Egypt: The SS Dacca, In Search for a Lost Ship

The SS Dacca

In Search of a Lost Ship

by Ned (Mr. Wreck) Middleton

This ship is not yet found. I am indebted to Dr. Carson Dron of Australia for information regarding this particular shipwreck. Dr. Dron's grandparents were passengers on the SS Dacca at the time of her loss on Daedalus Shoal and finally arrived in Mackay on board the SS "Taroba".

The Ship

Built in Lanark, the Dacca was launched in 1882 at a cost of 90,000. Constructed as a Steel Screw Steamer, she was officially described as a Passenger Cargo Vessel. She was a well found ship, brigantine-rigged and fitted with two engines which provided a very comfortable 500 nhp. The Dacca displaced 3,908 grt and possessed both passenger and Government Emigration Office certificates.

The Dacca was owned and operated by British India Associated Steamers (BIAS) and her registered port was Glasgow. Captain Dugald Stuart had been in the employment of BIAS for the previous thirteen years and Master of the Dacca for eight. He was also a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) and generally regarded as one of their most experienced and able Master Mariners afloat.

From the date she was taken into service until the time of her loss, the Dacca had been used on lengthy sea journeys between Great Britain and either India, China or Australia.

The Loss of the Dacca

On 29th April 1890 the Dacca left London with a crew of 91 Europeans (including the Master) and 464 passengers. Her ultimate destination was Queensland, Australia although, after a brief stop at Gravesend the following day, her first stop was Naples were a single passenger was landed. The Dacca finally cleared Suez at 0020 hrs on 15th May and by 0318 hrs was abeam Shadwan Island at a distance of 3 miles. At this point the Master increased speed to 12 knots and set a course of South 25 E on his standard compass (i.e. 21 30" E magnetic). This was designed to take his ship 5 miles west of the Brothers Islands. The wind was light, the sea smooth and the weather fine.

During the previous 8 years, Stuart had completed many lengthy journeys in the Dacca and this one should have been no different. He was a man who knew every single aspect of his ship and was a stickler for detail. Not only would he give verbal orders but these would also be repeated in writing with the added requirement that the Officer of the Watch sign and acknowledge his orders before the Master left the bridge. Those same orders would then be signed and acknowledged by any subsequent relieving officer.

Big Brothers Island

At 0800 hrs the first glimmer of light from Big Brothers Island was seen bearing Southeast South and by 0900 hrs the Lighthouse itself was clearly visible. At 1000 hrs the Master came on the bridge and hauled up very close to the light so as to give himself the best possible "exact fix" on the chart. He then set a course of South 34 East (29 30" E magnetic).

At first sight it would seem as though this course would put the vessel almost directly onto the Daedalus Shoal. Stuart, however, fully expected the prevailing current to set the vessel a full five miles further to the west during this leg of the journey. Most odd was the fact that at midnight on the 15th, the light from the Brothers Lighthouse was recorded in the ships log as still visible - which was most curious because they were now some 24 miles distant from the Brothers and that light can only be seen for 14 miles. Furthermore, 24 miles (or even 14?) in a period of 14 hours was very slow progress considering conditions were very good.

At midnight the Second Officer came on watch and took charge of the ship. The course had remained the same since leaving the Brothers and 15 minutes later the Master went to his cabin - located just off the Chart Room, to write his night orders. These included an instruction to call the Master at either 0515 hrs or earlier if Daedalus light came into view. These were duly read and signed by the Second Officer who also consulted the chart at that time.

In trying to gain an insight into how this ship was being run and of Merchant Navy procedures and protocols of the day, it is interesting to note that the Master formally relieved the Second Officer from his duties as officer of the watch for the short time it took that Second Officer to consult the chart in the chartroom adjacent to the bridge.

At 0045 hrs the Master again came onto the bridge with further instructions. Both officers were aware that the First Mate was due to come on watch at 0400 hrs and, with this in mind, the Master told the Second Officer that he was to instruct the First Mate to take both azimuth and amplitude bearings and repeated that he (the Master) was to be called as soon as Daedalus light was sighted.

At 0400 hrs the First Mate duly took over the watch and read and signed the night orders. The course remained unchanged and it was all conducted in a businesslike manner. After having left the bridge, however, the Second Officer felt that, perhaps, he had not made everything quite as clear as he should and returned to repeat the Masters verbal orders with regard to the bearings to be taken. Having dome this, the Second Officer finally retired to his cabin.

Mr James Tait, the First Mate, was a vastly experienced ships officer and one who also held a masters certificate in his own right and a commission in the RNR. Tait later testified at the formal Inquiry into the loss of the Dacca that he did call the Master at 0515 or thereabouts and went on to tell the hearing how he informed the Master that Daedalus Light was not yet in sight and asked if the Master was awake. To this the Master had replied "Yes" and duly instructed him to take an amplitude bearing and call him again when the light was seen.

Daybreak came at 0530 hrs at which time the First Mate took the required bearing before going into the chartroom to work on it. Almost 15 minutes later he returned to the bridge and immediately saw the Daedalus Light about one quarter point off the port bow. That time spent in the chartroom had been the most crucial 15 minutes when no officer was on the bridge! Tait later testified that he thought the lookout had reported the light while he was in the chartroom but in any event he now immediately reported the sighting to the Master complete with the bearing taken and the results of that exercise. He said that the Master made some comment about currents before he (the First Mate) returned to the Bridge.

