In December, 1877, the "Roman" experienced a potentially catastrophic mishap in mid-Atlantic, some 650 miles north of Table Bay. The chief engineer, Mr. Dusantoy must have been one of those, 'just leave me to my engines' chief engineers.
A man of extraordinary ability, Mr Dusantoy achieved a repair, at least to my knowledge, unparalleled at sea. There are numerous stories of ships being towed in with broken shafts, even ships sunk (Union Line American). The Roman's shaft broke, Mr Dusantoy repaired it and got the ship to Cape Town. Here is the story.
Cape Argus, Saturday, January 19, 1878.
After an unusually long period of anxiety and suspense, on the part of the colonial public generally, in regard to the fate of the steamer Roman, which was last seen by the Edinburgh Castle 650 miles from Table Bay, the good ship turned up yesterday safe and sound. When the flag went up on signal hill about midday, and the name shortly afterwards was posted on the Exchange slate and that at Mr. Hutton's office, there was a quite an excitement in town, and numbers of people hastened to th docks to see the truant vessel and hear all the news concerning her adventures. After all the rumours that have been rife for the past few weeks, and the various surmises hazarded on all sides, some of them being anything but reassuring, it is no matter for surprise that people were jubilant, and that, for the time, every other consideration was subordinated to the report which flew quickly throughout the town, "The Roman's coming in". Some little time was taken up in warping the steamer to her berth, during which her appearance was the all-engrossing subject of remark; though beyond the fact that her hull looked rather dirty, there was nothing at variance with that taut and trim look which these mail steamers invariably present when coming into port. When she came alongside and the gangway was adjusted, there was quite a stampede for the deck on the part of the assembled crowd, and the passengers were subjected to a perfect volley of interrogatories as to where they had been, and how they had fared. To make complete the story of what to many will be the most eventful voyage of their lives, we may say that the Roman sailed from Plymouth on the 1st December, at 11.30 a.m., with 129 passengers, a large cargo, and 103 sacks of mails. Fresh northerly winds, with very high N.W. swell, were experienced to Cape Finisterre, and thence to Madeira moderate westerly winds. Moderate S.E. winds to Cape Verde, high southerly winds and calms to Equator, moderate S.E. trades to twelve deg. S lat, and thence strong trades, with high sea to twenty-five deg. S lat. On the 22nd December, about five o'clock in the morning, the Edinburgh Castle was sighted on the starboard bow the wind at the time being from the southward, and the vessel steering S by E. At 11.30 a.m. the engines were stopped for the purposes of "packing" and tightening the machinery; and just about this time the Castle boat signalled "Do you require assistance?" an answer bein returned in the negative. Shortly after this the Roman proceeded full speed ahead for Cape Town, but at 1.30, while the ship's crew were being exercised for fire practice, the crank shaft broke on the after side of the low pressed crank pin. The accident, as may readily be imagined, occasioned for some time some little consternation and no small annoyance, inasmuch as the offer of assistance had only just previously been declined. The chief engineer, Mr. Dusantoy, and his coadjutors, ( A co-worker; an assistant) however, worked night and day to repair the damage, drilling three holes, an inch and a quarter diameter each, and inserting therein bolts fifteen inches long. The holes took ten hours each to drill. From all we can learn, there appears to have been a flaw in the crank of long standing, as the middle of the shaft was quite black with grease and rusty, the metal holding being round the outside, ranging from half to one inch in thickness. After parting, the noise of which occassioned a loud report, the shaft only made two revolution. On the morning of December 26th, at 7.40 a.m., a fresh start was made with the aft engine only, and everything would probably have gone well, had not the shaft been bent in the after bearing, causing it to open and shut. In the afternoon of the same day, the bolts parted, the vessel at the time labouring rather heavily, so it was resolved to make all sail and bear up for St. Helena, which was reached at 8.47 a.m. on the 3rd of January. By dint of considerable labour, another large hole was drilled through the centre of the crank, and a pin 2 5/8 inches in diameter inserted, which was clenched well at each end. On the 7th of January, after a stoppage at the island of four days, another start was effected with one engine only, nothing of consequence occurring up to the time of arrival here yesterday. Moderate to fresh S.S.E. winds were experienced with southerly swell, to January 15th, and thence to Table Bay, fresh S.W. winds with heavy swell.
