Passengers and crew are evacuated
The Princess Ena was built for the London and South Western Railway's Southampton-St Malo trade and came to Jersey periodically. Built in 1906 by Gourlay Brothers of Dundee, of 1,198 tons, this twin screw turbine steamer was 250 feet in length and 33 feet breadth.
On 19 May 1908 Princess Ena struck the Paternoster rocks and the next day reached St Helier harbour in a disabled condition.
On 13 August 1923 she struck the Minquiers rocks on a voyage from Southampton to St Malo, but managed to limp into St Malo harbour.
The final incident occurred on 3 August 1935, when on a voyage from Jersey to St Malo, Princess Ena caught fire off Corbiere and sank.
Fortunately there were no passengers aboard. She had just delivered 600 passengers, including a large party of Scouts, from Southampton to Jersey and was heading for St Malo for her next passenger-carrying voyage. All members of the crew were rescued. Various accounts of the incident differ in identifying which other vessels were involved, but the photographs on this page show that it was the St Julien which took the rescued crew on board.
Back in Jersey the Corbiere Lighthouse keeper was the first to raise the alarm after spotting the smoke billowing into the sky.
Several ships, including the States tug Duke of Normandy, went to the scene and stood by the stricken vessel as it burned uncontrollably for almost 24 hours.
Describing arriving at the scene on the tug, an Evening Post reporter, who had earlier taken aerial pictures of the ship after persuading Jersey Airways to fly him above the burning vessel, wrote:
- "Closer we steamed to the Princess Ena and what a pathetic sight she was. Her main mast had gone overboard and was bobbing about on the starboard side.
- "Her upper works, from the bridge right aft, were gutted and a mass of twisted iron and steel. Along the sides her paint was scorched away except the extent forward from the fore well deck to the knife-edge bow, where the black paint was spic and span and the name Princess Ena in gold letters stood out for all to see."
The slow death of the Princess Ena affected everyone at the scene, most especially the ship's crew, who had battled hard to save it.
Some of those on board the nearby ships described the eventual sinking as a relief, akin to watching a loved one die after a long and painful battle with an illness.
The last, dramatic moments of the ship's life were recorded by one of the Evening Post reporters in that day's edition:
- 'Suddenly, as we watched, the stern slipped under, the whole ship shivered, then slowly began to slide backwards, she gathered speed - there came a crash as though her stern had hit the bottom, she lurched forward, it seemed as though her back had broken. Black smoke gushed from her funnel. Up, stark against the sky rose her bow, then with a gurgling sound that, too, disappeared.
- 'The top of the foremast was visible for a second, then it was gone, a swirl of water, a tank of some small objects shot up to the surface, and that was the end.
- 'Few of us on board the Duke were unmoved, for it was a pathetic sight to see the scorched and scarred veteran of nearly 30 years sailing the Channel slowly but surely sinking to her doom until, with a sudden plunge, all was over.
- 'Most of those who witnessed the final scene were connected with the Southern Railway steamship services or with the tug. There were only three of us landsmen on board but we, too, felt the passing of an old friend, for the Ena had been known to us for years and we felt that one more link with the good old pre-war days was gone.'
The officers and crew lost all their belongings and came ashore with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.
News reports described how the crew had worked 'like heroes' to tackle the fire, and chief officer Breuilly was praised for saving two crew members - a stewardess named as Mrs Shepherd, who had become stuck below deck in thick smoke, and a deckhand who was overcome by smoke and fumes.
The captain and crew were praised by the ship's owners for how they handled the disaster. 'There was no panic of any kind and the discipline was excellent.'
Subsequent investigations into the cause of the fire were inconclusive. However, it was rumoured that the blaze was started accidentally by Scouts smoking in the lifebelt locker.
History of ship
Owned by - London and South Western Railway Company Built : 1906 Shipyard : Gourlay Brothers Dundee Hull material : steel Length : 105 m Tonnage 1,500 tonnes Engines - 2,700 Hp Twin screw Speed - 16 Knots
- 1908 - Struck the Paternoster rocks north of Jersey in fog - repaired.
- 1909 - Grounded by the Needles lighthouse, Isle of Wight - repaired
- 1923 - Grounded on the Minquiers reef, South of Jersey - repaired
- 1914-1918 Successful war service in North West Turkey
- 1935 - Caught fire and sank off the south coast of Jersey