On so doing, he immediately saw that the vessels course would take her onto the shoal and at 0602 hrs altered course 3 degrees south. Even though they were rapidly approaching dangerous waters, the First Mate made no further attempts to call the Master. At 0620 hrs he again altered course by a further one degree but this made little difference to the ships predicament - and the ship was maintaining her full speed of 12 knots throughout. Finally, in a last minute attempt to do something more positive, he changed course another four degrees south.

Too late. Almost immediately, the ship struck a glancing blow on Daedalus shoal. The impact was timed at 0630 hrs on 16th May 1890. Straight away the helm was put hard-a-port and the engines eased to slow. The Captain was on the bridge within 2 or 3 minutes of the vessel striking. Stuart later told the court that he was not conscious of having been called but accepted that he probably had been. He went on to say that on arriving on the bridge, he saw Daedalus light about mile away on the port beam.

That distance was also verified by the Fifth Officer and the Able Seaman who had been on lookout. The Second Officer also stated to mile distant in his evidence. Mr Tait, however, tried to demonstrate that the course changes he made would have safely taken the ship over one mile from Daedalus Shoal and that the vessel had struck a previously unknown and, therefore, uncharted rock and was, therefore, claiming the collision was caused through no fault of his own. The court, however, would not agree.

Taking control of his stricken vessel, Stuart stopped the engines and called all hands to prepare the boats. On sounding the wells, the ship was found to have over 6 feet of water in the forward hold. The boats were immediately lowered and an orderly evacuation began. While this was going on, the engines were worked ahead and astern with the rudder alternatively set hard-a-port and then hard-a-starboard until the ship was turned towards the shoal. Two awnings were then lashed under the vessel in a bid to stop any further ingress of water. The ships bow was then placed close to the reef to allow many of the male passenger to jump ashore.

For a short while the leakage was slowed down but suddenly water was found to be pouring into the aft holds. The ships engines were then put full ahead in a bid to beach the stricken vessel - but she simply bounced off the reef with great force.

At 0715 hrs, the SS Rosario came in sight and gave considerable assistance rescuing the many people still remaining on board the Dacca. The Rosario, however, was too small to carry so many additional passengers so her crew manned her own lifeboats until, eventually all passengers and crew were safely on the Reef. In addition, almost all of the cabin baggage (which represented all the worldly possessions for many of the emigrating passengers) was also saved.

As far as the Dacca herself was concerned, however, it was a very different story and a few minutes before 1100 hrs she was "observed to go down in very deep water."

The Rosario remained on station until she could attract the attention of another passing ship. This was the Palamcotta also owned by British India Associated Steamers and, between them, these two ships ferried all passengers and crew safely back to Suez from where the crew returned to the UK and the passengers were housed in an army barracks until the Palamcotta was made ready to take them to Australia.

The Board of Inquiry

The formal investigation into the loss of the Dacca was held in Westminster on the 27th and 30th June 1890 before Mr R. H. B. Marsham assisted by Captains Parish and Ward. Having heard all the evidence given, their finding was that the loss of the Dacca was caused by the unskilful navigation of the First Officer - Mr James Tait and suspended his Masters certificate for a period of 12 months.

Most curious of all was the final comment reserved for the master which read; "The Court do not find the Master in default, but they cannot entirely exonerate him from blame, as they think that he ought to have left more peremptory instructions to ensure his being on deck when nearing the shoal." Clearly, they missed the fact that he gave those very orders - both verbally and in writing!

Finally they added; "The Court consider that great credit is due to the Master, officers and crew for the good discipline kept after the vessel struck, and for the expeditious manner in which the large number of passengers was safely landed on the reef, and subsequently transferred to other vessels without a single casualty of any kind."

Postscript (1):

Daedalus Shoal is a small rocky outcrop that reaches the surface of the Egyptian Red Sea - almost in the middle of nowhere. The shoal is surrounded by very deep water and nobody knows how many vessels have foundered here. Perhaps, in a manner similar to the Ada and Numidia, the Dacca is lying up one of the steep sides of the Shoal. That is, however, unlikely - because she was reported as having "bounced off the reef with great force" after that abortive attempt to beach the stricken ship. She is, therefore, far more likely to be found in very deep water. Even so, this is a fascinating ship and well worth the time spent in a serious search. After all - you never know...

Postscript (2)

At the start of World War One, two of the very first Territorial infantry battalions to be sent to France were "The Liverpool and Scottish Regiment" and the "Queen's Westminster Rifles." They sailed together from Southampton on 1st November 1914 on board the SS Maidan and disembarked at Le Havre on November 3rd. By early 1918 only 65 of the original 1,000 men of the Liverpool and Scottish were still serving with the Regiment in France - all the remainder having been either killed or wounded. These men were known as "The Maidaners" and in 1964 there was a reunion at which time - a silver salver called the Maidan Plate was presented to the Regiment to commemorate that historic journey. Harold Anderson - who had been awarded the Legion of Honour by France, was the last surviving "Maidaner" and he died in November 1998. Most appropriately, his funeral was at 11am on 11th November 1998 - exactly 80 years to the minute from the end of World War One. The Liverpool and Scottish Museum website is at

Full technical details of this ship will be added at a later date