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The loss of HMS Racehorse in 1864
|► The Royal Navy|
On the evening of 4 November 1864 the steam gunvessel HMS Racehorse was wrecked in the Bay of Lung-mun, about 12 miles to the east of Chofooo (modern Yantai), China (Google map), with the loss of 99 lives.
|Extracts from the Times newspaper|
|We 4 January 1865|
THE LOSS OF THE RACEHORSE.
[The following appeared in our Second Edition of yesterday.]
We have received the following communication from the Admiralty, with the request to publish it:-
"HER MAJESTY'S SHIP TARTAR, SHANGHAI, Nov. 14, 1864.
"My Lord, - It is my painful duty to report direct for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that Her Majesty's ship Racehorse was wrecked on the night of the 4th inst., at 8 30 p.m., about five leagues south-east of Chefoo Cape, and about two miles E.S.E. from White Rock. Only nine of her crew have been saved - three officers and six men.
"A list of officers drowned and saved is also attached.
"The Racehorse, in pursuance of orders from the Commander-in-Chief, was on her way to Chefoo from this port. She left here on the 1st inst.
"'Her Majesty's gunboat Insolent, Teutai, Nov. 8,1864.
"' Sir, - I am ordered by Captain Boxer to report that Her Majesty's ship Racehorse was wrecked on the night of Friday, the 4th of November, at 8 30 p.m., about five leagues to the S.E. of Chefoo Cape, and about two miles E.S.E. from White Rock, and only nine of her crew saved.
"'At the time of the ship striking it was comparatively smooth, boats were lowered, stream anchor and cable placed in cutters ready to lay out, when heavy rollers set in, swamping both cutters and gig, and breaking entirely over the ship; the masts were then cut away, and the ship steamed full speed on shore, endeavouring to save life, but, the wind increasing to a gale, the rollers washed away all skylights and filled the ship.
"'The ship's company were then, sent aft, told the position of the ship, and that if they held on till daylight there was every hope of all hands being saved. Unfortunately, the endurance of only a few was equal to this, the poor fellows dropping off one by one from the effects of the cold and the force of the sea.
"'A list of those saved and lost is enclosed.
"'Captain Boxer desires me to add that the conduct of the officers and men during this frightful night was most cool and collected, obeying every order smartly and energetically, especially by the First-Lieutenant, Master, and Boatswain.
"'A LIST OF THE OFFIVCERS AND MEN WHO WERE SAVED AND LOST ON THE OCCASION OF HER MAJESTY'S SHIP RACEHORSE BEING WRECKED:-
"'Those whose names are marked * signify that the bodies have been recovered and buried.
"'OFFICERS AND MEN SAVED.
"'LIST OF MEN LOST.
"'number on ship's books:- Belonging to ship, 94; private servant, 1; supernumeraries, 13; total, 108."'G.T. NICOLAS, Lieut. Commanding Her Majesty's Gunboat Insolent."
