Tragedy on the Londonderry Paddle Steamer

1st December 1848
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On the first of December, 1848, the Londonderry Paddle Steamer was forced to take shelter in Derry Harbour. The boat was rounding the North Irish coast when a bad storm broke. The steerage passengers, who would normally remain on deck for the duration of the journey were forced to go below deck to protect themselves from the storm. However, the area where they were being held was far too small to accomodate all 174 of them. Conditions were extremely cramped and the passengers struggled to breathe. When the hold was opened in the morning, it was discovered that 31 women, 23 men, and 18 children had all be crushed or suffocated to death. 

The crew were put on trial and convicted of manslaughter. 

Those who lost their lives had been attempting to leave Ireland to escape the Great Famine. 

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  • There’s an account of the events in the morning Chronicle of 18th December 1848, and in the Worcester Chronicle of 13th December. Taken from a statement given by the Captain (Captain Johnstone) and other sources. The vessel (named the Londonderry) was sailing from Sligo to Liverpool with a cargo of cattle, sheep and 190 passengers. Most were emigrants to the US who were to join a transatlantic ship at Liverpool. The wind increased to hurricane force and there was snow. A companion cover on deck broke loose (the companionway being the route below decks) and went over the side. The crew covered it with a tarpaulin and sealed it to prevent the sea going below decks and sinking the ship. Some of the cattle broke loose from where they were contained on the ship and were sliding about below decks. Some dying. The sealing of the companionway, combined with the  fact that there were over 150 people in the area below decks meant there was insufficient oxygen and passengers started to die.  The bodies were all badly trampled and bleeding and the newspaper accounts make grim reading. Most of the passengers were described as “poor farmers from Sligo & Ballina”. An equal mix of men and women. The vessel eventually made it into Moville (in Lough Foyle) before proceeding up to Londonderry where the police were summoned. According to the Captain, unless he had taken the action he took the whole ship would have sunk and all on board drowned. As it was 72 died. The Captain & Mate were arrested and sent for trial for manslaughter.

    Elwyn

    Thursday 28th November 2019, 01:39PM

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