A special ceremony will remember 51 people, including five Australians, who lost their lives 25 years ago when a party boat sank on the Thames.

Families bereaved by London’s Marchioness party boat tragedy will attend a memorial service on Wednesday to mark the 25th anniversary of the disaster, which claimed 51 lives, including that of five Australians.

It was on August 20, 1989, the riverboat Marchioness, packed with 131 partygoers, collided with the dredger Bowbelle and sank in the Thames in central London.

The average age of the passengers was 22. Many of them worked in the fashion industry.

On Wednesday at Southwark Cathedral, close to the accident site, Linda Hunt, who lost her daughter Julie, 26, in the tragedy, will read out the names of the dead.

Another bereaved mother, Judy Wellington, whose son Simon, 20, was lost on the Marchioness, will deliver a Bible reading at the Marchioness memorial stone in the cathedral, which will be adorned with 51 red roses; 51 candles will be lit to honour each of the dead.

Among those who died was Francesca Dallaglio, 19, the sister of former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio and merchant banker Antonio de Vasconcellos, whose 26th birthday was being celebrated aboard the Marchioness.

The Australian victims included Shirleen Manning, 28, of Brisbane. She had been a model and working in London for six months before attending the riverboat birthday party.

Dianne Lim, 26, of Sydney, was among dozens trapped in the cabin as the vessel listed and sank.

The friend with whom she went to the party, Sydney arts student Jonathan Davis, 22, was flung out an open hatch into the Thames. He survived, as did another model friend, Kate McGurgan. They were among the 80 people saved that night.

Among those attending on Wednesday will be Margaret Lockwood Croft, 75, who lost her son Shaun, 26, in the disaster. Through the Marchioness Action group she spearheaded the campaign for improved Thames safety standards which eventually led to lifeboat services being provided on the Thames.

The bereaved families had to endure a 10-year wait for the announcement of a public inquiry into the disaster following an earlier 1991 report from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).

That first report said the failure of both vessels to mount a proper lookout was the immediate cause of the tragedy. This was the same conclusion reached by Lord Justice Clarke when his 2001 report was published after the public inquiry, announced in 1999, was finally held.

While the MAIB report said there were marine regulation faults going back 25 years, the Clarke report said it was “a catastrophe that should never have happened”.

In the years between the two inquiries the families had to absorb the news the Bowbelle captain, Douglas Henderson, was formally acquitted after juries at two separate trials failed to reach verdicts on a charge of his failing to keep a proper lookout.

The families also had to come to terms with the decision by Westminster Coroner Dr Paul Knapman to cut off the hands of more than 20 of the Marchioness victims for identification purposes – an action criticised in the Clarke report.

The Clarke report was also critical of Capt Henderson, who had drunk six pints of lager in the afternoon before the tragedy. There was also criticism of the owners of both vessels.

An inquest jury into the disaster returned a verdict of “unlawful killing”. In July 1996 the Crown Prosecution Service said there was insufficient evidence to justify any further criminal proceedings.


– David Ayres, Sydney

– John Clarke, St Clair, NSW

– Dianne Lim, Sydney

– Shirleen Manning, Brisbane

– Angela Plevey, Blue Mountains


– Jonathan Davis, NSW

– Rod Lay, WA

– Kate McGurgan, NSW

– Miles Miller, NSW