|Th 5 January 1865||The wreck of HER MAJESTY'S ship Racehorse in the China Seas with ninety-nine hands on board is a disaster of a kind that we rarely have to record. Modern seamanship, and the modern power of steam, have so reduced the perils of the ocean that even merchantmen of the class that go on long voyages very seldom founder or get ashore. The revolving storms of the West Indies and the Mauritius have been brought under the dominion of science, and the sailor now steers by fixed rules at such an angle as to clear the approaching cyclone, instead of scudding blindly into the vortex of it. When he is compelled to heave-to the engines enable him to keep his ship's head steady towards the wind, and when he is in a narrow channel he may feel his way under steam as deliberately and safely as if he were on foot. The consequence is that the wholesale catastrophes of past times, such as the disappearance of several Indiamen together within sight of their consorts, are now almost unknown upon the high seas, and that a lee-shore has already lost somewhat of its terrors. What is true of merchantmen is doubly true of "QUEENS's ships." Men-of-war are never short-handed ; they are seldom unduly pressed for time; they always carry three or four times as many men as merchantmen of the same tonnage, and can, therefore, be handled with much greater precision. When we hear that such a vessel has gone down off a coast that is perfectly well explored, and that only nine out of a crew of 107 have been saved, we naturally expect to find that some dire and exceptional complication, of misfortunes overtook her.|
On the contrary, the accident which befell the Racehorse seems at present to defy explanation. The only account of it that has reached us is derived from her commander, Captain BOXER, who is happily one of the survivors, but whose report is conveyed through Lieutenant NICOLAS, of the Insolent. We must presume that Captain BOXER was himself too ill or too much exhausted to give any description of the event in his own handwriting, and attribute to the same cause the fragmentary character of the details thus transmitted. We learn from Captain HAYES, commanding the Tartar at Shanghai, and senior officer of the North China Division, that the Racehorse had been ordered to leave that port for Chefoo - we suppose the harbour at the entrance of the Pecheli Gulf. At half-past eight on the evening of November 4, when she had arrived within five leagues of Chefoo Cape, and was about two miles east of White Rock, she seems to have struck; not that this fact is stated directly, but we infer it from the remark in Lieutenant NICOLAS's letter to Captain HAYES, that "at the time of the ship striking it was comparatively smooth." It is tolerably clear, then, that stress of weather had nothing to do with the collision up to this time; but whether the rock was marked on the Admiralty charts or was unknown to seamen we have no means of judging. However, "boats were lowered, stream-anchor and cable placed in boats ready to lay out, when heavy rollers set in, swamping both cutters and gig, and breaking entirely over the ship. The masts were then cut away, and the ship steamed full speed on shore, endeavouring to save life; but the wind increasing to a gale, the rollers washed away all skylights and filled the ship." It is for nautical men to form an opinion out of these scanty materials as to the cause of the calamity and the means taken to meet it; but, whatever the cause, and whatever the means, the lamentable fact remains that a fine ship, fully manned and equipped, was knocked to pieces in the course of an hour or two by a swell rising so suddenly as is here stated. "The ship's company were then sent aft," doubtless because the fore part of the vessel was under water, or swept by the waves. They were "told the position of the ship, and that if they held on till daylight there was every hope of all hands being saved." They did their best, and Captain BOXER bears emphatic testimony to the "most cool and collected" behaviour of all, both officers and men, during the horrors of this fearful night. They "obeyed every order smartly and 'energetically," and the First Lieutenant, Master, and Boatswain, of whom only the last was saved, set them a noble example. But the struggle with the elements was too much for the endurance of all but nine, and the rest "dropped off one by one from the effects of the cold and the force of the sea." We are not even informed how the few survivors escaped the same fate, or by what means Captain BOXER reached the Insolent. As soon as Captain HAYES received the news, he despatched the Rattler to render any further assistance that might be possible, and we must patiently await fuller particulars. The circumstance that ten bodies had already been recovered and buried within three days after the wreck is a strong presumption that all these lives must have been lost near the shore.There is nothing that shocks the imagination or excites the sympathies more than a shipwreck of this kind, and we earnestly hope that it may prove to have been due to causes beyond human control. Any suspicion that some terrible loss might have been prevented by proper care and caution seriously aggravates the effect of it, not only on bereaved relatives, but on the public. Recent occurrences, tending to shake our confidence in the seamanship which was the pride of our navy when scientific navigation was in its infancy, may perhaps suggest this suspicion in the present instance. Considering how imperfect our knowledge of the facts is, we should rather suspend our judgment, and hope that no blame rests with any one, living or dead. It cannot be said of shipwrecks, as it may of railway accidents, that almost all must needs proceed from some piece of culpable neglect. There are conjunctures, as every sailor knows, against which no skill is proof, currents so variable that they cannot be calculated, quicksands so shifting that they cannot be laid down on charts, seas in which no ship can live long, especially if the wind is also blowing a hurricane, without being strained in some vital point or springing a fatal leak. His art consists, in great part, in avoiding these conjunctures by eschewing dangerous seasons and localities and running out of storms, if he is unlucky enough to get into them. Unavoidable shipwrecks represent the cases in which he is baffled by some irresistible combination of mischances, and when they do occur they are probably the highest of all tests of courage. There is nothing sublimer on record than the discipline of the troops on board the Birkenhead, and the finest specimens of self-sacrifice in modern times have been displayed by common sailors in shipwrecks. It is consolatory to know that this heroic spirit was not wanting among those who clung to the wreck of the Racehorse, and that if we have lost a fine ship and gallant crew, we have gained at least a new assurance that habits of duty are superior to the fear of death.
