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The Sinking of the Waesland

The Times Saturday March 8 1902 - transcribed by Howard Mathieson April 2006

The Times Saturday March 8 1902

The Sinking of the Waesland

As briefly reported in the times of yesterday a disastrous collision occurred at midnight on Wednesday off the Anglesey coast between the American liner Waesland from Liverpool to Philadelphia with passengers and a miscellaneous cargo, and the steamer Harmonides belonging to messers. R.P. Houston and Co., Liverpool, homeward bound from the River Platt with a general cargo. The Waesland with 32 Cabin and 82 steerage passengers and a crew of 89, left the Mersey on Wednesday afternoon. A dense fog prevailed in the Mersey channel and the progress that the steamer had made was so slow that it had only reached the Anglesey coast by midnight. About 45 miles west-south-west of Holyhead the weather was so thick that it was impossible to see more than a few yards ahead. The Waesland was proceeding very slowly when suddenly the Harmonides was not seen approaching in the fog. The distance between the two steamers was so short that there was no time to alter course of either or take any means to prevent a collision, the result being that the bows of the Harmonides crashed into the Waesland amidships. For the moment a scene of confusion followed in both vessels. The Harmonides after the shock of the impact backed out but rebounded again onto the Waesland, which, it was at once apparent, had suffered such extensive damage that she could not keep afloat. Water poured into her through the great gap in her side, and she gradually began to settle down. Fortunately, the sea was calm, but the dense black fog which enveloped the steamer was more than sufficient to have unnerved the most resolute of those on board. Immediately after the collision there was much screaming among the female passengers, who were mostly Scandinavian emigrants, and considerable confusion prevailed. But there was nothing approaching panic and the coolness of the officers and crew did much to reassure the terrified passengers. Orders were at once given to lower the boats and while this was being done as expeditiously as possible an unfortunate accident occurred resulting in the loss of two lives. While No.1 lifeboat in which had been placed 12 passengers, was in the act of being lowered the stern slipped from the davits and left the boat hanging in a perpendicular position. All on board were thrown into the sea with the exception of one man, whose head got crushed against the side of the boat and received injuries which proved instantly fatal. He was named Dangerfield and it is believed belonged to Texas. All the persons who fell into the water were rescued with the exception of a little girl named Emmett, stated to be the daughter of a clergyman. It is conjectured that she was crushed between the boat and the steamer, for in reaching the water she immediately disappeared and her body was not recovered. All the other boats, 10 in number, were safely launched with the passengers and crew on board. In the fog the Harmonides had disappeared, but the whistle and signals showed that she was standing by a short distance, and as speedily as possible all the passengers were transferred to her.

Within 20 minutes after the collision the decks of the Waesland were awash, and it was apparent she could not float much longer. Captain Apfield the commander, and his officers, left the vessel not a moment too soon as they were only a short distance from her side in a boat when a terrific explosion announced her boilers had burst. She immediately careened over, plunged widely and sank. The passengers and crew, were unable of course to save any of their belongings, and the majority got away with what they stood up in. Many, in fact, were very scantily attired, as they had retired for the night long before the collision occurred. Many rushed on board with only a blanket wrapped round them and the majority had only a handkerchief wrapped for a head covering. On board the Harmonides all were treated with the greatest kindness and consideration, and everything was done to make the unfortunate voyagers as comfortable as the circumstances would permit. For a time there was much anxiety as to the condition of the Harmonides herself. A careful inspection showed that she was in no danger of sinking notwithstanding the fact that she had two great holes in her bows through which it was possible to see the cabin lights. The water had poured in the forepeak, but the collision bulkheads prevented it from reaching the engines or boilers. Such repairs as could be effected to ensure her safety were carried out as speedily as possible, and the vessel then continued her journey to Liverpool. Progress was necessarily very slow and no vessel was sighted until near the Anglesey shore when a pilot boat was hailed. Her skipper was informed of the disaster and directed to send word by telegraph to the American and Houston companies of what had occurred and also the intimation that the Harmonides was proceeding toward the Mersey. The telegrams were dispatched to Liverpool after 6 o’clock, and tugs were at once sent off to met the disabled steamer. Owing to the fog which still prevailed, however, her progress was very slow and the Harmonides did not reach the landing-stage until nearly 4 o’clock yesterday morning, some 28 hours after the collision occurred. Every preparation had been made by the representatives of the American line for the accommodation of the shipwrecked passengers, and the landing-stage refreshment rooms were supplied with refreshments and other comforts, for which all appeared very grateful. The Waesland was a vessel of 4,752 tons gross and was 435 feet long. She was taken over by the American line in 1883, and Captain Apfield had commanded her for several years. The Harmonides which know lies in the Huskisson Dock, Liverpool left the river Plate with a general cargo on January 29 and called at Teneriffe on February 27.

