AN ACCOUNT OF THE SEA TRIALS OF THE BI STEAMER
ABHONA - NOVEMBER 1910
shortly before the ship was lost without trace
following is transcribed and extracted from a manuscript handwritten
in December, 1911, by George Wilde, a young draughtsman with
shipbuilder Alexander Stephen of Linthouse, Govan, describing
sea trials he had attended between 1909 and 1911. The spelling
(ommitted, untill, principle for principal, inadvertantly, occured,
whiskey) and punctuation are precisely as in the original, but
paragraph breaks have been introduced.
Words and parts of words lost due to mouse damage at the bottom
right hand corner are suggested in square brackets [...].
ill fated British India steamer "Abhona" was my next trial; Wednesday
and Thursday, the 2nd & 3rd Novr. 1910 was the date. We went on board
early the previous evg., 7 o'clock, so we had plenty of time for a
look round before bed time. The Abhona was a particularly fine ship,
I mean fine in shape, and was one of the fastest we had turned out
for some time. She had two magnificent sets of quadruple expansion
engines, and her auxiliary machinery was all of the first class order,
and she had six large boilers capable of supplying ample steam to
make her "hum".
Her saloons were
furnished in grand style, also the smoke room and drawing room, the
latter having a piano and two large bookcases containing the pick
of the classics. Our rooms were par excellence, having wardrobes,
washhand basin of the fold up type, writing tables that folded up
against the wall and an electric fan controlled as willed by a switch;
our beds were laid with spotless linen & blankets so there was nothing
left for us to desire, except perhaps, that our sojourn in such a
magnificent ship as this, might be lengthier than, at the most, two
days & nights.
About 11 o'clock,
before going to bed, we must needs have our usual banquet.
There were five of us this time & we all contributed to the feast;
he of the sardines & cake was present, while I was again responsible
for the pineapple chunks. Apples, sweets, chocolate and sandwiches
followed in rapid succession and we ate [the] lot in a manner regardless
of method or discretion.
We finished up
about midnight and were preparing for bed when someone gave us the
wire that supper was being served in the saloon. This was something
we daren't miss, so with one accord we adjourned thither and ate as
if nothing unusual had happened but a short time back. We at last
got to bed as there was nothing more to eat, and at 7.30 the next
morning the steward came round all the cabins and knocked at the door
informing us as he did so, that it was "Half past seven, gentlemen."
We got up & dressed
and I remember that I almost felt disappointed that I wasn't ill;
in fact I felt particularly fresh, whereas by all common reasoning
I ought to have been ill after what I ate the previous night. When
we sat down to breakfast it seemed as if it had been eight days since
we had seen food, instead of only eight hours; thus did we find our
till the party came on board at 11 o'clock we had nothing to do.
(I have ommitted again to say that we had arrived at the tail
of the bank during the night). Well, untill the party arrived
we enjoyed to the full extent the fresh morning breeze coming
from the firth. After the visitors arrived, and before the trial
commenced, we had lunch, and not long after we were up to the
elbows in work, doing the Skelmorlie mile at ten knots. We increase[d]
speed as the trial progressed until on the last two runs we were
doing eighteen knots an hour leaving a wake behind us that would
have graced a battleship.
The trial was
a long one, about twelve runs if I remember right, but it was a delightfully
cool pleasant one; I didn't break sweat till about the last two or
three runs, and even then only a little. I believe the excitement
made me sweat more than the heat, because, well, an engine room isn't
exactly as quiet as a drawing room, this one especially, where eight
ponderous cranks were revolving at 112 revolutions to the minute;
When the trial
was over, we washed and dressed ourselves before we went in to dinner;
we had a delightful dinner that set us in such good spirits that our
greatest enemy would have been freely forgiven if he had met us after
it. This was about 4 pm, so as we were remaining on board that night
also, we went and comfortably ensconced ourselves in the smokeroom
and there worked out the indicator diagrams we had taken that day,
to see what horse power our engines were developing.
At 6 o'clock
we had barely finished when the steward told us that tea was ready.
