On June 3rd 1859 the Eastern Monarch, described as a spendid ship, caught fire while moored off Spithead with the loss of 9 lives. Her cargo included 2782 bags of Salt petre, 15 cases and 784 peccas of elephant’s teeth, 58 cassia Iigiua, 31 packages of senna leaves. The following letter appeared in the Isle of Wight Observer of June 11th.
Mr. Editor, – As the Isle of Wight Observer is freely circulated in the neighbourhood of the Solent, permit me, through its pages, to notice the slanderous attack which a correspondent has made in the Daily Telegraph of the 4th inst. when referring to the melancholy disaster to the Eastern Monarch. It is therein stated, “At 4 p.m. all had left the ship, excepting five or six of her crew and a Cowes pilot whom it is believed perished in the hold in an attempt to get at some of the cargo.” Such a malicious aspersion can be nothing less than, by a side wind, to throw a stigma on a respectable body of men as the Cowes pilots, whether through motives of jealousy or malice on a confrére. I leave the public to judge, particularly after the angry correspondence which emanated some time back from the Southampton pilots, alleging incapacity in the Cowes pilots – a futile attempt to rob them of their ancient privileges. A more respectable body of men does not exist than the Cowes branch, and I dare the calumniators to urge one case in which a Cowes pilot was ever accused of such a charge as plundering a ship’s cargo. I can allow for the varied statements and excitement occurring at such an awful moment, when it is next to an impossibility to ascertain the real facts of the case, and therefore every excuse may be made for the assertion that the Southampton pilot saw 30 go down, &c., and that many ladies and gentlemen sunk to rise no more. I believe the loss of live is now correctly ascertained, and that we have only to lament the loss of nine missing, consisting for the most part children.
As regards the pilot referred to, it is Mr. George Wakely, than whom a more upright and respectable man of his calling does not exist, and I am happy to state that, after the severe injuries he has sustained, the mercantile marine will not be deprived of his services. In a conversation with him this morning he said he knew not how he escaped. The explosion took place when he was lying asleep, but how he left the ship he knew not.
Your obedient servant, A LOVER OF TRUTH