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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 setting

The Princess Alice

The saloon steam boat Princess Alice.
View full size imageThe Princess Alice. © NMM

The paddle steamer Princess Alice was launched at Greenock in 1865.

Originally known as the Bute, she served on the Wemyss-Arran route for a year.

In 1866 she was bought by the Watermans Steam Packet Company (later the London Steamboat Co).

Renamed the Princess Alice, she served on the Thames excursion routes for 12 years.

Her last journey

A formal group of men and girls at the Rosherville Gardens, Northfleet.
View full size imageA formal group at the Rosherville Gardens, Northfleet. © NMM

On 3 September 1878, the Princess Alice made the routine trip from Swan Pier near London Bridge to Gravesend and Sheerness.

She carried hundreds of Londoners, many of whom were visiting Rosherville Gardens in Gravesend.

The North Woolwich Pier today.
View full size imageThe North Woolwich Pier today. © NMM
By 7.40 in the evening, she had completed most of the return journey. She had passed Tripcock Point and turned into Galleons Reach. She was not far from the North Woolwich Pier, where many passengers were to leave the vessel. Precisely at this time, the Bywell Castle was steaming towards her.

The Bywell Castle

The Bywell Castle screw steam collier.
View full size imageThe Bywell Castle. © NMM
The Bywell Castle was a far larger vessel. She was a steam collier of 890 tons.

She had just been repainted at Millwall Dry Dock, and was returning to Newcastle to pick up a cargo of coal destined for Alexandria in Egypt.


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