We didn't object, so we went in and had a good tea of fish and cold
meat not to mention other minor delicacies such as "bun". After tea
we went back to the smokeroom and got out the cards again; not [indicator]
cards this time, but those with the red and black spots and faces
on them: you know the kind I mean. We didn't abuse the cards though,
but played the good old game of whist for a couple of hours.
We had a most
enjoyable time, but still we weren't angry when the steward invited
us to supper at 9 o'clock; truly they didn't mean us to starve on
board this ship. Coffee and cold meat and sandwiches were the principle
items of the supper, but I partly spoiled mine by inadvertantly lifting
a sandwich on which there was mustard: ugh! I am like cats, I don't
like mustard, but up to that point I had done not so bad, so there
wasn't a great deal of harm done.
we went into the drawing room where the steward gave us several selections
and accompanied some of the officers and others who sang. We had a
real first class concert and as the steward had a pile of music about
two feet high there was songs in plenty to choose from. I had mine
chosen, and would have sung it too, as would have some others of our
crowd, had the lateness of the hour not brought the entertainment
to a close. We had such a delightfully happy time and everybody was
so free that the memory of it is still quite plain; after the event
which subsequently followed I don't think I shall ever forget it.
We got to bed
about midnight again and after a pleasant night's rest [the] steward
woke us again at 7.30 the next morning. After we got washed and dressed
we had our breakfast at 8 o'clock as usual which we all enjoyed, afterwards
enjoying a deck stroll till about 11 o'clock again, when the party,
who had gone home after the trial the previous day, came on board.
They were accompanied by our old friend of the fur coat, Sir James
MacKay, now Lord Inchcape, who is chairman of the British India Company.
Just before they
came on board, we learned from a newspaper that someone had got hold
of, that an earthquake had occured in Glasgow the previous evening;
ie, Wednesday 2nd Novr. We were greatly surprised and felt a little
anxious, not knowing the actual extent of the damage; we wondered
whether we should feel glad that we had been out of the city, or sorry
that we had missed such a unique experience. However, now that the
party is on board, let the trial proceed.
We had a most
pleasant day of it and I was as cool as it was possible to be in any
engine room. We only did four runs on the mile, all at top speed,
but I felt inclined to do twenty four. We managed to get 18? knots
out of her, which was quite a decent speed; I had a bet on with the
Chief Draughtsman and another chap, that she would do 181/4 knots,
the Chief 181/2, and the other chap said 19. The winner was to [get]
a packet of cigarettes from each [of the] two losers and as I was
the w[inner I] expected to get them. I only got one packet however,
as the Chief wouldn't pay up; perhaps he forgot all about it.
We were finished
fairly early with the trial so we had nice time to prepare for our
departure and to get dinner. We had a splendid dinner in the saloon,
Sir James MacKay being present this time. I never saw such a variety
of drinks at any table before; there was whiskey, claret, champagne,
Port wine, beer, soda and several aerated waters which was all the
extent to which some of us went, although I saw some who had a taste
of almost everything.
I was very sorry
when we arrived off Gourock and we had to go ashore in the tug. We
had got very friendly with the steward, and some of the officers and
engineers who were sailing with the ship, and as we waved them goodbye
as the tug eased off, little did they, or we, think that it was a
last long farewell they were taking of us, that it was a goodbye for
ever. Little did we think, either, that the handsome ship we were
leaving was bound on a voyage from which she would never return, that
she was in fact taking her precious cargo of human souls to bury them
with her in the depths of the ocean; that anything untoward would
ever befall her was the furthest thought from our minds as we took
a last look of admiration from Gourock [....]. Alas poor "Abhona".
We took t[rain] and early in the evening we arrived back in the city
after having been absent for two days and two nights. It was such
a good trial and we had such an enjoyable time of it that I for one
won't forget it for a long time to come.
