Stella was built for the LSWRs Southampton - Channel Island services. On Maundy Thursday, 30 March 1899, Stella departed Southampton for St Peter Port, Guernsey carrying 147 passengers and 43 crew. Many of the passengers were travelling to the Channel Islands for an Easter holiday or returning home there during the Easter break.
Stella departed Southampton at 11:25 and after passing The Needles proceeded at full speed across the Channel. Some fog banks were encountered and speed was reduced twice while passing through these. Approaching the Channel Islands, another fog bank was encountered, but speed was not reduced. Shortly before 16:00, the fog signal from the Casquets Lighthouse was heard and the Casquets came into view directly ahead. Captain Reeks ordered the engines full astern and attempted to turn away from the rocks. Stella scraped along two rocks, and then her bottom was ripped open by a submerged granite reef.
Stella sank in eight minutes. Four lifeboats were successfully launched, while a fifth capsized. The women and children first protocol was observed, although one stewardess, Mary Ann Rogers, gave up her lifejacket and refused a place in a lifeboat. The capsized lifeboat was later righted by a freak wave and 12 people managed to climb into it. Four of these died of exposure during the night. The eight remaining survivors were rescued by the French Naval tug Marsouin.
One lifeboat, with 38 survivors on board, had a cutter in tow with 29 survivors on board. These two boats were sighted at 07:00 on 31 March by the LSWR steamship Vera. They were picked up and landed at St Helier, Jersey. The other cutter, with 24 survivors on board, had a dinghy in tow with 13 survivors on board. They were picked up by the Great Western Railway (GWR) steamship Lynx, sailing from Weymouth to St Peter Port.
In all, not only were 86 passengers killed during the sinking, but also 19 crew members, in all, resulting in 105 fatalities.
The Mary Ann Rogers memorial in Southampton
Famed English opera soprano Greta Williams, who was a passenger on the Stella, was hailed as a heroine for comforting the ship's frightened survivors as they awaited their rescuers. A poem by William McGonagall, published just after the shipwreck, contained the lines:
But the sufferings of the survivors are pitiful to hear, And I think all Christian people for them will drop a tear, Because the rowers of the boats were exhausted with damp and cold; And the heroine of the wreck was Miss Greta Williams, be it told.
She remained in as open boat with her fellow-passengers and crew, And sang "O rest in the Lord, and He will come to our rescue"; And for fourteen hours they were rowing on the mighty deep, And when each man was done with his turn he fell asleep.
The wreck of Stella was discovered in June 1973 by two Channel Islands divers. It lies in 49 metres (161 ft) of water south of the Casquets.