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The Ship and Its Loss

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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It is with great sadness that we have to announce that the creator of The Labyrinth of East London Lore, Dr T., has passed away. Helping people through his website gave him no end of pleasure. If you had contact with him and would like to leave a message, please send us an e-mail here.

The Lady Kennaway was a three masted, square rigged barque of 584 tons which had been built of teak by Kid and Company in Calcutta in 1817. Her anchor cable was originally of coir rope but later 1½ inch chains.

In her early years she had carried guns, as the picture above indicates -- mouse-over the picture to see an enlargment. She had a long bowsprit, jib boom, quarter galleries and a figurehead of the period.

The ship was used most frequently on the East India route. On at least four occasions she was chartered to convey emigrants to Australia, although she was probably more famous in Australian history as a convict transport ship.

Her final voyage was to East London, South Africa. She sailed from Plymouth Sound before noon on Saturday, 5 September 1857, carrying 231 emigrants for British Kaffraria. Of these, 153 were single women from Ireland, 42 were artisans with their wives, and 36 were children.

The Lady Kennaway dropped anchor in the East London roadstead on Friday, 20 November 1857. She lay at what was considered a safe berth in 12 fathoms of water, just over a mile off-shore.

Her anchor cables, however, were well worn, were too light and too short for a vessel of that mass. To cap it all, only two anchors were used and no spare was put in readiness should the others fail.

Heavy winds came up that day and the Lady Kennaway parted from both her anchors. Another error then occurred, this time in the attempt to raise the sails.

As a result, the vessel was driven by the gale on to the sandspit in the river mouth. There she would remain for some months as an obstruction to ships and boats which attempted to enter the river. No lives were lost in the accident.

In recent years the Border Historical Society established a series of ship-wreck plaques along the East London esplanade. It is unfortunate that the Lady Kennaway plaque was positioned in front of the Kennaway Hotel whereas, in fact, the ship went aground in the Buffalo River mouth, quite some distance away.

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