“If there was a bridge from here to Liverpool I’d walk home”

1907, ship Glenlui captained by Robert Crawford Scott was almost lost in a storm en route to Chile from Adelaide. One man was drowned, but the rest survived – just. The text below is from the Ortega Witness, June 5 1907. The unnamed journalist has done an excellent job conveying the dangers they faced.

At the end of this piece Robert is quoted uttering the phrase which gives this site its title. 






A full rigged ship labouring heavily under storm canvas was sighted from Cape Saunders shortly before 1pm on May 31. To all appearances the vessel seemed waterlogged, wallowing in the trough of the seas, and taking them green over her fo’csle head; and to those who watched from the shore it seemed that every plunge would be her last.

The vessel was standing in for Otago Heights, and, when within six miles signalled for a pilot. The tug Plucky went out, and found that the ship in distress was the Glenlui, bound from Adelaide to Concepcion, South America, with a cargo of wheat. Her decks had been swept from stem to stern; deckhouses, boats, booms, and the greater part of the bulwarks having been torn away by the seas.

The sides of the vessel were red with rust, and the spars and rigging, though in the main intact, showed signs of having been severely strained. The tug rounded under the ship’s stern, and getting to leeward, the master learned that she was the Glenlui, 1950 tons.

The Plucky immediately took her in tow, and a signal was made to the heads for the services of a second tug. The signal was taken on shore as an indication that something was seriously wrong. This occurred after 4 p.m., and at 4.25 p.m. the tug Koputai steamed rapidly from Port Chalmers and went out to sea, and assisted in towing the vessel, which, owing to the water in her hold, was drawing 23ft, in towards the Heads, which was reached at 6.30 p.m.

Glenlui at Port Chalmers

Captain Scott, the master of the Glenlui, reported that he struck the gale when off the Snares. The ship made very heavy weather of it, and shipped tremendous seas one after the other. On sounding it was found that water was rising in the well, and although the crew manned the pumps, and toiled for their lives, the water kept creeping slowly but surely upwards, till the carpenter reported a depth of 3ft in the hold.

The gale was at it’s height when a great wave came thundering over the fo’c’sle, sweeping everything before it. The chief officer was unable to lay hold of anything solid in time, and was swept over the bulwarks, and disappeared to leeward, borne away on the crest of a huge wave. The ship’s boats had already been smashed, so even had the sea permitted it, any attempt at rescue was out of the question. The name of this unfortunate officer was Jones. He joined the vessel at Adelaide.

Both officers and crew were greatly exhausted when the Plucky came alongside. Indeed, some of the men were almost in a state of collapse from battling with the storm and with working for so long at the pumps, to which they were set directly the sea had sufficiently subsided to allow the men to move about the decks.

Owing to the Glenlui drawing 23ft of water aft, it was not deemed advisable to try to tow her into port that evening, and she was brought to an anchor two miles outside the Heads.

The Glenlui is an iron ship with a register of 1814 tons, and was built in Liverpool in 1884 by T. Royden and Sons. Her owners are Gracie, Beazley, and Co., trading as the Glenlui Sailing Ship Company. She is under charter to Mr Duncan Fox, of Adelaide, and her SOuth Australian agents are Messrs Dalgety and Co. The Dunedin agents are Messrs Neill and Co.

The vessel left Adelaide on May 12, with a cargo of wheat, and it is probable that as much of this has been damaged by the water, she will have to discharge at Port Chalmers, and will possibly go into the dock for repairs.


Deep in the water, weather beaten, and with decks littered with wreckage, the ship Glenlui was towed up from the Heads on May 31 by the tugs Koputai and Plucky and safely berthed at Port Chalmers. She is built long and narrow, after the fashion of the iron clippers of 1884, and is heavily sparred, carrying double topgallant sails on all masts. All her boats have been washed away with the exception of two, one of which is smashed to pieces, and the other lies stove in on the skids.

Glenlui storm damage

The flying bridge has been swept of everything, including rails and binnacle. The poop ladders have been torn away with portions of the deck to which they were attached. The steering wheel, which should by rights be in position in the stern, lies broken in pieces on the main hatch, and a jury wheel, consisting of iron bars ringed with wire rope, has been rigged in its place. The rails round the poop are bent and twisted with the force of the following seas, and here and there have been carried away altogether.

Most of the damage, however, has been done in the cabins under the poop. Huge seas rolling along the deck from forward stove in the doors, filling alleyways, cabins, and saloon with water, which reached to the skylight and nearly drowned the occupants.

The mate’s cabin, which is the nearest the door on the port side, suffered most severely, the wardrobe being smashed to pieces and the bunk torn away from the bulkhead.


The second mate was twice washed out of his bunk, which, as it happened to be the top one, will give some idea of the volume of water that continually broke in under the break of the poop. The steward was caught near the door, and borne through the alleyway and saloon, and then hurled against a bicycle hanging in the extreme stern.

Everything in the messroom was broken to pieces, and the after saloon and the captain’s quarters were swamped to the ceiling.

The doors of the storerooms were forced inwards, and tons of water pured down the hatchway into the lazarette, and thence found its way into the hold among the cargo – wheat in four-bushel bags.

The after part of the vessel suffered most severely, but the forecastle and forward deckhouses stood the strain better than might have been expected.

The cook did his utmost in the face of great difficulties to provide hot tea and food for the half-frozen crew, but he was washed out of his galley amid an assortment of cooking utensils. The galley funnel was torn off, together with all the other top hamper stowed on top of the deckhouses, but directly the weather moderated the indefatigable “doctor” shored up his fallen chimney with bits of planks and got his fire going again.