S/S Waesland as the Russia (Cunard Line) [Illustrated London News 1867]

Passengers Narrative of the Disaster

A young American Commercial traveller who was a passenger on the Waesland recounted some exciting experiences. He Said: - I was preparing to retire for the night, and was almost undressed when the first crash came. But this did not alarm me; I simply thought the engines were rather suddenly reversed. But I soon had good cause for alarm, as the state room steward came rushing in and breathlessly advised me to leave everything and come on deck as the vessel was struck. I did not need a second warning and having put on some very necessary clothing I bolted upstairs where I found the passengers running hither and thither panic-stricken with fear. The officers and crew behaved with extraordinary coolness which I think was most commendable, because I knew what ocean travel was, having crossed eight or nine times, and I must admit I felt considerable nervousness when I discovered what had happened. For the most part I think the passengers, I think behaved heroically, and they gallantly made way for the women and children and assisted them into the first two or three boats which were reserved for them. There were some distressing scenes, some which I will never forget as long as I live. One Gentleman, a brewer from Kansas, with whom I had had a pleasant chat during the day before and found to be a most agreeable fellow, appeared to be fearfully excited and I saw him make frantic efforts to scramble into one of the first boats to be lowered. Poor fellow! He had a weak heart and I was half prepared for what eventually happened. Just as he jumped from the deck of the Waesland the ships boat tilted, and he missed his footing and fell on his head in the bottom of the boat. they tell me that he never rose, and when he was examined he was quite dead. His wife and four children a girl aged 15, three boys aged 12, 18 and 20, were aboard and their distress at this shocking incident on top of the other troubles was distressing to see. The eldest boy also met with an accident having two fingers smashed and his back wrenched, while the little girl was injured as well. In less than half an hour after the first impact we were all off the sinking vessel and being rowed to the Harmonides. But there were several little mishaps before we were safely lodged on her. I came off in the last boat and we rescued from the water three men, one of whom was the second officer of the Waesland, a German and an Englishman. I am told that a little girl who fell into the water in getting into one of the boats was drowned. It is a very sad story all through, but I think we ought to be thankful that so few lives were lost.

A Young man from Preston, a plumber by trade, was bound for Philadelphia in the lost steamer. He stated that: I was in bed at the time of the collision and long after a whole had been made in the side of the ship that was carrying him he was sleeping soundly in his berth. He was awakened by the call from the steward. ”Come on all of you and leave your luggage.” Needless to say a second call was not necessary and he quickly rushed on deck leaving all his property behind him. By the time he had reached the deck there was only the last two boats out of eight to be lowered. He took his place in the seventh. The fog was very thick at the time and after rowing in the direction taken by the other boats the little party soon awoke to the fact that they were out of sight of any lights or other boats, and apparently lost. Their distracted cries s brought no response and their position seemed to be worse than ever, when to the relief of all flickering lights were spied thought the tick curtain of fog. The prow of the boat was at once pointed in this direction and when it arrived sufficiently close it was seen that the stern end of the vessel was sinking and it was realized they were rowing to the unmanned craft. The course of the boat was at once changed, but before the Waesland was again hidden in the fog there was a movement on her port which denoted she could float but a few seconds more. She began to gradually settle on her port side and then suddenly with a lurch disappeared beneath the waves. As she went down and the water gained access to the boilers they burst with a deafening crash. There was a huge upheaval of water and then all was quiet.

Many other passengers who were interviewed spoke in the highest possible terms of the coolness of the officers and crew of the Waesland while in many quarters special praise was given to the firemen, who pluckily stuck to their posts until the whole of the passengers had been removed and they received their orders to take their places in the last boat. The purser of the Waesland had a narrow escape of losing his life. He was in his room in that portion of the vessel which was struck by the bows of the Harmonides and the broken plate of that vessel’s stern actually crashed into the room

With reference to the report in their Shipping Intelligence referred to the Times of yesterday, Lloyd’s have issued the following correction: - The report of our summary of yesterday that the steamer Waesland, Liverpool for Philadelphia, arrived and sailed from Queenstown, March 6, was erroneous.

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