The Foundering of the Steam Ship Hibernia
Captain Munro, in his narrative of the melancholy occurrence, states that the Hibernia left New York on Saturday afternoon, 14th Nov 1868, at three o'clock, with 133 souls on board including 59 of a crew, all told. When leaving New York, a pretty stiff breeze was blowing, but it was by no means severe, till the day before the accident (which ultimately caused the loss of the fine steamer) occurred. The accident to be afterwards described took place on Tuesday 24th Nov., ten days after the Hibernia was at sea.
On Monday, the 23d, there was a heavy gale of wind from the south-west, which caused the vessel to labour, but it was not till Tuesday morning, at two o'clock, that the event so fatal to many took place. At that time the screw shaft broke in the stern pipe, and the screw consequently getting loose damaged the sternpost of the steamer, to which the rudder is attached. The "pipe" itself was also damaged by the then unconnected screw, and the result of both of these most untoward circumstances was the ingress of large volumes of water into the after part of the vessel. A heavy gale was still blowing. During the whole of Tuesday the crew and others were engaged in throwing cargo overboard to lighten the ship, and the engine and other pumps were kept going, but the effect produced was not material.
While all this was going on, the passengers behaved admirably. No scenes, no consternation; everything was done decently and in order. On Tuesday night, the course was changed to north west, and on Wednesday morning the situation became so critical that at four o'clock all the boats were lowered. Long before this, however, all the after-hold was flooded with water, and the Hibernia seemed to be rapidly sinking - indeed there was, when the boats were lowered, ten feet of water in the after-hold. All this time the engine-pumps and the hand-pumps were going. We had five boats on board - three life-boats and two quarter-boats. At six o'clock on Wednesday morning, we commenced to embark the passengers in the boats.
A certain number of ladies were appointed to occupy each boat along with a proportion of the crew. At seven o'clock all the crew and passengers were in their appointed places. The water in the Hibernia was at this time increasing very rapidly, but still there was no alarm; all was done quietly. The ladies were lowered into the boats by a rope attached to their waists, and the transference from the large steamer to the small boats was effected in the utmost silence. The captain says the passengers went down as if it were a forlorn hope - they seemed as if leaving the ship to go to the bottom - there was no excitement, but the utmost tranquility and resignation. As stated already, the passengers and crew were drafted into the different boats, which were brought round to the lee of the steamer. No. 1 lifeboat, was under the command of Captain Munro; No. 2 lifeboat, chief mate; No. 3 lifeboat, second mate; starboard-quarter boat, third officer; port-quarter boat, the boatswain. The captain saw all on board before he left. He was the last to leave, and that was at ten minutes past seven o'clock on Wednesday morning.
After getting about a quarter of a mile from the sinking ship she went down, not unexpectedly, stern foremost. This occurred at twenty minutes past seven o'clock. Up to this very moment the engine pumps had been kept going. They were working when Captain Munro left the foundering ship, as the depth of water in the engine-room was so great that the engineer could not get down to stop them. When the Captain left the Hibernia the top of the poop deck was in the water. So far as possible each of the boats was equally provisioned, but no one, passenger or sailor, saved a single article of clothing except that which was hurriedly donned. As indicating what was generally secured in the way of provisions by all the five boats, Captain Minro states that on board of his boat he had two barrels of biscuits, three small breakers of water, each containing fifteen or twenty gallons, with a few preserved meats. At about half-past seven o'clock the chief mate's boat, containing thirty-three persons capsized. The wonder is that such was not the case with all the five.
At this time the Captain's lifeboat was about a quarter of a mile from that of the chief mate, and owing to the gale then blowing, and the crowded state of his boat, Munro was unable to render any assistance, though he saw his fellow -creatures perish almost under his eyes. So critical, indeed, was his own condition that he had to keep two men working at buckets, a couple more being busily engaged playing hand-basins to keep the boat afloat. To lighten her the occupants had even to throw overboard one of the barrels of biscuit and some of the ladies threw off their shawls and outer coverings to enable the boat to keep her buoyancy. As regards those in the chief mate's boat, the captain is of the opinion that none of the thirty-three were saved.
On Wednesday evening - that of the day on which Captain Munro left the Hibernia - he and his companions in No. 1 lifeboat were picked up about seven o'clock by the ship Star of Hope, Captain Talbot from Quebec to Aberdeen. Having been considerately cared for, Captain Munro suggested to Captain Talbot that a look-out should be kept for the other boats. Captain Talbot agreed and lights being hoisted, a look-out was kept, when the boatswain's boat was described between eleven and twelve at night, and the occupants fortunately rescued. A heavy gale still prevailed at this time, but the weather shortly afterwards moderated considerably. The search for the other two boats was continued by the Star of Hope, but after cruising about for thirty hours, Captain Talbot gave up the then fruitless task, and bore on his course. The two boats rescued contained altogether 52 persons, leaving a total of 81 out of 133, which the Hibernia contained, drowned, or missing. On Sunday morning at eleven o'clock Captain Munro was landed from the Star of Hope, near to John O'Groats, from which, as we have stated, he arrived last night. The rescued crew and passengers were carried on to the destination of the Star of Hope, and it is expected that they will arrive in Glasgow to-day or to-morrow.
When the Hibernia went down she was 700 miles to the West of Ireland, her position being lat.53 20 long.29. W, and the boat steered S. E, as they had to run before the gale. That course would have taken them to the nearest port in Ireland. The two boats still missing may have been picked up by vessels going to New York, or the West Indies. If rescued by any ship going to the Indies it may be a month or two before they are heard of; but if by any vessel to New York news of the rescue will arrive much sooner. Unless, however, they are overtaken almost immediately after leaving the foundered Hibernia, but faint hopes can be entertained of their safety.
