- Foley, John
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Taken from ‘The Quetta. – Queensland’s Worst Disaster’
At 6am on 18 February 1890 RMS Quetta left Parbury Wharf, Brisbane for what should have been just another voyage back to England. Ahead were planned stops at just about every Queensland port, and then on to Thursday Island, Batavia, Colombo, Aden, Port Said and finally London.
On 22 February, at Mackay, three passengers embarked. They were Emily Lacy, l7, her sister Mary (May), l3, and their uncle, the Reverend Thomas Hall, Vicar of Whatton in the Vale and whose parents lived at Whatton Manor. He was escorting the girls to finishing school in England and a mind-broadening trip around Europe. The Lacy girls were described as ‘nice, quiet schoolgirls with pretty manners’, and their uncle Tom as, ‘exceedingly nice but with a not good looking sandy-coloured moustache and prominent eyes’.
By the evening of 2 February, the ship was ready to cross the Torres Strait to Thursday Island. On board were 171 passengers, 121 crew and 1 stowaway.
It was a pleasant balmy, moonlit evening and although the crossing was always tricky, neither the captain, Alfred Sanders, nor the pilot, Eldred Keatinge, were unduly concerned, as both had made the crossing several times.
After dinner, Tom Hall went up on deck to smoke his pipe. Emily was writing home and May had gone to bed. All seemed to be well as the watch changed and pilot Keatinge altered course.
The flood tide was strong, but the rain had stayed astern and only slight adjustment was needed as the Quetta entered the Adolphus Channel and the Two Brothers rocks came into view.
It was now 9pm and as the Brothers closed, Keatinge changed course. But almost immediately the gap between the rocks widened and he had to adjust the course twice more. He felt that all was well but at 9.14 pm, iron and granite met, and iron lost the contest. The stone spear ground out a wound 6ft wide and 175ft 1ong. The sea burst into the bowels of the ship.
The passengers felt a slight judder, but the captain and pilot knew that a ship could not hit granite and escape unscathed.
Captain and crew put into action their well-rehearsed emergency drill.
Tom Hall hurried to find his nieces and following the captain’s orders, took them to the stern of the ship. The ship’s bows were now well under water and holding May’s hand, Tom Hall slid down the side of the ship into the water. Emily followed, but her dress caught on a bolt and she hung for a few seconds before sliding into the sea and losing sight of Uncle Tom and May.
Within three minutes the ship had sunk with the loss of 132 lives including Tom Hall, who was seen by pilot Keatinge, floating in the water wearing a lifebelt, but already dead. May did reach an upturned lifeboat, but fell back into the water when it was righted and also perished.
But Emily lived to tell the tale, and was rescued after 36 hours in the water.
As a result of this tragedy, the Quetta Memorial Cathedral was built on Thursday Island.