The collision of the Princess Alice pleasure steamer with the Tyne collier, Bywell Castle, in the Thames in September 1878 resulted in Britain’s worst-ever inland waterway accident.
“Alice” swept over the tide with her rich freight of beauty, and pleasure, and pride,” for this was a trip for many Londoners, boarding at Woolwich to enjoy a day out in Sheerness.
Of the 650 passengers and crew that died most were women and children. Many women were weighed down by their voluminous Victorian dresses and petticoats, they sank like stones into the ‘Black Thames’ with it’s overpowering sulphur fumes.
Rescue boats arrived at an incongruous flotsam of gaily decorated hats, flowing tresses, parasols, shoes and articles of clothing washed off from the corpses, these were collected and displayed as pathetic bundles of possessions numbered to coincide with burial plots, relatives and friends were asked to identify loved ones from rings, trinkets, shawls and even pawn tickets.
Funded by a research and development grant from the Arts Council, I and the Daisy Farris collective worked with families and young people in Greenwich to produce dance and textile work in response to the Princess Alice’s tragic final voyage.
The textile piece was exhibited alongside performances of the dance at the National Maritime Museum and Tall Ships celebration in Greenwich.
Funded by Arts Council England, Royal borough of Greenwich, Charlton Athletic Community Trust, Lottery Fund, National Maritime Museum.
Photographs by Gigi Giannella and Artist.