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SS Dacca at The Red Sea Wreck Project

The S.S. Dacca was a steel screw steam-powered passenger cargo ship of 3,909 GRT built by A & J Inglis at their Pointhouse Shipyard (Yard No. 165), No 250 Ferry Road, Glasgow, Scotland, for A.Gray & E.S.Dawes, Glasgow. Launched on 25 November 1881 and completed on 18 March 1882, she was 390 feet in length, 43.6 feet in beam, and 27.6 feet in draught and was Brigantine rigged with 3 decks and 6 cemented bulkheads. Her bridge deck was 152 feet in length and her foc’sle was 50 feet in length Propulsion was provided by a compound steam engine provided by the builders which consisted of 2 inverted cylinders of 48 & 87 inches diameter respectively with stroke of 54 inches for an output of 500 nhp. She had accommodations for 75 1st-Class passengers, 32 2nd-Class passengers, and could carry up to 300 passengers in the ‘tween decks.

The early years of the ship’s history is a bit vague but it is generally accepted that the ship sailed between England, India, and China. Research indicates that the S.S. Dacca was operated by the British India Steam Navigation Company from the time of her launch until May 1885 when the ship was sold to British India Associates Ships (B.I.A.S.), which was the B.I. line for service to Australia. Some sources state that the ship was also owned by the British India Steam Navigation Company. However, the owners at time of launch, as already stated above, was A. Gray & E.S.Dawes, Glasgow. No information concerning the sale of the Dacca to B.I. has been located to date.

The Dacca made a number of voyages between the United Kingdom and Australia carrying immigrants and cargo starting from 1884. Below is a list of the ship’s passages to Australia listed by year. Dates of return passages to the United Kingdom have not been located as of yet.

17 January          Departed London, England
06 March            Arrived Cooktown, Queensland, Australia
09 March            Arrive Mackay, Queensland, Australia

Date Unknown    Departed London, England
19 January          Arrived Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Date Unknown    Departed London, England
03 March            Arrived Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
05 March            Arrived Mackey, Queensland, Australia
05 March            Arrived Bowen, Queensland, Australia

05 June              Departed London, England
20 July               Arrived Townsville, Queensland, Australia
21 July               Arrived Bowen, Queensland, Australia
21 July               Arrived Mackey, Queensland, Australia

Date Unknown    Departed London, England
20 July               Arrived Townsville, Queensland, Australia
22 July               Arrived Bowen, Queensland, Australia
23 July               Arrived Mackey, Queensland, Australia

30 September      Departed Glasgow, Scotland
08 December      Arrived Townsville, Queensland, Australia
10 December      Arrived Bowen, Queensland, Australia
11 December      Arrived Mackey, Queensland, Australia
14 December      Arrived Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
17 December      Arrived Maryborough, Queensland, Australia

23 January          Arrived Moretown, Queensland, Austrailia

Date Unknown    Departed London, England
07 November      Arrived Townsville, Queensland, Australia
09 November      Arrived Bowen, Queensland, Australia
11 November      Arrived Townsville, Queensland, Australia
12 November      Arrived Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
14 November      Arrived Maryborough, Queensland, Australia

Date Unknown    Departed London, England
27 March            Arrived Townsville, Queensland, Australia
29 March            Arrived Bowen, Queensland, Australia
30 March            Arrived Mackey, Queensland, Australia
01 April               Arrived Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
03 April               Arrived Maryborough, Queensland, Australia

26 June               Departed London, England
12 August            Arrived Townsville, Queensland, Australia
13 August            Arrived Bowen, Queensland, Australia
14 August            Arrived Mackey, Queensland, Australia
17 August            Arrived Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
21 August            Arrived Maryborough, Queensland, Australia
13 November        Departed London, England
30 December        Arrived Townsville, Queensland, Australia

02 January            Arrived Bowen, Queensland, Australia
03 January            Arrived Mackey, Queensland, Australia
06 January            Arrived Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
11 January            Arrived Maryborough, Queensland, Australia

29 April 1890                 Departed London, England…..

SS Dacca at The Red Sea Wreck Project
On 29 April 1890, the S.S. Dacca departed London, England under the command of Captain Dugald Stuart (LT., RNR), a trusted employee and experienced Mariner of B.I. for over 13 years, and the Dacca’s first and only Master. The destination of this particular voyage was Queensland, Australia, a voyage that the ship had made numerous times in the past as listed above. Onboard the ship were 91 European crewmembers and 464 passengers, which partially consisted of 250 young single women bound for Australia as domestic servants.

Captain Stuart was known as a stickler for details, with orders to his officers being given orally, repeated by the receiving officer, and written into the ship’s log. Each relieving officer was also required to review and sign these orders as well. Needless to say, Captain Stuart ran a “tight” ship.

