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Lieutenant risks his own life to save crew from steamer in distress

Year 1901

Read by Shaun Lyons – Governor, Royal Humane Society

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Lowry, A.C., Lieutenant, R.N., H.M.S. Empress of India.

Stanhope Gold Medal 1901

At 9.15 p.m. on the 18th September, 1900, while Her Majesty’s ship Empress of India was entering the Doro Channel, Cape Fassa, Isle of Andros, a steamer was observed firing signals of distress, and on nearer approach, about 10.45 p.m., was found to be anchored off a lee shore, and riding by a hawser only. She proved to be the steamship Charkich of London, bound from Piraeus to Constantinople, commanded by an Austrian, with a crew of forty to fifty hands, and carrying upwards of thirty passengers. Lieutenant Lowry communicated with the ship in the cutter, and learning that the shaft was broken, asked the captain what he could do for him, and whether he wished his crew to be taken off. The captain asked for a hawser to take him in tow, but by the time the cutter had returned with it the ship had drifted too close to the shore for this plan to be feasible. Immediately afterwards she disappeared from view. It was evident by the sudden extinction of the lights that she had taken ground.

All efforts to find the vessel by search-light proved useless, and as the wind and sea made it impossible to search the coast with boats, the Empress of India stood off at 12.50 a.m. until daybreak, when the masts of the Charkich were seen standing out of the water. Three men were on the foremast, and three others on detached rocks close to the wreck. A heavy sea was running with a cross current, and much wreckage was about. Lieutenant Lowry at once went in the cutter, and endeavoured under oars to float a line and lifebuoy to the foremast to windward of the wreck. He failed owing to the cross current, but one man swam from the mast to the buoy, and was hauled into the boat. Having tried again for some time to get the buoy to the mast, with no success, and the men seeming unable to move, Lieutenant Lowry jumped overboard at about 7 a.m. and swam to the wreck with a lifebuoy and line. As he reached the rigging, he lost the line, which fouled some wreckage, and he was cut off.

Throughout the forenoon efforts were made to establish communication with the wreck. The cutter first made another attempt, but was struck by a heavy sea and half filled with water. Both sea boats were then sent in with oil to throw on the water, rockets, and grass lines, but all in vain.

The Empress of India then proceeded to Pargo Bay and landed a party to try and reach the wreck from shore. On her return it was found that the back of the wreck was broken. One of the men had got ashore on a large piece of wreckage. Lieutenant Lowry, with the other man, was still in the fore- rigging, which might now give way at any moment. His own life-belt would possibly have enabled him to reach the shore, but he would not leave his companion, who had none.

Another attempt was made about 3 p.m., both by the shore party and by Lieutenant Vereker in the cutter, to reach the wreck. Lieutenant Lowry directed the cutter from the mast of the wreck, and succeeded at last in throwing a line into her. With the aid of this the rescue was accomplished, Lieutenant Lowry assisting the last man into the boat before leaving the wreck. Meanwhile one of the three men on the detached rocks managed to reach the shore. The others were washed off and drowned.

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