Well, to return
to the Abhona; after we had left her she sailed for Plymouth where
she was to take her coolie crew on board, all her white crew being
already on board. From Plymouth on Sunday the 6th November 1910, she
sailed for India via Gibraltar and Suez, bearing with her ninety nine
of a crew, thirteen of who were whitemen, and although fully a year
has gone by, the Abhona has never passed Gibraltar. Although no one
knows how or where she went down, it is supposed that she disappeared
off the north coast of Spain, as a trawler reported having seen a
ship in that vicinity answering to the description of the "Abhona"
with a heavy list, immediately turning over and sinking. The trawler
went afterwards to the spot but could find not the smallest piece
of wreckage to identify the lost ship. Even at the inquiry in July
1911 nothing definite was learned, but the most popular view set forth
as to her disappearance, was that she had struck some wreckage or
derelict floating below the surface of the water. It was a particularly
sad ending to a bright beginning and I can even now picture to myself
the faces of the steward & officers as we sat together in the drawing
room listening to the singing. Poor fellows. They all got a water[y
of Sir James MacKay as "he of the fur coat" arose from a previous
sea trial in April 1910 - SS Levuka, for The Australasian United Steam
Navigation Company, a B.I. subsidiary. Sir James had amused George
by visiting the engine room clad in a fur coat. His recollection of
the Glasgow earthquake is out by a month. It occurred on December
15th, while he was aboard the SS Elizabethville. By all accounts it
was an exciting quake, but no lives were lost.
Abhona took on
1800 tons of bunker coal and 500 tons of water ballast in Glasgow
and sailed light ship to Plymouth where the builder's staff disembarked.
Robert Kelly, Stephens' engine works manager, was engineer-in-charge
for the run to Plymouth, along with David Firth, their foreman engineer.
Some of Abhona's officers were; T.B. Tilling, Master; William Rennie
(from Dumbarton), Chief E/O; R.M. Reid (from Govan), 2E/O; Philip
McMahon (No 8 Commercial Road, Peckham), 4E/O; William M. Coll (from
Lochranza, Arran), JE/O; B. Robertson (from Eyemouth), JE/O. B. Robertson,
a first tripper, was the son of an Eyemouth fish-curer, grandson of
Bernard Robertson, a fishmonger. He served his time with Aimers McLean
& Co in Galashiels.
Abhona sailed at
5.30pm on November 5th 1910, bound for Rangoon, intending to call at
Colombo. She carried no cargo and no passengers. She also carried no
radio. At the BoT inquiry held in July 1911 at Glasgow, Captain George
Hodgkinson, the BI marine consultant, commented that there were no shore
stations to communicate with. An affidavit by Julius Skowgaard of the
Danish steamer Boscia stated that at 8.15am on November 7th off Cape
Finisterre he had seen a long black-funneled steamer about 3 kilometres
distant, listing heavily to port. The weather was cloudy, with a hard
storm from WSW. At 9.15am she disappeared. They reached the spot in
45 minutes, being hampered by heavy seas and a deck load, and saw a
lifeboat sticking vertically out of the water - the name could not be
made out. The ship, like other BI vessels, was not insured. Matthew
Hunter, a Stephens director, suggested that she had struck a submerged
object - another vessel had reported an encounter with such in the area
where the Abhona sank. The Board's verdict was that she had foundered
as described by the Boscia, but there was insufficent evidence to say
how the tragedy had occurred.
grateful acknowledgements to Hugh McIntyre in whose possession is
the original and who wrote the notes. A well respected colleague,
late Charlie Lynch, passed
the manuscript to Hugh in the 1980s. He had got it from a lady who
had found it in a cupboard and whose mother had got it from a "boy
friend" in 1912, probably the author.
McIntyre has tried to trace the writer, with limited success. He
found a Wilde contemporary who was an engineer draughtsman, but
his name wasn't George. The manuscript is not signed, and the attribution
to George Wilde arises from a confrontation he had with himself
on board ss Manzanares (Elders & Fyffes). He woke after a bad night:
"A wash however soon made me feel all right and backed up by
a good substantial breakfast I was soon "George Wilde"
and none other."
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