After nearly a year abroad, Southworth boarded the Boston packet Ocean Monarch in Liverpool.
Underway, Southworth shared breakfast with the ship’s captain,
Boston ian James M urdock (1808-1883), who h ad taken command of the 1,300-ton Ocean Monarch at its launch barely a year ea rlier.
Designed for the emigrant trade and built by Donald McKay of clipper ship renown, the Ocean Monarch served in Enoch Train’s line of Liverpool packets. For this 1848 passage, Ocean M onarch had 396 souls aboard-322 of them in steerage.
OffOrmshead along the northern coast of Wales, a steward sounded the alarm of “fire below,” saying “one of the steerage passengers had made a fire in one of the ventilators without reflection.”
Despite maneuvering the ship to position the flames downwind of the vessel and other efforts to suppress the fire,
Murdock recalled, “in less than five minutes the whole stern of the ship was completely enveloped in the fiery element.
Ocean Monarch 1848 … All was now a scene of the utmost confusion, noise and disorder. My orders could not be heard … .
In their maddened despair, women jumped overboard with their offspring in their arms, and sunk to rise no more.
Men followed their wives in frenzy, and were lost.” Shortly, the “mizzenmast went overboard, and the mainmast soon followed.”
The Ocean Monarch tragedy was the subject of three sequential paintings by British artist Samuel Walters (1811-1882); the second of the series is reproduced here (see image next page).
In the scene, the foremast remains intact, with humanity crowded forward-even on the jibboom, and rescue vessels are nearby.
The vessel to the left is the cutter yacht Queen of the Ocean, which was first on the scene and picked up thirty-two survivors. To the right is the Brazilian naval steam frigate Ajfonzo, also participating in the rescue.
Had not these and several other vessels been in proximity, the death roll, bad enough at 178, would have been worse.
Ocean Monarch 1848 Although a British court of inquiry “exonerated [Murdock] from all blame,” some Bostonians initially harbored doubts.
Southworth came to the captain’s defense: the Boston Evening Transcript wrote that Murdock “manifested the utmost coolness and self-possession; and the insinuation that he was unduly excited from any cause is wholly untrue.”
Furthermore, Southworth asserted, while he himself had been in one of the two lifeboats, “Captain M. was in neither.”
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