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THE SINKING OF THE CENTENNIAL., Issue 8002, 3 September 1889
THE SINKING OF THE CENTENNIAL.
The particulars as to the circumstances immediately preceding the collision between the Centennial and the Kanahooka are difficult to obtain, on account of the reticence of the officers of the vessels, but, as far as can be gathered, the main facts are as follows : The Centennial arrived on the morning of the 23rd ult. from Newcastle with a cargo of coal, and after taking in cargo and about forty passengers at Darling Harbor started shortly before nine o’clock on the voyage to Wellington. The journey down the harbor to Bradley Head was safely accomplished, but shortly after passing that point a disaster overtook the vessel. The steam collier Kanahooka, which was coming up the harbor from Wollongong, with a cargo for the mail steamer Victoria, approached the Centennial before Neat Point was reached, and, owing to some mistake, the two vessels collided. The night was fine and clear, and, as far as can be gathered, those on board each vessel plainly observed the other approaching, but were unable to keep clear. The Kanahooka appears to have struck the Centennial on the starboard side, abreast the foremast, and to have cut the larger steamer down to the water-line, and so seriously damaged her hull as to cause her to sink within six minutes. The noise of crashing caused by the torn and twisted iron and splintered timbers had scarcely died away before the vessel swung round, and it was discovered that the Centennial was sinking. The captain immediately gave orders to have the boats lowered, and by the time this order was in a fair way of being executed every soul on board was on deck and prepared toleavetherapidly-sinkingship. There was some rushing and scrambling, and a little excitement among a few of the passengers, but taking everything into consideration, the confusion was much less than might have been expected, and the passengers and crew were transferred to the boats with expedition and without serious accident. Some of the passengers and crew managed to scramble from the Centennial to the Kanahooka ; others got into the boats of the sunken steamer, and a few were taken on board two boats which were lowered by the captain of the collier before the safety of his own craft had been demonstrated. There was no time to get together any of the luggage, and in the hasty abandonment of the steamer some of the passengers and crew were left in the boats with the scantiest of clothing, and few had anything more than the clothes in which they stood. Among the passengers were a few ladies and children, and these were among the first to be transferred from the sinking steamer to places of safety in the boats. Two or three small harbor steamers were soon about the spot, and they brought on the rescued people to Sydney, where the wants of those who were left temporarily destitute were attended to at the Sailors’ Home and elsewhere. The Centennial was steered as closely as possible to the shore, and sunk in about six or seven fathoms of water, only a portion of the masts being above water.
The force of the collision was undoubtedly terrific, and some idea of the impact may be formed on an inspection of the bows of the Kanahooka. This vessel, striking the Centennial stem on, had nearly the whole of her fore bows torn away almost as far back as the bulkhead, the plates being torn and twisted up like so many pieces of tinfoil. Altogether the forepart of the collier presents a very dilapidated appearance. Captain Millar states that in coming up the harbor he maintained his proper course to the North Shore, and distinctly saw the other vessel approaching, all her lights showing out clearly. He apprehended danger from the position of the Centennial, and says that he called cut to the other captain until he was nearly hoarse. The collision could not be avoided after this, and the Kanahooka met the Centennial on the starboard side, cutting her down to the water with a great crash. Captain Millar also states that the engines of his ship were quickly reversed, but not in time to reduce her speed. Those on board the Centennial state that just prior to the collision, when opposite Chowder Bay or Chowder Point, a steamer bound inwards was sighted. The passengers were looking over the rail, watching her approach, no thought of danger entering their minds. A few minutes later a shout went up “ She’s running down on us,” and although the officers apparently tried hard to avoid a collision, the crash soon followed. a passenger’s account. We proceeded through the Prymont bridge and down the harbor at half-speed, passing many steamers e?i route. The master and second officer were on the bridge, and all went well passing Piuchgut and round Bradley Head. The night was beautifully starlight and the passengers were promenading the decks. Down in the forecabin a few men were congregated, conversing, and aft in the saloon the ladies were preparing to retire for the night, but no one had actually gone to their berths. Passing Bradley Head the vessel was probably going at from five to six knots when, opposite Chowder Bay, or Chowder Point, a steamer bound inwards was sighted. The passengers were looking over the rail watching her approach, danger being furthest from both their and the crew’s minds. A few minutes later a shout went up: “ She’s running down on us,” Everyone not on deck sprang up from the companion ways, and those in the smoking room looked out, thinking it was a false alarm or a joke. One occupant of that apartment said : “ I thought something had gone amiss with the machinery.” There was considerable bustle on the Centennial’s quarterdeck, and the ringing of the telegraph to the engine room from the bridge, coupled with the peremptory orders from Captain Lessing, quickly told everyone that more serious danger than was first believed was impending. To the initiated in’maritime matters on board it was soon noticed that the Centennial’s engines had been put full speed astern, the way on the ship being perceptibly diminished. “ lu less time than it takes me to tell you a steamey bpmped
against us and glided along our right hand side,” The bumping here mentioned proved to be a fatal blow for the Centennial. Captain Lessing acted with remarkable coolness. The steamer was struck on the starboard bow, right against the fore-collision bulkhead. The steerage was, of course, quickly full of water, “But,” said the „chief officer, “it was a matter of doubt which of us was the worst injured—the other steamer or ourselves.” A glance down into the engine-room showed that the partition there was doubled up, and the water was rushing in and putting out the fires. It was but the work of a few minutes to get out the boats. Some of the passengers would not, however, believe it possible that the ship was going down beneath their feet. All they possessed was on board in the line of personal luggage and money, and some of them pleaded hard to be allowed to go below to bring up their property. One had lost LSO in gold, and another the hardearned savings of a lifetime, and they were bent on making a last effort. The officers of the vessel were, however, equal to the excitement of the moment, and with a firmness which cannot be too highly valued, insisted on every passenger leaving the sinking vessel. The Kanahooka stood by, and Captain Creer (from the pilot steamer Captain Cook) had his boats at hand, and rendered every possible aid. The steamer Bee took hold of the lifeboat and a jollyboat. The chief officer transferred the ladies to or.e of the lifeboats, and thence to the Kanahooka, whose crew acted with commendable steadiness and discipline. As the steamer filled, Captain Lessing, also the chief officer and Mr Brown, the purser, and chief steward, having seen everybody safely put into either of the boats of the Kanahooka, sprang overboard to one or the other of the waiting craft alongside. It is said that the second officer ran out of the saloon with a boy in his arms, almost at the last moment, and in the hurry and excitement one of the steamers’ crew (the cook) had his leg broken. Captain Lessing was the last to spring from the ship, and the Centennial sank in twelve minutes after being struck. There was an abundance of life-belts available, and they were used by passengers and crew. The Cooks and Seamen’s Union of Sydney voted L 5 to each of the crew of the sunken ship.
THE SINKING OF THE CENTENNIAL., Issue 8002, 3 September 1889
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