Capt. R W Ker

In 1876, when the "Namaqua" was lost outside Port Nolloth, the Cape Argus on the 11th of April published a report on the voyage of the "Zulu" to discover the facts.   On board was 'Captain Kerr, superintendent of the Union Company'.

Marischal Murray, (Union-Castle Chronicle, p.99) in his account on the loss of the "European" states, 'Captain Ker, the one time Superintendent in South Africa was in command.'   As both publications give only a surname, it is impossible to say which spelling is correct.

On the 4th of December 1877 homeward bound, the "European" passed Cape Finisterre 25 miles off to starboard and she began her crossing of the Bay of Biscay, her next landfall would be Ushant.   On the 5th, the master, Captain Robert Ker must have been worried about the set and drift made by the "European", 'set' being the deflection of the course made good to that being steered by the ocean current, and 'drift' being the actual distance off course resulting from wind and tide.   One must think that they may have expected to raise Ushant, there must also be an assumption that no sun or stellar fix had been possible.   Whatever Captain Ker gave the order to heave to and take soundings, no bottom was found.

Resuming her passage she steamed for three hours before again soundings being taken and again finding no bottom.   Captain Ker now thought that he had over compensated for the set and drift and set a more easterly course of north-east.   Later that evening at 20.00 the mate was relieved by the second and third officers (it was and still is customary to double up the watch when in dangerous waters.)   An hour later soundings were taken and bottom found at 48 fathoms.

Later, after a further course adjustment Ushant light was seen, not as to be expected on the starboard bow but to port.   The ship's course was adjusted to put Ushant on the starboard bow, seeing breakers to starboard Captain Ker thought his way to be clear and ordered full ahead.   Minutes later she struck the rocks and became a total loss.   Fortunately the sea was calm allowing all on board to take to the boats, there was no loss of life.

Poor old Captain Ker, as always somebody had to be found at fault, Captain Ker was censured for ordering full ahead when unsure of his position and had his certificate suspended for six months, I very much doubt if he sailed in command again.

The irony is that, finding himself in very similar circumstances as the "Celt", two years previously, the inquiry at which he saw Captain George Bird have his certificate suspended for twelve months for loosing his ship on Quoin Point, Captain Ker appeared to be doing everything right but still managed to loose his ship.

(My sympathy is with Captain Ker, on a dark night, knowing he was close, but unsure just how close to an area beset with some of the strongest currents to be found, he must have felt in that court room very alone.  O.G.K.)

Union Line Home Page
Previous Page Next Page Go to Home Page South American Saint Line Springbok Line Castle line Union Steamship Co Union-Castle Line inc Union Line and Castle Line Scottish Tankers Scottish Shire Line Safmarine Mail Ships Houston Line Hector Whaling Co Clan Line Steamers Cayzer Irvine/CI Shipping Bullard King B & C Home Page Bowater Steamship Co Select Crew Lists King Line Steamship Co