The Wreck of the Steamer “Stella”

’Twas in the month of March and in the year of 1899,
Which will be remembered for a very long time;
The wreck of the steamer “Stella” that was wrecked on the Casquet Rocks,
By losing her bearings in a fog, and received some terrible shocks.

The “Stella” was bound for the Channel Islands on a holiday trip,
And a number of passengers were resolved not to let the chance slip;
And the hearts of the passengers felt light and gay,
As the “Stella” steamed out of the London Docks without delay.

The vessel left London at a quarter-past eleven,
With a full passenger list and a favourable wind from heaven;
And all went well until late in the afternoon,
When all at once a mist arose, alas! too soon.

And as the Channel Islands were approached a fog set in,
Then the passengers began to be afraid and made a chattering din;
And about half-past three o’clock the fog settled down,
Which caused Captain Reeks and the passengers with fear to frown.

And brave Captain Reeks felt rather nervous and discontent,
Because to him it soon became quite evident;
And from his long experience he plainly did see
That the fog was increasing in great density.

Still the “Stella” sailed on at a very rapid rate,
And, oh, heaven! rushed headlong on to her fate,
And passed o’er the jagged rocks without delay,
And her side was ripped open: Oh! horror and dismay!

Then all the passengers felt the terrible shock,
As the “Stella” stuck fast upon the first ledge of rock;
And they rushed to the deck in wild alarm,
While some of them cried: “Oh! God protect us from harm.”

Then men clasped wives and daughters, and friends shook hands,
And unmoved Captain Reeks upon the bridge stands;
And he shouted, “Get out the boats without delay!”
Then the sailors and officers began to work without dismay.

Again Captain Reeks cried in a manly clear voice,
“Let the women and children be our first choice!”
Then the boats were loaded in a speedy way,
And with brave seamen to navigate them that felt no dismay.

Then the “Stella” began rapidly for to settle down,
And Captain Reeks gave his last order without a frown,
Shouting, “Men, for yourselves, you’ll better look out!”
Which they did, needing no second bidding, without fear or doubt.

Then the male passengers rushed to the boats in wild despair,
While the cries of the women and children rent the air;
Oh, heaven! such a scene ! ’twas enough to make one weep,
To see mothers trying to save their children that were fast asleep.

Brave Captain Reeks stood on the bridge till the ship went down,
With his eyes uplifted towards heaven, and on his face no frown;
And some of the passengers jumped from the ship into the sea,
And tried hard to save their lives right manfully.

But the sufferings of the survivors are pitiful to hear,
And I think all Christian people for them will drop a tear,
Because the rowers of the boata were exhausted with damp and cold;
And the heroine of the wreck was Miss Greta Williams, be it told.

She remained in as open boat with her fellow-passengers and crew,
And sang “O rest in the Lord, and He will come to our rescue”;
And for fourteen hours they were rowing on the mighty deep,
And when each man was done with his turn he fell asleep.

And about six o’clock in the morning a man shrieked out,
“There’s a sailing boat coming towards us without any doubt”;
And before the sailing boat could get near, a steamer hove in sight,
Which proved to be the steamer “Lynx,” to their delight.

And they were conveyed to Guernsey without delay,
Poor souls, with their hearts in a state of joy and dismay;
But alas! more than eighty persons have been lost in the briny deep,
But I hope their souls are now in heaven in safe keep.

Disaster in the Channel

Passenger Steamer Wrecked

Great Loss of Life

It is with the deepest regret that we announce that a terrible disaster has overtaken the London and South-Western Railway Company’s passenger steamer Stella, engaged in the Southampton and Channel Islands service. During a dense fog on Thursday afternoon she ran on the Casquets, and foundered in 12 or 15 minutes. The exact loss of life is not yet known, but it is feared that the list of victims of this calamity may reach a hundred.

The Stella was one of three steel twin-screw steamers built for the London and South-Western Company by Messrs. J. and G. Thomson (Limited), of Glasgow, and delivered in 1890, the companion ships being the Lydia and the Frederica. The design of all three was substantially the same, the gross register of each being 1,059 tons, and the principal dimensions as follows:- Length, 250.0ft.; breadth, 35.1ft.; depth, 14.8ft. All were lighted throughout by electricity, and complied with the Board of Trade requirements as to life-saving appliances. In each case triple expansion engines were fitted, the average speed attained in service being 18 knots, and the three steamers have been extremely popular, the masters and officers being men who have had long acquaintance with the navigation of the English Channel. Although the precise number cannot at present be stated — owing to the fact that it is not the practice to book the names of passengers on such short services — it is believed that the Stella was carrying about 140 persons to the Channel Islands, the journey being the first daylight trip of the season. Captain Reeks, a skilled and trusted seaman, was in charge, and the crew numbered 40 all told. The steamer left Southampton at 11:45 on Thursday morning, no fewer than 110 of the passengers having travelled from Waterloo the same morning by special train. Fog was encountered in the Channel, and it increased to such an extent that, although the fog-horn attached to the lighthouse on the Casquets could be heard, the rocks were invisible. Speed was not, however reduced. The Casquets, well known to all travellers to the Channel Islands, form an isolated group of rocks which rise abruptly from the water, and constitute the mariner’s last warning mark on the journey from Guernsey to England, being situate about eight miles W. of Alderney and 23 miles N.E. of Guernsey. The highest point of the group is surmounted by a powerful flashing light visible in favourable weather 15 miles.

