RMS Quetta

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RMS Quetta 1884a.jpg
Ship data
flag United KingdomUnited Kingdom (Service Flag at Sea) United Kingdom
Ship type Passenger ship
home port London
Shipping company British India Steam Navigation Company
Shipyard William Denny and Brothers , Dumbarton
Build number 243
Launch March 1, 1881
Whereabouts Sunk off Queensland on February 28, 1890
Ship dimensions and crew
115.82 m ( Lüa )
width 12.28 m
Draft Max. 9.3 m
measurement 3,302 GRT
crew 121
Machine system
machine Two-cylinder compound steam engine
490 PS (360 kW)
13.5 kn (25 km / h)
propeller 1
Transport capacities
Permitted number of passengers I. class: 72
III. Class: 32

The RMS Quetta was a passenger ship of the British shipping company British India Steam Navigation Company , completed in 1881 , which transported passengers , freight and mail from Great Britain to Australia between 1883 and 1890 . On February 28, 1890, in clear weather and calm seas , the Quetta was crossing the Torres Strait on the coast of the Australian state of Queensland , when it rammed a previously undisclosed underwater rock, which tore it open and made it sink within three minutes. 134 of the 292 people on board died. To date, it is the worst shipwreck in Queensland history.

The ship

The 3,302 GRT steamship Quetta was built in 1881 at the William Denny and Brothers shipyard in the Scottish town of Dumbarton on the River Clyde . The 115 meter long hull was made of iron . The ship had a single propeller and the rigging of a three-masted schooner . The two-cylinder compound steam engines made up to 490 nominal horsepower and helped the ship to a cruising speed of up to 13.5 knots. The Quetta was launched on March 1, 1881 and was completed on May 19 of the same year.

The Quetta , around 1884

The Quetta was commissioned by the British India Steam Navigation Company (often just called the British India Line ), who added her to their fleet of steamers that were used for passenger and mail traffic to India and the Far East . Originally the Quetta was intended for the route London - Calcutta - London , but after only two trips to India it was converted for the long trips to Australia and provided with appropriate cooling devices for the transport of frozen meat.

The government of the Australian state of Queensland tried to maintain regular connections to Great Britain. The Quetta was put on the London - Brisbane route and entered Brisbane for the first time on June 5, 1883. By 1890, the Quetta had completed eleven round trips on the route. The passenger accommodations were designed for 72 first class passengers and 32 tween deck passengers. The tween deck was later expanded as many emigrants used the service. The Quetta had two sister ships , the 2971 GRT large Merkara (1875) and the 4707 GRT large Manora (1883). These two ships also steamed from London to Brisbane. The name prefix RMS was given to the Quetta because it brought Royal Mail mail from Great Britain to Australia for the Queensland Royal Mail Line .

The rescue equipment included 600 life jackets , eight life buoys and seven boats (three lifeboats , a mail boat, a dinghy , a cutter and a gig ).

The downfall

On the way to Torres Street

On Tuesday, February 18, 1890 at 6 p.m., the Quetta left Brisbane under the command of Captain Alfred Sanders on her twelfth voyage to London. Sanders stood on the Quetta bridge for the first time . In addition to passengers, cargo and mail, the ship also had a pilot , Captain Eldred Keatinge, on board who was supposed to help navigate the difficult waters of the Torres Strait , which was considered dangerous .

The Quetta called at several ports along the Australian east coast, including Cooktown , which was reached 24 hours later than planned. In Townsville , 18 passengers boarded, including four mothers with children. A total of 121 crew members, 101 passengers (26 first class, 75 between decks) and 70 Indonesian workers from the island of Java were on board. There were a total of 292 people, including 40 women and 25 children.

February 28, 1890 was a day with calm seas and clear weather conditions. Keatinge was used to directing ships through the Albany Passage to Thursday Island . This passage was narrow and full of currents, but it was the faster route and Keatinge had crossed it safely 13 times in the past. However, Captain Sanders had received instructions to steam through the wider and deeper Adolphus Channel and insisted on that route.

