Wooden paddle steamer Clydesdale, built McMillan and Hunter, Greenock, 1826
130 grt, 103 x 17 x 8.5 ft
Owned Clydesdale Steam Boat Co., Glasgow
Voyage Glasgow to Belfast 14 May 1828
Caught fire and beached at Corsewall Point [within 100 metres]
Captain Turner, crew and 70 passengers all got safely ashore.
From Chester Chronicle - Friday 30 May 1828
BURNING OF THE CLYDESDALE. The escape of the passengers of the steamer Clydesdale which was consumed by fire, on Friday week, on her voyage from Glasgow to Belfast, is of the most extraordinary character; and will be viewed by those who read the following account of it at a distance from the scene where it occurred, more like a story of romance, than a transaction of reality. On Thursday, at one o'clock, p. m. the Clydesdale sailed from Glasgow, with about 70 passengers; of which only three, two ladies and a gentleman, were booked for the cabin. The ladies belonged to Glasgow, and the gentleman is a resident of Belfast. The first part of the voyage presented nothing unusual; the weather was fine, and the wind blew a steady breeze from the Irish coast. At seven in the evening, the two ladies and the gentleman took tea; and about this time one of the ladies remarked that she heard a crackling noise somewhere about the cabin. No notice, however, was taken of her observation; and at nine the ladies retired to bed - both of them undressing. The other cabin passenger sat reading in the sitting cabin till ten; when he also stretched himself on one of the sofas, and was soon entranced in deep sleep.
He had not been in the enjoyment of this more than an hour, when he was awakened by the heavy tramp of footsteps overhead, and was alarmed by persons hurrying to and fro, amidst the noise of confused voices, mingling themselves wildly, with an increasing and indescribable volume of strange sounds. He hurried on deck - and, there, from the manly, yet astounded crew, learned the appalling intelligence that the vessel was on fire! At this time she was to the south of the Craig of Ailsa; and about fourteen miles from the extreme point of the coast of Ayr. The fire was instantly ascertained to have commenced in a small apartment between the main cabin and the engine room. The word was given, "rip up the deck and pour in water" - but now a fatal want was discovered; there were no tools on board to effect the former object; and, had it even been accomplished, there was a deficiency in buckets. A small opening was at length effected, and some water thrown in; but the fire was now too far a-head to receive a check from such trifling opposition. In little more than five minutes from the first alarm, the flames burst into the main cabin; and the female passengers escaped from their sleeping apartment in a very slight undress - one, or both, being without shoes or stockings. The alarm was now universal on board; and the silent astonishment which was depicted on the countenances of some of the passengers, formed a strange contrast with the screams of horror, and fixed look of despair of others. Amidst this scene of dismay, Captain Turner never for a moment lost his presence of mind. He felt the danger, and with promptness and decision directed the steersman to put about, and run for the nearest land. The order was decisively obeyed; and Maxwell the pilot, fixing his eye steadily on the Corsewall light, as on a beacon which was to guide his course in his awful struggle to save the lives of seventy souls from a terrible death, stood manfully to his post. It was now nearly half-past eleven - the night murky, without moon or starlight - not a vestige of sail could be discerned - the wind blowing pretty strong off the Ayr coast; and the bold headland on which the Corsewall light is placed, about fourteen miles a-head.
Very shortly after the flames burst into the cabin, the Steward's cellar was found to be on fire; the spirits in which, together with the tallow and coals in the engine-room, contributed to increase most fearfully the strength of the devouring element. The entire of the vessel abaft-midships was now on fire; and the steersman, with those of the crew whose business occasionally led them on the quarter-deck, may be said to have been treading over a crater of flame, and to be breathing a dense atmosphere of thick smoke! In this frightful state, the two ladies who had but lately made their escape from the very apartment which now presented an undivided sheet of fire, were compelled, with the aid of their fellow passenger, to force their way towards the bows of the vessel - and, here such scene of horror and misery presented itself to their view, no pen can describe. Some of the women were on their knees, with arms devoutly crossed on their bosoms, in silent and solemn prayer; whilst the helpless children clung round their necks, and, unheeded, implored the protection of a parent. Others wrung their hands in despair, and fearfully shouted for relief; ever and anon giving vent to a wild and incoherent appeal to Heaven, to preserve their lives. The men were mostly silent - hope was seen in the eye of some - despair sat in the countenance of others - but, every look and every word told how little reliance was to be placed in the chance of escape. The firemen were compelled to flee from the engines; and, from the internal heat of the burning vessel, she dashed fearfully towards land, self-impelled by the elements of her own destruction!
The Corsewall light is kept by a Mr. Kennedy, who, with his assistant, and their families, live inside the building; it is situated on a precipitous headland of one of the most rugged coasts in the world. Mr. Kennedy was attending to his duties, between the hours of twelve and one, when a hollow sound, at great distance, arrested his attention; it came westward; and resembled the tolling of a bell - intermingled with heavy moaning, like those gusts of the hurricane which are the sure forerunner of a terrible tempest. The Spirit of Death seemed moving over the dark waters, which heaved frightfully and terrifically far beneath his lonely dwelling, he instantly went on the lookout: and, in a short time, he discovered a hazy-light in the distance, the tolling of the bell became nearer, the dark light increased in strength, the hollow murmur of despair became stronger, and, at length, he discovered a floating mass of fire, with the sound of living things within it, approaching the projecting rock on which he stood. He was soon convinced it was a vessel on fire; and, from the rapidity of its motion, had strong hopes that she would gain the shore before she became prey to the two contending elements of destruction. At length the vessel came so near, that he could distinguish voices, and hear the prayer of thanksgiving intermixed with the still continued shout of despair. The waters all around shone like a sheet of burnished gold - the bright blaze of the light-house was totally eclipsed, and he saw distinctly the Clydesdale move slowly under the rock upon which he stood - her sides one continued sheet of flame - her bows and masts stowed full of living souls, each lashed to some spar, oar, or piece of wood wrenched from the side in a moment of despair - and Maxwell standing the helm, with the plank beneath his feet a burning cinder, and clouds of flame curling around his undaunted forehead! It was now past one, and the engines had been worked nearly two hours by the internal heat of the burning vessel. Most fortunately, there is a small indentation in the bold headland at the Corsewall point, into which the vessel was accidentally steered; and one of her paddle-boxes coming into contact with part of the rock, the vessel was thereby held for about ten minutes, during which time the entire passengers got ashore. One of the ladies who escaped from the cabin, was, at the moment of her landing, actually without shoes or stockings. The captain and crew were the last to quit the floating pile of fire which has been most aptly described as presenting the appearance of a transparent skeleton of an unfinished ship.
In the moment of gratitude to Divine Providence for this most miraculous escape, few thought of the loss of their luggage, money, etc. (a good deal of which was saved,) but they were soon aroused from this delirium of joy, and awakened to a sense of the imminent peril from which they had just escaped, by seeing the vessel, a few minutes after they were landed, part in two; and the flames extinguished by the burning remains being immersed in deep water.
Mr. Kennedy received the passengers and crew into his apartments, and administered every comfort to them which his situation afforded. A cask of whiskey, which, in the early part of the catastrophe had been brought to the bows of the vessel, was got ashore, and was found of great relief to the distressed passengers.
We have heard but one opinion, from every quarter, of the conduct of the captain and the crew - it is, that they displayed the temper and the intrepridity of men who know how to overcome danger, by manfully meeting it - Northern Whig.