Bouboulina explosion: many lives lost 1867 (ex-Colonel Lamb)

The Colonel Lamb was built at Liverpool by Jones Quiggin for the Confederates and was designed as a very fast shallow-draught vessel which could run the blockade of the Southern American Ports. She was built of steel [1132 grt, 279 ft long] with powerful engines [350 hp], and was registered on 16 September 1864. She ran the blockade into Wilmington twice, and then, when that port was closed by the Union forces, was moved to Galveston but was found to be too large to get in and out there. She then returned to Liverpool. Subsequently, she was sold to Greek interests to act as a war-ship, to assist in the Revolt by Crete against Turkish rule, and was refitted at Liverpool.
  See my book Lelia for more details of Confederate Blockade Runners built at Liverpool.

STEAMBOAT EXPLOSION AND LOSS OF MANY LIVES. The most disastrous explosion that has occurred in the Mersey since the explosion of gunpowder on board the Lotty Sleigh, several years ago, took place in the Sloyne on Friday morning [29 November 1867] at about twenty minutes past six o'clock.

It appears that the Greek war-steamer Bouboulina (named after Laskarina Bouboulina, a Greek naval commander, heroine of the Greek War of Independence; also written Bubulina) (formerly the famous Confederate blockade-runner Colonel Lamb) was at anchor opposite New Ferry, on the Cheshire side of the Mersey, preparatory to leaving for Piraeus in Greece. She had on board about 350 tons of Welsh steam coal, and a large quantity of provisions, and a quantity of Whitworth guns, gunpowder, and other warlike material. The hull of the vessel was insured for about £20,000, and we believe that a large quantity of the cargo was also insured, some so recently as Thursday.
  On Friday morning, Captain Sartorius, the officer in command, gave orders that steam should be got up at six o'clock, as it was his intention to sail from the Mersey a few hours later. The furnaces were accordingly put into requisition and steam rapidly got up, when, about half-past six, a terrific explosion took place amidships. The centre part of the vessel appears to have sunk at once, and the whole of the persons in that part of her appear to have been killed, including the second and third engineers. The vessel was snapped asunder, the stern part being forced about 200ft from the forward bulkheads and water-tight compartments, where the magazine was situated. About sixty feet of the fore-part of the vessel was kept afloat, and at high water there were only the fore-mast and four or five feet of the fore-funnel above water.

  A large number of the crew were below at the time, and it is feared that a great many of them have perished, including two of the engineers. The shock caused by the explosion was perceptibly felt in the southern portion of the town, but more distinctly on the Cheshire side, where glass and other ornaments were knocked down and smashed. At Rock Ferry the greatest consternation prevailed, as from the suddenness of the concussions - three rapidly following each other - it was thought for a time that one of the powder magazines or a ship with powder on board had exploded.
  One of the Rock Ferry steamers, the Ant, Captain Joseph Kay, was at the pier at the time, with steam up. Mr Kay was for a few minutes in doubt what to do; but immediately after the third report, he heard loud shrieks from the middle of the river, and at once shipped his hawser, and proceeded in the direction from where the cries were coming. Steaming into the centre of the river, and when about a quarter of a mile astern of the Great Eastern, he came upon the forepart of the steamer Bouboulina, which he, at first, took to be the Amphitrite, another Greek war ship, and also like the Bouboulina, a once well-known blockade runner, called the Penguin. A man who stood on the forecastle cried out to Kay to keep clear of the bows, as the magazine was there, and he feared that it might explode. The Ant, therefore, sheered off a little, and one of the steamer's boats succeeded in picking up between twenty-five and thirty seamen and firemen, the majority of them being Greek, and nearly all naked, or badly clothed. The after portion of the vessel was then afloat, but on the flow of the tide it sank about 300 feet from the other portion of the vessel. Having done all in his power to save life, Captain Kay proceeded to Liverpool and landed the unfortunate survivors of the disaster.
  One poor fellow was found to have his arm broken, while another had a fearful gash down the centre of the back, and from the ragged nature of the cut it is evident that it was caused by a splinter of sheet iron. Great services were also rendered by the boats from her Majesty's ship Donegal, which was riding at anchor close to the Greek ship. One boat picked up several of the Bouboulina's crew, and among them were two men - one with both his legs broken, and another with his right arm smashed. The condition of the majority of the rescued men was rendered more pitiable from the fact that they spoke no other language than Greek. Mr. O'Hara, the fourth engineer, was rescued by the Ant's boat - but the fate of Mr. Sharp, the second engineer, and the third engineer is at present unknown, and it is feared that they were in the engine room at the time of the bursting of the boiler, and failed to reach the deck in time to be rescued. Mr. Elliott, the chief engineer, had a most miraculous escape. When the explosion occurred, he was in a closet in the after-part of the steamer, and had barely time to rush out half-dressed and run up the companion way on to the quarter-deck, from whence he was picked off by a river tug and taken on board the Amphitrite. Captain Sartorius had also a narrow escape from drowning. A minute or two before the explosion, he went on to the upper saloon deck, and was standing close to his cousin there when the crash took place. All that he remembers is that he was lifted off his feet into the air, and finally fell among a lot of broken spars, and in the river, some distance from the vessel. In falling, Captain Sartorious received a severe scalp wound, and was otherwise severely shaken. The unfortunate commander is at present laid up on board the Amphitrite suffering from his injuries, while several of the crew have been taken to the Northern Hospital more or less bruised and scalded.
  All the principal officers have been saved, viz., Marcas Botzaris, 1st lieutenant; Pantoleon Bouboulis, 2nd lieutenant; Nicolas Zyamados, third lieutenant; Basilios Argasterioris, ships treasurer; and Aristides Gialussy, a passenger. The above gentlemen were all in the stern cabin at the time the explosion took place, but they managed to reach the saloon deck, where they remained until taken off by the boats sent to their assistance. One poor fellow, a Greek fireman, was down in the engine room at the time, but "the bumb, bumb, bumb," as he expresses the explosion, sent him flying out of the stoke-hole on to the deck, and into the sea, where he was picked up by the Donegal's boat. He is scalded about the head and cut on the right leg and right arm. His injuries seemed slight to him when compared to the loss he sustained in personal property. All his outfit, a gold watch, and £26 in gold have gone down with the ship.
  It is stated that at the time the explosion took place, there were about 73 souls on board, including the commander, officers, sailors, engineers, firemen, and stokers. Of the 73, Mr Aristides Gialoussy (the only gentleman on board who spoke English), states that there were 18 seamen and 32 firemen missing. A number of the firemen and all the engineers were English - Mr. Elliott, the chief, being one of the most experienced marine engineers sailing out of the port.
  The estimates of the number missing vary considerably. Some reports place the killed at 40, and others as low as 11. The number rescued, however, as far as could be ascertained, did not exceed 40 to 50. A later report stated that 17 men were missing or unaccounted for.

