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The Wreck of the Drummond Castle
Drummond Castle ar Dartmouth

SS. Drummond Castle in Dartmouth Devon Drummond Castle at anchor in Dartmouth (Devon)
Photo dating from before 1889 from the museum © National Maritime Museum Greenwich

On 28 May 1896 Donald Currie’s Company’s intermediate steamer Drummond Castle, on her way home from Delagoa Bay to England, left Cape Town on what was to be her final journey. A fortnight later she called at Teneriffe. A concert was held in the saloon on the evening of 16 June, the night before she was due home, with most of the passengers going to their cabins afterwards as the deck wasn’t inviting – the sea was calm, but there was a drizzle and the visibility was poor due to a thick haze.

Approaching Ushant, a locality known to be dangerous, due to strong currents, the Captain had not reduced the ship's speed and neither had span he required soundings. It appears that the ship was caught in the treacherous currents and was pulled in eastward, without anyone realising. At 11pm she struck the reef known as the Pierres Vertes the entrance to Fronveur Sound, between Ushant and an island to the south. Within a few minutes she had gone to the bottom.

Her sinking was so fast that accounts of the disaster do not throw much light on matters. Charles Marquardt, the only surviving passenger, stated that the Captain believed the ship to be wedged on the rocks and had hesitated about lowering the boats. Looking back on the disaster, it is difficult to imagine how Marquardt, a passenger, could know this since we are assured that the ship had sunk within four minutes of striking the reef. The Chief Engineer, however, in a heroic decision, raced below to prevent the boilers bursting. Horrified passengers rushed on deck but there was no hope for them or for the stricken ship. Four minutes after the vessel struck she was a mass of floating wreckage.

The following morning, fishermen saw two men clinging to some flotsam – Quartermaster Wood and a seaman, Godbolt – and these were taken on board the fishing vessel and landed on the island of Molene. Charles Marquardt, also picked up by fishermen in the vicinity, was landed at Ushant.

Of those aboard, only 3 survived. The survivors were, the aforementioned, Mr Charles Marquardt, and two crew members, Quartermaster Charles Wood, and Leading Seaman William Godbolt.

Gobolt and Wood
The Two Surving Crew members
Charles Wood et William Godbolt
©Le Monde Illustrated of 27 June 1896

For several days, bodies continued to be washed up on the islands near the scene of the wreck. Many of the victims were buried at once in common graves as there wasn’t enough wood available for so many coffins.

Marquardt had cabled the Currie Company 'Drummond Castle total loss off Ushant. Am probably sole survivor'. As soon as the news broke, crowds flocked to the Castle offices in Fenchurch Street, London. Relatives of some of those on board travelled out to the islands near Ushant but all hope of finding further survivors was quickly abandoned.

The South African public was stunned by the news, which impacted directly on almost every town in the country. At the Cape, Parliament adjourned as a mark of respect to those lost in the calamity. Few wrecks have been as appallingly sudden as that of the Drummond Castle.

One such family, probably impacted more so than any other was the Peachey family. They were a wealthy family of tea planters in Tongaat (Province of Natal - South Africa). Thomas Peachey was traveling with his wife, Lucy Emma and family accompanied by their governess. They were intending to stay in England with an old friend of the settler family, Mr Millet in Lelant - West Cornwall and was to stay 6 months. In all 9 members of the family and the governess perished.

Mrs Peachey Snr. was born Lucy Emma Thring. Her sister Alice Elizabeth had married John Munro in 1868. Alice was killed in a tragic accident in Newcastle in 1877.

The Peachey FamilyPeachey Names
The Thomas Peachey family
Photo 1894 © The London News Illustrated, 06 27 1896
the newspaper had marked with an asterisk the members who had perished in the catastrophe. The photo must date from at least 1894, because little Eileen was probably not born

Peachey Memorial FullPeachey Memorial
The Memorial to the Peachey Family at the Old Cemetery in Tongaat, Natal
Acknowledgements:
  • Mole's Genealogy Blog - A blogpost entitled "Passengers on the Drummond Castle 1896 "
  • Molene.fr - A French web page covering the Wreck of the Drummond Castle
  • Drummond Castle - An article on the British and Commonwealth Register Website
  • eGGSA - Gravestone Project


© 2021 Don Munro