Daily Event for August 12, 2008

Did the sailing ship Great Queensland explode and sink on Aug. 12, 1876 off Cape Finisterre, Spain? It is still
unknown for sure. The ship was built in 1852 as the SS Indiana by C. J. Mare & Company, London. She was
laid up because of financial difficulties from 1865-1870 at the Millwall docks in London and was then sold to
French owners and her name was changed to Ferdinand de Lesseps (note Lesseps is a possible spelling as the
text of the original document is difficult to read).

In 1872 her engines were removed and she was converted into a fully rigged sailing ship by Walker &
Company and sold in 1873 to Taylor, Bethel & Roberts of London. She made three round trips to Australia between 1873 and 1876 without incident. She left on her 4th trip to Australia on Aug. 6, 1876 with 33 passengers and 37 crew under the command of Captain George Holden. On this voyage he decided to take his wife and daughter so it is assumed he felt confident in his ship and crew.

The cargo was that of a ship of her day, iron (2,300 tons) malt, barley, sulphur, wood and various other commodities. She also carried another common commodity for ships of her day, a cargo that was banned
from passenger ships that could carry 50 passengers or more, but allowed on smaller vessels, gunpowder.
It was first reported she had between 50 and 100 tons of gunpowder, but a later report stated the total at 32 tons, this included 2 tons of patent gunpowder. This was a type of gunpowder supposed to be much safer to transport, however if there were impurities in the material during the manufacturing process the compound was subject to spontaneous explosion.

Less than a week after she sailed there was an explosion of patent gunpowder at the factory in Wales, the
same factory's product was in the hold of the Great Queensland. During the investigation of this explosion it was found that there had been a defect in the cleansing process and the powder was impure and subject to
chemical changes.

Captain Holden had inspected the cargo and was apparently satisfied that it was properly secured to make
the estimated 90 day voyage to Melbourne, since his whole family was with him he surely inspected it
carefully. On Aug. 12, 1876 she was sighted by the Sarnock at position 42N - 09W, off Cape Finisterre, Spain, she was never seen again. On the same day an explosion was seen off Cape Finisterre, now thought to have been the Great Queensland, but there seems to be no definitive proof of this. Some debris washed up on the coast of France later, but apparently nothing that identified the ship it came from.

Of course at the time of the explosion it was not known what ship it was, there was no wireless so there was
no way for a ship to communicate with the outside world, and since she was not due in Australia until
sometime in November there was no need for concern about her safety. November came and went with no word about the Great Queensland, however unpredictable weather and storms regularly delayed sailing ships so when she did not arrive on time it was no surprise.

However in December "considerable anxiety" about the safety of the ship was raised by the owners in a letter
to the Admiralty. Early in the month a life-buoy from the ship was picked up off Fowey in Cornwall, but the
owners stated "we can not consider this any positive evidence that a serious calamity has occurred in that
neighborhood, as at least half-a-dozen similar buoys were carried on the poop, and one of these might easily
have become detached through any cause or have been thrown to a man overboard."
Still they were worried
about the ship and requested the Admiralty to dispatch a ship to search for her.

HMS Wolverine was about to depart England for the South Pacific and her captain was given instructions to
search for the ship with special attention in the area of the Crozet Islands in the Indian Ocean. There was no
evidence the ship had reached the islands, but the story of the survivors of the Strathmore from earlier in the
year was fresh in everyone's mind and they wanted to make sure the same fate did not befall those on the
Great Queensland. (June 30, 1875 the Strathmore was wrecked in the Crozets, 44 people were killed in the
wreck and 5 others died later, the 39 survivors were stranded until an American whaler happened on them
on Jan. 21, 1876.)
It was not until Feb. 1877 that all hope of finding the ship were lost, Wolverine found nobody and no trace of the ship, and to this day it is still not known if she blew up on Aug. 12 or what tragedy sent her to the bottom.

(Note, some sources state that the total number of people on board was 569, this does not appear to be the
case as all the published reports I was able to locate from the time give the numbers as about 35 passengers and 35 crew, however the last report I found gave the number as 34 passengers, 37 crew. I have been unable to locate where the number 569 originated from, but I have two sources giving that number. It should be noted that the second source seems to have just been a copy of the first and may also in error.)