In every part of the vessel are signs and devices of good seamanship combating apparently insurmountable difficulties. The doors under the break of the poop, battered from their hinges, have been stayed and braced up from within, and the whole afterguard resembles a citadel into which the defenders, hard pressed, had been driven to hold till the last against an enemy.

The Glenlui was in an extremely critical position, and nothing but the nerver and sailorlike qualities of Captain Scott and his subordinates could possibly have enabled her to weather out the storm.

When the gale first struck her she ran before it, followed by enormous waves, which soon began to break over the stern, and increased in volume to such an extent that the captain did not consider it safe to attempt to bring the vessel to the wind.

This was on Sunday, and the vessel fled all day before the gale. At 10 p.m. two men were lashed to the wheel, when a tremendous sea rolled over the stern, splitting the wheel in two, and carrying half of the wheel, with a man lashed thereto, on to the cabin skylight. He was soon released, and was found to have sustained a broken hand. The other man remained at his post steering the ship with only half a wheel, but the next sea that broke over carried that away. Then, watching his chance, the captain then brought the vessel to, two men steering with the tiller.

The topsails were sent to shreds, and seas leapt over the bulwarks from all directions. Cordage snapped, furled sails were blown from the gaskets, and everything was swept from the deck. All lights were extinguished except the starboard side light, and the vessel lay on her beam ends.

Nearly everyone on board, it appears, gave up the ship for lost, but under the orders of the captain the second mate, and the boatswain, the crew worked with a will, hoping against hope.

Glenlui, shattered wheel


A spar was fitted to the rudder head, and the helm lashed hard a-lee. The lower topsails having been blown from the bolt ropes, the ship lay to the wind under foretopmast staysail and a tarpaulin spread in the mizzen rigging.

The vessel plunged bodily through the waves, and seemed to be gradually settling down. It was impossible to remain on deck, and through the night officers and crew huddled under the shelter of the tarpaulin on the poop, while, nearly a wreck and without boats, the apparently sinking ship groaned and shuddered in the dark.

About daybreak the foretopmast staysail-sheet parted, and the sail, flapping thunderously, tugged and strained at the stays, threatening to bring down the foremast.

The mate and the boatswain went forward, and succeeded in furling the sail, and they had nearly regained the comparative safety of the poop when the vessel took a huge sea of water over the starboard quarter, which carried the mate over the side. Lines were thrown to him, but they fell short. His face, under his sou’-wester, was visible for a little with a look if pathetic despair, and then he sank. He was clothed in heavy sea-boots and oilskins, which naturally fettered his movements. Nothing, however, could possibly have been done to save him.

The boatswain was also caught by the same sea, which, fortunately for him, washed him under a skid, whence he was extricated later half-drowned and covered with bruises. He was then caught by another sea, but clutched a lifeline. He says he thought his arms were being torn out.

The name of the first mate was Evan Jones, aged 29. His address was 23 Wright street, Carnarvon, North Wales. Mr Jones was well known in New Zealand and Australian ports. He joined the Glenlui at Adelaide from the ship Hazel Craig. He is believed to have been unmarried.


Captain R. C. Scott, a mariner of wide experience , and 38 years’ service in sailing ships, hails from Liverpool. When interviewed on Friday morning, he showed unmistakable signs of the ordeal through which he had just passed.

“I suppose you haven’t been to sleep for three days or nights?” asked a sympathetic bystander.
The captain considered, and then replied, “No, not for a week.”

The storm which raged on Monday and Tuesday was one of the worst he has ever experienced. Owing to the size of the waves and the fury of the storm he believed that it would be impossible to bring the ship to the wind, and their only chance of safety lay in running before the gale. At one time the vessel was going 14 knots an hour under lower topsails.

There were 23 all told on board, including four apprentices, the latter all belonging to Liverpool. Eleven of the crew were foreigners, but all hands behaved splendidly, and Captain Scott speaks in glowing terms of the support accorded him by officers and crew, the apprentices proving especially reliable in times of emergency.


The third mate of the Glenlui, Charles Smith, turns out to be a New Zealander, a native of Christchurch. He is only 19 years old, and has recently been promoted from an apprentice, having served his time in the Glenlui. He said, when interviewed, that he thought he and his ship had seen the last of each other last Monday, but that he was too busy spitting out salt water and being washed up against things to feel unnerved by the prospect. Hardly anyone on board had a dry stitch left, and on Friday they were working away and letting their clothes dry on their backs.

Mr G.R. Baudinet and Dr Borrie, Customs and health officers, of Port Chalmers, left for the Heads at daybreak in order that there should be no delay in getting the vessel cleared in. A crowd of people welcomed the ship at the wharf, where she was visited by a good many people from Dunedin during the day.

The captain has lost uninsured private property valued at over £100. One whole suit of sails except the royals have been torn to ribbons, both fresh water tanks are full of salt water, and the starboard tank has been stove in. During the pumping one of the pumps got out of gear, but the crew redoubled their efforts on the one remaining.

It is impossible as yet to gauge the extent of the damage to the cargo, but there is evidently still a great deal of water in the hold. During the gale Captain Scott says he cannot explain how the time passed – day and night were merely a succession of calamities.

The cargo will probably be discharged and the vessel docked for repairs, but Captain Scott is taking no steps before orders arrive from Home through the Dunedin agents. When asked if his recent experience had not made him tired of the sea, he replied: “So tired that if there was a bridge from here to Liverpool I’d walk home.”




Crew of the storm beaten ship Glenlui

The Otago Witness was an illustrated paper, but the quality of the photographs was very much soot and whitewash. I’ve been able to find better quality reproductions of all of the images which were printeed in this edition except the one above – which surely includes Robert Crawford Scott.



Original article from the Otago Witness