Loss of the Cospatrick

On the night of 17 November 1874, the immigrant ship Cospatrick was in the south Atlantic, several hundred kilometres south-west of Cape Town.

The ship had left Gravesend more than two months before, with 433 emigrants bound for Auckland. When the watch of the second mate, Henry McDonald, ended at midnight on that dreadful night, he walked around the deck and found ‘all well’.

Half an hour after he retired he was woken by the fearful cry, ‘Fire!’ On deck he found smoke and then flames pouring from the forehatch, the passengers rushing about in a state of great agitation and the crew fighting to extinguish the blaze. Their efforts were in vain and the fire soon had an impregnable hold.

After about a week at sea, the 21 remaining survivors were desperate and turned on the bodies of the dead. Two bodies were cut open and the livers sliced into portions.

"The scene was one of great barbarism," writes Clark. "The flesh of each corpse was deeply incised and, in grisly communion, the survivors pressed their lips to the wounds and sucked the blood and tissue fluid from them."

The fire broke out in latitude 37 deg. South, and longitude 12 deg. East-one account has it west. A telegram from Madeira in the Daily News says that at midnight on Nov. 17, when the second officer left the deck, everything was apparently all right, but at half-past twelve he was awoke by the alarm of fire. The captain was on deck immediately, and all hands attempted to get the vessel before the wind, but without success. The flames came up the fore hatch within a quarter of an hour, and in less than half an hour the fire was nearly all along the deck. A special cablegram in the Daily Telegraph goes on to say that the flames and smoke were driven aft, setting fire to the boats which were placed in the fore part of the vessel, and thus effectually prevented their use. The excitement on board now became terrible, and the passengers rushed to the quarter boats, which were on the davits hanging over the side, and crowded into them. It is estimated that about eighty people, most of them women, thus got into the starboard boat, and remained there till the davits bent down over the side and the boat's stern dipped into the sea. Then it capsized, and all its occupants were immediately drowned alongside the vessel. Just afterwards the fore, main, and mizen masts all fell over the side in quick succession, killing many of the emigrants and adding to the terror of the rest. But the worst had not yet come; for suddenly the stern of the vessel blew out with a loud report under the poop deck, and completed the destruction of the ship. Two boats under the command of Mr. Romaine and mr. Macdonald had meanwhile been filled, and reached some little distance from the Cospatrick; but Captain Elmslie, his wife, and Dr. Cadle remained on board the vessel until she went down. When the last moment had come the captain threw his wife overboard, and then leapt into the sea after her. At the same time the doctor jumped overboard with the captain's little boy in his arms, and all were drowned together.