Ships 2

Ocean Queen, Pacific and Driver

Ships 3

Ocean Queen

1856 Disappearances The Steamer Pacific and Clippers Driver and Ocean Queen

By James Donahue

Before the advent of ship-to-shore radio, many a fine vessel sailed off to sea never to be seen or heard of again. The harsh winter of 1856 and an unusually heavy accumulation of icebergs farther south in the North Atlantic than usual, was blamed for the tragic disappearances of three passenger laden ships, all bound from England to New York.

The first victim was the 281-foot sidewheel steamship Pacific that left Liverpool on January 23, bound for New York, with 45 passengers and 141 crew members.

The loss of the seven-year-old Collins Line steamer remained a mystery for over 100 years. Then writer Wyn Craig Wade mentioned in one of his books that a note in a bottle, signed by a passenger, W. M. Graham, said: “Ship going down. Confusion on board – icebergs all around us on every side. I know I cannot escape.” Was the story legitimate?

The mystery grew even deeper when, in 1991, divers in the Irish Sea off the coast of Wales discovered the bow section of the Pacific. That meant the steamer had only traveled about sixty miles before it sank. Did icebergs drift that far south that winter or did the ship suffer some other fate?

Only days later, the clipper ship Ocean Queen, 1,200 tons burden, under the command of Captain W. B. Smith, sailed from London for New York on February 8. She was carrying 90 passengers, a crew of 33 and her holds filled with miscellaneous cargo.

The Ocean Queen, which had been on the high seas for just six years, was last seen off the Isle of Wight on Feb. 15, still on course. No trace of the ship was ever seen again

The Clipper Ship Driver, Captain Nicholas Hobberton, left Liverpool on February 12, also bound for New York. This two-year-old ship of 1,594 tons burden, also sailed off into oblivion that same month with 344 passengers and a crew of 28 sailors.

The only clue as to what happened to the two clipper liners was brought to New York that month by the smaller ship, the G. B. Lamar. The crew reported a harrowing transit from the Thames River through heavy concentrations of ice.

It was concluded that the two clipper ships, designed for speed, may have been unable to avoid collision with the ice. Consequently their wooden hulls were opened and the ships both foundered with all souls on board. The North Atlantic also was known for its violent winter gales that time of the year.