The ill fated ss. Fortunatus


Fortunatus by name but not by nature, well not on her final voyage anyway. ss. Fortunatus of the Melbourne based Archibald Currie Line set sail, under the command of Captain Murdoch McDonald, from Melbourne in April 1907 bound for Calcutta, India, via Surabaya and Singapore on her usual run, taking Horses, general cargo and 38 passengers north and returning with "Indian produce".

When going full steam ahead on April 5th Fortunatus struck an uncharted reef off the north coast of Flores Island between Timor and Java in position 8 degrees 14 min South and 120 degrees 30 min East and became stranded. Despite

ss. Fortunatus in happier days
Captain Murdoch McDonald

all attempts, including off loading some 400 tons of cargo, she remained fast for 12 days.

The Blue Funnel liner Tantalus came to her assistance and Fortunatus was eventually freed and could continue on her voyage. In 1908 there was a court case in London where the court awarded salvage costs to Tantalus's owners and crew of £5025.

The following is the Narrative of the Master of Fortunatus regarding her return voyage and the vessels loss:

The Fortunatus sailed from Calcutta on July 16 with a general cargo of gunnies, teakwood, tea, oils, etc., bound for Melbourne direct, via Colombo. Colombo was reached on the 23rd of the month, and after a further part cargo of tea, coir, fibre, etc., had been taken on board, the Fortunatus resumed her voyage to Melbourne on the morning of Friday, July 26, in a thorough sea-going condition, and well equipped with fire apparatus.

The first day out a S.W. monsoon wind, with a moderate to rough sea was encountered, while similar conditions prevailed on the 27th. During the first two days after crossing the equator fresh south-east trade winds and south-east head seas were experienced. Battling and ploughing through a dirty head sea, the Fortunatus, about 8.30 p.m., on July 30 was in longitude 6 degrees 24 miles south, and latitude 90 degrees 14 miles east. It was at this time that the engineer and the officer on watch saw smoke issuing from the ventilators forward of the engine-room above the shelter deck.

The alarm was at once given, and a brief examination showed that the tea. fibre, teakwood logs, and planks, stowed on the shelter, deck had caught fire, and that the fire had already assumed alarming proportions.

All Hands Were Summoned on Deck and I gave orders for the ship to be put before the wind, and the engines stopped. This was for the purpose of reducing the draft to the lowest possible degree. Steps were then, taken to subdue the outbreak, an undertaking which ultimately proved beyond the powers of the crew and passengers. The pumps were set going and soon three lines of hose : besides numerous buckets constantly filled with water, and used by the passengers, were playing on the fire from tho stoke-hole door, through holes cut in the deck and also in the saloon floor. The hatches of No. 2 hold were taken off, and part of the cargo removed, in order, if possible, to cut off the fire. This, apparently, however, had the contrary effect, fanning the flames to increased activity, and soon the conflagration was raging fiercely, with tongues of fire licking the air, and causing sailors and passengers alike to beat a retreat. The heat, combined with the smoke, was becoming unbearable.

I then thought of smothering the fire, and on my directions everything was quickly battened down, and all air-passages stopped. Although deprived of air and helped to a copious supply of water the fire burned on unabated, and gradually but steadily extended, until from No.1 hold to well aft on the shelter deck was one Seething Mass of Flame.

The fire defied all our exertions. Far into the night we fought it, but it gained on us, and finally assumed such gigantic proportions that crew and passengers had to confess themselves beaten.

At 8.30 on the following morning, July 31, seeing that the lifeboats were beginning to be scorched, I decided to abandon the ship. The order to muster was given, and quickly every man was stationed at his boat. The rollcall showed one of the native members of the crew absent. It is supposed that in the excitement he had either fallen or jumped overboard. I was much pleased at the manner in which the crew and passengers behaved themselves. There was no panic, no disorder; all were as cool as if nothing untoward had occurred. The four biggest lifeboats were then lowered away, leaving two on board. The boats, whose combined complement totalled 91, had their occupants apportioned as follows :

First boat.- Chief officer, second engineer, two passengers, portion of the crew-21 in all.

Second boat.- Captain, chief engineer, two passengers, portion of the crew-25 in all.

Third boat.-Second officer, third engineer, one passenger, portion of the crew-21 in all.

Fourth boat.-Third officer, fourth engineer, one passenger, portion of the crew-24 in all.

With practically none of their be longings, but with provisions for 12 days, and provided with a compass each, the boats remained by the Fortunatus for a day, in the hope that the flames, which soon enveloped the ship from stem to stern, would attract the attention of some passing steamer. It appeared to be the irony of fate that the day before the fire broke out the R.M.S. Orontes, from Fremantle, was spoken, and an hour before the fire was discovered a French steamer was passed. As soon as the outbreak was noticed in the evening of July 30 rockets were sent up, with the object of arresting the attention of those on the French steamer but with no result On August 1, at 10 a.m., I gave order to "Desert the Ship."

