Daily Event for September 11, 2009

On a voyage from Sydney to London the passenger ship Thermopylæ was wrecked at the entrance to Table Bay, Cape Town, South Africa. She was built in 1891 in Aberdeen, Scotland and was used on the U.K. to Australia route for her whole career. Refrigeration equipment was added to the ship in 1896 for transporting frozen meat.

At about 11:30PM on Sept. 11, 1899 the ship was moving at half speed due to fog when the master, William Phillip Jr. saw that he was on the inside of Green Point reef, even though he reversed the engines immediately the collision could still not be avoided and she became stuck fast on the rocks. Quick and calm action by captain, crew and help from local boats saved all on board.

Capt. Phillip later said of the incident; "It was simply an error of judgment. I thought I had given her a shoot out to north, for I recognised we were too close in a moment before she struck, and I put the helm hard to starboard. There was a haze hanging over the sea low down at the time, though overhead the night was clear. The ship must have been just inside the line of reef when I noticed the danger. Another ten yards further out and we should have cleared.

I put the engines full speed astern, and kept them going at full speed until the last hope was gone. What misled me was the appearance of the lighthouse. It seemed to be far away in the haze. It was the mist that made all my calculations of distance go wrong. I thought the light was a least a mile and a half away. As a matter of fact, we struck about a quarter of a mile out from shore."

Since no lives were lost the attention of the press turned to other matters, race horses. Seems there were two valuable race horses on board, Kiora and Chesney, and first reports were that it was assumed they could not be saved. Just a couple of days later it was learned they were both safe.

The ship broke in half and by mid November she the wreck had vanished beneath the surface, some of the cargo and all of the money was removed before she went down. As a result of the investigation into the incident captain Phillips' certificate was suspended for six months, a small price to pay however the ruling seems fair and he should be commended for admitting his error and accepting the consequences.

© 2009 Michael W. Pocock

2007 Daily Event