Tuesday, May 11, 2010

19th c South African press reports of shipping

The Abercrombie Robinson had been lying at anchor since her arrival at the Cape on 25 August 1842, carrying over 600 members of various regiments and about 80 civilians (see previous post).

Three days later a north-westerly gale struck Table Bay, several vessels being blown ashore. The troop transport Abercrombie Robinson ran aground at the mouth of the Salt River while a British convict vessel, Waterloo, became a total wreck. Because the latter was an older ship with unsound timbers, she was smashed to pieces in the surf and 190 people on board were lost. The majority were convicts destined for Tasmania and there were also men of the 99th Regiment, some with their families.

All those on the Abercrombie Robinson were saved due to the discipline and courage which prevailed during the crisis.

The South African Commercial Advertiser carried a report in its edition of 3 September 1842 stating:

‘The Abercrombie Robinson had come into the Bay on the evening of 25th, when it was dark, proceeded too far up the Bay, and came to anchor in a position unsafe for her should it come on to blow. The wind did blow a gale with squalls, and she wisely went on shore with an anchor at her bows, thereby saving some seven hundred souls, most of whom must have perished had she foundered where she rode at anchor. Had she been in a proper position, she would have rode out the weather ... Of the Waterloo it is impossible to speak with moderation. Deadly blame rests somewhere, and justice will, we have no doubt, find out the parties that deserve it.
So great a loss of life [as in the wreck of the Waterloo] has not happened in Table Bay since the year 1799. On the 5th of November of that year, His Majesty's Ship Sceptre, Captain [Valentine] Edwards, was driven on shore, and ... immediately went to pieces, being an accursed old hulk on her way home to be broken up. A few hours after she struck not a vestige of her was to be seen, but the fragments of the wreck scattered on the strand, in myriads of pieces, not a single plank remaining whole, nor two attached together. Captain Edwards, his son, ten other officers, and near 300 seamen and marines perished.'
The Sceptre had been built in England in 1781, a 64 gun ship of the line, but was clearly past her best by 1799 - 'an accursed old hulk' leaves no room for confusion.

Wreck of the transport Abercrombie Robinson and the convict ship Waterloo during a gale on 28 August 1842 in Table Bay
The Waterloo is seen on the left, engulfed by the sea; centre-stage is the Abercrombie Robinson; in the foreground some survivors are being rescued from the breakers.

For more on the Abercrombie Robinson:

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