The story of a White Star liner that struck an iceberg 47 years before the Titanic...
The White Star Line was founded in 1845 by two Liverpool ship brokers, Henry Threlfall Wilson and John Pilkington. Their fleet of clipper ships sailed between the home port of Liverpool and New South Wales, Australia where gold had recently been discovered. Outbound voyages transported immigrants and supplies to the developing colony, inbound cargoes consisted of whale oil, wool and gold dust.
John Pilkington retired from the partnership in 1856. His place was taken by James Chambers. In 1863 Wilson and Chambers decided to add steam power to their fleet. Their first steam vessels was ROYAL STANDARD built at the Tyneside Shipyard by Palmer Brothers and Jarrow. While still basically a sailing vessel, ROYAL STANDARD boasted a 2-cylinder engine of 165 horsepower (rated by Lloyd’s surveyors as ‘auxiliary steam power equal to 250 horses). Accommodation was provided for 40 cabin and 800 steerage passengers.
On 23 November 1863 ROYAL STANDARD set off on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne, Australia. Her commander, Captain E.J. Allen, died on the outward voyage and his place was taken by G.H. Dowell, under whose command the vessel departed Melbourne 21 March 1864 on the return leg of the maiden voyage.
On 24 April 1864 at 50 degrees 40’S 145 degrees 27’W ROYAL STANDARD suddenly entered a dense fog and moments later ran parallel against an immense iceberg that towered above the ship’s masts. Scraping and bumping along the berg’s edge and smashing her upper masts as well as badly damaging her starboard side in several places, ROYAL STANDARD managed to clear the ice in about three-quarters of an hour with sail power aided by her quickly-activated steam engine.
After steaming to Rio de Janeiro for repairs, the ship arrived back at Liverpool 19 June 1864.
Financial difficulties and a bank failure forced the White Star Line’s dissolution at the end of 1867. But the company survived, if in name only, when its assets-including good will and the house flag (a red swallowtail pennant with a five-pointed white star) were purchased for 1,000 pounds by a Liverpool shipowner, Thomas H. Ismay.
THE STEAMSHIP ROYAL STANDARD IN THE ICE.
This magnificent steamship sailed from Melbourne for Liverpool on the 21st March, with a large number of passengers, full cargo of wool, and upwards of 20,000 ounces of gold. From the extract of the ship's log it will be seen .that, on the morning of the April, in lat, 54 S., lon. 14 27 W., the ship suddenly entered into a dense fog, and immediately afterwards came in collision with a very large iceberg.
The ship's safety mainly owing, under Divine Providence, to her great strength (being constructed of iron), and the fact 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, and proceeding under steam, arrived safely at Rio de Janeiro, May 9th. The Royal Standard would wait there only to take in fresh supply of coal, and was expected to leave again for Liverpool on the 12th of May.
The following extract from the vessel's log was posted at the Liverpool Underwriters' Rooms on Saturday :-
We left Melbourne on the 31st March, and though experiencing light and variable winds, made good progress for the first fortnight, with every prospect of making the passage under 65 days. The machinery, when required, worked admirably.
On the 4th April, at 11 a.m., being then lat. 54.40 S., and long. 145.27 W., with screw triced up and royal and mizen topgallantsails stowed, the ship suddenly came into a dense fog, and at the same moment the lookout sang out, "Broken water ahead." The next moment saw a large iceberg close under the starboard bow, and all that human nature could do to prevent a collision was done, but we were too close to clear it. 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, but she would not lay high enough to clear it, and to stay her was impossible. The sea gradually settled her down upon it, and as the sea on the port side knocked her against it, so the rebound of the sea knocked her hull away from it by going under her bottom, thus bringing her in yards contact with the berg. Before they broke they struck the berg several times, bringing down large masses of ice on the deck.
At last the main and mizentopmasts snapped at the cap, bringing down the yards, masts, and gear belonging to them, and breaking the truss heads of the lower yards, the ship forging slightly ahead. The top gallantmast, jibboom, foretopsail yards, and sternsail boom then went and all their gear, damaging all the sails less or more. The resistance having gone from aft brought the ship's works in contact with the berg, smashing the starboard lifeboat and davits, stove in starboard quarter in several places, smashing in the captain's room, seriously damaging the ship's chronometer and instruments, lifting the hoop-deck beams 12 inches, and damaging the entire cabin, and another heavy crash split one upper plate amidships. At this time destruction seemed inevitable, but as the ship slowly forged ahead, under her main and foresail, hopes still remained.
At last the end of the berg came in view, and we forged clear. I immediately ordered the pumps to be sounded all the compartments, and found the ship was not making any water whatever, and at the same time ordered steam and the screw to be lowered. Steam was got up and engines at work in less than three-quarters of an hour. The berg appeared to be enveloped a dense fog and upwards of 600 feet high. In the immediate vicinity, and surrounding the vessel, were several others similar magnitude. Proceeded under steam, and arrived at Rio Janerio on 9th May ; will take in 350 tons of coal, and proceed on the 12th.
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 06 June 1864
Port of Registry: Liverpool
Flag of Registry: British
Company Flag: Red swallowtail with 5-pointed white star
Iron hull, sheathed with marine metals, coppered, 1 funnel, 3 masts, single screw
Tonnages: gross: 2,033 net: 1,598
Dimensions: length: 255 feet, width : 40 feet, depth: 27.5 feet
1863 August launched
1863 Nov. 23 Maiden Voyage Liverpool-Melbourne
1864 March 21 Departure for the return leg of the maiden voyage Melbourne to Liverpool
1864 April Encountered and struck ice
1864 June 19 After repairs in Rio arrived back in Liverpool
1866 May 23 Departed Liverpool for a round trip voyage to New York
1866 Sept. 27 Departed Liverpool on last voyage, Liverpool –Melbourne roundtrip
1868 Engine removed, converted entirely to sail
1869 Oct. 10 Wrecked on Brazilian coast near Cape St. Tome
This article first appeared in Voyage, Journal of the Titanic International Society.