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Burning of the Emigrant-Ship Cospatrick at Sea

From the Illustrated London News, January 2, 1875

The most terrible catastrophe of the old year was the destruction by fire of the emigrant-ship Cospatrick, and the consequent loss of over 450 lives, in the early morning of Nov. 18.

The Cospatrick was a teak-built sailing-ship, of 1200 tons, constructed at Moulmein, in India, and classed A1 at Lloyd's until 1883. She was 190 ft. in length, 34 ft. in breadth, and had 23 ft. depth of hold. Purchased by her present owners, Messrs. Shaw, Savill, and Co., of 34, Leadenhall-street, from the late Mr. Duncan Dunbar, she was now making only her second voyage under the flag of that house. Formerly employed in carrying troops to and from India, and occasionally engaged in the conveyance of coolies, she had also on a previous occa-[sic] made a voyage from England to New Zealand with a large party of emigrants. She had been for many years under the command of Captain Elmslie, her late chief officer, who retained his position when the vessel was transferred to her new owners, and who was in chief command on the present voyage. The Cospatrick left Gravesend on Sept. 11 last, carrying 429 emigrants, sent out through the General Agency of New Zealand, and bound for Auckland. There were 177 male adults, 125 women, 58 boys, 53 girls, and 16 infants under twelve months. Her crew was composed of 43 persons-officers, men, and boys, all told. There were also on board four independent passengers, making in all a total of 476 souls.

The fire broke out in latitude 37 deg. South, and longitude 12 deg. East-one account has it west. A telegram from Madeira in the Daily News says that at midnight on Nov. 17, when the second officer left the deck, everything was apparently all right, but at half-past twelve he was awoke by the alarm of fire. The captain was on deck immediately, and all hands attempted to get the vessel before the wind, but without success. The flames came up the fore hatch within a quarter of an hour, and in less than half an hour the fire was nearly all along the deck. A special cablegram in the Daily Telegraph goes on to say that the flames and smoke were driven aft, setting fire to the boats which were placed in the fore part of the vessel, and thus effectually prevented their use. The excitement on board now became terrible, and the passengers rushed to the quarter boats, which were on the davits hanging over the side, and crowded into them. It is estimated that about eighty people, most of them women, thus got into the starboard boat, and remained there till the davits bent down over the side and the boat's stern dipped into the sea. Then it capsized, and all its occupants were immediately drowned alongside the vessel. Just afterwards the fore, main, and mizen masts all fell over the side in quick succession, killing many of the emigrants and adding to the terror of the rest. But the worst had not yet come; for suddenly the stern of the vessel blew out with a loud report under the poop deck, and completed the destruction of the ship. Two boats under the command of Mr. Romaine and mr. Macdonald had meanwhile been filled, and reached some little distance from the Cospatrick; but Captain Elmslie, his wife, and Dr. Cadle remained on board the vessel until she went down. When the last moment had come the captain threw his wife overboard, and then leapt into the sea after her. At the same time the doctor jumped overboard with the captain's little boy in his arms, and all were drowned together.

The two boats kept together for a couple of days. They were then separated by bad weather. The missing boat contained the chief officer, the ship's butcher, five seamen, and twenty-five passengers. She has not since been heard of, but it is hoped that she may have reached the island of Tristan d'Acunha. In Macdonald's boat thirst soon began to be severely felt. One man fell overboard while steering. Three others died after becoming mad. On Nov. 23 four more died. The survivors were then suffering so intensely from hunger and thirst that they drank the blood and ate the livers of two of the dead. Other deaths followed; and when, on the 27th, two more of the men died, one was thrown overboard, but nobody had strength enough to life the other. Ultimately five men were all who were left alive in the boat, and of these two had gone mad. They died soon after being rescued by the ship British Sceptre. Macdonald, Thomas Lewis, and James Cotter, the three survivors, were most kindly treated on board the British Sceptre, which landed them, on Dec. 6, at St. Helena. Thence they left in the Nyanza for Southampton, touching, en voyage, at Madeira, whence the foregoing particulars of the lamentable calamity have been telegraphed to England.

