5th April 1876

The River Dee ferryboat disaster

Torry, on the south bank of the Dee, was connected to central Aberdeen by a ferryboat. Lacking an engine or sails, the boat was hauled from one bank to the other by a metal cable that ran beneath the water line. This was the cause of a disaster that killed more than 30 passengers.

Boat overloaded

The boat was packed, carrying more than twice the number of passengers it was licenced for. Under the headline “Appalling Boat Accident”, the following day’s London Evening Standard reported that “in the early part of the day the overcrowding of the boats was with difficulty prevented; but as the hours advanced the people got more unmanageable until it was almost impossible to maintain order. About half past three o’clock a rush took place to one of the boats, which became so overloaded that the gunwhale touched the water. The boatsmen refused to proceed until some of the passengers of the boat alighted; but before anyone could disembark certain persons in the middle of the boat seized the machinery and set it in motion.” Moreover, the river was high and the current was strong and, “when the craft reached mid-stream it met the full force of the strong ebb current and was immediately swamped.”

What might not have been obvious was what was happening underwater, where the cable, which had slackened, was suddenly pulled tight, and snapped. The boat was already listing, and this caused it to turn over completely, throwing the passengers into the water.

Boat turned over

“A few managed to get on to the keel, but the boat heeled over, and all were swept off,” wrote a reporter in the Dundee Courier the following day. “The catastrophe was seen by many hundreds, but the whole affair was done in less than two minutes. Five boats were instantly manned, and put off from the Torry side, and many were rescued, but the men state that they saw the bodies of many swept down the river by the torrent about four feet below their boats without being able to save one of those who were below the water. Owing to the current, the bodies swept past faster than the boats could row.”

Although over forty were rescued, 32 died through drowning.



Other events that occured in April

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