Mr. Paul, the chief diver of the Liverpool Underwriters' Association, has made an examination of the wreck of the Bouboulina. He found the foremost half, in which the cargo is stationed, intact, and, when the weather will allow the divers to get to work, the whole of the cargo will probably be saved. The other half, where the coals were placed, under the saloon, is shattered in pieces, and nothing worth saving is left. The vessel - or, rather, the various portions of her - lie in about 5.5 fathoms of water.
  A later report from a diver claimed that the aft port boiler (of the 4 boilers on board) was in pieces, so that he was of the opinion that a boiler explosion was the cause. He also reported finding 7 bodies in the wreck.

The cause of the explosion was initially thought to be a boiler explosion, but her boilers and engines were in perfect order when she entered the river. There were on board 500 tons of coal and three tons of gunpowder, the latter in two magazines fore and aft.
  A few minutes before six o'clock, the second engineer told [at the inquest] that there was a 3 lb. pressure on the after boilers, and none on the fore boilers. The explosion took place in the after bunkers, and was caused, in his opinion, by the gas generated there.
  There was a large quantity of Welsh coal on board, which required more ventilation than other coal. The bunker-holes, which were the only means of ventilation, were closed when he [witness] joined the ship on the Tuesday, and to his knowledge they remained closed until the explosion occurred. Thomas Hamilton, a coal-trimmer, saw a glare of light from the engines to the after stokehole, and instantly felt a violent blow on his arm and side, and found himself in the water.
  The cause of the explosion and the exact number of the killed are still uncertain, and it is doubtful if all the facts of this fearful disaster will ever be known thoroughly, the only list of those on board, which had been prepared, having sunk with the vessel. At the Northern Hospital at Liverpool the sufferers were getting on favourably. Some of them are blistered, but none have sustained injuries which the doctors can positively assert to have been caused by scalding water, and experienced surveyors and engineers still incline to the idea of spontaneous combustion in the coals.

Postscript Liverpool Dock Board (MDHB)record that the wreck is at position 53° 21.90N 2° 58.44W. The Hydrographic Office chart marks the location as "Wreck 7.7m" with note: her boiler exploded breaking the vessel in two at her anchorage above New Ferry, the stern end of this vessel was removed by the Underwriters, the bow end was partially destroyed by blasting during 1869 by the Underwriters and its destruction was completed by the MDHB during summer of 1870.
My subsequent investigation by magnetometer and sonar confirms that there is still iron wreckage close to that location. My magnetometer surveying gives a strongest return at a position (WGS84) 53° 21.953N 2° 58.454W and shows a significant return over an area about 60m long in a NNW-SSE direction. There is also a sonar return near this peak position; which is very close to the charted position described as "Wreck 6.5m" (at 53° 21.95N 2° 58.47W) which lies about 100m NNW of the "Wreck 7.7m" described above and is listed as "unknown 47" by MDHB.

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