Abhona was a British India passenger/cargo vessel that foundered on her maiden voyage in 1910 with the loss of the entire crew. Her destination was Rangoon via Columbo. She was due to take up service in eastern waters and there were no passengers on board. A Board of Trade enquiry could not reach a firm conclusion about the cause of her foundering but there was circumstantial evidence that she had struck some kind of submerged wreckage or other obstruction.

Abhona [1]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Cargo/Passenger Ship
Original Owners and Managers British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd.
Country First Registered UK
Shipbuilder Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd
Shipyard Glasgow
Country where built UK
Yard Number 439
Official Number 129526
Call Sign N/K
Classification Society N/K
Gross Tonnage 4,066
Deadweight (DWT) N/K
Net Tonnage 1,684
Length 390 Ft.
Overall Length N/K
Breadth or Beam 50 Ft.
Depth 22.1 Ft.
Draught N/K
Engine Type Quadruple-expansion Steam Engine
Engine Details Two quadruple expansion steam engines with cylinders of bore 24 1/2", 35", 50", and 70" and stroke 48"
Engine Builder Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd
Engine Builder Works Glasgow
Engine Builder Country UK
Boiler Details Four single-ended and two double-ended operating at 215 psi.
Propulsion Type Twin Screw
Power 1,317 NHP
Maximum Speed 17
Crew 129 per BOT report
Passengers 50 First class and 51 Second class
Cargo Capacity N/K

Career Highlights

Date Event
6 September 1910 Launched
2-3 November 1910 Sea Trials
3 November 1910 Completed
7 November 1910 (or thereabouts) Foundered in the Bay of Biscay

Account of the Trials

Original Introduction

This is the introduction included in the original publication of this material on Merchantnavyofficers.com:

The following is an extract from a handwritten manuscript by George Wilde a young Draughtsman with Alexander Stephen, Shipbuilders, of Linthouse, Govan in which he describes the sea trails of British India's Abhona.

The document was obtained by the late Charles Lynch from a Miss Elspeth Connor whose mother had received it from a boyfriend in 1912, we assume that this was George himself. The document lay undisturbed for many years under the owner's stairs before being handed over to Charles Lynch for safe keeping, he in turn gave it to Hugh McIntyre who has kindly given us permission to reproduce this section of the manuscript on the site.

George Wilde's Account

The ill fated British India steamer Abhona was my next trial; Wednesday and Thursday, the 2nd & 3rd Novr. 1910 was the date. We went on board early the previous evg., 7 o'clock, so we had plenty of time for a look round before bed time. The Abhona was a particularly fine ship, I mean fine in shape, and was one of the fastest we had turned out for some time. She had two magnificent sets of quadruple expansion engines, and her auxiliary machinery was all of the first class order, and she had six large boilers capable of supplying ample steam to make her "hum".

Her saloons were furnished in grand style, also the smoke room and drawing room, the latter having a piano and two large bookcases containing the pick of the classics. Our rooms were par excellence, having wardrobes, washhand basin of the fold up type, writing tables that folded up against the wall and an electric fan controlled as willed by a switch; our beds were laid with spotless linen & blankets so there was nothing left for us to desire, except perhaps, that our sojourn in such a magnificent ship as this, might be lengthier than, at the most, two days & nights.

About 11 o'clock, before going to bed, we must needs have our usual banquet. There were five of us this time & we all contributed to the feast; he of the sardines & cake was present, while I was again responsible for the pineapple chunks. Apples, sweets, chocolate and sandwiches followed in rapid succession and we ate the lot in a manner regardless of method or discretion.

We finished up about midnight and were preparing for bed when someone gave us the wire that supper was being served in the saloon. This was something we daren't miss, so with one accord we adjourned thither and ate as if nothing unusual had happened but a short time back. We at last got to bed as there was nothing more to eat, and at 7.30 the next morning the steward came round all the cabins and knocked at the door informing us as he did so, that it was "Half past seven, gentlemen."

