After leaving the Tilbury docks in London on May 19, 1922 the SS Egypt set course for Marseille, France, her
first stop on the way to Bombay, India. This was the normal route for the ship and she had been making this
run since 1897 with the exception of her service in the Great War as a hospital ship. Along with the forty-four
passengers there was a crew of 294, this included over 200 Indian Lascars and Goanese stewards. There was
also a substantial shipment of precious metals, 1,089 ingots of gold and 1,229 ingots of silver.
The following day, May 20, 1922 as the ship passed the Ile d' Ouessant she entered a dense fog bank and her
speed was reduced. Passengers sat down to dinner and the crew went on with their jobs. The ship's horn was
blown as a warning, and out of the fog they could hear another horn in the distance. At 7pm the the French
cargo ship Seine emerged from the fog and rammed the Egypt on her port side amidships. A much smaller ship
at only 1,383 tons, the Seine was built with a reinforced bow for use in northern waters against ice. Because
of this, the 7,912 ton Egypt was doomed.
According to the survivors and Captain Andrew Collyer Egypt was at a dead stop, however Captain Le Barzac
of the Seine stated "We struck her in the side. She was going at great speed, and continued on her course."
It is known that the Seine was moving at between 5 and 7 knots, and it appears Egypt was standing still or
moving very slowly. A witness stated that the Seine after ramming the Egypt actually spun around and moved
off into the fog. This spinning may account for her captain thinking Egypt was moving at speed, this however
is my own impression of the situation.
The Egypt began to list almost immediately and Collyer knew his ship was soon going to be on the ocean floor. The scene on board was one of chaos, apparently not much from the passengers, but rather from the crew. All accounts about the sinking of the Egypt give the same details, the lascars panicked and rushed the boats. This was widely reported, but it seems that this is not altogether the case. Lascars were crewmen from south Asia and included a wide variety of peoples. Indian lascars made up most of the firemen, but Goanese (Portuguese)
men made up the cabin staff, this distinction was not made clear in the press. Mostly when lascars are mentioned, it is the Indian lascars which come to mind, and that is exactly what had happened in this case.
While some of the lascars may have been among those who rushed the boats, it was made clear in an early
report that the real problem came from Goanese stewards and not the Indian lascars, but it was omitted in later reports and the word lascars was used over and over. There does not seem to have been any malice in this, it seems that the distinction was just not well understood by those writing the stories. This caused great upset in India, where these men came from a proud tradition of seamanship and service to the British Empire, in fact in World War 1 over 50,000 lascars served in the British merchant service, and thousands perished.
With a destiny that could not be avoided all speed was made to get the boats into the water, the wireless operator, Arthur W. Hardwick, while not on duty and not technically employed by the P & O Line, but rather by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company (as all wireless men of the time were), jumped to his station and began sending S.O.S. signals, he stayed at his set until the ship rolled over and sank, his body was later recovered.
On the deck the panic was brought under some control by the crew and the male passengers, the female
passengers from all accounts acted with dignity and relative calm in the face of death. Many made it into the
boats, but nine women and children perished, many believed this was directly due to the Goanese stewards.
Bravery and tragedy were both seen on the Egypt that night, one heartbreaking scene was described by a
survivor, Mr. Joseph F. Duff; "A Spaniard, I believe his name to be Señor Antonio Bado, placed his wife and two children, one aged five and the other a baby of eighteen months in one of the boats which was being lowered.
He was about to follow when something went wrong with the falls, and the boat, instead of reaching the
water level, went down with a rush and was capsized. Two of the occupants tried to grasp the falls, but were
unable to do so, and as far as could be seen those who had taken their places in her were drowned or killed
by being thrust against the side of the Egypt."
Another witness saw Mr. Bado jump into the sea trying to rescue his family, but he was unable to find any of
them, he was later rescued, but was hospitalized at Brest being inconsolable and near madness after witnessing
his young family die before his eyes.
Captain D. G. Carr of the 120th Rajputana Infantry took control of one of the boats on the starboard side when
he witnessed a number of Goanese stewards crowding it while women stood on deck beside the boat, Carr
jumped into the boat, which was already in the water, and ordered them to allow the women into the boat. At
first they would not follow his orders, and according to Carr, appeared to be at the point of violence toward
him, but at the point of Carr's pistol and a few shots fired they soon relented. The women were taken aboard
and thus saved only due to his swift and decisive action.
William George Jenner, the ship's printer and veteran of both the South African and the Great Wars, was about
to jump off the ship when he could hear a woman crying to be saved. He went up to her, removed his lifebelt and said "Here you are madam. This belt is yours. I don't know how to swim, but I will take my chances with the others." The forty-two year old man from Dover never made it home to his wife and two children.
Another gallant man, John William Taylor, was hanging on to the rope about to enter the last lifeboat to leave
the ship when he saw Mrs. Lewis standing on deck. With nowhere else to go she would perish, however Taylor
got back on deck and had her take his place in the boat, he told her "I will be all right, dear, don't worry." The
witness in the boat who related this episode was Mrs. Taylor, his widow.
Sister Rhoda refused a place in the boats until all others had been removed, Miss E. McNeille, her given name,
was last seen praying on the deck of the ship before it sank. Dr. D. C. Bremner the medical officer remained
on board until the last seconds tending to passengers, in the water he held on to a deck chair near one of the
ship's officers until he could hold no more, he told the officer;"Good-bye old chap, I'm going under."
Captain Collyer was the last man off the ship, he was actually washed over when she went down, he was
picked up by the boat which Capt. Carr had taken control of. Less than thirty minuets after the collision the
Egypt sank stern first. The Seine had by then located the ship and had put boats in the water to rescue survivors. While many were picked up, the fog hampered the operation leaving many people in the water, some would be
found days later still wearing their lifebelts dead from exposure waiting to be rescued.
In all eighty-six people, including 15 passengers died that night, another died in a hospital in Brest later, more
than two hundred were picked up by the Seine. The Egypt now laid in 360 feet of water still containing the
gold and silver, this was however out of reach for the diving technology of the day. In 1928 an Italian firm was hired to recover the gold from the ship, they found the wreck in 1930, but it took
until 1934 to finish the job. The wreck is still being dived on to this day.