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Ships 3


Steamer Cuvier Lost In 1900 Collision

By James Donahue

The wreck of the British steamship Cuvier is noted in the records of marine history because it is believed to have been the first passenger ship lost in the Twentieth Century. Twenty six passengers and crew members went down with the ship . . . most of them caught in their bunks when the disaster occurred.

The 17-year-old Cuvier, Capt. William Spratly at the helm, was on the first leg of a voyage from Antwerp to Santos, Brazil with mostly cargo and few, if any passengers, when it collided with the Norwegian freighter Dovre off Goodwin Sands in the straits between England and France.

The Dovre, laden with coal and steaming from Burntisland to Dieppe, rammed the ill-fated Cuvier in the starboard quarter. The accident happened at about 5 a.m. on March 9, 1900. The vessel flooded quickly trapping sleeping crew members in their bunks. There were only three survivors.

The passing steamship Windsor picked up the second mate and two other sailors clinging to a capsized lifeboat at 7 a.m. They said the captain and third mate were seen when they jumped from the bridge but they could not be found.

The mate said The Dovre failed to stop even though the Cuvier was blowing its whistle for assistance even as it was settling by the stern. The Norwegian vessel arrived in Dieppe showing extensive damage.

A Dieppe court later ruled that the Cuvier, of the Lamport & Holt Line, was at fault for the collision and awarded owners of the Dovre a claim for damages.

The Cuvier lies in 43 meters of water and is a popular visiting spot for sport divers. The ship was 302 feet in length. It rests upright with its bow broken away from the hull. Some of the superstructure remains intact. Divers say the rear cargo area is filled with period crockery, some of which has been removed for display in area museums.

The vessel was said to have had accommodations for up to 80 first class passengers.