|Fr 6 January 1865||THE LOSS OF THE RACEHORSE. - The following account of the loss of Her Majesty's steamship Racehorse is from the North China Daily News:- "We regret to have to report the total loss of Her Britannic Majesty's despatch boat Racehorse, which occurred on the evening of the 4th of November in the Bay of Lung-mun, about 12 miles to the east of Chofoo. At 8 o'clock on the above evening the weather being at the time extremely thick and hazy, it was thought that the vessel was entering Chefoo harbour, to which Lung-mun Bay bears a great resemblance. Similar accidents have occurred on previous occasions, as, for instance, in the case of the British bark Homer, which was totally wrecked there daring last winter, and the steamer Swatow, which, under exactly similar circumstances, was indebted to a mere accident for preservation from destruction. As soon as the Racehorse went ashore, the masts were cut away and every attempt made to lighten her and get her off. These efforts were, however, unsuccessful, as a gale, which had been threatening for some time before, set in with terrific violence, and prevented the men from either working at the ship or launching the boats. Nothing remained, then, for the crew to do but to fasten themselves down as best they could. Enormous seas continued to sweep over the deck so that next morning, out of a total strength of 108 officers and men only nine survivors were found, the rest having perished of cold and exhaustion, or having been swept off the decks. The survivors are the commander, the paymaster, boatswain, and six sailors, who saved themselves by taking to the last remaining boat, and drifting about for 38 hours, when they were picked up by a junk. On the morning after the wreck Her Majesty's gunboat Insolent, accompanied by a French despatch vessel, cruized for a considerable time in the neighbourhood, but did not succeed in picking up any others of the crew."|
|Fr 6 January 1865|
WRECK OP HER MAJESTY'S SHIP RACEHORSE
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,- It may be some consolation for the sorrowing widows of the seamen and Marines lost in Her Majesty's ship Racehorse to learn through your columns that they will each receive from the funds of Greenwich Hospital, as per Act 26th and 27th Victoria, a gratuity equal to one year's pay of the rating their deceased husbands held.
The Lords of the Admiralty did a noble act when they instituted this great boon, already many poor widows have had their hearts gladdened thereby.
Application should be forwarded to the Secretary of Greenwich Hospital,Yours obediently, R.N.
|Tu 17 January 1865|
THE LOSS OF THE BOMBAY.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - On behalf of an old friend and brother officer allow me, through your columns, to beg the press to stay judgment upon the unfortunate burning of Her Majesty's ship Bombay until a court-martial investigates the affair and awards praise or blame to the captain, officers, or crew. I am moved to do this in consequence of the very unusual coarse pursued in the case of tie wreck of Her Majesty's ship Racehorse, near Chefoo, in which, it appears to me that upon a most lame report, coming not from the commander, for he was, I believe, too shattered from a night of frightful exposure to be able to hold a pen, a sort of loose sentence of condemnation has been passed upon that officer's judgment, seamanship, and qualities as navigator. Indeed, some of our professional papers have been good enough to bewail the decadence of naval seamanship, founding their alarm upon the wreck in question.
