Cospatrick fire kills 470

18 November 1874

Fire on the Cospatrick (Te Ara Encylopedia of New Zealand)

En route to Auckland laden with immigrants, the Cospatrick caught fire and sank off South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Although the tragedy happened far from New Zealand, it has been described as this country’s worst civil disaster.

When the Cospatrick finally sank, 40 hours after the fire had been discovered, two lifeboats were left afloat with 62 passengers and crew aboard. Lacking food or water, the lifeboats became separated and one was never seen again.

The second boat was found by a passing British ship 10 days after the fire. Only five of its occupants were still alive, and two of them died soon after being rescued. Of the 473 aboard when the ship caught fire, just three survived.