His body never recovered, William Laws Howard Spratly was Captain of the SS Cuvier that fateful morning of 9th March 1900 off North Foreland. En route from Antwerp to Brazil, the Cuvier was involved in a catastrophic collision with the Norwegian steamer SS Dovre. The Dovre, laden with coal and steaming from Burntisland to Dieppe, rammed the ill-fated Cuvier in the starboard quarter around 05.00am that dark morning. The Cuvier flooded quickly trapping sleeping crew members in their bunks.
There were only three survivors, Captain Spratly and 27 of the Cuvier’s crew perished in the collision. The survivors said the captain and third mate were seen jumping from the bridge but they could not be found. However, a different report from the The London Times state that Spratly’s grandson John Allenby wrote in 1976 that the three survivors told his grandmother that Captain Spratly and the First Officer were in the chartroom with the door jammed. It is suggested that Captain Spratly and the First Officer’s bodies are believed by family to still be in the ship’s chartroom.
The second mate said the Dovre failed to stop even though the Cuvier was blowing its whistle for assistance even as it was settling by the stern. The Norwegian vessel arrived in Dieppe showing extensive damage.
Coming to her assistance, the British steamer SS Windsor picked up the second mate and two seamen who were clinging to a capsized lifeboat at 07.00am.
A Dieppe court later ruled that the Cuvier (of the Lamport & Holt Line) was at fault for the collision and awarded owners of the Dovre a claim for damages.
The Loss Of The Cuvier – A Survivors Statement – Shields Daily Gazette – Monday 12 March 1900.
A Lloyds telegram from Calais states that three men from the steamship Cuvier were landed there by the steamship Windsor and were taken from a capsised boat at 7.00am that day. The man Crick was inside it and a hold had to be cut to get him out. Crick states that the red light of the colliding steamer was visible and she struck the Cuvier on the starboard quarter and is supposed then to have stood away. She was a two masted steamer, but her funnel could not be made out as the night was dark although clear. The Cuvier blew her whistle for assistance and shortly after settled down by the stern and sank. Then captain and third mate were seen to jump from the bridge, but most of the men were below in their bunks. No hopes are entertained for the safety of the remainder of the crew of the Cuvier.
Steamer In Collision - Heavy Loss Of Life - Ballymena Observer - Friday 16 March 1900
Three men, the sole survivors of the crew of the Glasgow steamer Cuvier, owned by Messrs DW Henderson and Co, with was run down by an unknown [*] steamer with heavy loss of life a few miles north-east of Calais, were landed at Dover on Saturday by the Calais mail-boat. They state that their vessel, which was engaged in the Lamport and Holt line, had a general cargo of 3,000 tons of goods which had been embarked at Liverpool and Antwerp for Bahia, Brazil. They left Antwerp on Thursday with a crew of thirty hands. In the early morning of the next day, when nearing the entrance of the Straits of Dover, they were run into by a two masted steamer. The Cuvier was struck on the starboard side, a great rent being torn into the vessel. The engine rooms were immediately flooded. The majority of the crew were below at the time of the collision and the vessel sank within five minutes after being struck they had very little chance of saving their lives. The other vessel took no notice of the cries for assistance of those on the sinking steamer’s deck or the blowing of the steamer’s whistle, but backed out of the breach she had made and disappeared. Although dark the night was quite clear. The men believe the steamer was of English nationality, as they neared orders given on her deck in English. There was no time to get the boats out before the Cuvier sank. As she went down, the captain and third mate were seen by the survivors to jump from the bridge. Nothing more was seen of them. The three survivors managed to cling to a boat which floated away from the wreck as the steamer floundered. This boat capsized and two of the men clung to it while it was un that condition, while the third remained underneath. The two were picked up by the Leith steamer Windsor and stating that their companion was underneath the boat was, with considerably difficulty, righted and the apparently inanimate body of a seaman was found. This man, who’s name proved to be Crick, a native of Bradford, was taken on board Windsor with the two other survivors and was given restoratives, when he recovered. The names of the other men who were rescued were were John Eskelin, second mate and a sailor named Gauderson.
[*] The vessel which which ran down the steamer Cuvier in the Channel on Friday with the loss of 27 lives is now believed to be the steamer Dovre, of Bergen, bound from Burntisland, to Dieppe, with a cargo of coal. On Saturday the Dovre was put into Dieppe with very extensive damage, her forepart being completely smashed in. Experts say that but for the strength of her fore watertight compartment and the calm weather, the vessel must have also floundered. The statement of the captain as to the time and place of the collision and the class of vessel he collided with leaves no doubt that the Dovre was the vessel that collided with the Cuvier. As to the complaint that no attempt was made to stand by the Cuvier, the master of the Dovre says that he saw nothing of the steamer after the collision.