If it was more generally understood by the public how terrible the loss of his ship, whether by battle, fire, or wreck, is counted by the captain of a man-of-war, I am sure there would be more forbearance shown. It is the first thing instilled into us to remember that we are intrusted with an emblem of England's sovereignty, that it is to be used for her honour and glory, not to be surrendered to her enemies, and, under peril of all an officer can hold dear, not to be wantonly risked or injured.
Fancy, then, what it must be to be condemned unheard by one's countrymen when such a sorrow as the loss of his ship falls upon a wretched commander.
For my part I only wonder we have had so few wrecks on that dangerous coast of China, where as yet there is not a single lighthouse, and hardly a beacon; and the burning of the Bombay can be no matter of astonishment to officers who are aware that in the present day every ship is using in cabins, messrooms, &c., those dangerous oils extracted from petroleum. The burning of the Spanish flagship in Peru ought to have been a caution to us.Believe me, Sir, yours very truly,
SHERARD OSBORN, Captain.
Junior United Service Club, Jan. 16.
|Sa 21 January 1865||It is a strange and unhappy illustration of a well-known proverb that so soon after having announced the loss of one of HER MAJESTY'S ships by sinking, we should now have to report the total loss of another by fire. Years may pass without the occurrence of one such calamity, and now we have two within little more than a month of each other. It was on the 4th of last November that the Racehorse struck off Chefoo Cape, and on the 14th of December the Bombay took fire near Montevideo. The two disasters are almost equally complete, and, for the present, equally unaccountable. As far, indeed, as the crew is concerned, the calamity of the Bombay is not quite so lamentable as that of the Racehorse. In the latter case only nine men were saved out of a crew of 107. In the present instance 93 of the crew are, indeed, missing; but from the letter of the Admiral, which we publish this morning, we may, perhaps, hope that some of these will prove to be safe. "The boats having been picked up," he says, "by vessels proceeding to different places, we cannot as yet get a correct return." As far, however, as the ship is concerned the disaster is complete. She burnt with extraordinary rapidity, and in five hours after taking fire she sank in eight fathoms of water.|
The Bombay was a screw steamship of 67 guns and 2,782 tons, and was the flagship of the Admiral commanding on the south-east coast of America. Until the morning of the 14th of December she was at Montevideo, but on that morning the Admiral transferred his flag to another ship, and she left the anchorage under sail. At 5 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day the Admiral received news that she was on fire about 13 miles from his station. Although, however, at such a comparatively short distance, the aid which he despatched was utterly useless. Long before he could reach the scene of the disaster the vessel was deserted, and the sinking of the ship was the only thing yet remaining to complete the calamity. As in the case of the Racehorse, we are here also obliged to put up with a hurried and imperfect account of the disaster, and that not from the officer in command of the ship. The barest facts are all that have reached us. These, however, are sufficient to convey to the mind a picture of unusual horror, and to indicate that even among the terrible examples of the destruction of ships by fire the present instance must occupy a conspicuous place. The struggle with the flames appears to have been completely over in half an hour, and when the contest was then abandoned as hopeless, there remained barely time enough to snatch the ship's crew from the terrible fate which threatened them. "At 3 35 in the afternoon," says the Admiral, "the fire was reported. At 3 52, finding the fire was quickly gaining, the boats were hoisted out." Ten minutes more were sufficient to render it impossible to continue even this operation, and the boats which had been successfully lowered had even then but a quarter of an hour in which to get clear of the ship before the mainmast fell. After that, it must be presumed, all would be over. Those for whom the boats had no room would have to be left to their fate, and nothing would remain to them but the terrible choice of being devoured by one element or swallowed up by another.
