Thames Police: History - Princess Alice Disaster

'A Catastrophe'. (13)

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A Catastrophe

The Princess Alice was not the first passenger vessel to sink on the Thames through collision and now we know it was not the last either, but its loss was certainly the greatest catastrophe to have occurred there. It brought to a conclusion almost endless years of arguments for stiffer safety regulations, arguments that reached their peak during the days of the rival penny paddlers when collisions, rammings and even sinkings were almost an everyday occurrence.

The inquests, the Board of Trade Enquiry and the public outcry from all sides led the way to new regulations, regulations we accept and refresh today not being complacent, possibly without thinking why they are imposed. All passenger carrying vessels are now inspected and licensed annually, qualified men must be at the wheel, there is a limit on the number of passengers each vessel may carry and there must be sufficient lifebelts and rafts for all.

There are regulations regarding fire and fire fighting equipment and its availability. For various reasons, certain types of vessel my be limited to specific stretches of the water and so on... but would these regulations have been approved and passed if all those lives had not been lost?

Now, since the disaster of the motor passenger vessel Marchioness, run-down in a similar but different incident, with the unnecessary loss of over fifty lives including her master; the laws implemented after the original disaster will have to be more stringently enforced; also, because of this sinking we now have boats of the RNLI permanently stationed along the river to assist in rescuing those in future difficulties on the Thames.

In the London Disasters 1830-1917 book by Wendy Neal (1992)

'In mid-October the London Steamboat Company purchased the wreck of the Princess Alice from the Thames Conservators for the sum of 350. As the Conservators had spent 376.4s.0d on raising the boat, plus another 2 per day to pay guards, they certainly made no profit on the deal. The London Steamboat Company salvaged the engines, and the wreck was then broken up in a yard at Greenwich, The Bywell Castle sank with all hands in the Bay of Biscay in 1883. Carttar, the coroner, was suffering from heart disease at the time of the inquest and the strain of the hearing took its toll. He died at him home in Catherine House, Blackheath Road, Greenwich on 19 March 1880'

'The Princess Alice had been named after the third daughter of Queen Victoria. Diphtheria broke out in Alice's royal household in Dormstadt in autumn 1878. Alice contracted the disease after kissing her young son and she died on November 6 - the day the Board of Trade published its inquiry findings; blaming the eponymous pleasure steamer for the country's worst ever disaster.' A very sad business, all round.

Continue to the next page 'The Memorial'. (14) to learn more about the Princess Alice disaster...

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