1909 - White Star Line’s RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Republic collided with the Florida in thick fog off Nantucket, Massachusetts, in shark-infested water. The Republic was equipped with the new Marconi telegraph system, and became the first ship in history to issue a telegraphed distress signal. It was successfully picked up so, although the ship (which was loaded with gold and jewellery) sank, no lives were lost. 

1914 - The Empress of Ireland was rammed in fog in the St Lawrence River, and sank in 15 minutes, with the loss of over 1,000 lives.

1922 -  The sunken liner the Egypt and her gold bars

The elegant Edwardian P&O liner the Egypt was bound for Bombay on her very last voyage when, in the Bay of Biscay, she found herself in such dense fog, she almost came to a standstill. Knowing the ship was now close to a main trading route, the captain ordered the liner to travel slowly and carefully.

But at 7pm, she was rammed by the French cargo steamer the Seine, whose bows were strengthened to deal with Baltic ice. The Egypt keeled over from the impact, and sank within 20 minutes.

The Egypt would probably be long forgotten had she not been carrying about ten tons of silver and five tons of gold bars – in all, a fortune worth over £1m.

Most of this precious cargo was insured at Lloyd‘s and at a depth of 400ft was deemed unsalvageable. However an Italian crew, lead by the irrepressible salvage expert Giovanni Quaglia and using a state of the art diving suit, managed to locate the wreck, detonate explosives to find a path to the strongroom and – the weather broke. During the winter, most of the crew, but not Commander Quaglia were killed on another operation. But then, in 1932, the Lutine Bell rang to announce that two gold bars had been found. Within the next four years, 98 per cent of the fortune had been recovered. 

1956 - The Andrea Doria, a stunningly beautiful liner and an icon of Italian pride, was struck in fog by the Swedish-American Stockholm just off Nantucket Light. The ship stayed afloat for over 11 hours, so nearby vessels could rescue the majority of the passengers, though 46 people died. But this remains one of the worst maritime disasters to occur in US waters, and it cost underwriters $13m, and Lloyd‘s nearly $6m.  

1924 - The arrival of cars lead to the first smash and grab raid at Bond Street jeweller Harman’s, and the theft of an £8,000 emerald necklace. 


1920s - A number of fraud cases. One involved an Antwerp dealer who sent diamonds to Colombo and Singapore, but when they arrived the seals had been replaced and the diamonds were missing. A claims adjuster sourced the wax in the seals. It was unavailable in Singapore or Colombo and was, in fact, the same as that used habitually by the Antwerp dealer: it was fraud. 

The Aga Khan was held up at gunpoint outside his Riviera villa. Assailants stole £1.75m worth of jewels, all insured at Lloyd’s. A few days later, £100,000 of the jewels were found in a biscuit tin outside a Marseilles police station. At the time it was one of the largest thefts ever.

1954 - The terror of hurricanes

Beginning with 1954 Hurricanes Carol, Edna and Hazel, which caused $75m of damage in the US, the sheer scale and destruction hurricanes could inflict began to make itself known to the insurance world. 

In 1965, Hurricane Betsey was the first tropical cyclone in the Atlantic Basin to cause at least $1bn (1965 value) worth of damage – the most widespread US damage since the San Francisco earthquake. Insurers were badly affected, since the market had been soft, which meant that premiums has been written at very low rates; the average loss per Name was £5,400. 

Inflation caused added problems, as did a sharp rise in liability awards in the US. A banker at the time commented: ‘I wouldn‘t touch Lloyd‘s with the wrong end of a Kew Garden flagpole.’

Of course, all was far from over, though Lloyd’s had learned another lesson and altered its structure accordingly. In 2004, Hurricanes Charley, Ivan, Frances and Jeanne all hurled their way in over the Atlantic to devastate parts of America and the Caribbean. And in 2005, Katrina was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in American history, with Wilma, hot on her heels, the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the troubled Atlantic basin.

1958 - Indonesia seized 40 Dutch ships. A Lloyd’s delegation flew to Jakarta – and managed to negotiate the ships’ return. 

1980 - The market lost $400m on a computer leasing insurance, where businesses insured against technological advances making the computers they were hiring out obsolete. 

1984 -  An Air India jet crashed, killing over 300 people. It was initially unclear whether the event was an accident or an act of terrorism, but the Lloyd‘s claims department was keen that people had the money they needed quickly, and so brokered an interim deal between the all-risk and war risk underwriters. 

1989The oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in the Gulf of Alaska, spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil onto the coastline: the second largest oil spill in US history

2010 Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which claimed 11 lives, the resulting oil spill is still considered to be the largest accidental marine spill in the history of the petroleum industry. As insurers, Lloyd’s paid out over $600m. As the industry braced for the US hurricane season, chief executive Richard Ward said, ‘The insurance industry is facing a potential perfect storm this year. But it’s a storm we can see coming, and we can prepare for. Insurers who keep their discipline and don’t chase risky short-term profit will stand the best chance of long-term survival.’