We got up & dressed and I remember that I almost felt disappointed that I wasn't ill; in fact I felt particularly fresh, whereas by all common reasoning I ought to have been ill after what I ate the previous night. When we sat down to breakfast it seemed as if it had been eight days since we had seen food, instead of only eight hours; thus did we find our appetites.

From breakfast till the party came on board at 11 o'clock we had nothing to do. (I have omitted again to say that we had arrived at the tail of the bank during the night). Well, until the party arrived we enjoyed to the full extent the fresh morning breeze coming from the Firth. After the visitors arrived, and before the trial commenced, we had lunch, and not long after we were up to the elbows in work, doing the Skelmorlie mile at ten knots. We increased speed as the trial progressed until on the last two runs we were doing eighteen knots an hour leaving a wake behind us that would have graced a battleship.

The trial was a long one, about twelve runs if I remember right, but it was a delightfully cool pleasant one; I didn't break sweat till about the last two or three runs, and even then only a little. I believe the excitement made me sweat more than the heat, because, well, an engine room isn't exactly as quiet as a drawing room, this one especially, where eight ponderous cranks were revolving at 112 revolutions to the minute; things tumbled.

When the trial was over, we washed and dressed ourselves before we went in to dinner; we had a delightful dinner that set us in such good spirits that our greatest enemy would have been freely forgiven if he had met us after it. This was about 4 pm, so as we were remaining on board that night also, we went and comfortably ensconced ourselves in the smokeroom and there worked out the indicator diagrams we had taken that day, to see what horse power our engines were developing.

At 6 o'clock we had barely finished when the steward told us that tea was ready. We didn't object, so we went in and had a good tea of fish and cold meat not to mention other minor delicacies such as "bun". After tea we went back to the smokeroom and got out the cards again; not indicator cards this time, but those with the red and black spots and faces on them: you know the kind I mean. We didn't abuse the cards though, but played the good old game of whist for a couple of hours.

We had a most enjoyable time, but still we weren't angry when the steward invited us to supper at 9 o'clock; truly they didn't mean us to starve on board this ship. Coffee and cold meat and sandwiches were the principle items of the supper, but I partly spoiled mine by inadvertently lifting a sandwich on which there was mustard: ugh! I am like cats, I don't like mustard, but up to that point I had done not so bad, so there wasn't a great deal of harm done.

After supper we went into the drawing room where the steward gave us several selections and accompanied some of the officers and others who sang. We had a real first class concert and as the steward had a pile of music about two feet high there was songs in plenty to choose from. I had mine chosen, and would have sung it too, as would have some others of our crowd, had the lateness of the hour not brought the entertainment to a close. We had such a delightfully happy time and everybody was so free that the memory of it is still quite plain; after the event which subsequently followed I don't think I shall ever forget it.

We got to bed about midnight again and after a pleasant night's rest the steward woke us again at 7.30 the next morning. After we got washed and dressed we had our breakfast at 8 o'clock as usual which we all enjoyed, afterwards enjoying a deck stroll till about 11 o'clock again, when the party, who had gone home after the trial the previous day, came on board. They were accompanied by our old friend of the fur coat, Sir James MacKay, now Lord Inchcape, who is chairman of the British India Company.

Just before they came on board, we learned from a newspaper that someone had got hold of, that an earthquake had occurred in Glasgow the previous evening; ie, Wednesday 2nd Novr. We were greatly surprised and felt a little anxious, not knowing the actual extent of the damage; we wondered whether we should feel glad that we had been out of the city, or sorry that we had missed such a unique experience. However, now that the party is on board, let the trial proceed.

We had a most pleasant day of it and I was as cool as it was possible to be in any engine room. We only did four runs on the mile, all at top speed, but I felt inclined to do twenty four. We managed to get 18 knots out of her, which was quite a decent speed; I had a bet on with the Chief Draughtsman and another chap, that she would do 18¼ knots, the Chief 18½, and the other chap said 19. The winner was to get a packet of cigarettes from each of the two losers and as I was the winner I expected to get them. I only got one packet however, as the Chief wouldn't pay up; perhaps he forgot all about it.

