From The Weekly Pioneer and DemocratOctober 11, 1861

She Breaks her Rudder and Becomes Unmanageable.



She Reaches Cork a Floating Wreck.

Farther Point, Tuesday, Oct. 1.—The following in regard to the disaster to the steamship Great Eastern is taken from the English papers :

The Great Eastern left her moorings in the river Mersey at half past one o’clock on Tuesday, the 10th of September. The pilot boats left her at 4 o’clock. She immediately put on full speed, and all went well with her until 4 o’clock on Thursday, when, a strong breeze prevailing, the aft tackle of one of the forward boats on the port side became unhooked, leaving it suspended by one tackle. The captain endeavored to steady the ship while this was rectified, but found to his surprise that she did not answer the helm. The fact was, though it was not known at the time, the rudder pin was broken. The fore staysail was run up but it was blown away. The paddle engines were now stopped, and the the boat lashings cut away, when the Great Eastern once more started on her course. The passengers then went down to dinner, and from that moment commenced a chaos of breakages which lasted without intermission for three days. Everything breakable was destroyed. Furniture, fittings, services of plate, piano—all were involved in one common ruin. It now became known that the rudder was unmanageable. About six o’clock the vessel had to be stopped again owing to two rolls of sheet lead, weighing several hundred weight each, which were in the engine room, rolling about with every oscillation of the vessel with fearful force. These having been secured, another start was made, when a tremendous grinding was heard under the paddle-boxes. The shaft had become twisted, and the floats were grinding against the side of the ship. The paddles were stopped, and thenceforward the scene is described as fearful in the extreme. The ship rolled so violently that the boats were washed away. The cabin, besides undergoing the dangers arising from the crashes and collisions which were constantly going on, had shipped, probably through the port holes, a great deal of water, and the stores were floating about in utter confusion and ruin. Some of the chandeliers fell down with a crash. A large mirror was smashed into a thousand fragments, rails of banisters, bars, and numerous other fittings, were broken into numberless pieces. Some idea of the roughness of the night may possibly be gathered from the fact that the large chain cables polished themselves quite bright with friction on deck. A spare riding bit gave way on the cabledeck, and knocked a hole through the ship’s side. Two oil tanks, also on the cabledeck, were so much damaged by another concussion that 200 gallons of fish oil contained in them ran into the hold, and caused, during the rest of the unhappy voyage, a most intolerable odor. The luggage of the passengers in the lower after cargo space was lying in two leet of water, and, before the deliverance of the ship was effected, the luggage was literally reduced to rags and pieces of timber. Twenty-five fractures of limbs occurred from the concussions caused by the tremendous lurching of the vessel. Cuts and bruises were innumerable. One of the cooks was cast violently, by one of the lurches, against the paddlebox, by which he sustained fearful bruises on the arms, putting it out of his power to protect himself. Another lurch drove him against one of the stanchions, by which concussion one of the poor fellow’s legs was broken in three places. The baker received injuries of a very terrible character in vital parts ; and one of the most striking incidents of the disaster was this poor, brave man, crawling in his agony to extinguish some portion of the baking gear, which at that moment had caught fire.

On Thursday night the gale was from the southwest, but on Friday morning it had turned round to the northwest, and the ship was drifting an unmanageable log in the trough of the sea. She did not ship much
water on deck.

It was soon discovered what was the matter with the rudder. The pin upon which it turned had broken off three feet above the point where it entered the stern of the ship. It was wrought iron, ten inches in diameter—and the iron appeared thorougly [sic] good, breaking at that particular point where it appeared the strongest, which was one of the most curious incidents of the disaster. It was now found necessary to rig up some kind of steering gear. A spar was thrown overboard with the anchor-duke attached, which, dragging in the water behind the ship, might bring her head to the wind ; but the swinging of the rudder made it useless ; and a plan was then suggested to the captain by the passengers, to which the escape of the vessel is probably attributable. It was to pass two or three turns of chain-cable around the rudder pin, immediately below the point at which the breakage occurred, and secure it with wedges and small chains. By pulling either end of this chain-cable, a circular motion of the pin was produced, and a connection being effected with the usual chain attached to the rudder, and a temporary wheel rigged up below the deck, a shift was made once more to proceed ; but the screw of the vessel upon which the locomotion now depended—hardly a vestige of the paddles remaining—soon stopped, being fouled by the rudder, by which the rudder was prevented from veering more than was necessary to steer the ship.

All of Friday was occupied with these arrangements. The ship had drifted up the west coast of Ireland, out of the ordinary track. On Saturday night the brig Magnet, of Halifax, hove in sight, hauled alongside, and lay to for the purpose of rendering assistance.

Sunday, at 2 o’clock, the Great Eastern got under way, the rudder was found to act, and the vessel proceeded at the rate of nine knots an hour with the screw alone.

She met the Persia the next morning, and signaled her to come under the lee, which the Persia did. But circumstances were such that the Great Eastern’s engines could not be slackened, and the Persia made off, probably under the impression that foul play was intended by the Great Eastern. An attempt was made at an explanation, but the Persia was too far off. The Great Eastern continued her course on Tuesday morning, and reached the Head of Kinsale, where she stopped four hours to arrange her tackle. She signaled the shore, but no notice was taken of her. At 4 o’clock, she arrived off Cork, and a small steamer came off to assist her, and the harbor was soon reached. As the rudder was sufficiently repaired, the ship would proceed to Liverpool soon.

Our informant slates that it is almost impossible to exaggerate the anxious state of mind which prevailed while the fate of the ship was doubtful. There were several clergyman on board, and religious services were frequent. The demeanor of the passengers was sufficient, apart from any sign of disaster around, to signify the distressing nature of the crisis. A meeting was held in the saloon on Tuesday, and resolutions of a pious and congratulatory character were passed.

The passengers expressed gratitude to the commander of the brig Magnet, and complimented Capt. Walker and the officers crew of the Great Eastern for their indefatigable exertions.

Some of the proceedings, however, were of a less pleasant character, severe comments being passed on the condition of the ship, her strength of paddles, and the way she was ballasted.

Source: The weekly pioneer and Democrat. [volume] (Saint Paul, Minn. Territory), 11 Oct. 1861. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>