SS London was a British steamship which sank in the Bay of Biscay on 11 January 1866.
The final voyage of the London began on 13 December 1865, when the ship left Gravesend in Kent bound for Melbourne, under a Captain Martin, an experienced Australian navigator. A story later highly publicised after the loss states that when the ship was en route down the Thames, a seaman seeing her pass Purfleet said: "It'll be her last voyage…she is too low down in the water, she'll never rise to a stiff sea." This proved all too accurate.
The ship was overloaded with cargo, and thus unseaworthy, and only 19 survivors were able to escape the foundering ship by lifeboat, leaving a death toll of 220.
The loss of the London increased attention in Britain to the dangerous condition of the coffin ships, overloaded by unscrupulous ship owners, and the publicity had a major role in Samuel Plimsoll's campaign to reform shipping so as to prevent further such disasters.
The disaster helped stimulate Parliament to establish the famous Plimsoll line, although it took many years.
The first 19th-century loading recommendations were introduced
In the 1860s, after increased loss of ships due to overloading, a British MP, Samuel Plimsoll, took up the load line cause. A Royal Commission on unseaworthy ships was established in 1872, and in 1876 the United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Act made the load line mark compulsory, although the positioning of the mark was not fixed by law until 1894. In 1906, laws were passed requiring foreign ships visiting British ports to be marked with a load line. It was not until 1930 (the 1930 Load Line Convention) that there was international agreement for universal application of load line regulations.