At this moment the vessel had a list to port of from 10 to 15 degrees. I determined to make for the nearest land Sumatra, between 600 and 700 miles distant. Sails were hoisted in the four boats, and a course fixed.

The first day we had a fine breeze in the afternoon, but it died away in the evening, giving place to rain and squalls and dirty weather. The reflection of the burning Fortunatus was seen when I calculated I was 30 miles away from her.

The next morning, Friday, August 2, the boats were together, but got separated soon after, and were all out of sight of each other. The weather was very hot, with only a light wind I which freshened in the afternoon to a moderate breeze. At night the wind died away almost to a calm, and was followed by rain squalls and unsettled weather. The rain was not an un- mixed misfortune, because it kept us supplied with water,

The Nourse line 3 Masted Ship Forth - Capt Matzinger

which otherwise we would have had to have dealt out with caution. Saturday, August 3, was also a day of unsettled weather, with little or no wind. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon of that day the first boat sighted the sailing ship Forth of Lon- don, Captain Matzinger, bound from Calcutta to Trinidad, with Indian coolies lying becalmed, An hour later the Forth sighted the small boat, and immediately hove to.  At 7 o'clock this boat was safely alongside the Forth. After darkness had set in I burned a blue light on my boat, and almost immediately after I was answered by a rocket. I at once steered my boat in the direction of the rocket, and at 10.30 p.m. my boat's complement were also Safely on Board the Forth.

Pleased with success, and anxious, if at all possible, to secure those in the other two boats. Captain Matzinger throughout the night sent up rockets at regular intervals, and at daylight a man was placed at the masthead to keep a look-out. This day, Sunday, August 4, there was a light wind, and the Forth was kept W.S.W., which was the direction we supposed the boats had taken. About 2 in the afternoon the third boat was sighted, and the second officer got alongside the Forth between 4.30 and 5. As soon as it was dusk rockets and blue lights were again burned on the  Forth. Luck seemed to be in Captain Matzinger's trail, for about 8 o'clock he saw an answering blue light, and at ll o'clock the fourth boat had deposited its occupants safely on board the Forth.

None of the passengers or crew seemed very much the worse for their privations. A few, however, were fevered, and although they had had several soakings none appeared to have lost heart or given up hope of a rescue. We cannot speak too highly of the courteous attention of Captain Matzinger, his officers, and men. Captain Matzinger was determined not to leave the neighbourhood so long as there, was the slightest chance of securing all the boats. The doctor and the captain gave up their cabins to the ladies, and made the rest of us as comfortable as accommodation and means would permit. Captain Matzinger's intention was to land us at Cape Town, but our numbers compelled him to run for Port Louis, which was reached at midnight a fortnight later.

B.I Steamer ss. Santhia

Thirty four of the native crew were shipped direct from Port Louis to Calcutta by the s.s. Lord Curzon. The rest of us stayed in Port Louis for fully eleven days, the sailors and male passengers under the care of the Board of Trade, while the ladies resided at a private boarding-house. A concert was organised to assist the latter, but, nevertheless, they reached Colombo, I learned, with practically no means. The B.I. s.s. Santhia was the first steamer to leave Port Louis for Colombo after our arrival, and we  readily availed ourselves of the opportunity of beginning our homeward journey. The balance of the lascar crew were transhipped at Colombo for Calcutta.

Marine Board Inquiry.

At Port Louis the Marine Board held an inquiry into the loss of the ship, and the finding was:
"Taking into consideration the evidence before us, we are unanimously of opinion that the s.s. Fortunatus left Colombo in thorough seagoing condition, and well-equipped with fire extinguishing appliances; that- the abandonment of the ship was caused by the vessel being enveloped in flames and also by the danger of the boats being destroyed by fire. - We are further unanimously of opinion that the master, officers, and crew did all in their power to save the ship and that the abandonment, was not premature. There is no evidence to show how the fire occurred, but we are of opinion that it was not due to any fault or negligence on the part of the master, officers, engineers, and crew. There appears to have been no panic or want of discipline, and we are of the opinion that it reflects great credit on the master, officers, engineers, and crew that only one life was lost."

In Colombo arrangements were made immediately after our arrival for our coming on by the Orotava.  We had a lengthy stay in Colombo as the Britannia was leaving as we were coming into harbour. The lascar crew behaved Splendidly contrary to the rumours that got afloat in Colombo.

The  estimated loss caused by the fire on the Fortunatus is said to be: the steamer valued at £48,000. The value of the cargo has been given at about £70,000.

Captain McDonald was the last man to leave the Fortunatus when she was abandoned.

ss. Orotava

Note: The Board of Trade wreck report has an addendum at the end which states:

"The Board of Trade have received a report from H.M. Consul-General at Port Said, stating that a lascar seaman was found alone on the "Fortunatus," then completely gutted, on 9th August, 1907, and taken off by the master of the s.s. "Jura, of Liverpool. This seaman appears to be the Indian coal trimmer referred to as missing in the above report."


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