Monday, 21 July 2008

A painful want of nerve

In August 1880 came reports in the British newspapers of the loss of the ship Jeddah en route from Singapore to Jeddah, carrying Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca. The boat had foundered on the 8th August, with close to 1000 crew and passengers reported drowned. There was a lot of speculation as to what had happened (see the first article here, from The Birmingham Daily Post 16 August 1880), from the reasonable to the absurd.

Unfortunately for the small amount of "survivors" (all officers), the Jeddah was found floating, complete with its passengers a few days later by the Antenor, another ship working the Eastern pilgrim route. The Jeddah was taken in tow to Aden. Scandal ensued. See the next scan for the story of the Antenor, from Aberdeen Weekly Journal 19 October 1880.

Joseph Conrad, whose first trip as a merchant seaman to the Far East was in 1882-3, would no doubt have followed the story at home in Britain and then heard a few tales about it when he got there. The episode of the Patna in his book Lord Jim is based on this event. The captain of the vessel was suspended for three years - a light sentence by any standard. The report of the inquest, held in Aden, can be read here.

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