Tragedy on SS Makrana

Stuart Smith
20th October 2005, 20:16
While I was on Makrana in 1964 and inbound for Calcutta during late September we were anchored up in the Hooghley as the bore tide was due, or had just occurred, I can't remember which.
That evening there was to be a big party with lots of shore-side badha-sahibs due on board. Dennis Henshaw and I were, of course, not invited to the party and we had to stand gangway watch and show the guests to the saloon. There was a constant stream of people coming aboard, far more than I ever saw at any other Brocklebank party/race night, and it was quite obvious that the bum-boat crews, who were ferrying the guests from shore to ship, were becoming jittery with the state of the river flow and height of the river.
Everything had gone well at the party and at around midnight it began to break up and the guests were wanting boats ashore.
Brocklebank's Calcutta Superintendent and his wife were at the party as well as some very senior Customs Officers with their wives and numerous other big-wigs who all seemed to be the worst for drink.
I was on gangway watch to see them away in a decent fashion but when I saw the state of the water and could see that the attendant boat crews were all reluctant to carry passengers I became very concerned. The flow of water alongside the ship was incredible and in my opinion was far too dangerous to attempt carrying passengers to the shore.
Just then a group of guests arrived and asked me to summon a boat. The group consisted of the Superintendent and his wife, a European Customs man and his spouse and around half a dozen other customs men and several wives. I said to the Superintendent that I felt it too dangerous to leave and suggested that they all remain on board overnight of at least until the flood water eased. I can't remember exactly what he said to me but it was something like "It's time we were going and that's what we are going to do" He spoke to one of the Indian Customs Officers who hailed the bum-boat crew and some form of dialogue took place with several people raising their voices. The result was that the shore-going party started off down the gangway.
On hindsight I should have gone off to find the Chief or other senior officer to let them make a ruling, but alas I did nothing.
The group had great difficulty boarding the bum-boat as the two crew struggled to hold the boat alongside the ship. Just then one of our deck officers arrived, I can't remember who it was, and we were leaning over the rail watching the tragedy unveil. Once all the passengers were on board and seated the boatman at the stern let go but the one in the bow was still holding the boat to the gangway. I can see it now as if in slow motion but in fact what happened next was instantantaneous. The stern of the boat was immediately swung out by flood and as soon as it was at right angles to Makrana it flipped right over and everyone on board was thrown into the river. I still have this vision of people being swept away down stream in seconds.
I guess the officer must have legged it to the skipper or someone as I stood there staring at the black waters of the river with nothing in sight.
Suddenly the ships whistle began a series of blasts which was quickly picked up by other ships downstream of us.
I remember the feeling of panic/concern sweeping through the ship at our utter helplessness with the situation.
Next morning we received the news that the Superintendent and his wife had been picked up some miles downstream and I seem to remember that one or two of the customs men were also rescued. Around eight or so other passengers and the two crew men were drowned.

I have had no further feedback or information about this incident and indeed apart from telling my parents about it when I got home this is the first time I have ever told or written about it since. I can't say that I feel responsible or anything but it did have a profound effect on me seeing those people swept to their deaths.
Even putting this down in print has upset me.
If anyone else has heard about this incident or knows any more then I would be interested in hearing form them with a posting or private message.
Stuart smith

20th October 2005, 20:40
that is a sad think to happen to anyone stuart i can feel for you all the best sam

michael james
20th October 2005, 21:35
I remember a report in the Calcutta Statesman newpaper about this incident, I was there on ss Matra in December 1964 and the C/O had a cutting from the above paper which was circulated. I makes one realise the vast amount of water that comes down the Hooghly river and other Ganges tributaries in the monsoon season and how dangerous it can be. Well done for posting this sad and personal experience.

20th October 2005, 22:01
reminds me of a tragic death during my watch which resulted in my appearance before a tribunal in Falmouth after reaching the UK. Things like that Stuart haunt you a lifetime long.See if I can put the gist of it in writing tomorrow.

Derek Roger
25th October 2005, 01:19
Stuart ;
I remember the story well although it was only passed down to me ( By Paul Georgeson Electrician ) perhaps he was on board the Makaranna at the time ??
In later years I met with " Mickey Spillane " ( Just give me the facts !) The superindendent you refer to .
We met in the UK on the coast where he was still one of the Superintentents and I think I was Chief at that time and we we had a beer or a meal together ) ( I dont recollect which )
I broached the subject of the bore tide incident and here is what he told me .

The Bum boat was swamped and he found himself in the water submerged ; after what seemed an eternity he was swept up against what turned out to be a pier support along the banks of the Hoogley . He managed to climb up the pier to the surface and he felt a tug on his leg and he reached down and felt a hand which he pulled up ( It was his wife ! )
They somehow managed to get ahore to safety and I think he left Calcutta shortly after that to do UK coastal duties .
He was from Geordieland as I recollect and I think his name was Dennis Clark although I have been unable to confirm that . I shall be talking to Alan Atack soon and perhaps he can confirm .

