The Strathclyde Wreck (Dover)

This page is an entry in Shonas Wreck Guide.


Etching of the 'Strathclyde' sinking
Depiction of the sinking of the ‘Strathclyde’

Name: Strathclyde
Voyage: London to Bombay
Ship Type: Steamship
Construction: Iron
Dimensions: 88.39 x 10.72 x 7.71
Port of Registry: Glasgow
Owner: Burrell & Co.
Flag: United Kingdom
Gross Tonnage: 1951
Built: 1871 Blackwood, Port Glasgow
Propulsion: Screw
Engine: 180hp 2cyl compound engine
Boilers: 2
Crew: 47
Passengers: 23
Lives Lost: 38
Captain: J D Eaton
Sunk: 17th Feb 1876

The steamship STRATHCLYDE, Capt J D Eaton, bound from London to Bombay, left Dover on Thursday, February 17th 1876, having on board a crew of 47 and 23 first class passengers. The ship was about two and a half miles from Dover proceeding at nine knots when she was overtaken by the German steamship FRANCONIA. Capt Eaton turned his ship to starboard but at the same time the FRANCONIA turned to port and the collision became inevitable.

Portholes raised from the wreck site
Despite the fact the two ships met between 4 and 5pm, and the weather was quite clear, the German vessel struck the STRATHCLYDE between her funnel and mainmast, cutting into her to a depth of four feet. The colliding vessel went astern only to rebound and strike a second time making another deep hole abreast of the mainmast, into which the sea rushed.

The STRATHCLYDE settled rapidly by the stern, the first lifeboat lowered with 15 female passengers on board was swamped by the swell and capsized drowning most of its occupants. A second lifeboat was launched without mishap and managed to save 2 of the drowning people. By this time, the seas were breaking over the vessel as high as the bridge and washing overboard many of those on deck. The captain, 2nd Engineer and a fireman, the last to leave, jumped overboard as she sank. Of those on board, 38 were drowned, Capt Eaton was among the survivors.

A Leading newspaper of the day reported the story as follows:

“As each fresh disaster is reported, it seems to eclipse its predecessors in strangeness and unaccountability. People wondered naturally enough why the Deutschland should have blundered on to the Kentish Knock, when, she had she kept her right course, she would have been miles away, but there was at least the excuse of dense fog and a powerful current; not so with the calamity of last week. The Franconia, in broad and clear daylight, bore down upon the Strathclyde as though maliciously chasing her for the purpose of running her down, and though the captain of the hapless vessel twice altered her course to get her out of the pursuer’s way, on she came till the fatal crash as heard, and in a few minutes the ship had sunk. The chief mate and four seamen of the Strathclyde jumped for their lives, and scrambled on board the Franconia, where they allege there seemed to be no order or discipline. Seizing hatchets and knives, they tried to cut away the boats in order to help those they had left behind, but the Franconia steamed on without even throwing a rope, the captain declining to turn back when appealed to. Meantime two of the Strathclyde’s boats were successfully loosed, and each swamped by the rush of water caused by the settling down of the ship. Twenty-nine of the crew and six of the passengers were picked up by small craft which happened to be at hand, but several of these have since died, and about forty other persons were drowned. Amongst the victims was Mrs. Green, a niece of Mr. Dion Boucicault, whose recent family bereavement by the railway accident at Abbot’s Ripton will be fresh in the memory of our readers. No evidence was offered at the inquest in explanation of the conduct of the Franconia in rushing so wildly on to another vessel, or by neglecting to stand by after the accident occurred. The Franconia is now detained at London, and the Board of Trade inquiry will, doubtless, elicit some statement from those on board. Meanwhile, it is difficult to imagine what excuse can possibly be urged in extenuation of such apparent inhumanity. Captain Eaton, of the Strathclyde, who stayed by his vessel till the last moment, and who is now lying dangerously ill at Deal, speaks highly of the conduct of all on board, but as she went down in ten minutes, there was not time to launch the boats in safety. There were twenty-four life-belts and eight life-buoys on board. Several of these were used by the ladies, and in some cases they were the means of saving life. Some of the witnesses at the inquest say that had other boats put out from Dover, more lives might have been saved, and the tug Palmerston is blamed for going to the aid of the Franconia instead of the Strathclyde. It is to be hoped, however, that these instances of apparent inhumanity have been unconsciously exaggerated, or are capable of explanation.”

The subsequent trial, held at the Central Criminal Court in London, of the German master of the Franconia, found the master guilty of manslaughter. On appeal, however, it was discovered that English Law didn’t cover him in English waters, and they had to let him go. This led directly to the adoption by Parliament of the existing International Territorial Waters law, which many other countries already used.


