3rd July 1883

SS Daphne sinks upon launch, killing 124

“A disaster unparalleled in the history of shipbuilding,” was how the London Evening Standard of 4 July 1883 described the sinking of the SS Daphne.

As the paper explained, “A small steamer named the Daphne, 500 tons, built for the Glasgow and Londonderry Steam-packet Company, was being launched from the shipbuilding yard of Messrs Stephen and Sons, Linthouse, near Glasgow. At half-past eleven o’clock the vessel moved off when the dogshores were cleared away; but when she took the water she showed a tendency to heel over… as she fell over upon her side a great many of the men who were on the upper deck could be seen clinging to each other, and grasping at the rails, chains, or any of the deck fittings that could afford a hold. There were but a few cries for help, the disaster occurring so suddenly. In a few minutes she had gone clean out of sight in the middle of the river, and nothing could be seen but the men struggling in the water.”

Hundreds dead

“There is no official record of all who were in the Daphne when she went down the slips, and it would be unsafe to take the account furnished by the dead yielded up by the river as being complete,” wrote the Glasgow Herald of 4 July. “But the absence of the breadwinners from homes in Govan and Linthouse will tell their own tale, and before many hours are over a fairly accurate list of those who have been lost will probably be compiled.”

That list eventually extended to 124 people, with just 70 of those onboard saved. It took several weeks for the last of the bodies to be recovered. The number of people onboard for the launch contributed to the capsizing, according to the subsequent report on the disaster.

Boat turned over

The following day’s edition of the Western Daily Mercury reported that the boat had turned right over as it entered the water, “sinking deck downwards, and burying, as it were, in one gigantic coffin, the unsuspecting occupants of her decks… of the six bodies first recovered two were found by dragging the river, and the other four were found attached to various parts of the vessel, such as the mains, etc. The first body was taken out about half-past one this afternoon and it proved to be that of a man of middle age. From the expression of the features the poor fellow must have struggled hard for his life.”

“It is expected that most of the bodies of those who were working between decks when the disaster occurred will be brought to the surface very shortly, but there will be more difficulty in reaching the bodies of the poor fellows who were working in the engine room and cabins, and they will probably have to remain where they are until the vessel is raised and pumped,” said the Sheffield Independent, the day after the disaster.

Official report

The official report into the disaster, compiled by Sir Edward J Reed and presented to the Houses of Parliament, laid blame for the disaster on the amount of weight aboard the steamship at launch.
Several of the victims were buried at Glasgow’s Craigton Cemetery, where a memorial was erected two years later.



Other events that occured in July

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