|The Omar Pasha was a clipper immigrant ship running between England and Australia. Like on most other similar vessels her return voyages took colonial produce of which the most part was wool, both in the case of Australia and New Zealand. Wool is compression packed in large square bales and all wool includes oils such as lanolin which under certain circumstances can self-ignite, sometimes smouldering for days without giving any hint to the crew and passengers of the ship. A wooden sailing ship is particularly vulnerable because once the hull begins to burn the masts collapse, depending on the seat of the fire, and thus the first hint of disaster might be that happening. The events described herein for the Omar Pasha are sadly far from unique, and without radios stricken ships had few options beyond abandoning ship in ill-equipped lifeboats. Any vessels that did take part in a recue did so knowing the old phrase of ‘what goes around, comes around’ applied equally to everyone and that next time it might will be them... With respect to the ‘Omar Pasha’, the following is the account of the loss of the vessel, furnished by her commander, Lieutenant Charles Grey, R.N.R. and carried in many newspapers of the day.:—|
The ship sailed from Moreton Bay on February 13, and on April 21 was in lat. 21degrees N., long. 42 degrees W. [roughly mid-Atlantic] seventy-nine days out, and there was every prospect of accomplishing the remainder of the voyage in about ten days. A terrible fate, however, awaited the noble ship. April 22, at 430 a.m. the ship was under all sail, excepting royals ; a fresh N.E. breeze blowing at the time - lat. 28 degrees N., long. 43 degrees W. The alarm was given by the first officer that the ship was on fire about the main hatch and chain locker.
All hands and passengers were immediately called; sails were reduced to close-reefed topsails, all pumps set to work, and immense quantities of water poured down the lower hold and the chain locker, through which the flames, smoke, and steam were coming in large volumes already. Officers, men, and passengers, divided into proper gangs, worked bravely, and for some time hopes were entertained of getting the flames extinguished. At 6 a.m. [another] vessel was seen to the westward and the ship was steered at once for her, firing minute guns of distress and making signals for assistance. In about an hour she was alongside the Italian barque 'Anita Tagliavia', whose commander promised assistance and sent his own boats. Another vessel, which proved to be the Spanish brig 'Maria Rosa', was also bearing down under all canvas, and sent a boat to help as much as possible. In the meantime the crew and passengers exerted themselves to do their utmost at pumps and at fire-buckets, or to carry out promptly whatever orders were given.
The greatest discipline was maintained on board throughout. Large wet sails and tarpaulins were spread over the hatches and decks but, however, all labour proved in vain. From 8 till about 9 the flames spread more and more in the lower hold, and the great heat set the wool in the between decks on fire ; the steam, probably raised by the burning tallow, became so alarming that the after and main hatches were opened to prevent an explosion. After much trouble and considerable danger the wool on fire in the main and after hatches was got out and thrown overboard and had the fire been only confined to the between decks the ship would have been saved. About 10 it became evident that no human power could save the unfortunate ship; the flames were already breaking through several parts of the main deck, the smoke and steam became worse and worse every minute.
The passengers were ordered to get themselves ready to leave the ship - the boats were got ready also each in charge of one officer. In the meantime the purser, steward, and four men were employed in getting provisions out of the store-room aft; as the barque had only a very limited supply of stores it was most important to provide food for so many people. At about 11 a.m. the transhipment of passengers to the Italian barque commenced, not without danger or difficulty as the breeze had freshened considerably. The sea was running high at the time ; however, owing to the greatest order and strictest discipline, all the women and children were safely transferred to the barque; then followed all male passengers, with as much of their luggage as could be saved in so short a time. After having them all in safety, the boats continued carrying provisions. About 1 30 p.m. the main deck from the poop to the foremast, the front of poop and part of saloon, were one mass of flames, the mainmast was burning as far as the top [Note: The mast is in two sections and strangely the TOP is at the join where a great number of cables congregate] and began to sway to with every roll, and it became dangerous for those still working on board (the Captain, Mr. Beatie, third officer, Mr. Stephenson, sailmaker, and Cornie, quartermaster), to stay any longer.
The helm was put hard down, and lashed to keep the burning ship hove to. The three men were lowered into the cutter waiting astern, and the captain followed them shortly afterwards. After keeping some time to windward to witness the rapid progress of destruction of the unfortunate ship, the boat pulled alongside the Italian barque, and sail was made, in company of the Spanish brig, for [another] barque in sight to the N.N.E., as there were very few provisions and little water on board of both vessels, besides no room to accommodate such a number of passengers and crew. At 5:30 p.m. hove to alongside the British barque ‘Queen of the North'.
About this time the 'Omar Pasha' had burnt to the water’s edge. All masts had fallen over the port side, and about 730 p.m. she went down stern foremost. The ‘Queen of the North’, bound for London, about 600 tons, took nine passengers and the first officer; the Spanish brig ‘Maria Rosa’, about 250 tons, bound for Malaga, twelve men and the second officer. The rest remained on board the small Italian barque, although of only 4oo tons.
Although both were foreign ships, the greatest kindness was shown to everyone. Captain, officers and crew shared willingly whatever they had on board. In fact, their conduct throughout deserves the highest praise. About 8 p.m. the passengers and their luggage were transferred, and the three vessels parted company.
On the 25th of April the French barque 'Belle Virginie' from the East Indies bound to Marseilles, assisted the ‘Anita Tagliavia’ with as much water as could be spared. On the 26th the captain of the German brig 'Auguste' from Buenos Aires, bound to Havre, took very kindly nine (passengers and crew) on board, and the same afternoon a large ship hove in sight to the westward. At 5 p:m. the ship 'Zealandia' [coming] from Callao [and] bound to Cork, bore down upon the Italian barque, and hove to alongside. Her commander, Captain J.Mutton, at once offered to take all passengers and crew, and in an hour everyone was safely on board of this large ship.
After mutual good wishes, both vessels stood on their courses with a fair wind. The 'Zealandia' landed all the passengers safely at Cork.