December 7th Report on the loss of the S.S. Trevessa (1923)

On this day in 1923, the report was published on the extraordinary survival of three quarters of the crew of the S.S. Trevassaon Mauritius and Rodriguez Island after the ship had sunk.  S.S. Trevassa was a flagship of the Hain Shipping line (Edward Hain, September 20th) and, as it sank, the captain, Cecil Foster, marshalled his crew of forty-four into two lifeboats.

With all contact lost, it was believed that the ship had sunk with the loss of all hands.  Three weeks later, however, after a voyage estimated at 1700 miles, thirty-four survivors, all believed lost, suddenly appeared.

News of the survival of anybody would have been newsworthy but that 34 of a crew of 44 had survived flashed around the world and was, obviously rightly, hailed as a magnificent and frankly unbelievable event. 

On his return to England, Captain Foster became a celebrity and was summoned to meet King George V who impressed the captain with the his knowledge of navigation, the King of course having served in the Royal navy for 14 years (1877 – 1891).

Foster, and his Chief Officer, J. C. Stewart, who had commanded the other lifeboat received the Lloyd’s Silver Medal for Saving Life at Sea.

It was decided that the sinking of the zinc cargo-bearing ship was nobody’s fault and was due to unexpected gales which washed two of the four lifeboats away but Foster was again congratulated on his decision

Based on his WWI experiences, Foster had ordered the two remaining boats to be loaded with biscuits and condensed milk, huge volumes of drinking water, tobacco and cigarettes rather than relying on standard provisions.  Foster had also divided the crews of the two boats into timed watches, rowing, managing the sails and they were rewarded with food, drink and tobacco. 

Most incredibly of all, they left the sinking ship with no charts or chronometers and all that Foster and his Chief Officer could do was to calculate their latitude.

In 1924 Foster published a short memoir book about the event, ‘1,700 Miles in Open Boats’  and stated that he and his crew only survived due to the crew being a ‘wonderful crowd’;  typical modesty from those of almost unbelievable achievement.


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