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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"Trempealeau County" by Clarence J. Gamroth:

Volume 1B Supplement:

The Markhams:

NEWSPAPER CLIPPING - Collision of the Ships "Victoria" and Camperdown"

Source - The Milwaukee Journal, Thursday, 10 Mar 1960

(Comment from Clarence J. Gamroth - The Rear Admiral Albert Hastings Markham mentioned in this newspaper clipping was the brother of George H. and Arthur A. Markham, first settlers here [Independence, Wisconsin].  He was the son of Capt. John Markham, retired from the British Navy and settled in the Town of Burnside in 1856.  The book "Admiral in Collision" from which this article is quoted is in my library.)

WE ARE GETTING TOO CLOSE, SIR!

Urgent Appeal by HMS Victoria's Captain Failed to Move Admiral Until It Was Too Late to Avoid One of History's Most Incredible Collisions

Robert Randolph in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The many officers and seamen who saw the signal flags were baffled.  They knew that if the order were obeyed the peacetime maneuvers of the British Mediterranean fleet would end in death and estruction.  The sea was like a mill pond and the sun was shining brightly as Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon had the fatal signal hoisted at 3:27 p.m. on June 22, 1893.

Several times officers reminded him, with the great deference due one of Her Majesty's most renowned and highest ranking admirals, that the order would result in catastrophe if carried out.

The fateful maneuver was a simple one.  The ship at the head was to turn inward.  They were to reverse course completely and steam in the opposite direction.  Each ship in succession, headed by Victoria and Camperdown leading the columns, was...[text cut off]...circle as it came to the turning point and head back in the same direction from which the fleet had come.

The two columns were 1,200 yards apart as they steamed toward the port of Tripoli.  Yet the leading ships, Camperdown and Victoria, each required nearly 800 yeards to make a 180 degree turn.  Every single man jack in the fleet could tell you that a 600 yard turning circle meant collison.

Just three and a quarter minutes fter the order was complied with, the big beaked ram on the Camperdown cut open the Victoria.  Ten minutes after the collision, this biggest, fastest, most heavily armored and most powerfully gunned warship in the world sank.  She took 358 of the 667 men aboard down with her.

Victoria Gave Fatal Signal

The several reasons for the incredible maneuver and the horrors of the collision are presented in Richard Hough's "Admirals in Collision," published recently by Viking Press.  The author says that the true cause for the disaster may never be definitely established.  But from his compilation of surivors' and witnesses' accounts, Hough presents several plausible explanations and one of them is outstandingly convincing.

Rear Admiral Albert Hastings Markham, second in command of the fleet, was on the Camperdown's bridge when the fatal signal flags were spread aloft on the Victoria.

Crying out that the maneuver was "impossible", Admiral Markham refused to acknowledge it.  He ordered his flag lieutenant to semapore: "Am I to understand that it is yoru wish for the columns to turn as indicated by the signals now fly...[text cut off]...be sent, Admiral Tryon's semaphore snapped, "What are you waiting for?"  Acknowledgement was requested.  This was a public rebuke.

Markham at once signaled compliance.  Both ships threw their rudders hard over and began turning inward toward each other. 

Capt. Maurice Bourke, standing next to Tryon, pointed at the Camperdown and said, "We had better do something, sir, we shall be too close to that ship."

Tryon ignored him, semingly preoccupied.  The two ships were approaching at a combined speed of almost 18 knots.

Bourke spoke in urgent tones:  "We had better do something, sir.  We shall be very close to the Camperdown."

Again, no reply.

Bourke appealed:  "We are getting too close, sir!  We must do something, sir!"

Bourke was at Tryon's elbow but there was no answer.  Yet other officers, farther away...[text cut off]

Three times within the next 30 seconds, they agreed, Bourke begged to reverse the ship.

At last, Tryon said, "Yes, go, astern."  There was immediate action as Bourke called out the order.

Disaster Was Inevitable

"Sixty feet below in the engine room the gongs echoed the order, and the engines began the long, sustained labor of halting the 11,000 ton ship they been driving forward," wrote Hough.  "But only 400 yards separated the Victoria from the Camperdown now.

"There was nothing more to be done on board the Victoria.  Only the force of the impact could be reduced, and the responsibility for that rested solely on the reversed screws scrambling the water at the Victoria's stern into a frothing frenzy.  It was the inevitability of the disaster that was hardest to bear.

