120 years ago today - loss of SS UTOPIA

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Francis GIB
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Location: GIBRALTAR

120 years ago today - loss of SS UTOPIA

Post by Francis GIB » Thu Mar 17, 2011 3:53 pm

Gibraltar has seen its fair share of shirwrecks, sinkings, collisions, but none with such a great loss of life as the sinking of the UTOPIA, barely a couple of hundred metres off the City walls.

SS UTOPIA was built in 1874 by Robert Duncan of Glasgow. She was a transAtlantic passenger steamship on Anchor Lines routes, and the first eight years she run between Glasgow to New York and Bombay, and later on from London once again, to New York. Immigration from Europe to the United States was at one of its peaks, and in 1882 UTOPIA began ferrying Italian immigrants to the States. It would appear that Gibraltar was a staging post before the transAtlantic journey.

On the 17 March 1891, St Patrick's Day, just after 1800 hrs, she came into the Bay where a South Westerly gale was raging. On board were 880 passegers and crew. UTOPIA's Master, Capt John McTeague, tried to steer his vessel to her ususal anchorage, but found that there were already two warships anchored in that area, HMS ANSON and HMS RODNEY. Indeed, other ships were also anchored and riding the storm. In the darkness of the night and the raging storm brought about a miscalculation in the steerage of the ship and even as Capt McTeague tried to steer clear off ANSON's bow, the vessel drifted onto the ram of the warship which tore a five metre hole below the waterline. Within less than twenty minutes, UTOPIA has slipped beneath the waves and settled on the bottom in a depth of seventeen metres, her masts protuding above the boiling surface of the Bay. No less than 562 passengers and crew members plus two sailors from another ship who were helping out in the rescue , died or were missing that day. Many heroes emerged that day, as crews from warships in the anchorage battled against wind and current to try and rescue the unfortunate passengers. Notwithstanding their gallant efforts, the final loss was very substantial.

As a token of appreciation for the gallant efforts made by the sailors and others to try and effect rescues, His Majesty the King of Italy presented a {brass] wreath mounted on a stone plaque commemorating the heroism shown. This was presented and erected on 20 March 1893. The plaque is currently at the entrance to the South Mole, and I understand a more conspicuous site is being investigated.

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