SS Mahratta 1909

Launched 1891, the first SS Mahratta was wrecked at Fork Point on the Goodwin Sands on Good Friday 9th April 1909 whilst on a return passage from Calcutta to London and Dundee with 90 crew and 17 passengers. She was carrying a valuable miscellaneous cargo including 1,300 cases of tea, coffee, rubber and bales of jute estimated by Lloyds to be £250,000. Lloyds underwriters stipulating the disaster was the “worst cargo loss of the year.” It was reported that some half of the cargo was salvaged including 621 cases of tea, 289 bales of jute and 18 cases of rubber were landed at Deal and handed to Customs authorities.

Although the majority of the passengers were evacuated on the Friday, it was not until the Sunday when salvors, remaining crew and one female passenger and dog were disembarked. The female passenger remained “due to her devotion to her dog” as Customs authorities would not allow the animal to be landed at Deal without six months of quarantine. She would rather risk her life than part with her pet.

Postacard of the era showing the Mahratta

Initial reports were that everyone was saved, though later that week that Samuel Gibson ages 35, Chief Engineer had been found dead in his cabin with a wound to his throat. At the inquest to his death, a verdict was returned as “Suicide whilst of unsound mind.”

Fork Point, a notorious and dangerous part of the Goodwin Sands. Newspaper reports of the era comment that the Mahratta was “the largest steamer that has ever been wrecked on the Goodwins”

SS Mahratta 1939

Coincidentally and again breaking her back, on 6th October 1939, a second vessel named SS Mahratta (launched 1917 and also owned by the Brocklebank Line) on the same voyage route from Culcutta to London and carrying general cargo of tea, rubber and jute, in blackout conditions also ran aground less than a mile from her predecessor on the Goodwins.

In the case of the original Mahratta incident, there was one case of loss of life. The same with this second Mahratta incident and similar salvage efforts were made. However, she more suddenly broke in two halves, followed by a tremendous explosion in her engine room and one man was killed. 

“While the Deal motorboat Lady Haig was standing by the stranded Liverpool ship Mahratta on the Goodwins, the ship suddenly broke in half and crumpled amidships. Smoke, steam, dust and volumes of water shot into the air, smothering the the crew of the motorboat. One Lascar member of Mahratta’s crew was killed and David Pritchard aged 77 on the motorboats was seriously injured when one other Lascar seaman threw his luggage aboard the motorboat. “The strain of pulling by tugs and suction by quicksands is believed to be the cause of the ship’s sinking. All the eighty seven on board except the Lascar who was killed, were saved by motorboats. The Mahratta was homeward bound with general cargo and several hundred tons were thrown overboard to lighten her. She is the second Mahratta to fall a victim of the dreadful Goodwins, the first being wrecked on there on Good Friday 1909. She lays a very short distance from the scene of the present mishap.”

Pride of Canterbury Incident

On 31st January 2008, the roll on roll off passenger ferry MS Pride of Canterbury operated by P&O Ferries struck the wreck of one of the Mahrattas while manoeuvring in severe weather into a holding position in The Downs.

The ferry was on a scheduled crossing from Calais to Dover in severe weather when she learned that Dover Port was to be temporarily closed due to the weather and sea conditions. She proceeded to The Downs to wait for the reopening of the port. She suffered extensive damage to her port propeller and had to be assisted to berth in Dover. It is not clear whether the wreck site named in the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report is that of the first SS Mahratta or the later vessel.