We were finished fairly early with the trial so we had nice time to prepare for our departure and to get dinner. We had a splendid dinner in the saloon, Sir James MacKay being present this time. I never saw such a variety of drinks at any table before; there was whiskey, claret, champagne, Port wine, beer, soda and several aerated waters which was all the extent to which some of us went, although I saw some who had a taste of almost everything.

I was very sorry when we arrived off Gourock and we had to go ashore in the tug. We had got very friendly with the steward, and some of the officers and engineers who were sailing with the ship, and as we waved them goodbye as the tug eased off, little did they, or we, think that it was a last long farewell they were taking of us, that it was a goodbye for ever. Little did we think, either, that the handsome ship we were leaving was bound on a voyage from which she would never return, that she was in fact taking her precious cargo of human souls to bury them with her in the depths of the ocean; that anything untoward would ever befall her was the furthest thought from our minds as we took a last look of admiration from Gourock Alas poor Abhona. We took the train and early in the evening we arrived back in the city after having been absent for two days and two nights. It was such a good trial and we had such an enjoyable time of it that I for one won't forget it for a long time to come.

Well, to return to the Abhona; after we had left her she sailed for Plymouth where she was to take her coolie crew on board, all her white crew being already on board. From Plymouth on Sunday the 6th November 1910, she sailed for India via Gibraltar and Suez, bearing with her ninety nine of a crew, thirteen of who were whitemen, and although fully a year has gone by, the Abhona has never passed Gibraltar. Although no one knows how or where she went down, it is supposed that she disappeared off the north coast of Spain, as a trawler reported having seen a ship in that vicinity answering to the description of the Abhona with a heavy list, immediately turning over and sinking. The trawler went afterwards to the spot but could find not the smallest piece of wreckage to identify the lost ship. Even at the inquiry in July 1911 nothing definite was learned, but the most popular view set forth as to her disappearance, was that she had struck some wreckage or derelict floating below the surface of the water. It was a particularly sad ending to a bright beginning and I can even now picture to myself the faces of the steward & officers as we sat together in the drawing room listening to the singing. Poor fellows. They all got a watery grave.

Service History

Abhona departed Plymouth bound for Colombo and 5 November 1910 and was not heard of thereafter.

A Board of Trade enquiry was held into her loss and the main details are contained in the following section.

Board of Trade Wreck Report for Abhona

These are extracts from the wreck report. The full report can be downloaded from Port Cities Southampton HERE.

Summary Conclusion

(No. 7479.)

"ABHONA" (S.S.).

The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.

IN the matter of a Formal Investigation held at the Jury Court (No. 1), County Buildings, 117, Brunswick Street, Glasgow, on the 26th, 27th, and 29th days of July, 1911, before WM. GEORGE SCOTT MONCRIEFF, Esquire, Advocate, Sheriff Substitute of Lanarkshire, assisted by Commander GEORGE K. WRIGHT, R.N.R., and W. H. BRODRICK, Esquire, M.I.Mech.E., into the circumstances attending the loss of the British steamship "ABHONA" of Glasgow, which left Plymouth for Colombo on 5th November, 1910, and has not since been heard of.

Report of Court.

The Court having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds for the reasons stated in the Annex hereto, that the ship suddenly foundered in the Bay of Biscay on or about the 7th day of November, 1910. There is not sufficient evidence before the Court to enable it to arrive at a conclusion as to the cause of her foundering.

Dated this 29th day of July, 1911.



We concur in the above Report.