It was a miraculous escape for he and his wife . I did not know others were lost and Im sorry to hear that .
You Stuart however should feel no responsibility in the the matter .
These were Burra Sahibs who knew the conditions better than you ! Their actions after being warned by you were theirs and theirs only . Its a pity they didnt listen !.
I have another thread in similar vein ; which I shall post soon ( No loss of life ); regarding gear boxes and a violent explosion on the Maihar leaving Yorohama .
Ray Charlton and I have been conversing and he has some personal memories of one of the incidents .

Regards Derek

Derek Roger
25th October 2005, 20:01
I have checked with Alan Atack who confirms Mickey Spillane was Dennis Clark.
Other Brocks supers / tech managers of the era were .
Dave Mc Growther
Charlie House MBE or OBE ?
Alf Wilson
Charlie Bauld
Johnny Bain
Lawrie Cleal Harding
Bob Greig was a Technical Director during the Trafalger House Days


25th October 2005, 20:59
Stuart ;
You Stuart however should feel no responsibility in the the matter .
These were Burra Sahibs who knew the conditions better than you ! Their actions after being warned by you were theirs and theirs only . Its a pity they didnt listen !.

It was an impossible situation to put an apprentice or even a junior officer in, and too little thought out. A 2nd mate or senior 3rd mate should have been the least - someone who had seen the river several times -with bevied up shore staff and a river in bore conditions . But hindsight is wonderful.

Stuart Smith
29th October 2005, 18:10
Thank you Derek for that information and thank you all for messages of support.sympathy etc. as they do mean something to me even after all these years, but no doubt the incident will remain with me, seldom thought about but with me all the same.
Mr McGrowther was the Liverpool based Super who interviewed me when I wanted to join Brock's.
Some time later he and my father met at Cunard House and they got on like a house-on-fire. I think that both being from Glasgow they were the only two people who could understand each other!!

29th October 2005, 19:20
I coasted with Lawrie Cleall-Harding on the Masirah when he was 2nd Eng. One of the best too.
Years later I read somewhere that he had been involved in some rescue or something when he was working at the St Fregus gas terminal. I know that is very vague but someone can amplify as to correct tale.

29th October 2005, 19:23
PS Stuart. I too have seen a bumboat swept down river during the bore tides. Not to laugh but aboard was the customs officer with his sack full of Duty Free bribed by our Ch. Steward to allow us to open the bond!

john russell
29th October 2005, 21:00
Stuart, anouther tragic incident was on h.m.s. white bear, a number of the crew were going on leave to dargeling when ther bum boat over turned,three lost ther lives i was on a ship ahead some of our crew going with them, it was a sad leave, i did not see it happen thank god ,

Derek Roger
30th October 2005, 01:07
I was also interviewed by Dave Mc Growther oin Liverpool before startin with Brocks .
I had done the entrance exam at Riversdale and he asked how I had done ? I said I thought I had done well .
He then asked me the name of the river on which Calcutta stands . I told him I thought it was the Idus !!!! He was truly shocked ! So I tried the Ganges : Noo Noo Laddie its the Hoogley Never Forget that !
He then asked if I had any relatives who had sailed with Brocks . I told him my Dad who sailed before the war and emigrating to South Africa.
After some discussion it turned out he and Dad sailed together on the Cadet ship ( Dont know its name ) Also Dad was 3 rd Mate and Dave was 4 Engineer. He then told me how my father who was always being put on the Shake for watch by Dave was later woken for his watch by my father who hosed him out of bed with the fire hose !!

I thought my days were numbered ! I asked if I had a chance to be hired ?
He said consider yourself Hired . I said we havnt got the results of the entrance exams yet from Riversdale .
He said " This is a family company ; and your Dad an I were great friends ; dont worry about the Riversdale thing I have the final say !! "
Dave was a great fellow and my brother met him at the big reunion a few years back ( Dad was not able to travel unfortunatley as he and Dave would have had a great time ) Dad was also very friendley with Yegg Thomas .

Funny how thease threads keep memories coming back .
You Admins are doing a GREAT JOB Keep it up and I shall contribute more as winter sets in and Ican start the Mammouth Job of looking at all the old slides I took .

Regards Derek

11th December 2005, 18:02
Very Sad

11th December 2005, 19:27
I coasted with Lawrie Cleall-Harding on the Masirah when he was 2nd Eng. One of the best too.
Years later I read somewhere that he had been involved in some rescue or something when he was working at the St Fregus gas terminal. I know that is very vague but someone can amplify as to correct tale.

Hi Jim,
The individual who rescued a child from a burning house at Crimond near to St.Fergus where he was working,was an Ian Cleall-Harding, who had recognition for his efforts from the authorities.
The name is unusual and he originated from the Dundee area,he may well be related to the person you mention.

I think he moved to the offshore operation, but I remember him well.
The rescue affected him to some degree as the child was badly injured.

13th December 2005, 19:46
Hi all
We used to tie up at BUDGE, BUDGE, on the way up to CALCUTTA, they only had pariffin lights then, no lectric no gas, but boy what a stop-off
Big Bill

17th December 2005, 10:49
Thanks Arranman, seems to much of a coincidence with a name like that.