The passage from London to Port Said was uneventful, with an early port call at Gravesend and again at Naples. The ship cleared the Suez Canal at 0020 on 15 May in calm, clear weather, and continued on her journey southward.

At 0318 Shadwan Island was found to be 3 miles distant off the starboard beam. The Master increased the ship’s speed to 12.5 knots and altered the ship’s course with the intention of clearing the Brothers Island 5 miles to the west.

By 0800 the light at Brothers Island could just be seen bearing South-by-1/4-South. At 1000 Captain Stuart altered the ship’s course to bring the ship as near to Brothers Island as was safely possible in order to acquire an exact “Fix” of the ship’s position and record it on the navigation chart. He then set a course of 146-degrees which would appear to place the ship on a collision course with Daedalus Shoal, which was still many miles distant. The Captain, the experienced mariner that he was, was expecting the sea currents to set the ship and place it approximately 5-miles to the west of the Daedalus Shoals.

At midnight, 14 hours later, the ship’s log entry make notice that the Brothers Island light is still in view. This is odd because, using Dead Reckoning, the ship should have been much further along on its course than it was. The Brother’s light is only visible for 14 miles. If the light was still in view, this would mean that the ship was travelling, or drifting rather, at around 3/4’s of a knot, not the 12.5 knots which the Captain had ordered.

At midnight the Officer of the Watch was relieved by the Second Officer and at 0015 Captain Stuart went to his cabin to write the night orders. Included in the night orders was an order that the Captain be contacted at 0515, or when the Daedalus light came into view, whichever occurred first. These were then reviewed and signed by the Second Officer who also consulted the navigation chart.

The Captain returned to the bridge at 0045 with additional instructions for the Second Officer to pass on to his relief, First Mate James Tait, to take azimuth and amplitude bearings. The Captain also reiterated his order to be contacted at 0515 or when the Daedalus light came into view.

Daedalus Light at The Red Sea Wreck Project
The First Mate came on watch at 0400 and verified that course and speed had remained unchanged. The Second Officer returned to the bridge to remind Mr. Tait concerning the Captain’s orders, whereupon he departed the bridge. Mr. Tait, an experienced mariner who also held a Master’s certificate and a commission in the Royal Navy Reserve, would later testify at the Board of Enquiry, that he did contact Captain Stuart at approximately 0515 and informed him that the Daedalus light was not in sight. To be sure, Mr. Tait asked the Captain if he was awake to which the reply was “Yes” and an order was given to take an amplitude bearing and to contact the Captain when the light was sighted.

At 0530 the First Mate took the amplitude bearing and then retired to the chartroom to work the figures. Upon returning to the bridge 15 minutes later he found Daedalus light approximately 1/4 point off the port bow. James Tait later stated at the Enquiry that he thought the lookout had reported the light while he was in the chartroom. The First Mate immediately contacted Captain Stuart and provided the results of the amplitude bearing. In later testimony he stated that Captain Stuart made some comment about currents at which time the First Mate returned to the bridge. Upon arriving back in the bridge, Tait saw that the Dacca’s course would put her onto the Daedalus shoal dead ahead. At 0602 Mr. Tait changed heading 3-degrees south. Captain Stuart was not contacted or informed of this change of course. At 0620, the ship’s course was changed by 1 degree further south. No change in the ship’s speed was ordered during this time. With the ship moving at 12 and a half knots, and Daedalus rapidly approaching, the First Mate altered course to the south by another four degrees….but this was too little, too late.

The ship struck the Daedalus Shoal at 0630 16 May at such an angle that the ship did not run hard aground. The helm was ordered hard over to port and the engines were slowed. Captain Stuart arrived on the bridge approximately 2 or 3 minutes later. During later testimony he would testify that he was not aware of having been contacted by the First Mate, but indicated that it was possible that he had been. Once on the bridge, Captain Stuart saw Daedalus light off the port beam approximately 1/4 mile away. This was verified by the 5th Officer and an Able Seaman who was the lookout on watch at that time. The Second Officer stated the distance to be between 1/4 and 1/2 mile.

Captain Stuart then ordered the engines to all-stop and gave the call to prepare lifeboats. Upon inspection it was found that the ship’s forward hold was taking on water and had over 6-feet in it. Lifeboats were then lowered and an orderly evacuation of the ship began.

In the words of a Mr. Kevin Morris, a passenger onboard at the time:
“on the morning of May the 16th 1890 on this day, the ship filled with British Migrants struck the Dodalus Reef in the Red Sea and foundered, although there was no time to save Cargo or personal luggage, (no life was lost in the ordeal) and the behavior of the people on a whole was good, and the behavior of the single women was excellent, though the end result would have been disastrous had not the Russian Ship (Palamcotha) been close by…”

During the evacuation, the rudders and engines were cycled in such a way as to “twist” the ship so that she faced the reef. Two awnings were installed underneath the ship’s hull in an effort to reduced the amount of incoming water. Captain Stuart then maneuvered the ship so that the bow was close to the reef in order to allow many of the male passengers to leave the ship.

