Fatal wreck of an East Indian mail steamer

Total wreck of the East India, mail steamer Colombo
From various printed source - by Pascal Kainic

Wreck report  - 19 November 1862

A serious addition to the losses of the mercantile marine during the year has been made by the wreck of the Peninsular & Oriental Company's steamer "Colombo" on the island of Minicoy, in the state of Travancore.

She was an iron screw barque, re-rigged as a brig of 2127 tons gross, with two funnel, built on the Clyde in 1853.

The "Colombo" left Point de Galle (Sri Lanka), on her route for Suez on the 17th of November. The weather was rainy and squally, and on the morning of the 19th, very thick. Suddenly, between 6 and 7 am., the rain and cloud seemed to lift like a curtain and disclosed a terrible sight - Land close ahead and on both bows !

She had her sails set, and before they could be well let fly and the engines reversed, the ship took the ground, and a heavy sea struck her on the quarter and threw her right broadside onto the rocks. Her whole starboard side being thus exposed to a rolling surf, she was soon irretrievably fixed. Her side amidships and all her boats on that quarter were stove and the cabins filled with water. Happily, the ship herself formed a breakwater against the rolling waves, and the space between her and the land  was comparatively smooth.

The women, children and sick were  sent ashore in the remaining boats; but they could not approach to within some distance  of terra firma, and  were carried or dragged by the natives through the intervening breakers. These poor people having been aroused  from sleep, were almost naked, and were exposed to severe suffering before sufficient apparel could be got to land.

The live-stock, sheep and pigs being committed to their own instinct, swam safely to shore. During the day, a great deal of luggage, sails, cordage, etc... were got ashore, but all saturated with sea water; a tent was rigged up for the ladies and children; and 257 of the 630 mail boxes were saved.

On the following days, sufficient of clothes and food  had been got from the wreck to enable the unfortunate voyagers to establish themselves in a little community. Also the Rajah of the place came down and offered the castaways the use of some large huts on the other side of the island. In the meanwhile the ship had broken in two and was rapidly becoming a mere wreck.

An officer was sent in a large native boat to the nearest port on the mainland in order to telegraph to Bombay for assistance. He reached Cochin, 300 miles distant, in four dys. The only available steamer was the "Ottaway", and she was undergoing repairs. The ship departed on the 27th and reached the wreck on the 30th. The unlucky passengers after a most uncomfortable residence of ten days on this desolated island, were embarked and arrived at Aden on the 8th of December.

All on board were saved, as well as a considerable proportion of valuable silk, but only 1/3 of the cargo was salvaged before the ship bilged and surely specie remains in the lost mail boxes. It should be a "not so difficult" diver job to have a look...

P&O badge mid 19th century -  A company's ship


  • Vishnu Som
    • 1. Vishnu Som On 12/03/2010
    Hello ...

    I am the Associate Editor of NDTV, India's largest 24 hour news network. Over the last month, we have been filming a documentary series on shipwrecks off the coast of India and it is in this regard that I write to you.

    We believe we have, for the first time, been able to film the wrecks of two ancient steam ships, the SS Colombo and the SS Thrunscoe which ran aground off Minicoy island, the southern most island in the Lakshadweep chain in the Arabian Sea.

    Historical records we have indicate that the Colombo, a steam ship which belonged to the The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, ran aground in 1862 and the SS Thrunscoe, a cargo ship, ran aground in 1899.

    We have in our possession hundreds of high quality digital images and extensive video recording of the wrecks which we would be happy to share with you. However, we cannot identify the individual wrecks (there are approximately three in close vicinity to each other) and it is here that you may be able to assist us ...

    I was looking for guidance on identifying the wrecks based on the images and footage we possess.

    I was also looking for images and/or line drawings of the SS Colombo or similar classes of steamship.
    Please let me know if all of this interests you. I would be happy to forward a selection of the images I possess for your reference and in addition to PDF accounts of the history of these two wrecks.

    Vishnu Som
    Associate Editor and Senior Anchor
    New Delhi Television (NDTV)

    cell phone :+919811201773

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