Reply To: The Paddle Steamer Alabama

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David Hepper

    I suspect that the ship has indeed been misidentified. The paddle steamer that was destroyed by fire on 24 December 1871 was the America, but possibly originally named Alabama
    Several British newspapers reported the incident at the end of January 1872, evidently when the news reached Europe. The majority of reports are very similar, stating that a large proportion of the passengers were German – which probably explains the origin of the lithograph.
    It would appear that the disaster apparently happened after a burst steam pipe and a subsequent fire which rapidly took hold. As the fire spread panic ensued and there was an unseemly rush for lifeboats and rafts, and it was ‘every man for himself’
    The number of those lost seems to vary in the reports from 80 to over 100
    Most reports claimed that the steamer was employed as a ferry between Buenos Ayres and Montevideo and was Italian owned.
    (source: British Library/ British Newspaper Archive: various newspapers, i.e. Yorkshire Post 27 January; Pall Mall Gazette 30 January; Belfast Newsletter 2 February)
    I have not found the origin of the America, but was possibly the Alabama referred to in the lithograph?
    If so, then she was built at NY in 1850-51 and served with the US Navy 1861 – 65 as the USS Alabama, and was then sold out of service. According to the Dictionary of American Fighting Ships she was “… destroyed by fire, probably sometime in 1878, but the details of her destruction are not known”