Brew to Lytton
27th September 1858
I have the honor to inform you that I was unable to take My passage from England in The West India Royal Mail Steam packet which Sailed from Southampton on the 2nd Instant but anxious to carry out your wish that I should arrive in British Columbia to enter as soon as practicable on the duties of my Office, I proceeded to Southampton and embarked for New York on the 4th Inst in the Steam Ship Austria, 1 calculating on reaching New York in quite sufficient time to proceed by the Steamer which was to sail for Panama on the 20th Inst. If I had been successful in taking this route I should have overtaken at Havannah the party which left England on the 2nd Inst. The Cabins of the Austria were full but as IwasManuscript image was determined to go I contrived to get on Board and hired for the Voyage the Cabin of the Ships Surgeon. We sailed from Southampton Water on the 5th Inst at 4 A.M. and from the Moment the Ships Head was laid on her course we had Most unfavourable weather, the wind right ahead and a high sea till the 12th when the weather became Moderate and we made a good days passage. On the 13th the speed of the Vessel increased to 11 knots an hour and all on board were in high expectations of arriving at New York at farthest by the 18th but we were doomed to be for all sadly and for many fatally disappointed.
About 2 oclock P.M. on the 13th a fire broke out in the Steerage situated in the fore part of the Ship. In a few Minutes it was evident to all that nothing could save the Ship. I was on the Quarter Deck with a Number of other passengers at the time and remained there till forced by the Flames to get into the Sea.
He speaks of jumping into the Sea as one should of getting into a bath, or into a [illegible]. Abd
In at the utmost half an hour after the Fire commenced everySoulManuscript image Soul on the poop was either burned or driven by the Fire to plunge into the Sea. Only four of the 1st Cabin passengers and one of the 2nd Cabin passengers were saved. All the Ladies in both Cabins were lost. As the Vessel was under way all or nearly all the time her decks were burning the Boats that were lowered were instantly swamped and all that were in them drowned. I fortunately got on one of the swamped Boats and after a hard struggle having been five hours up to my Shoulders in the Water I was taken on Board a French Ship—The Maurice of Nantes, Captain Ernest Renaud. 2 The Fire was seen from this Ship almost immediately it broke out and it bore up for the burning Vessel but owing to the light wind was unable to get near till 5 P.M. Sixty seven of the crew and passengers were saved by the Maurice and a few more but only a few may have been picked up by a Swedish ship which sailed up during thenightManuscript image night. The Captain of the Maurice acted most kindly by the Sufferers several of whom were severely burned. He was nurse and Surgeon and his tenderness and delicacy in dressing the injuries of three women who were rescued but much burned showed that he possessed a refined and feeling nature. It was estimated that there were over 600 on Board the Austria so that more than 500 perished.
The Maurice was bound for the Island of Bourbon 3 and at 7 A.M. on the 14th the day following that of the Fire she sailed away from the still burning Austria nothing living being on her at the time. Captain Renaud decided on proceeding to [Fyal?] the Western Isles and there leave the rescued passengers. About 2 oclock P.M. on the 14th we fell in with the Ship Lotus of Yarmouth Nova Scotia Captain Trefry bound for Halifax.4 I went on Board her and as I was anxious to stand on British territory and desirous of getting nearer to mydestinationManuscript image destination instead of farther away from it Captain Trefry kindly gave me a passage in his Ship. Although not abundantly supplied with provisions he also took on Board eleven other Survivors of the Austria who wished to get as soon as possible to America. I lost all my papers Money and property and arrived at this port on Yesterday evening with nothing but a coat the French Captain gave me and the other torn clothes in which I escaped from the Austria. I immediately proceeded to call on the Governor but His Excellency was not at home. Through the kindness of Lady Mulgrave I was enabled to put up at an Hotel and on this day I saw Mr Bullock the Governor's Secretary. I represented to him the position in which I was placed and my anxiety to obtain funds to enable to me to get on to British Columbia. Mr Bullock brought me before the Executive Council of theprovinceManuscript image province and on being satisfied of my identity they advanced me £100. I gave my receipt for the Money and hold myself accountable for it as a loan to me.
I shall leave Halifax for New York on tomorrow and intend to Sail for Colon Panama by the Steamer which will leave New York on the 5th proximo. As my letter of appointment and the despatch which I had for Governor Douglas were lost in the Austria I trust you will be pleased to cause duplicates of them to be forwarded to the Governor as I can scarcely expect that he can acknowledge my appointment until he receive[s] them. The loss I have suffered is to me a heavy one. I must try and meet it as I best can, but I am sure I shall receive from the Government every reasonable Consideration.
I omitted to say that nearly all thepassengersManuscript image passengers in the Austria were Americans or Germans. A few persons went on Board at Southampton they are all lost and I am the only British Subject saved.
I have the honor to be Sir
Your obedient Servant
C Brew
Chief Inspector of Police
British Columbia

The Right Honble
Sir E.B. Lytton Bart
Secretary of State
for the British Colonies
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Mr Elliot
Mr Brew does not write so well for the S. of S. as he does for the Public. I think it is impossible to resist indemnifying him for this disaster, (though the poor man does not ask for more than a loan) and that the Treasury should be requested to pay for this advance of £100.
If Sir Edward approves this proposal, inform Mr Brew accordingly, expressing regret for the misfortune he has sustained & send duplicates of the Letters lost.
ABd 18 Octr
I agree, but it will not be safe to tell Mr Brew until we receive the Treasury concurrence.
TFE 19 Oct
Sir E. Lytton
Write at once to the Treasury? £100 or £150?
C Oct 20
£100. Yes & send duplicates to Govr.
EBL Oct 21
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Draft reply, Lytton to Douglas, No. 38, 11 November 1858.
  1. The Austria, Capt. Heydtmann, was a 2,500-ton iron steamship of the Hamburg American Line, sailing from Hamburg to Southampton and New York.
  2. The Maurice was a French bark bound from Newfoundland to the Isle of Bourbon with a cargo of fish. The Gazette (9 November 1858) states that "the Norwegian ship Catarina, Capt. Funnemark, from Fowey . . . took from the wreck 22 persons in all, sixteen passengers and six of the crew." Brew was interviewed at length about the accident, and his account appeared in the New York Daily Tribune, 28 September 1858, pp. 4-5. See AR for more detail.
  3. Location??
  4. = the Lotus of Yarmouth The Lotus, Capt. Trefry??
People in this document

Blackwood, Arthur Johnstone

Brew, Chartres

Bullock, WIlliam Thomas

Carnarvon, Earl

Douglas, James

Elliot, Thomas Frederick

Lytton, Edward George Earle Bulwer

Mulgrave, Lady

Renaud, Earnest

Trefry, Captain

Organizations in this document


Vessels in this document

SS Austria, 1857-1858



Places in this document

British Columbia


New York


Nova Scotia