Evidence of Christian Julius Skowgaard

The report includes the following report from the Master of Danish steamship Boscia:

I, Christian Julius Skowgaard, master of the Danish steamship 'Boscia,' owned by the Ship- owner's Syndicate of Copenhagen, do solemnly and sincerely declare that, on the 7th day of November, 1910, at 8.45 a.m., latitude 44.49 N., longitude 9.01 W., the weather being at the time cloudy, with a hard storm from the W.S.W., strength of the wind about 11, and heavy sea, a large two-masted steamer was observed at a distance of about three kilometres, bearing W.N.W. from the s.s. 'Boscia' aforesaid. The said steamer had a black funnel with a white band, and, so far as it was possible to make out, had a crow's nest for a look-out on the foremast: she was lying with a heavy list to port. A boat was noticed on the starboard side of the said steamer. At 9.15 a.m., the first mate of the s.s. 'Boscia' observed that the after part of the said steamer went down, and that the said steamer suddenly disappeared in the sea. The course of the s.s. 'Boscia' was immediately altered towards the spot where the said steamer had disappeared, but about three quarters of an hour had elapsed before reaching the place as the s.s. 'Boscia' could not steam at full speed owing to a heavy deck load, and the heavy sea which was running. No traces of the said steamer were to be seen, though the s.s. 'Boscia' remained about five minutes on the spot, engines going very slowly to prevent ship falling off, and the officers on the bridge, first mate, master, and chief engineer, searched the sea with their binoculars. One of the life-boats of the said steamer was, however, observed floating perpendicularly in the water, and about six feet out of the water. The said boat was painted black, with a brown gunwale, and, so far as could be seen, was painted white inside. No name was noticeable on the said boat, though the said s.s. 'Boscia' was brought to within about two ship's lengths of the said boat, as near as it was deemed prudent to go. The s.s. 'Boscia' was then turned up against the sea. At noon the same day, latitude being 44.43 N., longitude 9.06 W., there was a strong gale from the W., with rain showers: and I make this solemn declaration conscientiously, believing the same to be true, and by virtue of the provisions of an Act made and passed in the sixth year of the reign of King William the Fourth, intituled, 'An Act to repeal an Act of the present Session of Parliament, intituled, An Act for the more effectual abolition of oaths and affirmations, taken and made in various Departments of the State, and to substitute declarations in lieu thereof, and for the more entire suppression of voluntary and extra judicial oaths and affidavits, and to make other provisions for the abolition of unnecessary oaths.'

The report made the following observations:

From the description of the steamer seen to founder, and the life-boat being painted black with a brown gunwale, and white inside, the same as the "Abhona's" boats were painted, it leaves no reason to doubt that this was the missing vessel. It is also stated in the report that as far as could be seen there was a crow's nest for a look-out man on the foremast. It was stated that there was no crow's nest fitted on the "Abhona," but there was a gantry for hoisting the derricks, which could easily have been mistaken for a crow's nest. With regard to the probable cause of the casualty, the only theory put before the Court was that the "Abhona" must have struck some floating wreckage. In support of this, the following statement from Mr. John Morris, master of the s.s. "Northlands," was put in:

Evidence of Mr. John Morris

That on Saturday the 26th day of November, at 10 p.m., the tide at the time being nil, the weather boisterous, and the wind in the S.W., blowing a strong gale, with a high following sea from the S.W., the said ship was proceeding at full steam, steering N.E. 1/2 N., cor. mag., and had reached latitude 46° 46' N., longitude 7° 20' W., when deponent felt a sudden shock and trembling of the vessel as though she had struck some submerged wreckage or other solid substance. The engines were at once stopped, and the vessel broached to and shipped a heavy sea. No. 1 hatch tarpaulin was washed away, and on account of this we feared damage to the cargo. Deponent had the hatch re-battened down with a new tarpaulin. Having got the vessel before the wind and sea, the tanks, peaks, bilges, and wells were sounded, and it was found the vessel was making no water at this time. The following morning, finding vessel making water in the after tanks and bilges, the chief engineer was notified, and the pumps set going. It was also found that the engine room bilge pipe was broken, and that the bilges were filling up. Under these circumstances deponent decided to make for the nearest English port, and reached Dartmouth about 3.30 p.m. on the 28th November. After arrival at Dartmouth the engine room bilge pipe was repaired, and an examination, so far as it was possible, was made of the vessel, in conjunction with Lloyd's surveyor, and deponent is satisfied that the vessel is quite seaworthy to proceed to her destination.

