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Easter Monday collision on the Tamar claims 10 lives

On Easter Monday 1907 a terrible collision between the passenger ferry SS Togo and the steam yacht Alice near Tamar Island claimed 10 lives. Even after 115 years it remains the worst marine accident on the river.

A little after 9pm the 40m Togo, on its third trip for the day, was steaming to George Town from Launceston at full speed.

There were sixteen people on the 15m Alice which was heading towards Launceston after a family trip down the river.

Owner John McDonald, of the Salisbury Foundry, was at the helm when the Alice suddenly swerved into the path of the Togo and was cut in half and quickly sank.

The victims were Mr McDonald, 50, and his wife Alice, their twin sons Willis and Anthony, aged 9, and daughter Nancy, Mrs Martha McDonald and her sister Miss May Pillgrem, 29, Mrs Emma Campbell, 48, and her daughter Gladys, and Salisbury Foundry engineer Joshua Prismall.

The crew of the Togo rescued three McDonald children – daughters Vera and Nola and son Gilbert – along with Mrs Thomas Douglas, Mr A. E. Pepper and Mr Peel Salisbury.

No one on the Togo was injured.

There was much speculation on the cause of the shocking accident but the verdict of a marine inquiry a month later placed the blame on Mr McDonald.

George Tait, master of the Togo, said it was low tide and quite dark when the boats collided. He said the Alice was on the wrong side of the channel.

In his evidence survivor Peel Salisbury said the Alice left George Town at 3.35 pm and when they passed Freshwater Point about 9 pm he was standing next to Mr McDonald.

Neither of them noticed the Togo until Gilbert McDonald said to his father, “Don't you see the Togo.”

He said the ferry had been in a direct line with their funnel and they couldn’t see its masthead light because of the lights of Launceston.

Mr McDonald immediately put the helm over but in a minute they were struck.

The Examiner of April 2, 1907, paid tribute to John McDonald who was a prominent Launceston businessman and community leader.

In 1888 he had taken over management of the Salisbury Foundry which had been established by his wife’s brother-in-law Ishmael Salisbury in 1876.

This was not the first accident involving the Alice. On Tuesday 4 March 1902, under a previous owner, it was struck and sunk in Home Reach by the Holyman ship SS Koonookarra.

There were 14 people on board but there was no loss of life and the Alice was later acquired by Mr McDonald and rebuilt.

SS Togo was able to carry nearly 400 passengers and was only a year old at the time of the Alice tragedy.

It was named for a Japanese admiral who had become famous after his country’s military victory over Russia in 1905. SS Togo went on to have a long career on both the Tamar and Derwent rivers.

IMAGES, TOP: Passengers boarding SS Togo in Launceston in February 1907, image from Weekly Courier of February 2, 1907. MIDDLE: The steam yacht Alice on the Tamar River in 1902, image from Weekly Courier of March 8, 1902. BOTTOM: SS Togo leaves its berth in the North Esk in February 1907, image from Weekly Courier of February 2, 1907.

(Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in the Sunday Examiner on 18 April, 2022)


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