Previous to Captain Munro leaving the Star of Hope in the Pentland Firth on Sunday he was presented by the rescued passengers with the following address:- To Captain Munro. Dear Sir, - " As we are going to bid you farewell, many of us perhaps for life, we deem it our duty to tender you our warmest congratulations on your narrow escape from the perils that so lately encompassed you, as also to testify our appreciation and heartfelt gratitude for the heroic efforts you made to rescue us all from a watery grave. Under the most adverse circumstances, when our ship was about to sink, and a strong sea threatened our inevitable destruction you succeeded by your indefatigable energy, in launching all the lifeboats, and getting all your crew and passengers away in safety, when with little more delay or less energy and care we might now be all swallowed in the deep abyss. The boat of which you had charge, and in which most of the undersigned had the good fortune to sail, surmounted every danger, until an Almighty Providence came to our aid, and gave us in charge to another vessel styled by an appropriate coincidence, The Star of Hope - (to the humane and hospitable Captain Talbot and his crew we owe a debt of unbounded gratitude) - our position seemed all but hopeless; and to you, under God, we attribute our safety. Never shall we forget your gallant conduct on that trying occasion. From the beginning of the voyage your kindness and affability endeared you to all; but raising equal to the occasion, evincing coolness in the midst of agitation, and cheering us all by your fraternal manner and Christian fortitude, your merits are beyond all praise we can convey in words. Please then, to accept our best thanks, the humble tribute which alone it is in our power this moment after shipwreck to bestow. We pray God to grant you His choicest blessings, and we earnestly hope that you will be long spared to ennoble the cause of humanity and Christian resignation, and guide and cheer your fellow-creatures through many a trial and bereavement. As we cannot forget the late dismal scenes through which we have passed and must ever thank God for His great mercy to us on that occasion, so also your memory shall ever be fondly entwined therewith, and we shall ever feel bound to supplicate Heaven for your temporal and eternal welfare."
From all that can be learned, this unfortunate occurrence, resulting in what may now be presumed to be a most lamentable loss of life, simply occurred from the accidental breaking of the screw shaft, with its attendant consequences, in a heavy gale. The Hibernia was built by the Messrs. Stephen in June, 1865, and her tonnage was 1615.
The following board is a complete list of the passengers on the Hibernia:-
Cabin - Mr. G. Mason, Glasgow; Mr. A. Mason, Glasgow; Miss A. Rogerson, Liverpool; Catherine Boyle, Derry; Mr. J. C. Forbes, Glasgow; Mrs. E. Morell, Glasgow; Ann Webb, London; Mr. John W. Bethel, and lady, Glasgow; Mr. Patrick Brewster, Glasgow; Mr. N. A. Olds, Glasgow; Mrs. D. A. Melvin. Liverpool; Mr. J. Robinson, Glasgow; Mr. Bernard McFreely, Derry; Rev. M. O'Connor, Derry; Mr. Josiah Cocks and lady, London.
Intermediate - Miss Martha Campbell, Derry; Mr. Jos. McGorley, Derry.
Steerage - Alexander Cason, Derry; James Irving, Glasgow; Mary Brown, Derry; Eliza Johnstone, Belfast; Thomas McCready, Glasgow; Agnes Nicholson, Glasgow; Ann and Sarah Richmond. Glasgow; Bernard Kernan, Glasgow; F. Rodgers, Derry; John McCormick, Derry; Daniel Flannigan, Glasgow; John Devenny, Glasgow; John Tidley, Derry; George Casey, Glasgow; Anton Monsell, Havre; Patrick Mc Gowan, and wife and infant, Derry; Cornelius Curran, Glasgow; Patrick Cummings, Derry; Charles Boyle, Derry; Charles Sharpe, Derry; James Brislyon, Derry; Peter Grimes, Glasgow; Catherine Myers, Derry; Mary Myers, Derry; Frank Richert, Hamburg; William Mcintosh, Glasgow; Thomas McKinney, Derry; Jas Hill, Derry; John and Catherine Magee, Derry; Ed McGinn, Derry; Charles Divenny, Derry; Wm Smith, Glasgow; Hugh Toner, Derry; Mary Moriss, Derry; Bridget M'Mahon,. Derry; James M'Michael, Glasgow; William Morrison, Glasgow; Eliza M'Michael and infant, Glasgow; Samuel Brewster, Derry; John M'Elhinney , Derry; John and Martha Henderson, Derry; Roger M'Cann, Derry; Mary Mellon, Derry; Francis Kerrigan, Derry; Mary Dines, Derry; James and John Dines, Derry; Thomas Hamilton, Glasgow; Maria Valencia, Belfast; Robert Miller, Derry; John Austin, Derry; Patrick M'Lindon , Derry; Richard Scollen, Derry; Jane Scollen, Derry; Mary McConnachy, Glasgow; Francis Houston, Derry; George Dahr, Hamburg.
As soon as the intelligence of the disaster became known in the city, a number of the relatives and friends of those belonging to the crew, and also of the passengers, were very eager to ascertain the extent of the catastrophe, and also to inquire as to the safety of their respective friends. The news that Captain Munro was likely to arrive by the 6:15 train from the North got abroad, and several persons were there to await his arrival. The office of Messrs. Handyside and Henderson was also visited by many persons, and as the captain left the office, a number of women with tears in their eyes implored him to tell them if their relatives were alive or dead. One woman especially appeared very excited, and when she was assured by the captain that the person near and dear to her was among those that had been saved, the tears flowed copiously down her cheeks, and she could not refrain from invoking the blessing of the Almighty upon that respected officer for having told such good news.
Our thanks to Maria Johnston