Wreck Of The Ulysses
By James Donahue
The 310-foot iron hulled British steamship Ulysses was destroyed after it went on
a coral reef at the island of Gobal Segeira, Egypt, on the Red Sea, on August 18, 1887. The vessel’s hull was slowly
ripped open as it rolled in the seas over the coral before tugs could get to the scene and pull the vessel free.
Marine historians say the ship’s master, Captain Arthur Bremner, might have
saved his ship had he understood the damage coral was capable of doing to the hull and jettisoned cargo. That might have lightened
the ship enough to float It free before the coral did its damage.
By the time help arrived on August 20, the Ulysses was down by the stern with its
hull severely compromised. It was soon realized that the ship was lost. Lighters were brought to the scene with laborers from
Suez. The British naval ship Falcon also arrived to guard the wreck while workers salvaged what they could of the cargo.
They said it was a hot and dirty job. The ship’s engines were flooded so the
pumps were not working. Thus the workers sometimes had to wade or swim through foul, oily water in the holds just to reach
the cargo. Then it was man-handled over coral reefs to the shore before loaded on lighters.
Lighters are flat-bottom barges especially designed to float in shallow waters and
remove cargo from stranded ships like the Ulysses. In this case, the water was too shallow even for the lighters to get close
to the wreck.
It was Captain Bremner’s first trip on this route from the Mediterranean to
the Arabian Sea. It was said that his charts failed to warn him of the reef that wrecked his command.
The Ulysses was on a long voyage from London to Penang, Malaysia. The cargo was described
only as “general merchandise.” Records from a court hearing placed a high value on the cargo at 60,000 pounds,
a large sum in 1871, which may have been the reason Bremner refused to consider tossing any of it overboard. Some of the cargo
included quicksilver, the old name for Mercury, and drums of electrical cable.
The wreck still lies in shallow water where it went aground, thus has been a popular
visiting site for sport divers.
The Ulysses was launched in 1871 in England
for the Ocean Steamship Company. It was part of a fleet of ships named after Greek mythological heroes. In addition to its steam engine, the vessel also was rigged for sail.