Friday, 2 May 2014

Anecdote Saturday - SS Langton Grange

The Langton Grange was a steel cargo steamer built 1896.

She comprised 5852 gross tonnes, 420 ft in length, powered by a single triple expansion steam engine (4 boilers), driving a single screw, making 12 knots.

5 August 1909, shortly after the Waratah had been reported missing, the Langton Grange ran onto Bell Rock, North Bishops, off St David's Head in foggy conditions.

Captain Groves safely evacuated himself and his crew of 58 seamen onto lifeboats which were towed to Porthclais Harbour, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

The following day, the Langton Grange broke up and sank.

Divers, 75 years later, discovered crates of lime juice, Champagne, white and red wines in the galley of the sunken vessel.

Apparently the red wine was still delicious.  It should have been at 1000 pounds a bottle.

In the Commons the subject of the Langton Grange sinking came up in questions regarding the charting of rocks on the Admiralty Chart:

'Stranding of the s.s. "Langton Grange" (Admiralty Charts).'

'HC Deb 19 August 1909 vol 9 1520-11520'

'Mr. JEREMIAH MacVEAGH asked the President of the Board of Trade, with reference to the recent stranding of the s.s. "Langton Grange" on North Bishop's Rock, St. David's, whether he is aware that the disaster might have been averted if the rock had been indicated by a red line on the Admiralty Chart; and whether the charts will be revised in order that such points may be indicated?'

'The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Churchill) I have ordered a formal investigation into this casualty, and until I have received the Report of the Court of Inquiry I cannot say what the stranding was due to, or whether it might have been averted had the rock on which the vessel stranded been marked on the Admiralty Chart by a red line. I understand that the Admiralty are of opinion that to increase the marks on their charts in dangerous places in the manner suggested would render the charts illegible in places where legibility is most required, and would be more likely to confuse mariners than to help them.'


'Mr. JEREMIAH MacVEAGH In view of the appalling amount of damage done by some rocks on that part of the Irish coast, does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the Irish Lights Board should be urged to look into this matter more earnestly, and to take some practical action?'

'Mr. CHURCHILL They really are considering it, and I hope they will take some practical action early.'

'Mr. MacVEAGH They will not listen to anybody who knows anything about it.'

This exchange is highly revealing for the year 1909.  

Not even off the coast of the British Isles were all significant rocky outcrops or reefs clearly marked on charts available to masters.

I doubt whether the Southern African coast was any better, if not worse.

I am of the belief the Waratah struck a reef off Port St Johns.

This reef in all probability was not adequately highlighted or even marked on Captain Ilbery's reference chart for that stretch of the wild coast.

Returning to Durban under adverse circumstances, Captain Ilbery had charted a course close to shore - less than a mile - should he have needed to beach the Waratah. 

This course was probably unfamiliar to him.

In addition, darkness (8 pm) and smoke from bush fires on shore potentially caused disorientation. 

Given the above report, Captain Ilbery could not have relied on his chart to highlight or even mark potentially hazardous rocks or shoals, closer to shore off Port St Johns.

SS Langton Grange
My book 'Waratah Revisited' will be available by 12 December, via Amazon. I explore the human aspect of the tragedy and take a closer look at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. Revelations abound. Don't miss it!

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