 January. (Source: The Western Mail (Cardiff), 4 June 1874, reprinting a Liverpool Courier article of undisclosed date.)

15 January 1874: At about noon, British Admiral, see 7 January, is dismasted in strong winds off Cape Finisterre, simultaneously losing her bowsprit, foretopmast and foreyard. At about 2:30 tomorrow morning, while efforts are under way to set up a square foreyard, the maintopmast snaps and carries away the mizzentop-gallant mast and several yards, leaving her with only her mizzen lower topsail and spanker. The crippled ship puts back for Liverpool; she will be taken in tow by the tug Fury off Holyhead, and reach Liverpool on 26 January. One crew member is drowned and several others receive serious injuries. Continued 23 February. (Sources: The Western Mail (Cardiff), 4 June 1874, reprinting a Liverpool Courier article of undisclosed date; The Telegraph (Brisbane), 11 April 1874.)

23 February 1874: British Admiral (Capt. James Randolph Taylor), see 15 January, again leaves Liverpool for Melbourne after spending last night in the "fairway of the Mersey." Continued 23 May. (Sources: The Western Mail (Cardiff), 4 June 1874, reprinting a Liverpool Courier article of undisclosed date; The Argus (Melbourne), 1 June 1874.)

23 May 1874: Around 2:30 a.m., British Admiral, see 23 February, sinks fifteen minutes after striking King's Island, Tasmania. There are only nine survivors from among the 49 passengers and 39 crew: the third officer, four crew members and four passengers, all of whom who escape by climbing the foremast and "drifting ashore on the wreckage." They are then picked up by the ketch Kangaroo and taken to Melbourne. Continued 3 June. (Sources: The Argus (Melbourne), 1 June 1874; The Western Mail (Cardiff), 4 June 1874, reprinting a Liverpool Courier article of undisclosed date. Note: King's, not King, Island is the name used in the 1874 reports.)

3 June 1874: At Melbourne, a Steam Navigation Board court of inquiry concludes its two-day hearing into the wreck of British Admiral, see 23 May. Although finding "no direct evidence to satisfy the court as to the causes which led to the loss of the ship," it finds that there is evidence to show that "a meridian altitude of the sun had been taken the day previously" and that "a heavy sea struck the ship off St. Paul's, which was supposed to have affected the rates of the chronometer." From this, it concludes that the "stranding of the ship is probably due to an error in longitude," although noting that the captain and officers "were careful and attentive to their duties during the voyage." (Source: The Argus (Melbourne) 3 and 4 May 1874.)
 

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