SS Maloja, A Terrible Sunday Morning Disaster - February 27th 1916
On Sunday morning at 10.30 the inhabitants of Dover heard a loud report, like that of a heavy gun. Those who were in view of the sea, saw a large P. and O. liner just to the west of Dover and a column of water and debris blow up into the air from her stern. The Dover Harbour tugs “Lady Brassey and Lady Crundall” at once steamed to the vessels assistance followed by many trawlers, dredgers etc. The vessel, which was the largest boat of the P. and O. line the “Maloja” was at the time proceeding at full speed and directly the explosion occurred the engines were stopped and then put astern to stop the “way” of the vessel, so that the boats could be lowered, unfortunately the damage done by the explosion to the starboard quarter resulted in the engine room being flooded and before the engines could be stopped from going astern the engine room filled with water, and the vessel gathered stern “away”.
This was a most unfortunate occurrence as whilst the vessel was moving astern, the boats could not be lowered and the rescue work was attended with great difficulty, it being impossible to go alongside to take people off. The vessel continued to go down by the stern and to list to the starboard until it lay on its side then slowly sank. Three or four of the boats got away, but the majority of those saved jumped overboard and were rescued from the water. The end of the vessel was watched with intense anxiety by the assembling crowds on shore and twenty-four minutes from the explosion the vessel sank.
The work of rescue proceeded for some time, and shortly before 11.30 the boats had been so busy saving life began to return to the harbour. Many were taken out of the water nearly dead and these hurried on to the hospital ships “Dieppe” which took over a hundred, and the “St. David” where everything was done to restore life and assist those suffering immersion.
For some time it could not be ascertained if the loss of life had been considerable, but as the dead began to be brought ashore it was seemed that there had been a terrible calamity. Those who were alive were kept in the hospital ships for some time and eventually were conveyed to the Lord Warden Hotel by Naval ambulances. The rescued were wearing all descriptions of clothing supplied by the hospital authorities in place of their own wet garments. The native crew were sent to the Sailors Home.
Chief Constable Fox, to whom the task of taking charge of the dead was allotted, decided to use the Market Hall as a temporary mortuary, there being no other place available. To this building the dead were taken during Sunday afternoon their being no less than forty-five housed there before the evening. They comprised men, women and children.
Amongst the men were several passengers including an officer in military uniform wearing the Military Cross and many Lascar members of the crew. There were little children and a baby, whilst the women included in addition to passengers, two of the stewardesses and a native women. The bodies were all laid on straw in two long rows on the side of the Market Hall beneath the Museum, whilst as the bodies continued to increase, on Monday a third row was commenced.
The disaster was followed by a second one. Directly behind the “Maloja” was the steamer “Empress of Fort William” which at once steamed to the “Maloja’s” assistance and was itself blown up. Fortunately the crew of this vessel were getting the boats ready at the time and were able to save themselves without loss, their vessel sinking half an hour later.