November 1, 2017|Reports

“SS London” by Simon Wills

51 members and visitors were treated to an well-researched and enthralling account of the loss of this Victorian ship,  given by Simon Wills, a maritime genealogist.

In 1866 the London was a modern ‘luxury’ vessel, travelling from London to Australia with 269 persons on board plus substantial cargo. The SS London was a “hybrid” at the time of transition to steam, primarily a sailing ship but with a small engine too. Simon gave us a comprehensive review of the passengers, the vessel, and the chain of events.

Of most interest among the passengers was the Rev. Daniel James Draper, born in 1810 in Wickham, who became a Methodist Minister and spent 30 years in Australia.  There were three classes of passenger (no steerage) and we were told about the different conditions and menus they lived on.  The London took on most passengers in London, then stopped in Plymouth to take on more crew and provisions.

Soon after leaving, the weather deteriorated and passengers noticed coal dust, which could block the pumps and scuppers, and water below decks.  In the Bay of Biscay the ship ran into a violent storm, which carried away two of the six lifeboats and much of the rigging plus the forward mast.  The storm continued for two days until the engine room housing was carried away and the sea overwhelmed the small engine which also drove the pumps.  At last there was only one lifeboat left and the passengers were led in prayer by Daniel Draper, awaiting their death.   In the remaining boat only 3 passengers and 16 crew survived and were rescued after 20 hours at sea in the storm with no fresh water. The captain apparently said ‘a lifeboat is no place for a woman’ and many male passengers were reluctant to leave their families.

In Melbourne, four linked streets are names after victims of the tragedy, including ‘Draper Street’. A memorial in the Wesleyan Church includes a reference to Daniel Draper’s Wickham origin, while in England the UK Methodists donated a lifeboat called the Daniel J Draper to the RNLI in Penzance.

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