The screw Steam-ship Royal Standard in collision with aniceberg on the home voyage from Melbourne

The screw Steam-ship “Royal Standard” in collision with an iceberg on the home voyage from Melbourne. 1856. Source: Illustrated London News. Click on image to enlarge it.

Article in Illustrated London News on the preceding page

A curious point about this near shipwreck appears in the fact that the steam engine, which might have enabled the vessel to escape the iceberg quickly or altogether, was not fired up at the time of the incident. It seems not to have been particularly powerful, since the article below mentions that once the ship was under steam — after waiting more than an hour to acquire enough steam pressure — it still limped along and needed the remaining sails for propulsion. Although the Royal Standard is described as a “screw Steam-ship,” it clearly represents the early days of steam when a ship should be seen as a hybrid whose propulsion came from both wind and coal-produced steam. [The paragraph divisions have been added.]— George P. Landow

We have been favoured by Captain G. H. Dowell, commander of tbe screw steam-ship Royal Standard, one of the White Star line of Australian packets, refitting at the port of Rio de Janeiro with the sketch from which our Engraving is made, and with an extract from his logbook describing this perilous adventure. It was on the homeward voyage, from Melbourne to Liverpool, on the 4th of April, when the vessel was in latitude 54 deg. 40 min. south, and longtitude 145 deg. 77 min. west, which to somewhere about midway between Melbourne and Cape Horn, in the South Pacific Ooean. Our readers may recollect that the Himalaya and other homeward-bound vessel in the earlier months of this year had found those seas beset with icebergs, of which an Illustration was not long since engraved in this Journal; but the Royal Standard had a very near escape of being dashed to pieces against one of those formidable floating masses which in the summer of the Antarctic summer are frequently drtached from the frozen waters of the South Pole, and drift into the high way of Australian navigation.

The weather wes hazy at eleven o'clock in the morning; the vessel was sailing with a fresh breeze from the north-west, ten knots an hour; her steam engines, therefore, were not at work, and her screw-propeller was raised, while she made use of the favourable wind. Suddenly she ran into a dense fog. The look-out man reported that she was in broken water, and immediately afterwards saw a large iceberg on the right hand, close under her starboard bow. The captain instantly had the helm put hard a-starboard, called all hands, and braced the yards sharp up, thus bringing the ship alongside of the iceberg instead of running into it, as she would otherwise had do, for it was impossible to stay her course. The iceberg lay just under her lee, its precipitous cliffs 600 ft. in height, were towering above the ship on the right hand, their ends being concealed by the fog; the only question was whether the ship could get past without being driven against them. The sea, running high that way, gradually settled her against the iceberg broad side on. Each wave now knocked her against it; the rebound of each wave carried off her hull, but struck her yards against the iceberg above. They bore one or two of these shocks while causing causing a shower of great lumps of ice to fall upon the deck. At length the top main-topmast and the mizzzen-topmast snapped asunder just above the caps, and fell, bringing down with them all the upper masts, yards, and gear belonging to each, and breaking in their fall the brass bands of the lower yards. The ship meanwhile still moved slowly on. Next went the front-topgallant-mast, the jib boom, the front-topsail yards, the standing sail-booms, and all their gear, broken against the side of the iceberg; and the remaining sails were more of less torn or damaged by the fall of these spars. The ship, thus having lost much of her sailing power, could not now keep her hull from coming into violent contact with the iceberg. The life-boat, suspended by davits to her side, the bumpkin, and all starboard bulwarks, were presently smashed. In several placed the starboard quarter was stove in. The iron beams of the poop-deck, across the breadth of the vessel, were beat as to bulge up the deck as much as one foot. The walls of the cabins were damaged, and the captain's cabin stove in, breaking the chest which contained the chip’s chronometers and scattering them with other wreck of furniture on the floor. By another crash an upper plate amidships was split, with considerable damage besides. At this moment the destruction of the ship seemed quite inevitable; but as she continued to move slowly ahead under mainsail and foresail there was still some hope. The Royal Standard had thus rubbed shoulders with the iceberg for about half an hour, scraping along half a mile of its length, when happily, the end of it was seen through the surrounding fog, at at last the ship got clear. Captain Dowell immediately ordered the pumps to be sounded in all her compartments, and found that there was no leak, after all the rough ordeal she had passed.

Here we may refer to a short note by Mr. Hugh Jobison, one of the passengers, who says that they all acknowledged their gratitude to to Almighty God for their preservation from this fearful danger; and he adds that they would bear testimony to the good conduct of the captain, officers, and crew, who whom the discipline of the ship was perfectly maintained, and whose efforts to save her were at last crowned with success. As soon as she was clear of the iceberg, the captain ordered steam to be got up, and in an hour and a quarter the engine was at work. She thus made her way to Rio de Janeiro, steaming or sailing under jurymasts as best she could. Having, in this crippled and disabled plight arrived in the Brazilian port, Captain Dowell wishes to thank the Commander of the United States frigate Onward for his generous offers of assistance.

You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Hathi Trust Digital Library and The University of Michigan Library and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. — George P. Landow


“Wreck of the “George Lord,” off the Isle of Wight.” Illustrated London News (16 June 1864): 592. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 9 December 2015.

Last modified 13 December 2015