18 Maritime Disasters other Than the Titanic

This drawing of the collision of Bywell Castle and Princess Alice appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1878. Wikimedia

2. SS Princess Alice sank while in sight of its pier

SS Princess Alice was ten years old when the London Steamboat Company purchased the paddle steamer to operate it as an excursion boat on the Thames River in 1875. In September 1878 the vessel embarked on what was billed as a moonlight cruise, beginning at Swan Pier in London, cruising to Gravesend, and returning to its embarkation point. There were planned stops during the cruise, for passengers to disembark if they desired. At all points of the trip the vessel was within sight of land, and for the most part within reach of piers, wharves, docks, and waterside steps. Shortly before eight o’clock, Princess Alice, which was moving against the ebbing tide, collided with the collier Bywell Castle.

Princess Alice was sliced in two by the heavier collier, and the remains of the steamer sank in less than five minutes, with hundreds of passengers unable to escape below decks. The area of the Thames where the vessel sank was polluted from the effluence of raw sewage. Crew from Bywell Castle attempted to rescue those they could, as did observers from the banks of the river, but over 650 passengers of the vessel who set out on an excursion that evening died in the accident. A board of inquiry placed the blame for the disaster on the captain of the excursion steamer, finding that the vessel was undermanned and operated unsafely by its master, who died in the waters of the Thames that night.