We learn from the mansion House that the Lord Mayor will receive subscriptions in aid of the dependent relatives and families of those who have perished.

Burning of an Emigrant-Ship

From the Illustrated London News of January 9, 1875.

The terrible disaster at sea on Nov. 18, which was related in our paper of last week, is still the topic of much sorrowful comment and discussion. An official despatch from the Governor of St. Helena to the Earl of Carnarvon, Secretary of State for the Colonies, is dated Dec. 10, four days after the arrival there of the ship British Sceptre, with three survivors only of this dreadful misadventure. These persons, whose sufferings have been of the strangest extremity, but whose lives have been preserved, are Mr. Charles Henry Macdonald, of Montrose, who was second mate of the unfortunate vessel; Thomas Lewis, of Anglesey, who was the quartermaster; and a youth of eighteen, Edward Cotter, an ordinary seaman, from the Chichester training-ship. They arrived last week in London, and their evidence has been taken in an official from by Dr. Isaac Featherston, Agent-General here for the Government of New Zealand, and in another official inquest, held at the Custom-House, by Mr. J.C. Stockton, Receiver of Wrecks for the Port of London.

The particulars of this melancholy story are known. The Cospatrick sailed from London on Sept. 11, bound for Auckland, New Zealand, with 429 emigrant passengers, and a crew of forty-four men, officers and sailors. At midnight on Tuesday, Nov. 17, fire broke out in the fore part of the vessel. She was then in latitude 37 deg. 15 min. S., and longitude 12 deg. 25 min. E., several hundred miles west-by-south of the Cape of Good Hope. The officers and crew failed to put out the fire, and the ship, having no steering way on her, got her head to the wind, so that the conflagration quickly ran aft. The boats first lowered full of people were capsized and sunk, with all in them, eighty persons in one boat, mostly women. Two life-boats kept afloat, with thirty-two people in one and thirty in the other. The port life-boat was in charge of Mr. C. Romaine, chief mate; the other life-boat was under Mr. Macdonald. What became of the former has not been positively ascertained. The two boats parted company in a gale on the 21st. Mr. Macdonald's life-boat contained twenty-three passengers, thirteen seamen, the baker, a boy and the emigrant's cook. They saw the ship sink, on the afternoon of the 19th, with those who remained on board. The master, Captain Alexander Elmslie, had thrown his wife and child and himself into the sea, with Dr. Cadle, the surgeon, when there was no more hope of saving the ship.

The boat carrying Mr. Macdonald and his companions was picked up, on the 27th, by the British Sceptre, of Liverpool. All but five of the thirty in that boat had died of hunger and thirst and exposure. There were no females in this party. They had no food, no fresh water, no mast or sail, and but one oar. A girl's petticoat was rigged upon the oar for a sail, which enabled them to go before a southerly wind. Some of them went made before they died. It is horrible to learn that, before the survivors were relieved, they were obliged to suck the blood and eat the livers of several of their dead companions. Two of the five, one a passenger, the other a sailor, named Robert Hamilton, died on board the British Sceptre. They were all treated most kindly by Captain Jahnke, the master of the ship, and by the officers and crew of the same. It is thought just possible that the other life-boat may have reached the lonely islets of Tristan d'Acunha, where there are a few settlers of English race. H.M.S. Sappho was sent from the Cape de Verde Islands, on the 6th ult., to look after this chance. But two steamers have arrived at Madeira-one from the Cape of Good Hope, the other from St. Helena-which bring no news of the escape of more lives. The latest date from the Cape is the 16th ult.

The fire is supposed to have begun in the boatswain's locker, which contained ropes and oakum, cotton waste, tar, paint, and oils; near this were several casks of fat, and some kerosine oil; in the forepeak were seventy tons of coals; and there were about forty tons of spirit on board.