All the passengers are loud in their praise of the skill and ability displayed by the chief engineer in temporarily repairing the accident, and thus enabling the steamer to proceed, for had he failed in doing this they would inevitably have been detained at St. Helena for some considerable time. In recognition of his services, he was presented with an address, signed by all the passengers, together with a purse of £20. The address runs as follows:--
We, the undersigned passengers by the S.S. Roman, which left Southampton on the 29th November, for the Cape of Good Hope, desire to testify our appreciation of the energetic action taken by Mr. Dusantoy, chief engineer of that steamer, after an accident which occurred to her engines on Saturday, 22nd December, 1877.
It is not within our power, nor is it our wish, to enter into any question as to the primary cause of the accident in question but it appears to us that under existing circumstances, great praise is due to the chief engineer for the prompt and persevering manner in which he twice repaired a very serious damage, and thereby enabled the vessel and all on board to proceed in safety.
December 31, 1877
Under all the circumstances, the passengers as well as the company are to be congratulated on the fact that an accident has not been attended with any more series consequences than an unpleasant delay. During the detention in mid-ocean, the time naturally hung rather heavily on hand, but the captain and officers were unremitting in their attention to the passengers, and did their utmost to alleviate the effects of the disaster. The following extract from the diary of one of the passengers on board will be read with interest:--
"On Saturday, the 22nd December, at five in the morning, we sighted the Donald Currie steamer Edinburgh Castle, which started twenty-two hours before we did. By twelve o'clock we had got up within half a mile of her, and we were congratulating one another on our superior speed, when suddenly we came to a standstill, through the engines stopping. Of course, there was a general rush for information, but we were soon reassured by the chief engineer, who had only ordered the engines to be stopped to have the glands repacked. The Edinburgh Castle, seeing us stop, signalled, asking us if we wanted any assistance, and not being able to understand our reply, turned round and came down to us, making out our signal on nearer approach, again turned, and went rapidly away from us. We lay to for exactly an hour, then started after her; she was then hull down, so that we can give a pretty accurate judgement in saying that the distance we can see across the sea is something like fifteen miles. We were, of course, awfully anxious to be up with the Edinburgh Castle again, and so was the chief engineer, and as it turned out, too much so, for we had not been going above an hour when we heard a tremendous noise in the engine-room, and rushing aft (for we had been on the forecastle watching the chase), we found to our dismay that the main shaft, which is twelve inches thick, had snapped in two, and if it had not been for the presence of mind of the chief engineer (who is a first rate fellow named Dusantoy) shutting off the steam, we should have had a hole punched through the side of the ship that would have compelled us to take to the boats. As it was, we had a scene of great confusion, which was heightened by the ladies screaming. The men had been at their usual Saturday afternoon's drill in lowering the boats, and some of the people seeing the men in boats thought that the ship was sinking. However, every one was pacified. This accident occurred at two o'clock p.m. The captain determined to turn round and run for St. Helena, and put all sail on the vessel for that purpose.
On Sunday morning the chief engineer determined to try to patch up the broken shaft and endeavour to get to the Cape, so the captain lay to so as not to increase our distance more than he could possibly avoid. Of course our spirits were down again to zero.
On Monday the captain had the boats out for our use, and we had a fine sail. While we were out in the boats the captain caught a shark; we saw the fellows pulling it up, but when we got back to the ship it was cut to pieces. It was seven feet long. I got a piece of the skin, and cut off all the flesh previous to drying it. I intended making a tobacco pouch, but when the skin was dry, it was as hard as a file.
Tuesday, Christmas day: -- Were again out in the boats; took very great care to be back again in time for dinner, and we had goose, roast beef, and plum-pudding. In the afternoon again went out in the boats.
