Friday, 19 May 2017


South Australian Chronicle, 19 July, 1890.
Details of the burning of the steamer
Paoching and the Ioss of 32 lives, including
the master of the vessel, Captain Place,
were received in Sydney last week by
the steamer Taiyuan, from Hongkong.
The fire broke out at sea, the vessel
being on a voyage from Shanghai to
Hankow. The steamer Ngankin, which was
one of the first to reach the burning vessel,
reports that at 6 a.m. on May 29, while near
the Centaur Shoal, those on board observed
dense masses of smoke ahead about five miles
off, and as they approached closer they found
the smoke proceeded from a steamer on fire. 
In less than 10 minutes the fire had gained 
such a hold that the vessel was a mass of 
flames right fore and aft. As the Ngankin came 
closer the vessel was found to be the Paoching. 
This vessel left Shanghai the same morning at 1
o'clock for Hankow. It could be seen from the
deck of the Ngankin that people were clinging
round her, hanging to the sides by ropes. As
the ropes burnt through the unfortunate people
fell into the water and were drowned. The 
Ngankin was anchored and in five minutes four
of her boats were in the water pulling towards 
the burning ship, the sides of which were very 
hot. The crews found people floating in the 
water, and they picked up Mr. Christiansen, 
the first officer, the second officer, and 21
natives, some of whom were suffering from
burns. In the meantime the Taiwo came along
and picked up some natives. The Sual saved
31, according to the compradore's account. 
Chinese gunboat, the Chepai, came up and
anchored and her commander lowered two
floats, one of which went to the wreck but
found no one to save, though there were a
number of dead bodies floating about. When
the steamers left the wreck the whole of the
deck was burnt, but the masts, funnel, and 
capstan were standing. The chief engineer, 
Mr. Dalgarno, was in the water when rescued
holding onto the cable, as was also the mate.
Mr. Wilson, the second engineer was drowned,
as was also the master, Captain Place. 

An enquiry into the burning of the vessel was 
held at Shanghai. The court found that proper
steps had been taken by the officers to save the
lives of the passengers and crew, but desired
especially to direct the attention of the Board
of Trade to the fact that they considered the
appliances for extinguishing fire and the
number and capacity of the boats, considering
the number of people carried, were quite
inadequate; that the regulations, if any, for
stowing dangerous cargo did not appear to
have been known to the officers responsible;
and the crew had never been exercised at fire
stations; and that if they had been so organised 
the fire-engine might have been worked before 
the engine room was inaccessible through

This harrowing account illustrates a number of points which could correlate with the account presented by Captain Bruce of the Harlow. The 'masses' of smoke were seen 5 miles distant by the crew of the Ngankin. Captain Bruce reported that the large steamer gaining astern produced 'masses' of smoke seen at least 10 miles distant. Contrary to practices at sea, Captain Bruce did not slow down or turn back to investigate the steamer on fire. We shall never know why, but the consequences of this action led to tales of bush fires mimicking steamers and explosions destroying all on board. If it were not for the vessels listed in the report, there would have been no survivors. Bodies in the water reminds me of the two, separate accounts of steamers sighting distinct bodies in the sea in the vicinity of both Bashee and Great Fish rivers, confirming that Waratah went down at a position northeast of the Bashee River - NOT southwest. Although the Inquiry came to the conclusion that there was adequate fire-fighting equipment on Waratah, the same cannot be said for fire drills:

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