Tragic collision in the North Sea for the liner Elbe


The terrible tragedy of the Elbe’s collision
By Pascal Kainic

Initially, the weather was ideal, but there were tremendous seas running by the night of January 29.

At half past five in the morning of Wednesday , January 30th 1895, the North German Lloyd steamer “Elbe” came into collision 47 miles south-west from the Haaks lightship off Lowestoft with another ship, the small British steamer ”Craithie” and in 20 minutes foundered…

The liner “Elbe” of 4510 tons and 125 meters long, had only left Bremen on the previous day for Southampton and New York, carried 199 passengers and a crew of 149, most of the souls on board being of German nationality. Only 20 survived this terrible disaster from which 5 passengers.

At the time of the collision, most of those in the steamer were asleep and, startled by the awful shock, they rushed on to the deck too late even to catch a glimpse of the vessel which had cause the accident. The “Elbe” was struck abaft the engine-room and the inrush of water through the large hole soon caused the steamer to sink.

Instantly the officers tried to calm the terror-stricken passengers and commenced lowering the boats. There was a heavy sea at the time and one of the boat was quickly swamped. Each of the other two was filled directly, amid great excitement, with 20n persons, but only one boat survived the storm. This was picked up by a Lowestoft smack, the “Wildflower”, and reach the harbor safely in the afternoon.

No tidings have come to hand concerning the fate of the other boats. The men of the “Wildflower” were attracted by the signals of waving clothes and sails, and with courage and kindness, rescued this remnant of survivors. The sinking of the “Elbe” with a loss of so many lives created consternation , shock and indignation in the whole of Europe and the United States.

There was worldwide criticism, especially in the press of the action of the ”Craithie” in leaving the disaster area. A Lowestoft inquiry was completed in May of the same year and it was agreed that the ”Craithie” was too badly damaged to render assistance to anyone on board the “Elbe”.

However, the jury decided that the collision was due to gross negligence of the mate Craig then in charge on the ”Craithie”.

The s. s. "Elbe" is lying in from 17 to 20 fathoms of water, and the trucks of her masts can be seen above water; as she is on a shallow fishing bank. It is not only a danger to trawlers, but a standing danger to navigation, as can be amply confirmed by Lowestoft fishermen.

In her holds, 120 bags of mail including more than 2000 registered letters most of which contained property of great value.

Two passengers, Directors of an Hungarian steam flour mill, had embezzled 300.000 Gulden belonging to the company, to bring it to the United States. Other passengers lost great amount of personal money.

Soon after, an American salvage company proposed its services to recover the precious metals part of her cargo. Three German and two French divers are recruited; they would dive 9 times a day for a salary of 25 French Francs, plus a bonus of 12.500 Francs to share between them if they succeed in the recovery… Did they…?




  • Nigel Royall
    • 1. Nigel Royall On 02/09/2023
    Hi, as is well known, skipper Wright had a fine Lowestoft Smack built with the reward he received for rescuing the ELBE survivors. This "celebrity" smack was LT67 WILLING BOYS and was registered on the 4th December 1895. My great grandfather Christopher Ernest Royall was a wherryman and deep sea fisherman preferring drifting to trawling but as a youngster he did crew in the WILLING BOYS at some point. Later in life he owned a 20 foot overall ex Gorleston Four Oared Salvage Boat built in about 1903 which my grandad fitted out and motorised for him and which Chris called WILLING BOYS after the smack. I still use his old boat almost daily in my work.
    On 2nd October 1917 the original WILLING BOYS was blown up ten miles north west of the Smiths Knoll buoy, sadly, with the loss of all five crew.
    In September 1916 Victor Crisp was fishing out of Padstow in the PATHWAY skippered by Harry Field who told Vic the story about the ELBE as he was a deckhand on LT557 WILDFLOWER at the time of the rescue. He showed Vic a watch that was presented and inscribed by the German Government. Harry had the habit of grinding his teeth when upset and so they called him "Crayfish".
  • Adrian Girling
    • 2. Adrian Girling On 02/05/2023
    My Great Grandfather was the skipper of the Smack The Wildflower. A ships barometer that was given to him in recognition of the rescue has been handed down to me is on my living room wall.
    • treasures
      • treasuresOn 02/05/2023
      Hi Adrian, Linking people... !
  • Catherine Crawford
    • 3. Catherine Crawford On 23/04/2023
    My great grandfather Joseph Rumplik went down with the ship. He was part of survivor John Vevera's party traveling from Cleveland, Ohio to Bohemia. This was their return trip.
    • treasures
      • treasuresOn 02/05/2023
      Hi Catherine, Linking people... !
  • Jen Bolt
    • 4. Jen Bolt On 22/05/2021
    My great grandfather was a passenger-survivor on the Elbe, John Vevera.
  • ralfe canelle
    • 5. ralfe canelle On 20/07/2010
    My greatgrandfather was the skipper fo the Wildflower-Skipper Wright and any further aftermath info or info re the passengers would be appreciated. thanks

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