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The Late J. B. Martin, Captain of the Australian packet ship London, lost in the Bay of Biscay. Click on image to enlarge it and for the captain’s biography in a later issue of Illustrated London News.

The steam-ship London, Captain Martin, from London for Melbourne, has foundered at sea with about 220 persons on board. The survivors, sixteen of the crew and three passengers, were landed at Falmouth on Tuesday by the Italian barque Marianople.

The London, 1752 tons register, 800-horse power, was one of the finest passenger-ships out of the port of London, and belonged to Messrs. Money Wigram and Sons, one of the oldest-established and the most justly-renowned of our shipping firms. She was launched at Blackwall little more than a year ago, and an Engraving of the London taking her trial-trip was given in the Number of this Journal for Oct. 8, 1864. She had already made two most successful voyages to Melbourne, one in fifty-nine days, under Captain Martin, one of the ablest, and most experienced commanders in the mercantile marine.

The London left Gravesend on the 30th of December, and met with such severe weather in the Channel that she was obliged to put into St. Helen’s Roads for shelter. From St. Helen’s Roads to Plymouth she had steamed down Channel against a whole gale of wind and a heavy rolling sea; and the pilot-boat which put off to take her into the Sound was capsized and the pilot drowned. At Plymouth she arrived on the 4th inst., and embarked an unusually large number of passengers. At midnignt on Friday, the 5th, she left Plymouth for her destination, with calm weather and a light wind ahead. All the next day she was under full steam, and making steady way. On Sunday morning the wind increased and a heavy head sea got up, and on Monday morning, it blowing a whole gale, Captain Martin stopped his engines and made the ship snug under reefed topsails, just to keep her on her course. The gale lulling a little at noon, the engines were again set going; next morning the force of the wind carried away the jibboom, foretopmast, foretopgallantmast, and royalmast, and these spars could not be secured. Two hours later the mainroyalmast was blown clean ont of the socket. Still Captain Martin endeavoured to keep his ship slowly steaming ahead. About three p.m. on the Tuesday a tremendous sea carried away the port life-boat. All that evening and night the sea was running mountains high; but the screw was still kept moving. It was not all four a.m. on Wednesday, the 10th inst. that Captain Martin resolved to put back to Plymouth, the London being then about 200 miles south-west of Lands End. At half-past ten on Wednesday night a tremendous sea swept the ship, broke into the engine-room, and put out the fires. This was the night on which the thirty vessels were wrecked at once in Torbay. All the passengers of the London worked at the pumps, while the gale became a hurricane, and the ship was losing all control. At length, at ten a.m. on Thursday, Captain Martin called his passengers together, and told them that they must prepare for the worst. The ship had already sunk as low as her main chains. One boat was lowered and instantly swamped, but the five men in her were dragged on board the ship. No attempt was made to launch the other boats, but the passengers gathered into the chief cabin, and having been calmly assured by Captain Martin that there was no hope left, they quietly joined with a clergyman in prayer. There was no wild and selfish terror, no screaming, no rushing to the boats; there was the agony of sudden partings; but with the example of Captain Martin before them all these dying men and women were composed and resigned; while the children wondered and asked why their fathers and mothers looked so sad. Captain Martin remained at his station on the poop, onoe or twice only going forward, and once or twice into in the devotions of the passengers, At two p.m. the few men who were destined to survive to bring the sad story home determined to trust themselves to the chances of the sea, lowered the pinnace, and launched her clear of the ship. These men called to the captain to oome with them; but this brave aud steadfast English seaman declined, saying, “No; I will go down with the passengers; but I wish you God speed, and safe to land.” The boat then pulled away, and five minutes afterwards the London, with 220 souls on board, went down, and all was over.

Mr. John Greenhill, the engineer, one of the survivors, reports: —

We left Plymouth on Jan. 6. On the 7th wc experienced heavy weather, with rain. 8th, the same. 9th, lost jibboom and fore top mast, topgallant-mast, and royal mast. About nine a.m. we lost the port life-oaat, a heavy gale prevailing at the time. On the 10th, at three a.m., the ship put about, intending to run back to Plymouth. About the same time the starboard life-boat was washed overboard by a heavy sea, which also stove the starboard cutter. At noon. lat. 40.8 K., long. 0.S7 W., we were shipping heavy seas, which carried away the engine-room hatch, the water going down and putting the fires out. The passengers were ba[i]ling tho water out of the ship with buckets. On the 11th the gale was still Increasing, with heavy cross seas, nearly all corning over tho ship. Daring the morning all who could were trying to stop the leak In the engine-room hatch, but to no purpose. About four am. four of the stem-ports were stove in. Efforts were made to stop them, but it was found to be impossible. At ten a.m. lowered the starboard pinnace, which foundered. At one p.m. we could feel the ship was gradually sinking, it being then as low in the water as the main chain. At two p.m. the following persons left in the port cutter D. G. Wain, John Monro, and J. B. Wilson, passengers; John Greenhill, engineer; John Jones, second engineer; John Armour, third engineer; Thomas Brown, fireman; W. M. Edwards, midshipman; D. T. Smith, boatswain’s mate; William Daniels, quartermaster; John King, Benjamin Shield, Richard Lewis, James Gough, Edward Quin, able seamen; William Crimes, ordinary seamen; A. G. White, boatswain’s boy; William Hart, carpenter’s mate; and Edward Gardner, second-class steward. About five minutes after leaving the vessel we saw her go down stem foremost, with about 220 persons on board, all of whom are supposed to have perished. There were two other boats getting ready when we left, but they were too late. The persons who were saved were picked up by the Marianople, and treated with the greatest kindness by her captain, Carasa.

The survivors were driven before the gale in the cutter for twenty hours before they were picked up, and had one very narrow escape of being swamped, the boat being half filled with water.

Lost during the same storm


“Foundering of the Steam-ship ‘London’” Illustrated London News 48 (16 January 1866): 55. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 18 December 2015.

“The Late Captain Martin” Illustrated London News 48 (3 February 1866): 104. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 18 December 2015.

Last modified 19 December 2015