HMS Tamar built in the Samuda Dockyard 1863
The Samuda Estate on the Isle of Dogs was built-in the 1960s and is known for its interesting but rather complicated layout, probably less well-known is the story of the Samuda brothers who the estate is named after.
Joseph D’Aguilar Samuda – Vanity Fair 1873
Joseph D’Aguilar Samuda was born in 1813, the son of an East and West India merchant of Finsbury. He became an engineer, shipbuilder, MP and founder-member of the Institution of Naval Architects. In the 1830s he joined his brother Jacob as partner in an ironworks and engineering yard at Southwark. In 1843, the brothers leased some land on the Goodluck Hope peninsula near Orchard Place and set out a shipyard which specialized in the construction of iron steamships.
However tragedy struck in 1844 when Jacob and nine of Samudas engineers and workmen were killed in an accident during the trial trip of the Gipsy Queen, one of the first ships to be built by the Samudas.
Some of the details of the accident were given in a newspaper report.
About five o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, a most frightful and fatal accident, involving the death of seven persons, occurred on board the steam boat Gypsy Queen, lying at one of the Blackwall buoys off the Brunswick Pier. Besides loss of life, there are five persons more or less injured by the unfortunate occurrence, and who were conveyed to the London Hospital, one or two with slight hopes of recovery. It would appear that the unfortunate vessel (the Gipsy Queen) is a new iron steam-boat, of about 500 tons burden, having two engines of 150 horse power each. The boat is the first built by the firm of Jacob and Joseph Samuda, who, within the last two years, took premises in Bow-creek, for the purpose of carrying out their intention of building steam-boats.
At 3 o’clock in the afternoon the vessel left the creek for an experimental trip, having on board about 20 persons, including Mr Benjamin Samuda, the principal of the firm. She went down the river to below Woolwich in gallant style, answering all the expectations of her constructors. On her return to Blackwall she was moored to one of the buoys, where it was intended she should remain all night, and be got ready for another trip the following day, In a short time after the vessel had been made fast, an explosion was heard by persons on the Brunswick Pier to proceed from the direction of the steamer, and almost immediately afterwards, cries for boats proceeded from the same quarter. Not a moment was lost in making towards the steamer, when the most heart-rending sight presented itself to those who went to the rescue. Five persons were there found, apparently in a state of madness, running to and fro the deck, screaming with anguish, while their appearance showed that their lamentations were real. With all speed they were conveyed on shore and met with every attention. The agonizing cries of these unfortunate persons were said to be dreadful. They begged for cold water to quell the scalding heat they were suffering in their throats, and when the cooling fluid was applied to the mouths of one or two, the skin from their lips peeled off as though under the influence of a scaring iron. They were conveyed, without loss of lime, to the London Hospital. It is well known to those who went on board that the above five were not the only sufferers ; but, alas for them there was no means of escape; they were in the engine-room which was so filled with steam, that to get them out was impossible until the scalding vapour had escaped. In order, therefore, to facilitate their extrication, the decks were cut up with pickaxes, adzes, crowbars. Seven human forms, scalded to death, were there discovered. Six of them were shortly after recognised and proved to be Mr. Jacob Samuda, the head of the firm ; Dodds, engineer; James Saunders, also an engineer, appointed to the Gipsy Queen, and who only went on board a few hours before he lost his life; Mr. Scofield, engine-fitter at the factory of the Messrs. Samuda ; Thomas Nugent, an apprentice; John Newman, stoker ; and a man whose name is not yet known, be having been employed only a few hours by the firm.
Samuda Explosion 1845 – National Maritime Museum
After the shock of the accident, more bad luck continued in 1845 when there was a fatal explosion in the yard’s engine house. In spite of these setbacks, Joseph Samuda persevered with the business and was so successful that by the early 1850s the firm needed larger premises. Although Joseph Samuda concentrated on shipbuilding, he was also involved in the development of the short-lived atmospheric railway in the mid-1840s.
Joseph established the firm as iron and steel shipbuilders in a new yard near Manchester Road in Cubitt Town in 1852. Samuda Brothers became pioneers in their use of steel in shipbuilding, gaining a good reputation for constructing warships, steam packets, and other craft of iron and steel in a fast and efficient way. In the 1860s the yard expanded and for a while Samudas was one of the top dockyards in London. The firm built ships for emerging foreign naval powers such as Germany, Russia and Japan.
The interior of one of the Samuda ships
Such was the reputation and efficiency of the firm, they managed to keep trading when many other dockyards closed down in the 1860s. Samudas continued in business until Joseph’s death in 1885. Once the existing contracts had been completed the yard was closed. The site was then used by number of industries until it was badly damaged by bombing in August 1941. After the war the wharf was used for the storage until the 1950s when the site was purchased by the LCC for new housing.
Samuda Estate is a reminder that the ties to the past are there if you want to do a little investigation, few people walking past today would realise that the site was one of the great Victorian London dockyards.