Liverpool Journal, 22nd June 1850

Wreck of the steam ship ORION


On Monday afternoon the splendid steam vessel ORION, Capt HENDERSON, sailed from Liverpool to Glasgow, owing to her great repute and admirable accommodation, passengers generally gave her preference, on this occasion she was more than usually full of cabin passengers, many having arrived on Sunday on the EUROPA, many on the way to Scotland, returning from Liverpool, or on a visit to friends. Among them several children boys and girls going home for the summer vacation, one of these the daughter of Mr PUGH of Paisley without an attendant. The number of cabin passengers 115, steerage 45, with a crew of 40, total 200.

The weather was favourable, the passengers pleasure bent were full of spirits and gladness. As night closed in many had retired to their berths, by 1am only four passengers plus the crew were on deck. The vessel was in the charge of the 2nd Mate, the 1st Mate and the Captain having retired. A vessel going from Liverpool to Glasgow may adopt one of two channels, the Antrim, narrow and short, but where danger lies and the Galloway, less narrow but takes more time.

This being the one taken, when the current is strong the sailors hug the shore, the current being strong on Tuesday, this course being so daringly adopted.

The morning was calm and clear, the water placid like a lake. Daylight was breaking, all were repose, all apparently secure within. 150 yards offshore the vessel struck a rock, 200 yds past the lighthouse at Portpatrick.

The sleeping passengers were startled, the 2nd Mate hurriedly summoned the Captain on deck, the alarm was instant and terrific.

The passengers gave different accounts of their sensations, the majority at first in no hurry to leave their berths, some took time to dress, those dressed rushed on the deck.

The conduct of the Captain was faultless, on deck in only his night shirt, he tried to prevent panic, informing the people if they remained quiet there was no danger.

He ordered the boats, three of them, to be lowered, some of the crew liberated the life-boat and seemed to fill her as she left for shore. The other boats one on either side of the vessel, were rushed to by the passengers, as they swung over the water people were getting into them, mostly men, till a cry, “The Ladies” was raised. The men abandoned one boat for the ladies but remained in the other. In the confusion and panic the ropes of the boats were cut, one end before the other, which gave way, throwing the people on the boat into the water, except to or three who held on to the seats., the boat then turned keel upwards and several persons jumped on it.

The third boat was more fortunate, but in the selfishness and confusion, was pushed off before she could receive a quarter of the people she could accommodate.

Mr William MOSS, of the firm Messers MOSS and Co, Water St, retired about 12.30 am, when the vessel struck he was on deck in an instant. He saw a man at the helm and the crew stood in groups on the deck, consulting their own safety. He asked what was the matter, but got no reply. He saw the mate coming out of the berth, he said nothing. He went downstairs to warn two companions a Gentleman and a Lady, he returned to the deck and saw the crew had launched the life boat, he jumped into it and saw it was full of sailors and firemen. Several people had jumped into the water, expecting to be taken on the boat. Mr MOSS besought the crew to take them up, their heartless reply was, “We will be damned before we risk upsetting the boat, they must wait till we send boats from the shore for them.” They then pushed off and never returned to the wreck.

Mr MOSS was delighted to see two boats pass them and others preparing to follow. It is extraordinary that Mr GILLESPIE who lives in the village and happened to be out on the lane, seeing the vessels he new they would run on the rocks, and raised the alarm before the vessel struck. In consequence several fishermen jumped up, and it was their boats on the way to the vessel that passed Mr MOSS. Mr MOSS returned to Liverpool on Wednesday evening. His arrival was the first intimation received by Mrs MOSS of his safety, his telegraph despatched from the FENEILA never arrived.

In the presence of great danger the instinct of self-preservation becomes a selfishness, this does not appear to have occurred on the wreck, nor any excess panic. When the Captain assured the passengers, the ladies betrayed a wonderful composure and firmness. Acts of great courage and nobleness are numerously recorded.

Those to few who could swim showed a usefulness in their own power and remained on the wreck to the last moment, hoping to be of use to others. The vessel was going at great speed when she struck and the fore part came first in contact with the rock, the momentum carried her onward and she fell ultimately on the protruding rock at a point under the machinery, the stern was instantly under the water, then elevated out of it. The Engineer instantly turned off the steam, but the influx of water at once, extinguished the fire, and soon reached the cabins, the last passengers who arose found themselves up to their knees in water.

The passengers were not long in apprehending danger was imminent. The boats having departed the passengers committed themselves to anything that would float, some ran up the rigging, the great body of passengers crowded to the stern. Wives searched for husbands, husbands for wives, children searched for mothers, mothers for their children. There was no undue clamour, but a resolute effort for safety, or a religious resignation to their inevitable fate.

