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British Industrial History

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SS London

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SS London was a British steamship which sank in the Bay of Biscay on 11 January 1866. The ship was travelling from Gravesend in England to Melbourne, Australia, when she began taking in water on 10 January. With a total of 239 persons plus a great deal of cargo on board, making the ship overloaded and unseaworthy, only 19 survivors were able to escape the foundering ship by lifeboat, leaving a death toll of 220.

The SS London was built in Blackwall Yard by Money Wigram and Sons and launched on the River Thames on 20 July 1864, and had a 1652 ton register.

From 23 September 1864 she undertook sea trials and on 23 October 1864 started her first voyage to Melbourne via Portsmouth and Plymouth. During the voyage a boat crew was sent to locate a man overboard, but this boatcrew was lost, and later rescued by the Henry Tabar. The London arrived in Cape Town on 5 December 1864 and set sail again on 7 December. She arrived in Melbourne on 2 January 1865.

On 4 February 1865 she left Melbourne for the return trip to London with 260 passengers and 90,000 ounces of gold, and she arrived back in Gravesend on 26 April 1865.

A second trip to Melbourne started at the end of May 1865, and she arrived on 4 August. She departed on 9 September 1865 for the return trip with 160 passengers and 85,440 ounces of gold. She arrived back in London in November 1865.

The final voyage of the SS London began on 13 December 1865, when the ship left Gravesend in Kent bound for Melbourne, under a Captain Martin, an experienced Australian navigator. The ship was due to take on passengers from Plymouth, but was caught in heavy weather, and the captain decided to take refuge at Spithead near Portsmouth. The London eventually docked in Plymouth where passengers embarked, setting sail for Australia on 6 January 1866.

The SS London left Plymouth on her third voyage to Melbourne on 6 January 1866 carrying 263 passengers and crew, including six stowaways. On the third day out while crossing the Bay of Biscay in heavy seas the cargo shifted and her scuppers choked, forcing the vessel lower in the water where she was swept by tremendous seas. Water poured down the hatches extinguishing her fires and forcing the captain to turn about and return to Plymouth. In so doing he headed into the eye of a storm. On 10 January, after a considerable buffeting over several days, a sea carried away bodily the port life boat; then in at noon another sea carried away the jib-boom, followed by the fore topmost and main royalmast with all spars and gear. On 11 January, a huge sea crashed on deck, smashing the engine hatch, an avalanche of water entering the engine room putting the fires out. On 12 January, the London her channels were nearly level with the sea.. The boats had been swamped as soon as launched, and at the last moment the only successful effort was made, the port cutter getting away with nineteen souls on board, but only three being passengers. When the boat was a hundred yards off, the London went down, stern first. As she sank, all those on deck were driven forward by the overpowering rush of air from below, her bows rose high till her keel was visible and then she was ‘swallowed up, for ever, in a whirlpool of confounding waters’. Helpless as she was in the raging seas the London took with her two hundred and forty-four persons. The nineteen people who got away in her cutter were the only ones saved. They were picked up next day by the barque Marianople and landed at Falmouth

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