Wednesday. -- In a fever of excitement, as we expected to start the engines. At three o'clock we got on all sail so as to give impetus to the vessel and prevent the starting strain on the shaft. At about four o'clock we started, and you can depend we cheered lustily, but our joy was short lived, for after going slowly for about three hours we broke down again, and the captain finally determined to run for St. Helena from which we are about 900 miles. I forgot to mention that on Christmas night the sailors were almost all drunk, and the watch refused to turn out, whereupon the officers went forward to fetch them out and there was a general fight. I fastened on to one fellow and stuck to him until he was put in irons. The captain in consequence has stopped all spirits. I am now writing on Saturday; we have every possible bit of canvas set, even the boat sails are set, and the ship looks like a laundry yard after a days washing. We have kept all this canvas on, but we have gone on fearfully slowly, and to day we are 650 miles away from St. Helena. I am afraid that my diary will be awfully uninteresting until we reach St. Helena, as we are getting very tired of one another and seem to prefer lying about the decks and thinking of friends at home, who we fear will be in a fearful state of mind.
Saturday evening -- We made up our minds in about ten minutes that we would give an entertainment, and as we were all suffering from ennui, we had no lack of offers to take parts, in fact we decided to draw lots as to who should act in the piece we selected, viz.: "Make your wills!" I happened to be one of the lucky ones and had the part of Process (a lawyer) allotted to me. We were gladly helped by the chief officer, who soon partitioned off part of the deck as a cool place to have our rehearsals. In the midst of our studies we heard a hurrah, and found that the crank had again been repaired, and that we were off again at seven and a half knots an hour.
Sunday morning -- My first care was to listen for the beat of the engines, which I found were going on all right. The weather we have been having lately has been mostly lovely, there having been a cooling breeze to balance the heat of the sun.
Monday, 31st. -- Weather very hot again; passed most of the day in the foretop, where it is coolest. We went 130 miles yesterday. Sighted an American ship 160 days out from Amsterdam. At night we had another rehearsal. Asked the captain's permission to ring in the New Year on the fire-bell, but not getting it we took French leave.
Tuesday, January 1st. -- Sighted a three masted vessel which passed close to us. Engines stopped again, but started at 2.30.
Wednesday. -- Passed most of the day in the rigging; we had travelled 140 miles yesterday, stopped up all night, as we expected to sight St. Helena during the night, and I was not disappointed, for about three o'clock, what looked like a tremendous black cloud loomed right ahead, which the watch told me was St. Helena. We arrived at 8.30 in the morning. It is an awfully rugged barren looking place. We were soon surrounded with boats from the shore clamouring for us to get in and go on shore, and we were not slow in going, I can assure you. The first thing we did on landing was to go and have some draught beer at 1s. a quart; it was "bully". There is an English and an American man-of-war lying in the bay, viz., the Avon, Captain Keppel, nephew of Admiral Sir H. Keppel, and the Essex, the captain's name of which I did not get to know. The first day we got there, one of the stokers on board the Avon hung himself through drink. After looking about the town for some time, McDowall (W.D. MacDowall on pass. list) and myself went for a walk into the country, and came across a resident here of the name of Ashe.. He was very kind to us, and would make us stay in his house.
Friday morning -- Had some ham and eggs, fine new potatoes and fresh butter, and delicious coffee for breakfast, after which we had a walk out to Napoleon's tomb. Was agreeably surprised to find that on getting into the country, vegetation was much more luxuriant, and the palm trees, prickly pears, and wild peaches, were very plentiful. There is no tombstone over the grave, the top being cement; on one of the four trees round the grave, however, is a copper plate, giving date of Napoleon's birth, death, etc. Back again at Ashe's, and finished the day in sitting in his garden, drinking port wine, smoking, and watching birds of beautiful plumage flitting about the trees.
On Saturday, after breakfast, took Mr. Ashe over the ship, went ashore, and had a few games of billiards at Scott's hotel on a wretched table.
Sunday morning -- Went up to the barracks, which is at the top of Jacob's ladder, consisting of 702 steps. I was very tired before reaching the top, although I rested two or three times. The natives here run up without stopping. I can run down, but even that is not easy to me. Had some draught stout in the canteen.