The 'Strathclyde' at anchor
The ‘Strathclyde’ at anchor in 1873

In 1878, the Territorial Waters Jurisdiction Act was passed, which empowered English courts to arrest and try persons regardless of their nationality, for crimes committed on the High Seas within the territorial waters of the Crown, which was defined as one marine league (approx 5km – which was the then probable distance of coast-based artillery) from the coast. Of course, this was adopted internationally.

A monument in the Northern Aisle of St Peter’s Church, Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, London reads:

Louisa Mary Forsyth (1859-1876) & Emily Vesey Dawson Hire Forsyth (1855-1878)
‘The SS Strathclyde was sailing from London to Bombay, when on 17 February 1876 she was involved in a “dreadful collision” with the SS Franconia about a mile outside Dover harbour, as a result of which she sank within about 10 minutes. 15 of the passengers were drowned, one of whom was a 16 year old girl, Louisa Mary Forsyth’.

Another obituary reads:

BUSSELL, William 1852-1876
William Bussell was the son of Thomas Arthur and Frances Emily Cotton Bowker Bussell. He was born on the 5 March 1852. He married Mary Louise Bowker on 3 August 1875, whom he met in Ireland in 1873 and they became engaged to be married that year. In February 1876 they set sail for India on the Strathclyde. When the Strathclyde entered Dover harbour it collided with the Franconia and the Strathclyde was sunk. Mary Louise and William were drowned when a lifeboat capsized, William having already jumped into the water to lighten its load. William was 24 years old

 Bottles from cargo holds
Selection of bottles raised from wreck
Today, the wreck sits on a stoney seabed at 30m. She’s remarkably intact for a vessel of this age, with her engineroom and boilers still buried within the wreckage. Her bows have collapsed onto the seabed, leaving an avalanch of champagne bottles cluttering this area. Swimming from the bows to amidships, the diver will pass over cases of condiment and pickle jars, perfume bottles, bottles of port, cider and stone appolinaris bottles, still holding their genever contents. Wooden boxes of window glass and packing cases of Bryant & May matchboxes can be found tucked into the rear of the forward hold, under the area of the ships bridge.

 Bottles and marbles
A nice collection from a single dive
The central section of the wreck is substantially intact, and it’s here that you’ll find areas full of hand-painted cups and saucers. On the seabed either side of the wreck, there are literally thousands of bottles which have spilled out of her holds and splits in her gaping hull plates.

Astern of amidships, you see the back of the engine before the wreck breaks down almost to seabed level again. The stern of the vessel is well flattened, but her steering gear can be found protruding from the stoney seabed. Searching in this area will reward the diver with glass lamp chimneys, pontilled marbles, brass wheels from toys, gold chains and hundreds of stone master-ink bottles.

Also, well hidden in the wreckage, are free-blown pontilled baby feeder bottles and blue-glass barrel and bracelet ink bottles – much sought after by collectors.

 ink bottles
rare blue barrel and bracelet inks found hidden within the cargo
The items of cargo seen so far include: boxes of window glass, cases of Bryant & May matchboxes, aqua Hamilton bottles (plain and embossed), embossed round-bottomed cylinders, Stone cider bottles, glass champagne bottles, glass port bottles, perfume bottles (Rimmel lavendar oil), Stone Appolinaris bottles (Dutch Genever), Stone Master-inks, Flint-glass, hand-blown, ground pontilled baby feeers, bracelet inks, barrel inks, hex inks, boat inks (aqua and blue), glass lamp chimneys, gilt picture frames, brass chains, fine gold chains, various portholes (Hex frames, round frames and iron frames), tranfer-printed pot lids, pot bases (three sizes), medicine bottles, small tincture bottles, pontilled glass marbles, porcelain hand-painted cups and saucers, wooden cart wheels, toy brass wheels, barrels of iron bars, cargo of iron pipes and ceramic dishes.

This wreck MUST be dived at the end of the flood tide with good boat cover. As it’s on the very edge of the shipping lane, you must plan the dive to descend at slack water and ascend after the tide has turned and is taking you away from the shipping lane. This usually means that you’re restricted to a single dive in any 12-hour period on her. Vis can range from exceptionally good (10m+) to exceptionally bad (0m) and can change from good to bad to good again in the space of 24 hours.

 crockery from wreck
cups and saucers from wreck
 Special thanks to Helen Johnstone and Anke Otto for some of this information.


Sub Aqua Club