A terrible disaster that caused a thrill of horror throughout the Empire and particularly in Auckland, for which port the vessel was bound, was the burning of the emigrant ship Cospatrick, 1220 tons, west by south of Cape of Good Hope on November 17, 1874. There were 473 souls aboard, and only three survived. It was at midnight that the fire broke out in the forepart of the ship, which was then several hundred miles from land. In spite of heroic
The Ill-Fated Ship Cospatrick.
efforts, the crew and passengers could make no headway against the flames, and the ship having lost steerage way, got her head to the wind, and the fire quickly ran aft, hampering the work of getting out the boats. The first boats lowered were sunk, and only two boats kept afloat. A gale sprang up on the 21st, and one was never heard of again. The other, the port lifeboat, with 41 persons—all men—aboard, saw the ship sink on the 19th and all those that remained on board drowned before their eyes. The master, Captain Elmslie, threw his wife and little child into the sea, and he himself followed when he saw it was hopeless. After drifting about for ten days the port lifeboat was picked up by the ship British Sceptre. All but five died of hunger, thirst and exposure. Some went mad before death came. Two of the five died on board the British Sceptre. The second mate, the quartermaster, and a lad were all that survived that awful holocaust.
The mate, Mr. Henry McDonald, one of the survivors, when he reached England, at an inquiry held, stated:—"I was aroused from sleep by the cry of 'Fire!' Rushing on deck I found dense clouds of smoke were issuing from the fore peak. The bo-sun's locker, full of oakum, rope, varnish, and paint, was ablaze. The fire engine was rigged, and soon the forepart of the ship was deluged with water. They had already got her head before the wind, but presently, by some extraordinary mischance, and one that was never explained, she came head to the wind; and then the smoke was driven aft in suffocating clouds. Flames burst out 'tween decks, and in an hour and a-half the Cospatrick
was doomed. Dreadful scenes followed, for a panicpage 63
broke out among the emigrants. One boat was launched, but was immediately swamped by the crowd of demented men and women that jumped into it. The long boat caught fire; and in the end only two boats got away safely—the port and the starboard lifeboats. They stood off, and helpless to assist, watched the tragedy to the bitter end. The main and mizzen masts fell, and many of those who had crowded aft were crushed
Captain Elmsley And Survivors.
to death. Then the stern was blown out. That was the end, and the shrieks of the survivors were silenced suddenly in the roaring flames.