‘1858 The Benzine Ship “Vedra” Disaster’ 1914. Edward Sankey

© Sankey Family Photography Collection.

rThe Benzine Ship “Vedra” Disaster

December 1914

Written by Les Eveson

By the night of 7thDecember, 1914, the ship had finished its crossing of the Atlantic, from Sabine, Texas, with 4901 tons of highly flammable Benzine on board, and was making for Barrow Docks.

An inquiry into the disaster, which claimed the lives of 34 crew members, established those on board had been unaware the rough seas had extinguished one of the navigation lights in Walney Channel, causing the ship to take the wrong course; leading to its grounding in the shallows south of Walney Island. The Inquiry report details the desperation and bravery of the crew, those on board the tugs sent to rescue the stricken ship, and the Harbourmaster. He initially sent out the tug “Furness”, but following the Vedra’s message “Engines disabled, send another tug”, he went himself with “Walney”, followed by “Lismore”.


There was a gale blowing, and although “Furness” had a towline employed, she could make no headway. A strong smell of benzine indicated that at least one of the 8 tanks on board had ruptured.


At 3.30am on the 8th, flames were seen from the funnels, and several explosions were heard. Initially two of the crew escaped with their lives; James Dixon, the fourth engineer, and one who died a week later of his injuries. The fire continued to burn until 9th December, when these photographs were taken.  As there was no enemy action, the crews names do not appear on a war memorial.

Use this link to take you to the inquiry report: