Wreck of the Severn Screw-Steamer at the  Bridge, Newport, Mon, 1844

The Illustrated London News, May, 1844


Within these few weeks two new iron steamers, the Severn and Avon, fitted with the Archimedean screw and high-pressure engines, have been started in opposition to the old line of steam-packets between Bristol and Newport, South Wales. On Saturday evening last, about a quarter to six o'clock, when about to start, the Severn was lying at her berth, near the Newport bridge, with her bow towards the bridge, her stern being down the river, or in the direction of Bristol. At this time the tide was running up the Newport river very strongly, at about seven knots an hour; and of course near to the bridge the current produced by the tide shooting through the arches of the bridge was much stronger. The signal for starting having been given, the captain commenced swinging the vessel round, and cast off the stern-chain, depending upon the bow-rope and the power of the engine, for bringing her round with her head to the tide, and thus getting her under weigh. At this moment, when the order was given to back her, it was found that the screw would not revolve; the vessel immediately swung round, and, carried with the run of the tide, struck with her bow the wedgelike buttress of the bridge, and, recoiling, almost instantly struck with her side against another buttress with such force that every one on the bridge fully expected to see her turn clean over. At this moment the scene was truly distressing - the spectators on shore, as well as their friends on board, screaming dreadfully. Boats were instantly put in requisition, and the passengers, upwards of fifty in number, were fortunately all got on shore; but not without great difficulty. The pumps were then rigged, and exertions made to save the steamer, other persons being employed in the meantime in removing the luggage, &c, which was safely effected. In about an hour and a half, however, she was seen to go down, the captain and crew having only just jumped into some boats, previously to her sinking; indeed, they stayed by her so long that their boats were swamped; but the crew were fortunately picked up and rescued, though not until some of them had been drawn under the bridge, and to some distance above it.
The cause of the catastrophe is thus explained in the Times report, the information having been received from a gentleman connected with her engineering department, and who was on board at the time of the accident. He says that on the arrival of the Severn at Newport, on Saturday, it was intended to put a new screw into her; when the captain stated it to be so late upon tide, that if it were done, he should not have time to swing her round in the slack tide. The intention was then abandoned, and shortly after, while the cargo was being landed, the vessel grounded, upon which the captain, finding that she could not he swung until the next tide, the screw she was then working with was removed, and a new one put in; and this gentleman says that almost immediately up to the time of the water covering the screw all was free and everything right, for he himself turned round the screw by hand. The steam was then got up, and no danger was apprehended. Upon the orders being given on Saturday evening, the screw was put in motion, but before it had made a single revolution it stopped, and the vessel drifted up the river. She then struck forward, but only bent the iron; the after-strain was, however, so great, that it shortly became a rent, and her fore compartment instantly filled with water (the vessel being built in watertight compartments). Every exertion was made, until the water rushing over her decks, she filled and sank, rolling heavily over. Still no cause could be assigned for the non-action of the screw; but, on the tide leaving her, a chain was discovered firmly twisted round the screw, which had thus caused her destruction. How the chain came there is a complete mystery, as all her mooring chains have since been examined, and are safe, and the captain and crew say that they had no such chain on deck. The vessel subsequently rolled over with every tide, and had a rent in her side from the deck to her keel, large enough for men to walk in and out.
The accompanying sketch is taken from the Old Company's wharf, and includes the Bridge Inn, the Bridge, and Castle - the latter now used as a brewery; the large building in course of erection upon the hill is the new Barracks.
At low water, as the wreck lay dry, the owners were enabled to examine her damages. It was then discovered that she had a transverse fissure in her larboard bends, the iron plates of which were rent asunder, from two to three feet wide, and from six to seven feet long, caused by her coming in contact with the pier, and the constant friction produced by the action of the tide upon the vessel. During the whole of Saturday night, men were engaged in repairing the breach and lightening the vessel, but the tide returning on Sunday morning, carried the vessel back against the bridge, sweeping away a large portion of her bulwarks; for a few moments she righted, but such was the force of the tide, that she fell over on her larboard side, and her masts, coming in contact with the bridge, they snapped asunder, and, with her standing rigging, were carried away with the tide. During the whole of Sunday, the workmen were engaged in covering the breach with boards, and caulking every joint, stopping all the ports, scuppers, hatchways, and making every effort to get out and keep out the water on the return of the tide; a number of empty barrels were put into the hold, with a view to buoy her up; strong warps and chains were attached, and a steam-tug procured, so that on the flood-tide they might be enabled to bring her head to the stream; but, notwithstanding every exertion made, the assistants of the tug-boat and fifteen stout brewery horses, such was the force of the tide, that it was found impossible to move her, On the ebb of the tide, the vessel was carried down the river forty or fifty yards, upon a hard gravelly bottom, considerably abrading her keel and bottom plates; and on the flow she was carried back to her old position against the bridge, where she now remains, on her beam-ends, a complete wreck. The vessel, it is believed, belongs to Messrs. Stothen, Slaughter, and Co., of Bristol, and was considered to be one of the finest boats leaving that port.