pearl disaster

 The steamer Pearl tied up at a wharf upstream from Victoria Bridge in 1895.

During the flood of February 1893, the first permanent Victoria Bridge collapsed partially, leaving the residents of North and South Brisbane with no direct vehicular connection until repairs could be made. Although a new bridge designed by engineer Alfred Brady was under construction, as a precaution the bridge was closed to traffic and three small river steamers employed to ferry people from Queen’s Wharf to Musgrave Wharf, South Brisbane when floodwaters again began to buffet the temporary section of the bridge in February 1896.

The steamer Pearl had departed from Queen’s Wharf with a load of passengers just after 5.00 p.m. on the evening of 13 February 1896 when, passing between the steamer Normanby and the steamer Lucinda, moored on the south side of mid-stream, the tiny steamer was carried onto the anchor chain of the Lucinda, broke into two and capsized. Eddy currents from the fast running river were blamed for the rapid sinking of the vessel. Captain Chard survived, providing full details to the newspaper reporters.

Estimates of the number of passengers on board the Pearl at the time range from 90 to 100 people. Some 60 were accounted for by the next day with 29 reported likely lost. The speed at which the event occurred, people’s inability to swim and the river’s flood current contributed to their deaths. Some people were able to cling to the anchor chain of the Lucinda or cling to floating objects. In April 1896, Captain Chard’s certificates and licences to be in charge of steamers within the limits of any ports were cancelled.

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