SS Jeddah

SS Jeddah was a British-flagged Singaporean-owned passenger steamship of the late nineteenth century. She is best known for an 1880 incident in which her British officers abandoned her when she listed and appeared to be sinking, leaving more than 700 passengers on board.[2]

SS Jeddah
Name: SS Jeddah
Owner: Singapore Steamship Company
Port of registry:  UK
Builder: Dumbarton
Launched: 1872[1]
Identification: Official number 67990
General characteristics
Class and type: 100 A1 (Lloyds Register)
Type: Steamship
Tonnage: 993 Registered tons
Capacity: 1100 (Crew + Passengers)
Crew: 50
Notes: Abandoned

Jeddah was built in 1872 in Dumbarton, Scotland, especially for the Hajj pilgrim trade, Her owner was Syed Mahomed Alsagoff (Esq.), a rich Singapore-based merchant.

The incident

On 17 July 1880, Jeddah left Singapore bound for Penang and subsequently Jeddah with 953 passengers – 778 men, 147 women, and 67 children – on board. She also had 600 tonnes of general cargo, mostly sugar, garron wood, and general merchandise. The passengers were Muslim pilgrims traveling to Mecca and Medina for pilgrimage. A nephew of the ship's owner, Syed Omar al-Sagoff (Arabic: سيد عمر السقاف Saiyid ʿUmar al-Saqqāf) was among the passengers.[3] Her multinational crew included a British captain (Joseph Lucas Clark), two European officers (the first mate, named Williams, and the second mate), and a European third engineer. The captain's wife, who was also a European, was also on board.[4]

On 3 August 1880, while off Ras Hafun in hurricane-force winds and heavy seas, the ship's boilers drifted from their seatings. The crew used wedges to reseat the boilers.[5] On 6 August, the weather worsened further and the wedges holding the boilers in place began to give way. Leaks developed and the ship stopped to make repairs. Thereafter she proceeded slowly during the night of 6–7 August with only one boiler lit. However, the leaks increased and despite the efforts of the crew and passengers trying to bail out the water, she began to take on more water due to leaks in the supply lines in the bottom. She again stopped for repairs, during which time she began to roll heavily and her boilers broke loose and all connection pipes were washed away, rendering her engines ineffective. Her crew rigged her sails to try to use wind power, but the sails blew away.

On 7 August, while Jeddah drifted in the Indian Ocean off Socotra and Guardafui, Captain Clark and most of her British officers and crew prepared to launch the lifeboats. Upon discovering this, the pilgrims, who until then were helping bail out water from the engine room, tried to prevent the crew from abandoning them. A fight ensued, resulting in a few of the crew falling overboard and drowning.

The officers escaped in the starboard lifeboat, leaving the pilgrims to their fate. The Board of Trade inquiry proceedings[6] note that a scuffle broke out while the lifeboat was being launched; the passengers threw whatever they could onto the lifeboat to prevent it from being lowered, and pulled away the first mate, who was lowering the boat from the ship, causing him to fall overboard. The first mate later was pulled into the lifeboat. Thus, the captain, his wife, the chief engineer, the first officer and several other crew members escaped in the lifeboat, leaving the passengers and a few of the officers and crew on their own on board Jeddah. The British convict ship SS Scindian picked up the people in the lifeboat a few hours later at 10:00 a.m. on 8 August and took them to Aden, where they told a story of violent passengers murdering two of the ship′s engineers and reported that Jeddah had sunk near Yemen with great loss of life among her passengers.

However, Jeddah did not sink. Her passengers later reported that after the captain's lifeboat had been launched, the second mate had tried to escape in another lifeboat along with a few passengers. The other passengers had prevented this, and in the confusion that ensued, the lifeboat fell into the water, drowning the second mate and two passengers on board the lifeboat with him. Thereafter the remaining 20 crew members, including two officers, with the help of the passengers, bailed the water out of the ship's engine room. They then hoisted distress signals, which the Blue Funnel Line steamship SS Antenor (1872), sailing from Shanghai to London with 680 passengers on board, sighted while Jeddah′s passengers and crew were trying to beach Jeddah off Ras Feeluk, near Bandar Maryah. Antenor approached Jeddah, assisted Jeddah′s crew and passengers in making her stable, and then towed her into the port of Aden, where she arrived on 11 August to much astonishment. Almost all the pilgrims had survived.[7]

Fate of crew and passengers

In all, the official inquiry established the number of people rescued from Jeddah as 18 crew members (one of whom was working his passage), one second engineer, one supercargo, and 992 passengers (778 men, 147 women, and 67 children, not counting infants in arms).[2] In all, 18 people died during the incident, including the second mate, three Khalasis, and 14 passengers.[8]

Court of inquiry

A court of inquiry was held at Aden by the resident and sessions judge G. R. Goodfellow. The inquiry criticised Jeddah′s chief engineer for incorrect operation of the boilers, thus aggravating matters. It also found the actions of Captain Clark in swinging out Jeddah′s lifeboats prematurely and subsequently launching the boats – dismaying the passengers – unprofessional and that he showed a "want of judgement and tact." It also found him "guilty of gross misconduct in being indirectly the cause of the deaths of the second mate and ten natives, seven crew and three passengers, and in abandoning his disabled ship with nearly 1,000 souls on board to their fate". His master′s certificate was suspended for three years. The court of inquiry also criticised the conduct of the Chief Mate Williams. It commended the actions of the master and first mate of Antenor.[9] The court was also critical that 1000 passengers could be allowed on board a ship such as this in inclement weather.

Aftermath and Joseph Conrad's book Lord Jim

The incident took the United Kingdom in general and London in particular by storm. Newspapers were filled with reports and letters to the editors, from the public, from people who had actually sailed on pilgrim ships and described the grim conditions on board, and from merchants and owners of pilgrim ships.[10]

The Jeddah incident inspired Joseph Conrad, who had landed in Singapore in 1883, to write the novel Lord Jim. He used the name SS Patna for his fictional pilgrim ship.[11]

See also


  1. "Letter to the editor : A Singapore Merchant". The Times (London). 17 August 1880.
  2. "REPORT of a Court of Inquiry held at Aden into the cause of the abandonment of the steamship "JEDDAH"". British Department of Trade. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  3. The Times 1880.
  4. Report of a court of enquiry held at Aden into the cause of the abandonment of the steamship "JEDDAH" : No. 896. Port of Aden: British Department of Trade. 20 August 1880.
  5. "S.S.Jeddah" (Volume XIV, Issue 3994). The Wanganui Herald. 10 November 1880. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  6. Board of Trade Wreck Report for Jeddah, 1881
  7. Sedgreaves, Sir Thomas (22 October 1881). Report on the action for salvage brought against the Jeddah. Vice Admiralty Court of Straits Settlements. pp. 3, 4.
  8. "Letter to Syed Mahomed Alsagoff by Cowasjee Dinshaw & Bros". (Sent via Steamer Point Aden). Daily Times. 20 August 1880.
  9. "Official Report : Court of Enquiry" (PDF). Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  10. Moore, Gene. "Newspaper accounts of the Jeddah Affair" (PDF). Joseph Conrad Society. University of Antwerp. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  11. Moore, Gene. Newspaper Accounts of the Jeddah Affair. Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam.

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