The Date was 21 June 1898

Launch of HMS Albion at Blackwall
K: E.P. Prestwich. P: Prestwich Manufacturing Company. UK 1898

“The battleship ‘HMS Albion’ was launched on 21 June 1898 on the River Thames at Blackwall. The event attracted an estimated 30,000 people. The Duchess of York christened the ship, but when Albion entered the water her bulk, combined with the narrowness of the river, caused a wave that swept away a jetty holding spectators, and an estimated 39 people were drowned.  E.P. Prestwich captured this outstanding view of the launch from a distance; the whole battleship can be seen gliding into the remarkably narrow stretch of water in a seemingly serene and gentle scene. Prestwich’s contemporary R.W. Paul filmed the event from a motorboat; his Launch of HMS Albion (1898) contains only a glimpse of the battleship itself, with a shot of rescuers in boats at the scene which caused considerable controversy when it was shown. A third filmmaker, Birt Acres, had two cameras covering the event, but claimed in the London daily newspapers, in a public dig at his rival Paul, that he couldn’t continue to film, as he was too busy helping with the rescue effort; his footage doesn’t survive.”
Shona Barrett
BFI Screenonline

The Launch of HMS Albion
K: Robert W. Paul. P: Robert W. Paul. UK 1898

“This early film captures the launch of the ‘H.M.S. Albion’, which was marred by the collapse of a gangway which resulted in many spectators drowning. Film pioneer Robert Paul was filming the launch at water level – and he continued filming after the collapse of a gangway, while his launch picked up many survivors. His decision to continue filming, and then to exhibit the film, aroused much controversy. (…) The Prestwich film of the launch, Launch of H.M.S. Albion at Blackwall, (…) is taken from the opposite side of the river and shows the ship going down the slipway and turning. It also does not show the gangway collapse.”
BFI Player

“It should have been an occasion of pride and wonder. ‘HMS Albion’ was the largest warship ever launched on the Thames. Unfortunately, its royal christening was followed by one of the worst disasters ever to happen on the Thames. The date was 21 June 1898. Thousands of Londoners had gathered at Blackwall, to the north-east of the Isle of Dogs, to watch the launch of a new battleship from the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company. (…) The mass of spectators had crammed into every available space to watch the launch. An eyewitness later recounted that some 200 people had crowded onto a flimsy bridge structure, which was clearly marked ‘dangerous’. As the ship hit the water, it sent a colossal backwash crashing over this structure. Over 100 people were swept into the ‘filthy, greasy’ water. Small boats raced to the scene and pulled many out of the Thames. Even so, at least 35 people lost their lives in the incident, most of them women and children. (…) ‘HMS Albion’ went on to see distinguished service during the first world war, before being scrapped in 1919. The tragedy of her launch still ranks as the third worst incident on the Thames, after the ‘Princess Alice’ disaster of 1878 and the sinking of the ‘Marchioness’ in 1989.”

The Albion Battleship Calamity
Find here a poem and more about the “HMS Albion” disaster.


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