Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Steamer Kensington ~ 27 January 1871

On January 27, 1871, the bark Templar and the steamer Kensington were involved in a collision 60 miles N.E. of Diamond Shoals. The World Almanac lists this as one of the worst maritime disasters in history and claims 150 lives were lost. But the plain facts are that no one was lost on either vessel, though the Kensington did go to the bottom.

     The Kensington, with a crew of 30 and 18 passengers, left Savannah for Boston on January 25th carrying a full cargo of cotton, rice and lumber. Meanwhile, the Templar sailed from Hampton Roads on the 27th, bound for Rio de Janiero. About 7:30 that evening, while tacking to eastward, Captain Wilson of the Templar made out a steamer on his starboard beam. “Saw her mast head and red light plain,” the Captain said, “and supposing that the steamer would pass under our stern we held our course to eastward. Finding then that the steamer did not alter her course, several of the crew hailed her as loud as they could. No attention was paid to the hail, the steamer holding her course.”

     Realizing the steamer would cut his own craft in two, Captain Wilson ordered his wheel hard over. Slowly the bark turned aside as the steamer passed under her bow taking away the “bowsprit, jibboom, fore and main topgallants, foretopmast, and all attached.” A moment later the Templar crashed into the side of the Kensington.
     A sailor, who at the time of the collision was perched in the forward rigging of the Templar, was thrown to the deck of the Kensington. The two vessels then drifted apart and, since Captain Wilson claimed he “heard no sound or indication from the steamer, of distress,” he quickly sounded his pumps and ordered the debris cleared away from his vessel. Meanwhile, the sailor who had fallen from the bark to the deck of the steamer found all confusion there. The Kensington, with a large hole in her side, was filling with water and the crewmen were in the process of lowering away her boats. The sea being comparatively calm, this was accomplished quickly, and the 30 members of the steamer’s crew, the 18 passengers, and the sailor from the Templar managed to row clear before the vessel sank.
     They were picked up late the next morning—15 hours after the collision—by the steamer Georgia, which transported them to Charleston. Details of the disaster, including a statement that the Templar and her crew were presumed lost, were printed in newspapers there and sent by telegraph to other parts of the country. Two days later, however, the steamer Yazoo, en route from Havana to Philadelphia, sighted the Templar off the Virginia Capes, partly filled with water and moving slowly northward under improvised sails. The Yazoo took the bark in tow, reaching Norfolk the following day. The vessel was subsequently repaired and made ready for sea duty again.
     The above facts were gleaned from interviews with the Captain of the Templar, the passengers and crewmen of the Kensington and the crews of the Georgia and Yazoo, as published in contemporary newspaper accounts. It’s definitely stated in several of those articles that there were 48 persons aboard the Kensington and that all were saved; in none of them is there mention of a single life being lost on the Templar, thus completely refuting the published reports in more recent times that 150 lives were lost in the “one of the worst maritime disaster in history.”

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