The flooding throughout the shipped appeared to slow down until it was found that there was also water flooding into the ship’s aft holds. Captain Stuart, in a bid to beach the ship to prevent her sinking, ordered engines full ahead and raced towards the reef. When the Dacca struck the reef she just bounced off.

The S.S. Rosario came into sight at approximately 0715 and provided much assistance in rescuing the remaining passengers onboard the ship. However, she was small a ship unable to take on many passengers during the rescue. As a result, the Rosario’s crewmembers not needed during the rescue manned their own lifeboats until all of the Dacca’s passengers had been rescued and safely delivered to the reef. Some sources state that all of the cabin luggage was saved, in some cases these were all of the passenger’s worldly possessions, other sources contradict this.

Meanwhile, the Dacca was sitting away from the reef, and just before 1100 was “observed to go down in very deep water”.

The S.S. Rosario remained on station until attracting the attention of the passing Palamcotta (another BIAS ship). The two ships then transported all of the passengers to Suez where the crew of the Dacca returned to England, and the passengers awaited follow-on transportation to Queensland.

The Board of Trade Enquiry:
From 27 to 30 June 1890, the formal investigation into the loss of the S.S. Dacca was conducted at Westminster, presided over by Mr. R.H.B. Marsham, with Captains Parish and Ward. Their findings decided that the loss of the ship was due to the unskillful navigation of Mr. James Tait, the First Officer. As a result, his Master’s certificate was suspended for a period of 12 months.

In comments reserved for the ship’s Master, it was determined that they could not entirely exonerate him of all fault. Stating that the Captain should have left “peremptory instructions” to ensure that he was on the bridge when the ship neared Daedalus shoals (even though these orders had been given more than once and were entered into the ship’s log and night orders!).

In final statements from the Board:
“The Court consider that great credit is due to the Master, officers and crew for the good discipline kept after the vessel struck, and for the expeditious manner in which the large number of passengers was safely landed on the reef, and subsequently transferred to other vessels without a single casualty of any kind.”

The Passengers:
Although information varies from source-to-source, We’ll take a quote from Mr. Kevin J. Morris who was a passenger onboard the Dacca at the time of her sinking:

“all the passengers and the crew were rescued and were to be disembarked at Suez, fortunately another British Ship was in Suez, She was the S.S. Taroba which had left London on June the 3rd 1890 and was enroute to the Australian colonies as well, and its Captain was A. Morris, its Surgeon superintendent was one Thomas Hickling, the Matron was one Mrs Tyrons, and owing to the representations of Thomas Hickling, the S.S, Dacca’s passengers were not disembarked at Suez, for the City was rife with disease (cholera) and the Master of the “Palamcotha” The Russian Ship was persuaded to keep the passengers of the ship wreck S.S. Dacca on board at Suez until arrangements could be made for them to go directly onto the S.S. Taroba this ship was carrying 200 passengers and had to accommodate another 260 passengers, finally the S.S. Taroba left Suez on June the 15th 1890, one man died in Suez from disease, and his wife and another young woman decided to return to London.

Although it was not the scheduled route for the S.S. Taroba the ship called in at Rockhampton Queensland to offload passengers which would have disembarked in Queensland Ports further to the North, The S.S. Taroba finally arrived in Brisbane on July the 22nd 1890.

On the matter of compensation every adult passenger was required to list all items lost and value them. The Surgeon Superintendent and the Matron discussed each list with each passenger from the S.S. Dacca, “Ball Dresses trimmed with lace not being considered necessary to the outfit of a domestic servant plus expensive jewelry, solid silver cups, and silver table service, all of which should have been declared and freight paid on them were not allowed for, one man valued his loss at 220 Pounds but cheerfully took 120 Pounds, nearly 5000 Pounds in compensation was paid, claims for unjust compensation were made, however as reported by the immigration Officer to the Colonial Secretary on the 30-7-1890 asking for compensation for services performed in the loss of the S.S. Dacca, the grounds for asking for compensation being for the extra work, anxiety, and the mental strain, as well as having the journey increased by one half.”

Signed by Kevin. J. Morris.
Dated the 16-4-86.


About Author

Lee has been in the marketing industry for the last 15 years and now specializes in teaching marketing techniques to people in the scuba diving industry. He is founder of Dive Media Solutions which, in addition to providing complete marketing, media, communications and IT solutions exclusively for the scuba diving industry, also produces The Scuba News. You can connect with Lee via Twitter by following @DiveMedia

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