Little Bits of History

Not Very Utopian

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 17, 2014
SS Utopia sinking

SS Utopia sinking

March 17, 1891: The SS Utopia sinks. The transatlantic passenger steamship was built in 1874 in Glasgow, Scotland. She made her maiden voyage on May 23, 1874 and from that time until 1882 operated on Anchor Line. The ship made trips from Glasgow to New York City, Glasgow to Bombay, and from London to New York City. She and her sister ships were designed to carry 120 first class passengers, 60 second class, and 600 steerage or third class passengers. After completing twelve round trips between Glasgow and New York City, other routes were added to Utopia‘s list and she continued to successfully sail.

In 1882, she was transferred to the Mediterranean and began to regularly carry Italian immigrants to New York City. In 1890-1891 she was refitted and given a new triple expansion steam engine and the decks were redesigned. First class dropped to 45 passengers, second class was simply dropped, and there were now 900 steerage bunks. On February 25, 1891 Utopia set sail from Trieste to arrive in New York City. There were intermediate stops in Naples, Genoa, and Gibraltar scheduled. On board were 880 people – 815 third class passengers, three first class, three stowaways, and 59 crew members. The ship was captained by John McKeague.

On this day, the ship had reached Gibraltar and the captain pointed the ship to her usual anchorage in the inner harbor. As he got close enough to see better, he noticed the spot was already filled. Sitting at anchor was the HMS Anson. The British battleship had a searchlight on and the Captain claimed he was dazzled by the light and then was suddenly aware that the entire harbor was full of ships. McKeague claimed later that he thought the ship was farther away than it actually was as he hoped to steer around it. A “strong gale combined with current” swept the smaller steamship into the bow of the Anson and the ram of the battleship tore a hole 16 feet wide below the waterline in the Utopia.

McKeague hoped to beach the ship, but the engines were immediately powered down to keep them from exploding. There were not enough lifeboats but even if there had been, the ship’s hold filled with water quickly and the ship listed to 70 degrees, trapping many of the steerage passengers while crushing and sinking the lifeboats. Twenty minutes after impact, the ship sunk to a depth of 56 feet with nothing but the masts showing. Only 318 people survived and two more sailors who had come to help with the rescue were also killed. The captain survived and was found guilty of grave errors. There were lights placed on the above water masts, but even that didn’t prevent a second incident when another ship collided with the wreckage a few days later.

The average man’s judgment is so poor, he runs a risk every time he uses it. – Edgar Watson Howe

Judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.        – Simon Bolivar

Judgment is forced upon us by experience. – Samuel Johnson

An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgments simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore. – Edward De Bono

Also on this day: Wearing of the Green – In 493 or 461, St. Patrick died.
Golda – In 1969, Golda Meir became the Prime Minister of Israel.
Rubber Bands – In 1845, rubber bands were first patented.
Air Force One – Not – In 1957, a plane crashed in the Philippines.

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