Southport Visiter, 0ct 14th, 1858
The loss of the AUSTRIA
Narrative of survivor
The PERSIA has brought intelligence showing the worst fears regarding the ill fated AUSTRIA and her unfortunate passengers are realised.
Only 67 persons of the 500/600 on board are known to be saved.
The barque LOTUS from Liverpool arrived at Halifax on the 26th ult, having on board 12 persons rescued, whom she received from the French barque MAURICE. The MAURICE was bearing away at Fayal with 51 rescued passengers on board.
Among those conveyed to Halifax was Mr Charles BREW, who was proceeding to British Columbia to fill the office of Inspector of Police.
Mr BREW furnished a narrative of the destruction of the AUSTRIA, and it is thus telegraphed from Halifax to the New York Press:-
I took passage at Southampton, on the 4th Sept on the Steamship AUSTRIA, Capt HEYDTMANN, which left Hamburg on the 2nd Sept, we sailed at 5pm, the evening a bit misty. We in consequence anchored between the I.O.M and the mainland and sailed at 4am the next morning. In weighing anchor an unfortunate accident occurred, one of the crew lost his life.
Owing to some miss-management the anchor ran out, whirling the capstan out with terrific force, hurling the men in all directions. Two were severely injured and one killed instantly.
From when the ship laid on her course we experienced strong westerly winds.
On the 12th, the weather was more favourable, on the 13th a speed of 11knots had been attained, all in high hopes of reaching New York on the 18th.
A little after 2pm, I was on the quarter-deck and saw dense smoke burst from the after entrance of the steerage. Some women ran aft, exclaiming, “The ship is on fire,” and screaming, “What will become of us ?”
The ship was instantly put at half speed, at which she contained until the magazine exploded, the engineers were instantly suffocated.
I walked from the quarter-deck to the waist of the ship, when I saw the fire break through the light amidships. As the ship was head to the wind the fire travelled with fearful rapidity.
I then told the man at the wheel to put the vessel with her side to the wind. He hesitated – probably did not understand me, as he was a native of Hamburg. I got a gentleman to speak to him. At this time I saw some persons letting down the boat on the portside of the quarter-deck, what happened of the boat, I don’t know, but think she was crushed under the screw. I then went to a boat over the starboard side of the quarter deck, but the moment we laid our hands on ropes, there were so many people who crowded into it, that we could not lift it off the blocks. We were therefore left for a few moments before the people got out, when we returned and launched it over the side of the ship, when, the people all rushing into it again, it descended with great violence to the water and was instantly swamped, all the people being washed out excepting three, who held onto the sides.
We let down a rope and pulled up one person, who proved to be the steward, another, in the act of being hauled up, was strangled by the rope.
The fire came on too fiercely to attempt to get up any more from the swamped boat. All the first cabin passengers where on the poop, with the exception of a few gentlemen, who must have been smothered in the smoking room. Many of the second class passengers were also on the poop, but a number got stuck in their cabins by the fire. Some were pulled up through the ventilator., but the greater number could not be extracted. The last woman drawn up said, there were six already suffocated.
We now perceived the ship had her head to the wind again, so that the wind came over the quarter-deck. In consequence to the crowd I could not get to the wheel-house to ascertain the reason, but I was informed that the helmsman had deserted the post, and that the vessel, being left to herself, headed to the wind of her own accord.
At this time the scene on the quarter-deck was indescribable and truly heartrending. Passengers were running to and fro, husbands seeking wives, wives seeking husbands, relatives looking after relatives, mothers lamenting the loss of their children – some wholly paralysed by fear, others madly crying to be saved, but a few perfectly calm and collected.
The flames passed so closely upon them that some jumped into the sea, relatives clasped in each others arms leaped over and met a watery grave, two girls, supposed to be sisters, jumped over, and sank kissing each other. A Missionary and his wife leaped in together; and a steward and stewardess arm in arm followed.
One Hungarian gentleman with seven fine children, four of them girls, made his wife jump in, blessed his six eldest children and made them jump in one after the other, and followed them with an infant in his arms.
About this time I was standing outside the bulwarks, holding on by the davits, leaning over to avoid the flames, which were leaping towards me. I saw a swamped boat under me, spinning by a rope still attached to the ship, as the oars were tied on her, I thought if I could get to her I would enable to save myself and others, I let myself down by a rope, passing over a man who was clinging to it, but who refused to come with me. I took out a penknife to cut the tackle, the large blade broke, I then severed it with a small blade.
The ship passed ahead and the screw approached, I found the boat drawn towards it. I tried to keep the boat off, but the screw caught and capsized her over me. I dived away from the ship, and came to the surface near a boat that was keel upwards. I got on her, and by pressing on one side, with the assistance of a wave, she righted, but was still swamped. The oars had been knocked out by the screw. The only thing I could find to paddle with was some laths, nailed together as a sheathing for the sides.
When next I looked around the ship was a quarter of a mile away from me, I could see the ladies and gentlemen jumping off the poop into the water, in twos and threes, some of the ladies in flames.
Several hesitated to jump from the ship till the last moment, as the height was 22ft, and were at length compelled to throw themselves off; to avoid a more painful death.
In half an hour not a soul was to be seen on the poop. I pulled after the ship, and picked up a German who was swimming strongly. I got him beside me in the boat, and we paddled after the ship with the laths.
I now saw a vessel under sail approaching, she reached the steamer about 5pm. We continued pulling towards them; and about half past 7 o’clock, after being 5 hrs in the water, got within hail of the sailing vessel, which put off a boat and took us on board.
She proved to be the French Barque MAURICE, Capt Ernest RENAUD, of Nantes, bound from Newfoundland for the Isle of Bourbon with fish. She had up to that time rescued 40 passenger of the burning steamer, chiefly taken off the bowsprit, though a few were picked up floating around.
