The story (and song) of the first radio rescue at sea, 23rd January 1909

‘Jack Binns, Jack Binns, the bravest of all the crew,
Jack Binns, Jack Binns, The world loves and honours you!’

The first rescue at sea that depended on radio was a big one involving a collision between two liners, and it inspired a music hall song. They don’t write them quite like that any more…

There’s a hole in the side of the ship Jack Binns, The Captain above he cried,
Give a message at once to the wandering winds, Aye aye Sir, Jack Binns replied,
The Captain was brave but braver was he,
Who sat in his room with his hand on the key…

‘The first radio rescue at sea took place on 23 January 1909. On that day a Morse code distress call—CQD—was sent by White Star Line’s Republic (1903), which in dense fog had collided with the Lloyd Italiano liner Florida (1905). Republic’s signal was detected and relayed by the nearby Nantucket Island station. The US Revenue Cutter Gresham picked up the message from Nantucket and immediately headed to the collision site to help the victims.

‘Both Republic and Florida were heavily damaged, and Republic eventually sank. Yet passengers and crew who survived the initial crash were safely evacuated to Florida and White Star’s Baltic, which had also received the distress call and steamed to the scene. Two Republic passengers, asleep in their cabins, were killed when Florida’s bow sliced into the ship.’

Read on…

High Teas and High Seas – stories of emigrants sailing to Australia

This looks interesting and fun (in parts) – a book just out from the Australian National Library about the history of emigration to Australia: High Seas and High Teas: Voyaging to Australia, by historian and curator Roslyn Russell. My thanks go to Chris Brady for alerting me to this one.

Here’s the press release:

‘The rats I frighten away by throwing books or anything hard at the spot at which they commence their gnawing.’

Emigrant Janet Ronald wrote this in the journal she kept on board one of the ships transporting free settlers from Britain and Ireland to Australia in the nineteenth century.

On journeys lasting more than 100 days non-stop, our forebears endured raging seas, the dazzling heat of the tropics and freezing temperatures as ships journeyed far into the southerly latitudes. They also formed social communities, putting on plays, developing sometimes lasting relationships and taking part in wild nautical rituals.

Packed in cheek by jowl with fellow passengers and crew, life on board was rigidly defined by social class. Lower-class passengers dined on homemade concoctions of mutton fat pudding (‘clammy to the mouth when eaten cold’), preserved potatoes and experimental stews, while those travelling first-class enjoyed elaborate multi-course dinners, including fresh meat, slaughtered on board.

Navigating the social mores on these giant floating microcosms was only half the story. Amid the chronicles of flirtations and high jinks, odours and rats, there were also tales of despotic captains, severe water rationing, disease, domestic discord and violence, fear of enemy ships and violent storms. From those sailing under servitude to emigrants seeking a new life, the people who braved the journey changed Australia.

Using diary entries and shipboard newspapers, author Roslyn Russell gives a vivid sense of what it was like to leave one life for another and sail across the world into the unknown. In the foreword, Kerry O’Brien writes about his Irish ancestors’ perilous voyages to Australia in the nineteenth century—as both free settlers and guests of Her Majesty.

Roslyn Russell expertly curates the travellers’ personal diaries, allowing the reader to hear directly from 19th-century men like Joseph Pettingell, who lost a beloved child on the journey from London to Hobart in 1834, and women like Annie Gratton, travelling solo and determined to stay ‘respectable’ on the trip from London to Melbourne in 1858.

Background feature pages reveal the colonies’ desired emigrants (‘free from all bodily or mental defects’), answer the delicate question of how men and women relieved themselves on board, list the basic rations doled out to each passenger, and much more.

Other highlights include shipboard newspapers, which appear here in full-page images of front-pages and choice extracts, including an unsolicited advice column on how ladies should behave on board, circulated on the Great Britain in 1861, and a lost and found article appealing for someone to come forward with information about a lost ‘recollection of how I spent the night before last; how I found myself under the table, who picked me up and put me to bed with my boots on’.

Many of the diarists were skilled artists and the book is full of sketched landscapes, birds, people and nautical scenes.

PS – Check the comments below for a fabulous quotation from Henry Lawson.

PPS – The folks at the Australian National Library have kindly sent me some photos of spreads from the book for those who are interested. See below…

22-2330-3192-93High Seas and High Teas 100-101 152-153 212-213



The People Liner’s – Britain’s Lost Pleasure Fleets

The People's Liners

If you can see it, don’t miss this cracking little BBC programme, with great rememniscences, some lovely old films, some nice history, and some great stories. It’s one of the things that makes the BBC great – and makes me wonder whethe the folks who would get rid of it know what they’re doing…

And example of the stories is the one about the Queen Victoria. It seems the Cunard folks commissioned John Brown & Company to build a new liner on Clydebank, and decided to name her the Queen Victoria. Being upright, proper gents with a bit of access, they decided to as the King for permission to use the name.

So they went to see King George V, and duly asked ‘We would like permission to call the ship Queen… ‘

They hadn’t got to the ‘Victoria’ bit when the Royal personage butted in with ‘Mary would be delighted to have the ship named after her’. So they went back to their office and were unable to change the plan.

A small problem was that there already was a Queen Mary, a steamer operating on the Clyde. So a deal had to be done… Cunard got it’s Queen Mary, and the Clyde steamer became Queen Mary II.

The blurb, by the way, says:

‘Far more than a means of transport, these steamers attracted a devoted following, treating their passengers, whatever their pocket, to the adventure and trappings of an ocean voyage whilst actually rarely venturing out of sight of land. A highlight of the great British seaside holiday from the 1820s until the early 1960s – and open to all – they were “the people’s liners”.’