At four o’clock in the afternoon, when it was supposed by the navigating officer that the Casquets were about eight miles to the east, the Casquets suddenly loomed out of the darkness, and immediately afterwards the Stella struck the rock amidships. No panic ensued, but the master saw that the steamer had run upon one of the sharp ridges of the shoal, and was fast sinking. He ordered the five lifeboats which hung suspended from the davits and the two Berthon collapsible boats secured on the shade deck to be got ready and launched with all possible speed. The instruction was promptly obeyed by the crew, but the Berthon boats took a little longer to get out than the others. Women and children were first put into the boats, Mr. Wade, the chief officer, seeing that the captain’s orders were carried out, the male passengers and crew following, Captain Reeks remaining all the time at his post on the bridge. The sea was calm, but there was, as usual, a big swirl on the rocks.

It was impossible for all on board to leave the vessel before she slipped off the rock, and sank stern foremost in deep water, her boilers at the same moment exploding with terrific force. One of the survivors, who got away in the dinghy, states that from the moment  of striking to the disappearance of the Stella barely ten minutes had elapsed, and none of the survivors puts the time at more than 15 minutes. The suction produced by the sinking ship was very great, and the crew of the dinghy momentarily feared that their craft would be engulfed. Five of the boats were soon lost to sight in the fog, but the sixth, filled with ladies, was taken in tow by the dinghy, the occupants of which used the oars in turn. They rowed on all night until most of them dropped asleep from exhaustion.

A second boat, which was in charge of the chief officer, capsized, and almost all its occupants were drowned. A few, however, were picked up by the other boats, which were then laden to the water’s edge. Between five and six o’clock yesterday morning the Great Western Railway Company’s steamer, Lynx, on her journey from Weymouth to Guernsey, came upon the scene, and rendered assistance. She stopped and picked up two boat-loads of passengers, 35 in all, and conveyed them to Guernsey. Owing to the fog the incoming Great Western boat from Weymouth, due at St. Heliers, Jersey, at 8 o’clock on Thursday evening, did not arrive at that port until 1 o’clock yesterday morning. She, however, had heard nothing of the, disaster. The Dora, another South-Western packet, arrived at Jersey direct from Southampton about noon yesterday and reported having passed two other boats which had contained 35 passengers and nine of the crew. In addition to the South-Western Company’s steamer Honfleur, various Alderney boats received orders to proceed to the neighbourhood of the wreck. The South-Western Railway Company’s new steamer Vera, which left Southampton on Thursday at midnight, arrived at Guernsey at 9 o’clock yesterday morning with 40 more survivors, including 20 ladies, whom she had picked up near the scene of the wreck. In addition to those landed at Guernsey, some of the rescued were taken on to Jersey by other vessels, but it is calculated that not many more than 100 have been saved out of double that number on board.

The disaster created the greatest excitement and consternation in the Channel Islands and in Southampton. Many Guernsey families have lost one or more of their members, and the South-Western Railway offices were yesterday besieged by anxious relatives and friends of those aboard the illfated steamer. Flags were at half-mast in St. Peter Port.

The Honfleur last night returned to Guernsey from a search at the scene of the-wreck. The captain stated that the Stella must have sunk in 13 fathoms. He says he signalled the Casquets lighthouse— ” Have you seen or heard of a vessel wrecked?” and the reply came “Yesterday afternoon heard steamer.” The captain replied:— “I shall stay about and see if I can pick up anything from wreck.”

The captain then made a complete circle of the Casquets, picking up several life belts, and two boats containing ladies’ wearing apparel, handbags, money, jewelry, opera glasses and case, the latter having been used for baling purposes. Mr. Spencer, the Guernsey manager of the South-Western Company, telegraphed early yesterday morning to Alderney requesting a boat to be sent to search for any survivors. This boat afterwards returned with nothing to report.

Some very pathetic incidents are reported in connexion with the wreck. A lady . who had ; come over from Southampton with her husband and child to visit her father states that she and the child were pressed into a boat by the husband, who refused her entreaty to be allowed to stay with him, begging her to go for the sake of the children. He remained behind and. perished. The bereaved woman expresses her surprise and admiration at the calmness an courage displayed by every one on board. She noticed a lady friend of hers gathering up luggage and a little boy arranging his toys. These both perished immediately afterwards. Another lady has lost her husband and her only child, the husband having pressed her into a full boat, just missing it himself. Among the missing is a sister of one of the most popular clergymen on the island. One lady who lost her husband and child is reported to have since lost her reason and is driving about the island looking for the missing ones. Apparently every effort was made to save life, belts being distributed broadcast.

The Times, 1st April 1899

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Comments (1) »

  1. Evelyn Jepson
    In the year 2017, on the 15th day of January at 2:28 am

    one of the passengers a little boy of 7 years, survived this tragedy, and went on to marry and have 5 children of his own. He married a cousin of mine. They lived in British Columbia, and he is buried there.

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