Sinking of the RMS Tayleur

Following entry is a record in the “Catalogue of Catastrophe” – a list of failed and troubled projects from around the world.

White Star Line
Project name : RMS Tayleur
Project type : Passenger ship
Date : 1854 (filed under historical failures)
Cost :

Synopsis :
The sinking of the White Star Line’s Titanic on her first voyage is one of the world’s classic disaster stories. What few people know is that the Titanic was not the first passenger liner sailing under the White Star Line to be lost on its maiden voyage. Fifty-eight years before the Titanic, the RMS Tayleur sank having completed less distance than even the Titanic.

Built for Charles Moore & Company, the Tayleur was chartered by the White Star line to serve the growing route connecting the United Kingdom to Australia. Launched on 4 October 1853 the ship was 230 feet in length and displaced 1,750 tons. One of the largest passenger liners of her time she had the capacity to carry 4,000 tons of cargo along with 650 passengers and crew. Departing Liverpool on the 19th of January 1858, she set sail for her maiden voyage. With a manifest of 652 passengers and crew on board her final destination was to be Melbourne Australia. 48 hours later she was at the bottom of the Irish Sea with nothing but her mast sticking up to identify where she had been lost.

With a youthful captain in charge (he was only 29 years old) and a crew of 71 (many of who had no training or sailing experience), the ship had a number of design flaws which set the context within which an accident could happen. The positioning of her three masts made her difficult to handle. Neither the ship nor the crew had been properly prepared for the journey (apparently sea trials were not conducted on ships at that time). Because of the iron hull, her compass didn’t work properly. The rudder was too small given the size of the ship and the ropes used for the rigging hadn’t been pre-stretched correctly and as a result slack in the ropes made it nearly impossible to control the sails. Sailing into fog and rough waters the crew lost situational awareness. While the crew thought they were heading south through the Irish Sea, they were in fact heading due west towards Ireland. Despite dropping anchor as soon as Lambay Island was sighted the ship struck the rocks and was wrecked. 360 lives were lost and other than the tip of her mast the ship became submerged .

The RMS Tayleur is in some ways a metaphor for some of today’s business projects. She hit the rocks, she was set up from failure right from the start, there was minimal testing and there was an inexperienced crew. As for many businesses, a major catastrophe is soon forgot and history is happy to repeat itself. While the Titanic’s story is quite different, there is one theme that is shared between the RMS Tayleur and the Titanic. Those at the most senior of levels with responsibility for overseeing the work failed in their due diligence and as a result unnecessary risks were taken.

Contributing factors as reported in the press:
Lack of due diligence by those overseeing the project. Lack of training for the crew. Failure to establish and adhere to standards in recruiting the crew. Failure to do appropriate tests of the vessel before sailing. Pressure from management to set sail because of the high profile nature of the ship. Design flaws. Poor quality work. Lack of risk management.

Reference links :

  1. RMS Tayleur (Wikipedia page)
  2. The First Titanic: An awesome ship’s maiden voyage, a catalogue of blunders and a blood curdling disaster