In such a terrible disaster there can be but one consolation alike for the relatives of those who are lost as for those who are saved and for their friends - that is, to know that the officers and crew did their duty; and this consolation we have no doubt will be afforded when we receive more complete details. From the report before us there is every reason to anticipate this melancholy satisfaction. In the face of a conflagration of such frightful rapidity it cannot but have required the utmost coolness and discipline to save so considerable a proportion of the crew; and, when we read of the sick having been passed into the boats in the first instance, we are reminded of the spirit which was displayed in the case of the Birkenhead, and cannot but believe that both officers and men must have displayed an equal courage and self-sacrifice. It is, perhaps, impossible for there to be a higher test of courage than is afforded in the destruction by fire of a ship at sea. The extreme probability that a certain number of the crew will have to be sacrificed to the safety of the rest must make every man feel that he stands in the very jaws of death, and the horrible nature of the destruction which threatens him is sufficient to unnerve any but a very high or a very habitual sense of duty. A great fire is by common assent one of the most terrible of catastrophes even on land, but it is hard to imagine anything more dreadful than a fire at sea. All the terrors of two elements are combined in one scene of destruction, and the desolation of the one and the fury of the other are beyond all the horrors which men have elsewhere to meet.As to the cause which produced the disaster, and the reasons which rendered it so uncontrollable, the present report fails to give us any sufficient information. The fire broke out in the after-hold, and from the uncontrollable rapidity with which the flames spread the Admiral inclines to think that it must have broken out close to the spirit-room, "and that the spirit casks must almost immediately have burst and ignited." He assures us that the discipline which had so soon to be exerted in deserting the ship was first displayed in endeavouring to save her. "The fire-bell was immediately rung, and with the greatest order and promptness an abundant supply of water was obtained." We trust, therefore, that the calamity will prove to have been as much beyond control in its origin as it was in its progress, and that it may be a very long time before we have again to record so terrible a disaster to our Navy.
|Fr 27 January 1865|
CHINA AND JAPAN
Shanghai, Dec. 8, 1864.
...Her Majesty's ship Rattler has returned from a visit to the wreck of the Racehorse, which is lying high and dry at low water. She succeeded in recovering all the guns and some personal property, the latter, however, much damaged by the salt water. The bodies of 56 of the crew have been recovered and buried.
|Fr 3 February 1865|
THE WRECK OF THE RACEHORSE
The following is a list of those who perished, and of those who were saved, on the occasion of the wreck of Her Majesty's ship Racehorse:-
"Admiralty, Feb. 2.
"List of Officers and Men belonging to Her Majesty's late Sloop Racehorse; and who were drowned when that Vessel was wrecked on the 4th of November 1864, on the North-West Coast of Shantung, China.
"W. Farquhar, lieutenant; A.G.C. Tait, ditto; Thomas Dobbin, master; J.E. Fawcett, surgeon; G.M. Dooley, chief engineer; Richard Crabbe, assistant-paymaster; W.H. Phillips, assistant-engineer; Edward Topping, ditto; T.W.E. Tickle, ditto; Charles Porter, gunner; David Gingle, ditto; James Keenan, second captain foretop; Thomas Hart, gunner's mate; Joseph Casey, leading seaman; Henry Gray; second captain, forecastle; George Craddock, leading stoker; S. Bourne, stoker; Joshua Evans, ditto: William Wilkinson, ditto; M. Boyd, ditto; Archibald Wilson, ditto: David Forrest, leading stoker; James Evendon, ditto; Edward Flood, carpenter's crew; G.M. Hearssy, ship's steward; James Constable, A.B.; George Winters, A.B.; A.T. Lay, carpenter's crew; G.H, Willard, A.B.; Peter Webster, ship's