"There were fiures running on the upper and forecastle decks of the Victoria, making for the collision mats that might stanch the flow of water through the hole still to be pierced by the Camperdown's ram.

"But above the chart house the state of numb paralysis persisted.  There was no further sound, no movement, until the Camperdown was bearing down so close that the figures on her bridge could be identified, when Tryon suddenly paced across the deck and shouted through cupped hands in anguish to Markham, 'Go astern - go astern!'"

Tryon and his staff and Markham and his staff stood like statues as the two great ships closed the last few feet between them.  The Camperdown's hardened steel ram, built for sinking ships in close combat, struck Victoria 65 feet from the bow, ripping a 100 square foot hole.  The stem tore through  a coal bunker and into the petty officer's mess.  Coal cascaded over the men.  The Victoria was thrust 75 feet to port.  Flying fragments of steel, wood and ironwork and a rising cloud of fine dust filled the air.

'It Was All My Fault'

A moment later as shock waves till vibrated the Victoria's deck, a yeoman handed to tryon a delayed semaphore from the Camperdown in answer to Ryon's demand to know what was delaying the...[text cut off]

"Because I did not quite understand your signal."

The Camperdown swung clear of the Victoria.  This was another mistake.  Like water over a burst dam, the sea began to pour into the now unplugged hole in the Victoria's side at a rate of hundreds of tons a minute.

Tryon said, as though speaking to himself, "It was all my fault."

Then he turned to Staff Commmander John Hawkins-Smith and asked, "Do you think she'll continue to float?"

The answer was yes.  The Victoria began limping for shore.  Somebody reported other ships were lowering boats for rescue. 

Angrily, Tryon snorted, "Make a signal to annul sending boats."

Water was pouring down vents, scuttles and gunports.  The ship was heeling more heavily.  Five minutes after the collision the bow had sunk 15 feet.  the muzzles of the two 111 ton guns in the turret were dripping water.

"I think she is going," Tryon said quietly.

"Yes, sir, I thinks he is," Hawkins-Smith agreed.

"Make a signal to send boats immediately," Tryon said to Lord Guilford.  Then, seeing a 16 year old midshipman standing at attention as he awaited orders Tryon said, "Don't stand there youngster.  Go to a boat."

[text cut off]  Not an officer or man had expected such a sudden ending.

With the exception of the black gang in t he engine room and a few others with specific duties, the crew was drawn up in four ranks on the port side of the quarter deck.  The discipline was superb.

Ship Capsized and Went Down

Seconds later the command was given to break ranks and jump overboard.  Like a flock of roosting birds at a gunshot, they scattered.  Many dived into the sea.  Others scrambled over the rail and along the side as the ship rotated on its axis.  Scores clung to the ship's keel as the Victoria turned bottom up.

"But there had been no order to the men on watch below in the boiler rooms and engine rooms, to leave their posts," reported Hough.  "They were still there, in the hold, when the ship capsized and started to go down, her engines still audibly beating out their rhythm under water, down 450 feet until she struck her bows against the bottom and fell back sluggishly in a cloud of mud onto the sea bed.  Not one of them was saved."

Last to disappear from a...[text cut off]...were the propellers.  They caught and chewed to death dozens of men.  Great air bubbles arose.  A single big wave swept over the surface.  The water resembled a giant saucepan of boiling milk.  Wreckage that had broken loose far below shot up.  Strong swimmers never knew what struck and killed them.  The rescue boats waited for the maelstrom to subside.  As one ventured into the subsiding vortex, the Victoria's main derrick, 50 feet long, shot out of the water like a frenzied cobra.

Tryon had made no effort to save himself.  Hawkins-Smith went down beside him and just barely fought his way to the surface.  He reported that Tryon "was perfectly calm and collected to the end," standing with his hands on the rail awaiting death in accord with tradition.

Capt. Bourke and the other surviving officers of the Victoria were court-martialed and acquitted.

The conclusion was that Admiral Tryon "as a result of a temporary aberration, made amost inexplicable and fatal mistake for which he paid with his life."

As for Admiral Markham, the court regretted that he "had not protested more strongly against the fatal maneuver, but considered that it was not in the best interests of the service to censure him for obeying he orders of his superior officer."
 


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