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The 'Princess Alice' tragedy

Disaster on the Thames
The setting
The collision
The aftermath
The investigation
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The aftermath

Waiting for survivors

Reading out the names of all those saved in the Princess Alice disaster in the gardens of North Woolwich Pier.
View full size imageReading out the names of the survivors from the Princess Alice disaster in the gardens of North Woolwich Pier. © NMM
As news of the disaster spread, crowds gathered at North Woolwich Pier and at the London Steam-Boat Company's offices in the City.

Company spokesmen read out the names of the survivors to those who waited anxiously for word of family and friends. Few were to hear good news.

 

Recovering the bodies from the water

Princess Alice, bringing the dead ashore at Woolwich Pier.
View full size imageBringing the dead ashore at Woolwich Pier. © NMM

It soon became obvious that very few passengers had survived the accident.

Before long, the vessels in the area were picking up bodies rather than survivors.

Nearly 500 bodies were recovered in the first week after the collision.

Some bodies were in the water for several days or even weeks before they were retrieved.

How they found my poor girl...
View full size imageA body from the Princess Alice disaster. © NMM
Romanticized depictions of bodies from the Princess Alice appeared in the press, but the bodies would have looked dreadful after a period in the water polluted by chemicals and sewage.

 

 

 

The bodies on the ship 

The forward part of the Princess Alice brought up on the south side of the Thames.
View full size imageThe forward part of the Princess Alice. © NMM

Many of those who died had not been thrown into the water. Their bodies were not recovered until the two halves of the Princess Alice were raised from the Thames.

After-part of the Princess Alice brought on shore below Woolwich.
View full size imageAfter-part of the Princess Alice. © NMM
It was then discovered that hundreds had gone down with the ship. Their bodies were discovered piled around the exits.

 

 

 

The unidentified bodies

Identifying the clothes of the dead.
View full size imageIdentifying the clothes of the dead. © NMM
Many of the bodies were unrecognisable after being in the water. In Victorian times, few people carried any form of identification.

 

Burial of the unknown dead from the Princess Alice disaster at Woolwich Cemetery.
View full size imageBurial of the unknown dead from the Princess Alice disaster at Woolwich Cemetery. © NMM
Some were identified from their clothes. Despite considerable efforts, around 120 bodies were buried as unidentified.

The exact number of deaths is unknown but it is likely that around 640 people lost their lives in the tragedy.

 

 

 

 


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Find out more
GalleriesFamous Thames ships
The great and the good
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Fact fileThe 'Princess Alice’
The passenger steamship that collided with a collier in 1878 killing over 600 people
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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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