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Rob's Shed

The Loss of the "Ann Jamison"

From the Sydney Herald, 2 December 1833:

"One of the most awful and imposing spectacles which has occurred since the conflagration of the Three Bees about 20 years ago, was witnessed on Saturday in the harbour of Port Jackson. The Ann Jamison, a fine brig of 238 tons burthen, belonging, as we hear, principally to the commander, Capt. Alexander, and which has recently arrived from London, had hauled abreast of the King's Wharf, for the purpose of discharging her cargo.

Most of her light goods had been landed, and between 3 and 4 o'clock on Saturday afternoon last, the mate, Mr. Chastles a tide-waiter, the whole of the crew, and several labourers, were on board and engaged discharging iron from the vessel. Six or seven men were in the hold, one or two between decks, and the rest about the combings of the main-hatchway, Mr. Chastles being forward. Suddenly,- without a moment's notice, a terrific explosion proceeded from the after-hold, which blew up the cabin, and carried away the quarter-deck.

This was followed by another report, and a dense body of flame, which communicated to the main rigging and seemed to climb the shrouds and masts with the most fearful impetuosity, The explosion was so violent, and the report so loud, that many persons attributed it to an earthquake, and in consequence terror and confusion appeared to pervade the contiguous neighbourhood. A strong North-easterly wind blowing, the flames soon spread along the brig, and in a very short time the whole of her yards, masts, and every thing above deck, were entirely consumed.

By this time all the fire-engines, (if we must call them so,) had arrived, and a guard of soldiers ; the military deserve the loudest praise for their exertions. The police were also in attendance, to preserve property and keep order. The burning embers were seen floating about in every direction, and it was with extreme difficulty that the surrounding shipping and buildings were not destroyed. The Ann schooner had her gaff-top-sail burnt, and received other damage; several of her hands were also much injured by the explosion. The bonded stores, and Mr. Girard's Warehouse, were twice on fire; and many other buildings were slightly damaged. The gentlemen of the Commissariat and Customs, and a great number of military officers were present rendering their assistance to extinguish the flames.

The brig continued to burn most furiously, and presented the appearance of a gulph of fire. " Scuttle her! Scuttle her!" was the cry from dozens of tongues. An attempt was accordingly made to scuttle her, for which purpose an aperture was made in her bows, but the flames made such incredible havock, that it was dangerous to be near the vessel. Holes were also made in her stern, and after a little time she began to fill with another element. At this crisis, the fire had taken a complete range of the brig, smoke and flame being seen coming from the scuttle hole in her bows, and which was close to the water's edge. After burning for near two hours, during which nearly every thing must have been destroyed, the hull filled, and went down, her figure-head and the burnt fragments which floated on the water, being alone visible.

It is not yet correctly ascertained how many lives have been lost by this dreadful catastrophe. A young man, the Captain's nephew, who was in the cabin when the first explosion took place, saved himself by jumping out of the cabin window into the water, where he was picked up much bruised. Another was snatched from his awful situation by a seaman belonging to the schooner Currency Lass, who courageously sprang on board the Ann Jamison, and brought the unfortunate fellow ashore. This man, (who deserves much praise for his humanity) states that he just had time to look into the hold of the vessel, where he saw five or six persons huddled together, groaning most piteously, and another, supposed to be the mate, between decks, in the same mutilated and perilous situation, to none of whom could he render the least assistance.

The Captain of the Harlequin had occasion to cross the burning wreck to save his own vessel, and also distinctly saw these unfortunate beings endeavouring to climb up the combings, but such was the state of the vessel that he could not help them. Mr. Chastles was preserved by jumping overboard. One of the seamen and a labourer, were blown on shore, and had their limbs broken; they were in such a dreadful state that they died in about an hour after being received in the General Hospital.

Only three persons could be found yesterday alive who were on board at the time of the accident-and it is stated that seven of the crew and two labourers, have met a dreadful and untimely death. Captain Alexander and two military officers were down in the cabin a few minutes before the explosion, and had only just left the vessel ; and a number of other persons who were in the vicinity of the vessel have been more or less injured.

Notwithstanding the major part of the cargo was out of the vessel yet there was a great quantity of valuable goods on board, and the loss of property is expected to be considerable. Captain Alexander, it is reported, has been the greatest sufferer in this respect, notwithstanding the insurance of the vessel.

The cause of the accident is attributed to the ignition of some loose gunpowder in the hold, in consequence of a bar of steel falling on a quantity of iron at the bottom of the vessel. No blame can be attached to the Captain, he having used his best exertions to prevent accident. The gunpowder in the vessel was the leakage of some barrels part of the brig's cargo, and as soon as it was known that the powder had run out, every means were used to secure it.

A great many persons were busily engaged yesterday in clearing away the floating fragments of the unfortunate Ann Jamison, preparatory to her being raised, which of course will be done immediately.

We hope that much of the property will be saved, although there are doubts to the contrary, from the appearance of the heel of the mainmast which is nearly reduced to a cinder. A Coroner's Inquest was held on the two unfortunate men who died at the Hospital, and a verdict of "Accidental Death" returned. All the shipping in the Harbour paid a last tribute yesterday to the memory of the poor fellows who met so melancholy an end, by hoisting their ensigns half-mast high."

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au