At 8 o’ clock one of the metallic lifeboats came up, with about 23 persons, including the 1st and 3rd officers, afterwards 3 or 4 men were picked up floating on a piece of broken boat.
The 2nd officer was picked up after swimming with nothing to float him, for 6hrs.
The 2nd and 3rd officers were severely burned; one male passenger was burned frightfully, and some other male passengers slightly. There were but 6 women saved, three of whom were burned, one in a shocking manner.
Capt RENAUD acted with the utmost kindness. He gave clothes as far as he could furnish them to the suffering passengers, and acted as nurse, doctor and surgeon to the burned people, dressing the wounds of the females, with a delicacy and tenderness that evinced a benevolent and amicable disposition.
I did not see an officer of the ship during the fire, and am certain there was not one of them nor the crew on the poop, except the man at the wheel for a short time. I understand that when the Captain heard of the fire, he rushed on deck without a cap; and when he saw the flames, exclaimed, “We are lost!”
He tried to get out a boat, which, when let down, was swamped, and he, whether accidentally or not I do not know, fell into the sea and was soon left far behind. The 4th officer was in the boat, he cut her loose from the davits; she was carried under the screw and smashed, and several in her drowned.
As before mentioned, 3 to 4 men escaped on a fragment, and were picked up by the MAURICE.
About the same time a metallic lifeboat was let down from the port bow and swamped, but cleared away, with about 33 persons, including the 1st and 3rd officers and several women.
The men in this boat capsized her two or three times in trying to clear her of water. 10 persons were drowned including some women.
They afterwards bailed her out with life-savers cut in two, and pulled to the MAURICE, having picked up some other passengers before reaching the barque, altogether 67 souls were taken into the MAURICE during the night.
A Norwegian barque came up with the steamer the next morning, and a boat was observed going around the burning vessel. They may have picked up a few persons, but only a very few. The MAURICE had no communication with the Norwegian barque.
At about 11am the MAURICE sailed for Fayal to deposit the rescued passengers. At 2 the same afternoon she fell in with the barque LOTUS, Capt TREFY of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia from Liverpool to Halifax.
As I was anxious to get into British Territory, Capt TREFY, kindly gave me passage. He was anxious to take all American citizens, there was such a rush of foreigners into the boats, only 11 could be took off, several were foreigners.
The fire is known to have arisen from very culpable negligence of some of the crew. The Captain and Surgeon considered it expedient to fumigate the steerage with burning tar. The operation to be performed by the Boatswain, under the superitendence of the 4th officer.
The Boatswain heated the end of a chain to dip into the tar to produce smoke. The chain became too hot to hold, and he let it drop on the deck, to which it set fire. The tar upset, and immediately all about was in flames. A feeble attempt was made to extinguish it without effect. There was nothing to hand to meet the emergency.
The rescued passengers had but the clothes on their backs, and even the greater part of theses were torn off, or otherwise lost.
600 souls where supposed on board, including many women and children.
Mr BREW was the only British Subject to survive.
The following statement by Theodore G. GLAUBENSKLER has also been telegraphed from New York :-
At about quarter past 2pm on 13th Sept, being in my state room, I heard the cry of, ‘fire’. Hastening on deck, I saw flames breaking through the middle deck. The Captain was trying to get the people out of the 2nd boat, on the port side, to have it lowered. I hastened to the fore deck to help the people from the boat. After a few minutes I turned round to the quarter deck but could not get through the fire.
I remained in the forecastle, the ship all this time going onward against the wind; with the assistance of a sailor, I cut down the jib sails to throw into the water, to assist us in checking the progress of the fire, but the people on deck did not understand our intention, and merely threw them into the water.
I tried to discover something with which to save the passengers, but nothing could be found. The spars had been thrown overboard, and the buckets, being near the pipe, were all on fire.
In about half an hour the foremast fell , shortly after the mainmast, about the same time the engine appeared to stop. The ship, which thus far had been heading west, gradually turned to the North, finally the North East. Soon after the boiler seemed to collapse, 10mins later the magazine exploded. By the turning of the ship, the flames and smoke drove to the foremast.
The suffering then became too intense, our only hope now being in two vessels seen in the distance; one of these afterwards proved to be the MAURICE, approached us slowly, and the other further off and steering West, took no notice, although she was signalled to do so by the Captain of the MAURICE. Having taken my stand on the starboard side, I gradually advanced forward to make room for others
At about 5, the MAURICE set off a boat, as soon as it came near I jumped into the water and reached it. 7 others were taken in and the boat returned to the barque.
Two boats continued to ply to and from the steamer, picking up who they could until darkness made it impossible to find more of the sufferers.
Soon after sunset the 1st officer and a dozen others came to the barque, having saved themselves in the life boat.
Later some Swedish sailors came in part of a boat, and Mr BREW and a German in part of another boat.
Mr GLAUBENSKLER’S account of the origin of the fire coincides with that of Mr BREW in every particular.
When Captain WATERS of the PRINCE ALBERT, ascertained that 12 of the AUSTRIA’S survivors had arrived, he kindly offered all a free passage, and detained the steamer for the purpose of them to embark. 10, availed themselves of his generosity and sailed for New York at 5 on the 26th.
The freight of the AUSTRIA was exceedingly valuable, and consisted of the most part, costly silks, satins and velvets, intended to supply the winter trade.
The insurance on the vessel is £70,.000 and will nearly cover the loss, she was insured in Europe, chiefly Hamburg and London. The insurance on the cargo is uncertain. The total value supposed not less than 400,000 dollars and may have been 450,00 or 500.000 dollars.
Copyright 2002 / To date