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"The Princess Alice Disaster 1878 " Topic

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Tango0116 Nov 2016 9:56 p.m. PST

"It is strange that some disasters, such as the loss of the Titanic in 1912, live on in the popular memory while others of comparable magnitude in terms of loss of life, such as the sinking of the liner Empress of Ireland after a collision in the St. Lawrence in May 1914, have been largely forgotten. The Empress of Ireland sinking did however claim 1012 lives as compared with 1514 in the Titanic disaster, almost exactly the same percentage, 68%, of those on board in both cases.

This line of thinking occurred to me when I recently visited the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and was struck by a contemporary model, as shown here, of the collision of the paddle steamer Princess Alice with the collier Bywell Castle in the Galleons Reach section of Thames Estuary on September 3rd 1878. Though the accident occurred close to shore the death toll was in excess of 650. I find it strange that such a huge disaster, which occurred practically in London, and which claimed the lives of so many of its citizens, would be totally absent from popular memory and that it has not figured, as far as I know, in any novel, movie or television production (especially taking into account the British fixation on costume dramas).

The Princess Alice was a 219-foot, 171-ton, paddle steamer built as the Bute in Greenock in 1865 for ferry service on the Scottish west coast. She came south two years later, where she was renamed for service as an excursion steamer on the Thames estuary, under a succession of owners. At this time excursions downriver from London were popular outings for a growing urban population that was enjoying increased if modest prosperity…"


Full article here


Part time gamer17 Nov 2016 3:27 a.m. PST

Like most, I too had never heard of either the Empress of Ireland nor the Princess Alice disaster. The Princess Alice made only sadder as you mentioned it was 'practically in London' itself.
Granted compared to modern communications, organized and practiced rescue procedures, those that witnessed the disaster, no doubt were left to make due with the resources they had at hand.

I can only think the great loss of life aboard the Princess Alice was primarily due to the rapidity with which the ship may have sank, giving the survivors little time to save themselves.

As a display its magnificent, sad its too such a tragedy, yet as a result thankfully they were not 'completely' forgotten in history.

We should never forget; For each life lost in the world, 'that' person meant 'the world' to someone.

B6GOBOS Inactive Member17 Nov 2016 6:18 a.m. PST

Thank you for the post. Most interesting. I have heard of and read about the Empress of Ireland I had never heard of the Princess Alice.

Bob the Temple Builder17 Nov 2016 7:39 a.m. PST

The Princess Alice disaster took place near Woolwich on the River Thames. A memorial to those who died can be found in the local cemetery.

One of the problems with the location of the disaster was that it took place near the outlet of London's Southern Outfall Sewer. In other words, the passengers who ended up in the water were actually swimming in water that was heavily polluted with untreated sewerage!

As an aside, the disaster is referred to in the TV series RIPPER STREET. Although it took place at a different time, it is the sinking of the Princess Alice that is the reason why Inspector Reid's daughter is missing.

Tango0117 Nov 2016 11:42 a.m. PST

Glad you enjoyed it my friend!. (smile)


Personal logo javelin98 Supporting Member of TMP17 Nov 2016 7:14 p.m. PST

I've read about this before, but never in such excruciating detail.

I think one of the reasons the Titanic disaster is remembered over ones such as the Princess Alice, the General Slocum, the SS Sultana, or the SS Eastland, is that there was such hoopla surrounding the launch and maiden voyage of the Titanic and so many wealthy elites aboard. It created a sensation in the way that the other disasters couldn't, since they didn't have any Astors, Guggenheims, or Strauses that died during their tragedies.

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