On 11th August, 1880, the whole World woke up to a shocking news that SS Jeddah, a ship carrying 953 hajjis (pilgrims for Mecca), had drowned into the sea near Cape Guardafui, near the easternmost point of Africa, on 8th August. All on board perished except the captain, his wife, the chief officer, the chief engineer, the assistant engineer, and 16 Indian crew members. The survivors were rescued by SS Scindia and landed at Aden in Yemen.
SS Jeddah sailed from Singapore on 17th July, and on 19th took hajjis from Penang, Malaysia, with 953 hajjis and more than 20 crew members on board for Jeddah in Hejaz (Present day Saudi Arab). Most of the hajjis on board were Indians and almost 200 of them were women and children.
SS Jeddah, an iron steamer, was built specially for the trade at Dumbarton in 1872, was classed 100 A1 in Lloyd’s Register, and had been one of the favourite ships with hajjis. It was owned by Mr. Syed Mohammad Bin Alsagoff, Managing Director of the Singapore Steam Ship Company. The captain of the Ship was Lucas Clark.
The Good News
On 12th August, 1880, people woke up to read another shocking but pleasant news. The deadliest accident in marine history reported a day before came out to be untrue. It came to the light that the Captain with his wife and owner’s nephew Syed Omar fled the ship when confronted with a sea storm leaving almost 1000 hajjis to drown.
What Actually Happened
On 3rd August after confronting bad weather the captain and his crew found out that the boilers were not working and got detached. They tried to fix the problem till 7th August. On the night between 7th and 8th August, the captain with several of his crew members, a total of 20 with three Europeans sneaked out of the ship with all the life saving boats. When hajjis saw them fleeing they tried to stop them. In the fight, 14 people died, most of them hajjis, and one European engineer was stopped on the ship. As Mr. Campbell later told the Legislative Council of Singapore, “I think and I question whether any of us in the same situation would not have shot Captain Lucas Clark like a dog for his dastardly attempt to desert his vessel in such dire distress.”
When SS Scindia found Captain Clark in the sea, he told that SS Jeddah had drowned with all pilgrims on board dead. On 10th August, Clark reached Aden port and told this story. It was the deadliest marine accident till that date.
Meanwhile, on the same day, 8th August, Antenor, an iron screw steamship, with 680 passengers on board, travelling from Shanghai to London, spotted SS Jeddah with distress signals. On the masts there were flags, “We are sinking” & “Send immediate assistance”
Captain of Antenor consulted with the chief engineer and it was decided that they would help the ship. Chief officer of Antenor took four other crew members to SS Jeddah and found that there was at least seven feet of water inside the ship. The chief officer took the lead and organised hajjis to pump the water out and tow SS Jeddah with the help of Antenor to the nearest port, Aden. Incidentally, within hours of Captain Clark reaching Aden with the news of the death of these 953 hajjis SS Jeddah also reached the port, taking all the hajjis safely with her.
It became a major embarrassment for the Europeans as Captain Clark blamed the unruly Muslim behaviour for his decision to abondon the ship. A court at Aden immediately cancelled his incense for three years. European media asked for stricter punishment and the Bombay Government was asked to confiscate his properties, which never were.