Mar. 9, 2020 further to the above note. The Board of Trade Report states that there were 36 crew, 12 second class and 21 steerage passengers aboard the ship. Also the master, his wife, daughter. Bob Brown in Australia has sent me a copy of the passenger manifest from the first emigration voyage made by Great Queensland on May 31, 1873, the summary states that 569 persons were landed at the end of the voyage. It is possible that this is the source of the 569 number.
© 2008 Michael W. Pocock

Great Queensland seen after conversion to a fully rigged ship.

Roll of Honour
In memory of those who lost their lives in
Great Queensland
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Adams, C. T.
Able Seaman
Alderson, W. T.
Able Seaman
Age 17
Batchelor, R.
Able Seaman
Brock, J.
Able Seaman
Cooper, C.
Able Seaman
Cousens, W.
Able Seaman
Davey, William
Age 14
Davis, E.
Able Seaman
Foreman, Henry
Gascoyne, B.
Able Seaman
New Zealand
Gillies, David
2nd Mate
Hart, Richard
Able Seaman
Hiller, J. F.
Holden, (Child)
Master's child
Holden, George
Holden, Miss
Master's daughter
Holden, Mrs.
Master's wife
Howard, John
2nd Cabin Steward
Johnson, J. A.
Able Seaman
Lane, Benjamin
Engine Driver
Lewis, Llewellyn
Ordinary Seaman
Master, C. E. W.
Olsen, P.
Able Seaman
Puller, Edward
Able Seaman
Purrall, A. H.
Able Seaman
Reed, Daniel
Able Seaman
Reiseron, Frederick
Able Seaman
Rennie, David
Able Seaman
Riley, T.
Able Seaman
Rossiter, T. W.
Ryman, F.
Able Seaman
Schaper, T.
Sterling, Steven
Strachan, John
Swensen, O.
Able Seaman
Thomas, William
1st Mate
Turnbull, Fred
Walker, W.
Able Seaman
Wall, J.
Able Seaman
Williams, John

This list contains the names of the crew and three passengers, I have not been able to locate the names
of the other passengers.

To submit a photo, biographical information or correction please email the webmaster.

MaritimeQuest received the following message on Feb. 20, 2009

I read with interest the article re sinking of the Great Queensland. Some of my ancestors came from Gravesend England to Maryborough Queensland on the run which commenced August 5th 1875, arriving Hervey Bay near Maryborough on 25th November 1875. My ancestors were the Briggs family and I have a diary of that voyage plus a number of official reports of the voyage.

Regarding your interest in the subsequent voyage which was also captained by Captain Holden, when the ship went down, I am able to add the following information.  "From a paper clipping:  THE GREAT QUEENSLANDER  [sic] A 1698 Ton Ship. She was last heard of on August 12th 1876 when on voyage from London to Melbourne. She took 70 Passengers and her Crew with her." 

The articles about her previous voyage commencing 5th August 1875 describe a large amount of people on board but that it was a very well run ship. There were 414 immigrants on board on that run so it is strange
so few were aboard for the run commencing August 1876.

On the run in 1875 she was 182 miles off Cape Finnister [sic] on Friday August 13th 1875 (9th day out). From the diary " Good night's rest. Splendid morning, very fine and wind fair, sea calm.  Australian mutton, potatoes and onions preserved for dinner. Bought some apples off the doctor and 2 red herrings off purser.  Washing days Friday and Tuesday.  Lat 43-3n., long.9-50.  Distance 182 off Cape Finnister. All well, Mr. Briggs better. Reduced our water to 1 quart per adult. "

Regards from Jan Bugler
Burleigh Heads, Queensland, Australia

Feb. 3, 2010

My great grandfather was on this boat when it left Gravesend Aug 5, 1875 and he says there were 66 hands and 572 passengers on board.


Sept. 28, 2012

My wife is a descendant of the Loader family and in their family history book, it states that there is a Loader Chest Tomb in the South Sector of the Parish Church of All Saints in Poyntington on the Northern border of Dorest in South West England.  On the Tomb are inscriptions on four sides, one of which states: "In memory of Annie, daughter of Edward and Mary Loader, who died Febry: 20, 1862, aged 10 years.  Also of Edward, their son, who was lost at sea in the "Great Queensland" on her voyage to Melbourne in 1876, aged 21 years."  As Edward Loader does not appear on the crew list, I assume he was a passenger. I hope this may be of interest.

Ken Williams

2006 Daily Event