Monday -- Word came that we were going to start in the afternoon, and that we were to be on board at three. Went up Jacob's ladder again to say good-bye to our friends of the 88th Regiment and the Engineers, after which we had a parting glass with Ashe, and went on board. While here, we saw the burial, with full military honours, of the man who hung himself on the Avon. We heard also of the loss of the European, another vessel belonging to the same company. Also had some sea bathing from the shore. The town is the most tumble-down place I ever saw; you can buy a mansion here for £150, and dear at that. All passengers working with a will to get the ship out of the bay, and we were very smart, and were soon under weigh. Sent home a letter from here enclosed in one of my friend Cobbett's (George Cobbett) as postage is one shilling a letter. We took a Zanzibar man on board off the American boat; he had been captured by the Americans off a dhow, on which he had been a slave. His dress consisted of a shirt and a piece of dirty calico round his waist. We have made him a little more decent by giving him a pair of trousers.
Tuesday morning -- Sighted two fine iron ships, having got directly on course. Decided today to go on with the theatricals, and went in for rehearsals.
Wednesday -- Passed the Ganges, troop ship, and gave and received three cheers. Another rehearsal. Saw and signalled several ships during the day.
Thursday morning -- About three o'clock we had a fearfully narrow escape of running into a bark which had no side-lights out, and evidently no look out, or else they would have seen our lights. We only escaped by going right to starboard at full speed, and I have no doubt that we have strained the coupling bolt in the crank through so doing. Another rehearsal. We are going to perform on Sunday, and have no doubt that, with careful attention to detail, we shall be able to make a hash of it.
Friday -- Still going along very nicely. Will put down the latitude as soon as the captain puts it up under the poop at twelve a.m. Just called on for rehearsal. No card put up. At four in the afternoon we met the Teuton, and sent a boat on board; they brought back some papers and report of how fearful the people are at Cape Town that our vessel is lost.
Saturday, 12th. -- Nothing of interest.
Sunday -- Church as usual.
Monday, 14th. -- One of the bolts broke, we stopped for about an hour.
Tuesday.-- We got through our performance very creditably, everyone said. We supplemented the theatricals with a concert. I sang two songs: "Faded Flower" and "Far Away".
Wednesday -- Nothing to say of any consequence.
Thursday -- We are about a days sail from Cape Town, and so we are all packing up our things as the Roman is going to stop at Cape Town for repairs, and we shall go on by the Nyanza, a coasting vessel belonging to the company."
The following is a list of vessels spoken to.
Dec. 10th. S.S. "German", from Cape Town to Madeira, lat. 13N, long. 18 W.
22nd. S.S. "Edinburgh Castle", from Cape Town to Madeira, 1st. 26S. long 10E (p'bly error should be frm Madeira to CT)
31st. H. L.K.B. (these will be vessel's identity signal letters) Swedish from Samarang to Rotterdam, lat 21S long 0E
Jan. 8th. P.S.T.W. Dutch bark, lat 17S long 4W.
8th. "Allan Shaw" of Glasgow, from Aurora Islands to London, lat 17S, long 4W.
8th. "Sleeve Diamond", English ship, lat. 17S long 4W.
8th. "Staffordshire" from Calcutta to Dundee, lat. 17S long. 4W.
9th. "Ganges" of London, lat. 18S., long. 3W.
9th. "Meaks" of London, from Manila to London, lat. 19S., long. 3W.
9th. "Commissary" of Aberdeen, from Batavia to English Channel, lat. 19S., long. 3W.
9th. "John George" of Sunderland, from Mauritius, lat. 19S., long 3W.
10th. "K.Q.J.C., English ship, from Batavia 1st. lat. 21S., long. 1W.
12th. "Teuton", from Cape Town to Madeira, lat. 24S., long. 9E.
16th, ship "Flins", lat. 30S., long. 13E.
The chief engineer in his report states his belief that the necessary repairs could be effected here, to enable the Roman to steam home at the rate of about ten knots, but what the actual intentions of the company are in regard to the steamer have not yet transpired. It is possible that she may have to await the arrival of a new shaft from England.