Ships & Wrecks

Wreck of ‘The Royal Adelaide’

Source: Illustrated London News, 7 th December, 1872.

“The loss of the Royal Adelaide, bound from London to Sydney, which vessel was wrecked on the western side of Chesil Bank, the narrow isthmus of Portland, on the evening of Monday week, has been mentioned as the most grievous disaster caused by the late gales. The persons drowned were Mr. Powell, the chief mate, Mrs. Fowler, Rhoda Bennion, and Catherine Irons, female passengers, Edwin Ruddock, and John Edwards. A gentleman from Weymouth, Mr. Hamilton Williams, who saw the ship go ashore, has sent us a sketch, with the following description of this terrible scene:-

“With two companions I set out by the five p.m. train from Weymouth for the Chesil Beach, hearing that a large ship-rigged vessel had been seen all the afternoon in the bay with apparently small chance of escape. Arriving at Portland, we ascended the Chesil Beach, and found the coastguard in full force, burning blue lights to attract the notice of the ill-fated ship. Far to leeward we could occasionally discern a glimmering light, and we set off in its direction along the beach as fast as we could run. Presently a blue light flashed up from the vessel, whose outline we could just see, blurred and dim, through the driving scud. Almost as we came opposite her she drifted broadside on to the beach, despite of her anchors, which found no holding-ground. Fearfully she heaved and rolled in the awful sea. It seemed as if the delivering rocket was never going off on its message of help; but at last, straight as an arrow, away it sped right through the rigging of the helpless vessel, which we made out to be a large ship-rigged craft of apparently 1500 tons. The cradle was rigged, and the coastguard worked like more than men. The passengers and crew were hauled ashore. Through the boiling sea came one after another, grasped long ere they reached the shore by the friendly arm of some stout seaman. Then we began to learn that they had women and children on board, and the fear that the ship might break up before all were saved grew more intense. The first mate had already been drowned, madly trying to jump, unaided, from the ship. A woman too was drowned, falling overboard. The men lighted a tar-barrel and put it so as to throw as much light as possible upon the scene of work; and many blue lights were kept burning, giving even a better light than the barrel. Soon, with an awful lurch to seaward, the mainmast went by the board, the mizen topmast having already gone. In a few minutes it was seen that the ship had split right in two, a little abaft the mainmast… Once commenced, the work of destruction was not long, though still the cradle was going to and fro, and still there remained others to be saved. These were all congregated astern; and when the last two or three were already in the cradle, about to try their fate, as many others had happily and successfully done before them, the rope broke, they fell into the cruel surf, and were seen no more. The ship now began to disgorge through her riven side the cargo she contained; and bales, boxes, crates, and casks drifted ashore in quick succession. Then we left the shore, seeing the ship a hopeless mass of shattered wood; and I do not think that any one of us there will ever forget the impression made on us by the wreck of the Royal Adelaide.”

An official inquiry, ordered by the Board of Trade, has been commenced at Weymouth.”