The report made the following observations:

The spot where the "Northlands" struck the wreckage was about 135 miles N.N.E. from the position, as given by the captain of the "Boscia," of the place where they saw the "Abhona" founder 19 days earlier, which would have made the object drift in a north-easterly direction, seven miles a day, but it is possible that the "Abhona" might have gone some distance on her course after striking the wreckage, assuming that she did so strike. On the other hand, as far as is known, no boats were lowered or distress signals made, at least none were seen by the "Boscia," which would lead to the conclusion that the cause of the foundering was sudden and unexpected, leaving no time for taking any steps to save the lives of those on board. There were reports put in of derelicts and floating wreckage seen by various vessels, but in the opinion of the Court, they were too far from the scene of the casualty for them to have any bearing on the case in point. With regard to the state of the weather at the time of the casualty, from the report of the captain of the "Boscia," it was undoubtedly bad, but the Court did not consider that it was such as a vessel of the "Abhona's" class and tonnage would not have easily weathered. The "Boscia" had a heavy deck load, and was probably deeply laden, and would feel the effect of the bad weather more than a vessel in the trim that the "Abhona" was in at the time.

An affidavit by the British Pro-consul at La Rochelle was read, reporting various portions of wreckage which had washed ashore at certain places along the coast of France after the date of the supposed foundering of the vessel. Some, apparently new, teak wood gratings were picked up, but there were no marks on these by which they could be identified as actually belonging to the "Abhona." There were also found two life-buoys marked s.s "Abhona," Glasgow, and these, undoubtedly, had belonged to the ill-fated vessel.


At the conclusion of the evidence, Mr. Morton submitted the following questions for the opinion of the Court, to which the Court gave the answers appended:

Question 1: What number of compasses had the vessel? Were they in good order and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel, and when, and by whom, were they last adjusted?

Answer 1: The vessel was supplied with four compasses. They were in good order and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel. They were last adjusted on the 2nd day of November, 1910, before the vessel left the Clyde for Plymouth, by Messrs. Kelvin & James White, Limited.

Question 2: When the vessel left Plymouth on the 5th November, 1910,
(a) Was she supplied with proper and sufficient boats and life-saving appliances, and were they in good order and ready for use?
(b) Was she adequately manned?
(c) Was the bunker coal on board properly stowed, trimmed, and secured from shifting, and were the weights so distributed as to make the vessel easy in a seaway?
(d) As laden, had the vessel sufficient stability, and was she in proper trim for the voyage she was about to undertake? Was she in a good and seaworthy condition?

Answer 2: When the vessel left Plymouth on the 5th November 1910,
(a) She was supplied with proper and sufficient boats and life-saving appliances. They were in good order, and ready for use.
(b) She was adequately manned.
(c) The bunker coal on board was properly stowed and trimmed. No means were taken to prevent the coal from shifting, and in our opinion, under the circumstance, it was not necessary. The weights, according to the plans produced, were distributed in such a way as to make the vessel easy in a seaway.
(d) As laden, the vessel had sufficient stability, and was in good and proper trim for the voyage she was about to undertake. She was in a good and seaworthy condition.

Question 3: What insurances, if any, were effected upon or in connection with the ship?

Answer 3: No insurances whatever were effected upon or in connection with the ship, the entire loss falling upon the owners.

Question 4: What is the cause of the vessel not having been heard of since the pilot left her off Plymouth at or about 5.40 p.m. of the 5th November, 1910?

Answer 4: The Court has no doubt that the vessel reported to have been seen suddenly to founder in the Bay of Biscay by those on board the Danish steamer "Boscia," on the morning of the 7th day of November last, was the s.s. "Abhona," and therefore the cause of this vessel not having been heard of since the pilot left her off Plymouth on the afternoon of the 5th day of November, 1910, was that she foundered at sea.

There is not sufficient evidence before the Court to enable it to arrive at a conclusion as to the cause of her foundering.

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Wrecksite.com