Downfall in the Adolphus Channel

By 9 p.m. on February 28, the Quetta had already made much of the route through the Adolphus Channel and was about five miles east of the Cape York Peninsula , which was to be circled. On board, preparations were underway for a concert that was to take place in the music salon with the participation of the passengers. At 9:14 p.m. the Quetta suddenly trembled from bow to stern. Creaking and scraping noises could be heard from below. The ship had run unexpectedly at full speed to the top of an underwater rock that had never been shown on any map and that slashed the hull from the bow to amidships to the engine room .

The Quetta immediately began to sink, bow first, at a 45-degree angle. Captain Sanders ordered the passengers to the stern. Numerous people jumped or fell overboard. Although the hull was divided into seven watertight compartments, the ship sank in just three minutes. The water seeped rapidly and in great quantities into the portholes on the lower decks, drowning passengers in their cabins. When the cold sea water reached the boilers , they exploded .

After the ship sank, a maelstrom of rubble and panicked people spread, struggling to survive and pulling together. Most of them could not swim and did not last long. The suction tore most people down, so that only a few bodies were found later . The ship's lifeboat drifted off and capsized, but Quartermaster James Oates managed to get it scooped up and straightened. Lifeboat No. 1 on the starboard side, under the command of Third Officer Thomas Babb, was the Quetta's only lifeboat that could be safely lowered into the water. It was damaged and leaked, but it was able to recover many survivors from the water, including Captain Sanders.

The other lifeboats went down with the ship or were smashed. Numerous passengers clung to floating wreckage and overturned boats. Around midnight, the boat and the cutter met and headed for the nearby Mount Adolphus Island, where they dropped about 80 survivors. Sanders then sent the cutter off again to look for more people. After a night and a day without food and water on Mount Adolphus Island, the castaways were rescued by the small steamer Albatross , which had been sent from Port Kennedy on Thursday Island together with the auxiliary cruiser Merrie England to search for survivors. The Albatross measured the depth of the water by plumb and located the rock that the Quetta had collided with. The rescued were brought to Thursday Island.


134 of the 292 passengers and crew members were killed in the sinking. Four of the 40 women survived and one of the 25 children survived. The city of Brisbane in particular was hit hard by the disaster, as most of the victims came from there. Many respected and well-known personalities of the city were on board and died in the sinking, including the well-known local politician Claudius Buchanan Whish with his wife Anne Ker Whish, John Watson, one of the co-founders of the Watson printing company , Ferguson and Company with his wife Elizabeth Selim Watson Alexander Archer, director of the Bank of New South Wales branch in Brisbane and his wife, Mary Louisa Mackenzie Archer, daughter of Sir Robert Mackenzie , and Reuben Nicklin, grandfather of the future Prime Minister of Queensland , Francis Nicklin, and his wife, Jane Lahey Nicklin. Their 19-year-old daughter Alice Elizabeth Nicklin was one of the few surviving women.

The rescued infant, a girl, could not be identified. One of the men aboard the Merrie England , Captain Edmund Brown, adopted the child as he and his wife were childless. It was named Cecil Lechmere Brown. The girl was usually called Cissy, but the nickname Quetta also caught on. There has been much speculation about the child's identity but never a definitive conclusion.

The Marine Board of Inquiry investigated the accident and absolved Sanders and Keatinge of all guilt, as the rock with which the Quetta had collided was not known until then. To commemorate the death toll was in 1893 on Thursday Iceland Anglican Church Quetta All Souls Memorial Church built. A compass , a lifebuoy and other items that could be recovered from the wreck are kept in it. In its bell tower rings to date, the ship's bell of Quetta . The wreck of the ship is at position 10 ° 42 ′ 28.8 ″  S , 142 ° 23 ′ 35.4 ″  E. Coordinates: 10 ° 42 ′ 28.8 ″  S , 142 ° 23 ′ 35.4 ″  E at 18 m Depth. In 1981 it was declared a Historic Shipwreck ("Historic Shipwreck") and is thus under the protection of the Historic Shipwrecks Act of 1976. The rock that the ship hit was named Quetta Rock and was included in the nautical charts. To date, the sinking of the Quetta is the worst shipping disaster with which the state of Queensland is associated.


  • Max Jeffreys: Murder, Mayhem Fire and Storm: Australian Shipwrecks . New Holland Publishers (Australia), 1999
  • John CH Foley: The Quetta: Queensland's Worst Disaster. The Story of the Wreck of RMS Quetta in Torres Strait in 1890 . Nairana Publications (Australia), 1990

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