The Princess Alice Disaster

Written by Joan Lock
Review by Edward James

The sinking of the pleasure steamer Princess Alice in the Thames in September 1878 was the worst inland water accident in British history. Over 650 people died when their boat was cut in half by an outward bound collier near Woolwich, on their way back from a day trip down the estuary. Surprisingly little has been written about this disaster. Joan Lock not only describes it in vivid detail but follows the long, drawn-out inquest and the Board of Trade enquiry with admirable clarity. Few lessons were learned and lesser collisions continued to be frequent until the Thames (if not the estuary) gradually ceased to be a major commercial waterway. Even this did not prevent the Marchioness disaster in 1989 – a small scale repeat of the Princess Alice collision – only after which were the Thames lifeboat stations set up.