George THOMPSON of Glasgow, a survivor says, “ My wife and I were on the deck as the vessel went deeper and deeper into the water, the water covering the bulwarks at the bow, the heel of the deck coming greater and greater, I felt little hope, all was over, I clasped my wife to my breast, resigned to our fate. At my wife’s suggestion we went to the stern of the vessel at the larboard side. I laid hold of a belaying pin and placing my wife between my breast and the bulwalk held on.

I saw a space between the bulwalks and the centre line of the deck filled with a struggling multitude, in the gurgling and seething waters who very soon drowned. A soon as the water reached the companion, the pent up air in the cabin forced off the sky-light and in an instant we were under water, sucked down in the vortex of the sinking ship.

When below I lost hold of my wife and striking out found myself above water, in close contact with one of the stays of the mizen mast, which I laid hold of at once. Within seconds my wife rose up and I grabbed her and we held on to the same rope. I wrapped my legs round the rope, to gain a firmer hold and told my wife to rest herself on my knee, which she did, and I clung on to her. As soon as we were secured the ship gave a heaving lurch to starboard, then to port, over and over again, each time the roll immersed us under the water.

Gradually the lurches decreased and the mast became stationary. I had only my head above water as I supported my wife, afraid to elevate further as the weight would increase.

A sailor above us on the mast, shouted imploringly to a boat to take us off, when the vessel finally sank the quarter deck at the stern was clustered with people, like a bee hive, few were saved as the vortex absorbed them. On the shreds of the mizen mast there were several persons, three women hanging onto one rope.

After half an hour in the water a shore boat came and picked us up, an exhausted lady firstly, then my wife, all supported by the mast were rescued. Then the Captain and another man were taken off the main mast. We proceeded to the shore and were met by a little girl who said we must come to her mammy’s house, they had a nice fire to warm us and we would be comfortable.

Mr MC NEILL of Collonsey, his wife, 2 daughters and 2 sons were on board. His sons escaped, his eldest daughter though alive on reaching the shore, soon died. She was handsome, in all health, and joyous of youth.

Mrs MERRILLES of Liverpool had a little child about 9mths old in her arms when she was overpowered, she sank in the water and on rising her baby was dead and floated away out of her arms. The mother survived and when her dead baby’s body was brought to the house, the scene that ensued maybe imagined, but cannot be described.

A Sailor on board as a steerage passenger says, “The hour was 1.30am, there was no fog, I could see the shore clear and the Clyde on the other side. The distance so short I could have cast a penny from one side to the other. The mate LANGLANDS and I had a struggle who could get up to the top of the shrouds first. Capt HENDERSON was up there to.

The ORION went down in about 7 fathoms of water, I was in the bunk in the forecastle when she struck. The life-boat was hoisted out as fast as possible after the passengers came on deck and I lent a hand a hand to get it out. As the ship settled forward the water rushed over her bows. The passengers then made for the quarter deck as fast as possible. I had one of my feet on the gun wale of the boot alongside that capsized, the tackle I endeavoured to clear away, as she went over I clung to with my left hand to the shrouds and by exertion reached the cross trees of the mast and then got up to the topmast. I think it was 10-15 minutes after she struck before she went down.

The mate of the ORION stated in Glasgow that all persons on board would have been saved, had the passengers not been unmanageable. Mr DEUCHARS who was on board, contradicted him flatly stating all hands would not have been saved as the boats could not have carried away all the passengers at once. The inhabitants of Portpatrick were extremely kind to the survivors, taking them into their own homes and giving them warmth and comfort.

Great calamities bring out cases of heroism, often at extreme points of life. The courage and presence of mind of a young boy, the son of Major DARROCH of Gourock, was offered assistance from his tutor to swim back to shore, he declined the offer, asking his tutor to go back and assist the ladies, happily the young boy succeeded in swimming ashore.

The old steward Mr GRAHAM continued to descend to the cabins for articles essential for the health and comfort of the female passengers until the vessel sank, he was lost.

Mrs NAPIER on seeing the vessel sinking, seized the end of a small rope attached to the rigging which she fastened firmly around her wrist, and finding a piece of timber floating, she managed to lay hold of it and kept herself from sinking for over an hour. She was then picked up by a boat from the shore and was reunited with her husband, who had been picked up previously and landed on the beach.

Capt MC KECHNIE of Greenock, was awakened by the striking vessel and satisfied that the blow would prove fatal, he carried his alarmed lady to the deck. He ascended the mizen mast taking with him his partner in life. As the vessel sank they got to nearly the top of the mast, the Captain now found that the vessel was resting on the sea bed, so lashed them both to the main mast. Some time later a covering of one of the hatchways came floating past them, they both placed themselves upon it, two ladies then came floating up and they to they accommodated themselves on the valuable raft, till the boats picked them all up.