cook; F.S. Richards, captain's coxswain; James Mummery, quarter-master; John Myers, sailmaker's crew; Thomas Whitelock, chief carpenter's mate; John F. Kirby, quartermaster; George Bailey, stoker; Thomas Brozen, blacksmith; James Veal, ordinary; A. Moon (a Chinaman), ward-room cook; William Cook, ordinary; Henry Whitis, stoker, second class; W.B. Phipps, stoker; William Lucas, stoker, second class; Michael Keaton, stoker; William Watts, ordinary, second class; W.E. Thomas, ditto; George Baxter, ordinary; John Moore, A.B.: George Buckley, A.B.; John Hayward, A.B.; A.J. Tucker, leading seaman; Tom Coball (an Indian), captain's cook; Antonio Soice (an Indian), officer's servant; Domingo Luis Coelho (an Indian), ward-room steward; Augustine Deos (an Indian), engineers' servant; Timothy Sullivan, A.B.; Isaac Jordan, chief boatswain mate ; John Barry, ordinary; Thomas Smellie, ordinary, second class; Robert Burns, ditto; T.J. Malin, ditto; Richard Farrell, A.B.; W.W. Jerred, ordinary, second class; Jesse Sharp, boy, first class; Thomas Dixon, ditto; Richard Allen, ditto; William Vinton, ditto; Thomas Charlick, ditto; Alfred Rippen, boy, first class; W.J. Kingwell, ditto: Robert Crump, ditto; William Jones, ditto; A. Malikin, boy, second class; Samuel Reynolds, sergeant, Royal Marines; W. Woodhead, corporal, Royal Marine Artillery; William Brown, gunner, Royal Marine Artillery; George Taylor, ditto; Samuel Rowe, ditto; Richard Gibbon, ditto; A. Forrester, private, Royal Marines; Eli Carpenter. ditto; Stephen Brown, ditto; James Olley, ditto; A. Burton, ditto; Henry Miller, ditto; George Carrey, ditto.
"E.P. Roberts, second master; W. Smith, leading stoker; Thomas Simmonds, stoker; Thomas Toucher ditto; Taff Thomas, ditto; - Brain, ditto; - Coombs, ditto; William Barnes, corporal, Royal Marines; - Marshall, private, Royal Marines; - M'Nellity, ditto; - Robinson, ditto; Daniel Kerney, boy, second class; Robert Herbert, ditto.
"This list was obtained from the surviving crew, who state it is correct to the best of their knowledge. It is also doubtful whether there was not another Marine on board for the Insolent, as all the survivors agree that there were five Marines, but his name cannot be ascertained. They were sent from the Adventure to the Racehorse on the 2d of November, 1864.
"List of Officers and Men saved from the Racehorse.
"C.R.F. Boxer, commander; W.H. Thompson, paymaster; W. Lowlett, boatswain; John Hollis, boatswain's mate; Owen Roberts, A. B.; William Eaton, ditto; William Nicholls, stoker: Thomas Pugh, gunner, Royal Marine Artillery; William Washington, private, Royal Marines."J.W. WEBB, Commander."
|Tu 2 May 1865||The Tamar [should be: Tartar], screw corvette, Capt. John M. Hayes, arrived at Spithead yesterday evening from China, after having been nearly five years in commission. On passing the Royal residence at Osborne she saluted Her Majesty, and on anchoring at Spithead she exchanged salutes with the Victory, flagship of the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir M. Seymour, K.C.B. The Sprightly, steam-tender, proceeded to Spithead to disembark the naval invalids and the crew of the Racehorse, recently lost in the China Seas; and it is expected the Tartar will proceed to Sheerness to be paid off.|
|We 3 May 1865||LOSS OF HER MAJESTY'S SHIP RACEHORSE. - A court-martial was held on the 1st of February last on board Her Majesty's ship Leopard, at Yokohama, for the trial of Commander C.R.F. Boxer and the surviving officers and crew of Her Majesty's ship Racehorse for the loss of that ship in the Gulf of Pecheli on the 4th of November, 1864. The Court were of opinion that allowance had not been made for a south-east current, and in that respect admonished Commander Boxer to be more careful in future. The Court, however, expressed their opinion that his conduct subsequent to the ship taking the ground reflected the highest honour on him as an officer and a seaman; and the conduct of the officers and of the remainder of the ship's company, especially that of Mr. William Lowlett, boatswain, met with the warmest approval of the Court.|