While the Northfleet is chiefly remembered for her tragic end, she had earlier established a reputation as a member of the famous fleet of wooden passenger ships sailing between London and the East. Though she was considered a lucky ship until her end, the more superstitious believed her to be ill fated because a man was killed at her launching.
Northfleet initially carried troops to Hong Kong and made the return voyage loaded with tea. In 1858, returning from Hong Kong, the Northfleet met the brig Hebe, which was sinking outside the Bay of Biscay. The rescue of the nine crewmen on board in heavy seas required all the seamanship and luck that could be imagined.
The tragic end of the famous old ship came in January 1873 when the ship was holed down to the waterline by the Spanish steamer Murillo. It seems everyone had been asleep aboard the Northfleet except for the anchor watch, who barely had time to cry out the alarm.
In a state of panic, the passengers rushed the lifeboats. The Captain fought to save the women and children using his fists and pistols, but the ship sank within twenty minutes, taking a total of 293 men, women and children to a watery grave. The Northfleet sank in 12 fathoms of water and nearly a dozen men survived by clinging to the main topgallant mast and rigging, which remained above the surface.
In this view, the brush of talented artist Efren Erese captures the magnificent ship in happier times upon the high seas.
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