On this day in history : 21st June 1898 – The launch of HMS Albion in the River Thames ends in disaster when an old wooden bridge collapses and 36 people are drowned….

HMS Albion, a 12,900 ton pre-dreadnought battleship had been built for service in Eastern Asia; it had been laid down on the 3rd of December 1896 by The Thames Iron Works of Leamouth, London….

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HMS Albion – Symonds & Co, public domain

Approximately 30,000 people attended the launch at Blackwall by the Duchess of York – Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the future Queen Mother…. For the workers of the shipyard and their families it was a holiday; the banks and quaysides were packed and a flotilla of boats took to the water…. Also present were the Duke of York, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir William Vernon Harcourt (leader of the opposition) and many other dignitaries and MPs….

It took the Duchess four attempts to successfully break the bottle on the side of the ship…. As HMS Albion entered the water a huge wave was created – which in turn caused an old wooden bridge structure, on which stood some 200 people, mostly women and children, to collapse into the water of a side creek….

The noise from the horns on the boats drowned out the screams and cries of the people in the water – so the now departing crowds were unable to hear them…. Several workmen did dive in from the quayside and survivors were pulled into boats which came to the rescue…. One boat took at least fifty onboard and one single sailor saved six people…. It was a scene of total chaos and confusion….in all thirty-six people drowned…. Many of them were women – dragged down by the weight of the cumbersome clothing they wore at the time…. It remains one of the worse peacetime disasters in the history of the Thames….

At the inquiry that followed it was concluded that nobody was to blame for the catastrophic incident other than the crowd itself…. Those on the bridge had been warned of the danger but had ignored orders to get off and had even mocked and jeered at the police…. The accident was a result of the stupidity of the crowd and the old dilapidated bridge that simply could not take their weight….

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