Our illustration of the Cospatrick is from a photograph by Mr. F.C. Gould, of Gravesend, taken just before she sailed from the Thames. She was a sailing-ship, of 1220 tons burden, 190 ft. in length, 34 ft. in breadth, and with 24 ft. depth of hold. She was built of teak, at Moulmein, British Burmah, in 1856, and was first employed as an Indian troopship, but passed into the hands of private owners, and was used for the coolie trade to Demerara. After belonging to the late Duncan Dunbar, she was purchased by Messrs. Shaw, Savill, and Co., of Lombard-street, who have contracts with the New Zealand Government for the conveyance of emigrants to New Zealand. This was her second voyage in that service.

The New Zealand Government emigrants on board were chiefly of the agricultural-labourer class, from the midland and eastern counties; they consisted of 177 adult males, 125 women, 58 boys, 53 girls, and 16 babies; and there were also four independent passengers. The emigrants were taken on board from the New Zealand Government Agency's dépôt at Blackwall. The portraits of Captain Alexander Elmslie, of Mrs. Elmslie, and of their little boy, four years old, will be regarded with painful interest. That of Captain Elmslie is from a photograph by Mr. Lonsdale; Mrs. Elmslie's by Mr. F.C. Gould of Gravesend; and that of the child, by Mr. T. Monk, of Gravesend. There are two children surviving, little girls. It is to be hoped that these orphans will receive some benefit from the mansion House Fund, to which the New Zealand Government Agency has subscribed 1000, for the relief of those left destitute by the burning of the Cospatrick. We shall give the portraits of the three survivors in next week's publication.

The Cospatrick Disaster

From the Illustrated London News of January 16, 1875.

The burning of the New Zealand emigrant-ship Cospatrick, on Nov. 18, in the ocean south west of the Cape of Good Hope, with the awful loss of 474 lives, is not to be soon forgotten. All the facts known of this terrible affair, from the statements of the only three survivors, have been related in our last two weekly publications. The portraits engraved for the front page of this Number are those of the men referred to, whose photographs were taken by the London Stereoscopic Company. They are, Henry or Charles Henry Macdonald, second mate of the Cospatrick, who belongs to the Scotch seaport town of Montrose; Thomas Lewis, a Welshman of Anglesey, forty-six years of age, who served in the Cospatrick as able seaman; and Edward Cotter, a lad of eighteen, who is the son of a gardener at Kensington, but who was trained in the Chichester for sea service, and has already been in New Zealand. He was going out, working his passage, to join a brother of his in that country. Not one of the emigrant passengers, of whom 429, men and women, embarked in September at Blackwall, escaped the destruction of the vessel and subsequent loss of her boats. Thirty men, as has been told, got away in one of the two life-boats, under Macdonald's command, but all except Macdonald, Lewis, and Cotter died of hunger and thirst. When their boat was picked up, ten days after the burning of their ship, the survivors taken by Captain Jahnke on board the British Sceptre were five; but two of these died before reaching St. Helena.


The three remaining men, so wonderfully saved alive out of nearly five hundred, were brought to England last month by the mail-steamer Nyanza, Captain W.R. Dixon. This fine vessel, one of the dozen which are the Union Steam-Ship Company's fleet, was on her way from the Cape of Good Hope. She took on board at St. Helena the survivors of the Cospatrick disaster, and conveyed them to Plymouth, with 130 other passengers and the mails. Having stopped at Madeira, her news from St. Helena, containing the first report of this sad event, was telegraphed to England, on the 26th ult., by the Brazilian submarine line. The Nyanza made her run home from Madeira to Plymouth in four days and a half. This vessel, shown in our Illustration, is a very handsome screw-steamer of 2128 tons, with compound engines of 1500-horse power (effective). She was built by the Thames Ironworks Company, and the engines were made by Messrs. Gourlay Brothers, of Dundee. Her passages to and fro have been the fastest known. The last outward to the Cape, including calls at Madeira and St. Helena, was effected in twenty-three days eighteen hours. This homeward passage, including stoppages to the amount of forty hours at St. Helena, Ascension, and Madeira, occupied twenty-five days eight hours; but it has been done in twenty-three days seventeen hours. The distance from the Cape to Plymouth is 5975 miles.


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