PEKAN: The discovery of an old shipwreck in Sungai Pahang here can help answer the mystery behind the sinking of SS Amherst during its last voyage in 1901, says the National Heritage Department.
The department's Eastern Zone director Mohd Shukri Mohd Isa said its officers were working to find out more about the wreckage, which included a funnel, anchor rope, propeller and engine combustion chamber that were characteristic of ships of the 1900s.
"If the facts are right, this could be Amherst. The ship was built in Glasgow and it was sailing from Singapore to Kota Baru with 77 passengers.
"Unfortunately, we could not find the vessel registration number. It could be hidden beneath the sand.
"That number could provide us with more clues," he said yesterday.
Twelve archaeologists visited the site yesterday.
Villagers of Kampung Tanjung in Paloh Hinai here had noticed the shipwreck over the past month.
The department's Senior Museum Assistant (Underwater Archaeology Section) Khairil Amri Abdul Ghani refuted claims that the ship was carrying gold.
"It's a passenger steamship. We presume that she was not meant for a long journey judging from her features," he said, adding the true nature of the vessel's cargo could only be found through more research of past records.
"On the other hand, we have to analyse any information that we get from the people here as their stories could turn up to be true," he added.
Kampung Paloh Hinai Development and Security Committee chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said the story about the shipwreck had been passed down through the generations.
"It is said that the vessel sank due to the arrogant attitude of the captain and after 'spirits' were disturbed," he added.
Legend has it that bad luck would befall those who tried to steal anything from the sunken wreck, says Ibrahim Mohd Tia, 85, whose house is located at the riverbank.
Another villager, Rosmaini Ibrahim, 39, said his cousin once took a machete from the ship back in the 1980s.
But he put it back the next day after having a bad dream about what he had done.
The emergence of the wreck was due to the drop in the water level of Sungai Pahang due to El Nino.
Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob has ordered an investigation into the cause, including allegations it is due to excessive logging or clearing of forest for agriculture in other areas.
Anchoring mistake blamed for passenger steamer accident
PETALING JAYA: Steamer SS Amherst had sailed from Singapore before it reportedly ran aground on a sandbar in Sungai Pahang on Nov 17, 1901.
This was stated in a report titled "Findings and Order of a Marine Court of Inquiry held at the Marine Court in Singapore on Dec 17, 1901, to investigate the circumstances attending the stranding of the British steamship Amherst".
Built in Glasgow in 1886, the 108-tonne vessel which belonged to the port of Singapore, had left the island bound for Kelantan the previous day. It was supposed to stop at several ports.
The vessel was carrying general cargo, a crew of 42 and 77 passengers.
Amherst reached Sungai Pahang at about 8am on Nov 17 and discharged her Pahang-bound passengers.
The ship then attempted to cross a sandbar in the river, but immediately ran aground, the report said.
There was, at the time, a north-east wind and a fairly heavy sea, the report also claimed due to heavy rains which accounted for the very strong currents in the river.
At 6pm, the vessel began to move with the rising tide, and further attempts were made to get the vessel to move.
"For some reason, about 8pm, the starboard anchor was dropped, and almost immediately the vessel was found to be making water, and in a very short time was full of water and became a total wreck.
"The coolies of the ship without orders had at the same time, gone off in a boat, taking with them three of the passengers, and all with the exception of two of the coolies are believed to have been drowned," said the report.
The rest of the passengers were landed safely and the vessel was abandoned the next day.
While attempts were being made to get her off the sandbar, Amherst "sat down (landed on) upon her starboard anchor, by which a hole was knocked in her bottom which caused her to fill (with water)".
The marine court found the loss of the ship and the loss of life were not caused by the wrongful act or default of anyone, but was of the opinion a mistake was made in letting go the starboard anchor - "but for this the vessel might have got off the sand bar", it said.