In the moment of great peril a little girl, the daughter of Rev Mr PUGH, was seen clinging to the Stewardess, “You won’t leave me,” she cried, “Never,” replied the Stewardess, and in one moment both sank into the waves.

Nothing could exceed the kindness of the villagers, their houses, larders and wardrobes placed at the survivors disposal, nor should Mr DOUGLAS, the medical man for that place be omitted. He ran from one to the other, giving relief, with kindness, skill and perseverance. The clergymen also offered their services with equal ernest.

Among the passengers was young Master PATON, a nephew of Edward JONES of the firm, Messers Edward JONES and Co, he was on his way home from, King William’s College, I.O.M. He saw a boat pulling off and threw his bag into it, jumped into the water and was pulled up on the boat. The hole in the bottom of the boat was uncorked and water was gushing in, Master PATON, bailed it out with his hat.

He was taken in on shore by a clergyman who gave him his coat, Mr BAIRD then carried the lad to his house, where he discovered that the lad was the grandson of a friend of his father, Sir David BAIRD.

The ORION is a new vessel having been in service for only 3-4yrs on the station and was reckoned one of the finest vessels on the Clyde. She was remarkably swift, frequently making the passage from Liverpool to Greenock in 15-16hrs. Being an iron vessel, 519 tons register built at Greenock in the most substantial manner, into compartments. We can only account her sudden disappearance after being struck, to her speed, this forced the bulkheads from their proper position and being struck bilge-wise, she shelved forward and sank in 15 minutes.

Capt HENDERSON of the ORION is a native of this city, his father commanded a Clyde sailing vessel called the CORSAIR, where at an early age Capt HENDERSON and his brother sailed far and wide and were schooled in the science of seamanship.

Capt HENDERSON had a prominent position in the East Indies Trade, while engaged he attracted the attention of the Glasgow and Liverpool Shipping Co, by whom he was engaged to command the ORION.

It will seem that from the list of passengers that their were several parties from Liverpool, Dr NICHOL of Rodney St was on board he writes:-

“We have lost our Maggy [a child of nine years], we lost her in the dreadful crash, Wife, Donald, [son], Mary, [daughter] and myself are saved by a miracle.”

Mr and Mrs Laurence GLADSTONE were on board with two children [beloved even more than beautiful children are], and their nurse. The nurse and two children drowned.

We have already mentioned that Mr MOSS had two friends on board – The Gentleman seeking his wife disappeared, the Lady clung onto a rope over the steerage, and was saved

Mr Henry ANDERSON of Clifton Park, Birkenhead, his wife and daughter were passengers, and fortunately escaped.

Mr William PRIEST was also a passenger and escaped.

Mr Henry LUMB, Licensed Victullar, Tithebarn St and his brother John LUMB and Mr ROBERTS of Mann St, were also saved.

Mr KELSO a passenger was on his way to Glasgow to be married. Being an expert swimmer he saved the lives of many, then swam ashore. He proceeded to Glasgow and married yesterday. Mr KELSO was also a passenger on the URUGUAY which was burnt at sea.

It would appear impossible that upwards of 150 persons could be saved, if the time between the shock and sinking did not exceed 15 minutes, but we recollect that the ORION, had three masts and the funnel was available as a mast and would preserve nearly 100 persons.

Capt HENDERSON stayed in Portpatrick to give assistance, the police gave him all possible aid. Messers MARTIN BURNS and Co both here and Glasgow, adopted prompt means to obviate, the sad effects of the dreadful affair. They at once despatched steamers and asked those passing to and from Glasgow to call.

The TARTAR Steam Packet, belonging to Messers BURNS, left Bromielaw on Tuesday afternoon, with Mr James BURNS and Capt DOUGLAS, the Marine Superintendent of the company and Engineer. The TARTAR carried clothing, blankets and provisions for the survivors, and likewise a number of coffins for the drowned. The FENELLA Steamer from Belfast to Fleetwood was hailed on Tuesday morning and took off several passengers. A Steamer from Liverpool with diving apparatus was sent from Liverpool, and much property was raised.

The ship is ,made wholly useless, lying with a fourth of her funnel above water, the storm will inevitably break her up. Possibly a portion of her machinery maybe got out, but it is questionable it would pay the cost. She is insured for £14,000 but cost £30,000.

The passengers and crew of the ORION

MI'S from Portpatrick Old Graveyard in Wigtownshire, concerning some of those lost in the "Orion" disaster of 1850

Copyright 2002 / To date