Remembering the Laundresses of Preko: 16 Women Taken by the Sea, in 1891

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A tribute to sixteen women from Ugljan island who lost their lives in a shipwreck on their way to Zadar, on April 19, 2018

Doing the laundry in this day and age doesn’t even come close to the way it was done, say, a hundred years ago. Pop it in the washing machine, press a few buttons, forget about it for an hour or two. On the other hand, our grandmas, great grandmas and various aunties had to head down to their local riverbanks, streams or tiny bays to do their washing, scrubbing away at dirty clothes by hand, for hours. 

Naturally, the women who lived in seaside villages mostly did their children’s and husbands’ laundry that way, but they also did some washing for the fine ladies and gentlemen living in urban centres on the coast, making for some hard-earned addition to their family budget. Today, we’re remembering the laundresses from the town of Preko on Ugljan island, whose names went down in history owing to a tragic accident.

The so-called lavandijere (laundresses in dialect) of Preko who were doing the washing for the noble families of Zadar used to head to this Dalmatian city on Mondays to collect the laundry, then returned a clean batch on Saturdays, transporting the goods across the sea on sailing ships. The laundry was scrubbed with ash and homemade soap in big basins, then taken to the fresh water springs on the shore for a final rinse.


Preko town and Galovac islet

On November 2, 1891, a small boat transporting the laundresses from Preko to Zadar got hit by a violent gust of tempestuous jugo wind. It tipped to the side, then flipped upside down and sank to a depth of three metres. Not the most lethal of conditions, one might think, but some of the passengers got trapped in a cabin whose entrance was covered with a heavy lid to protect them from the storm. A tragic irony – what was supposed to keep them safe actually prevented them from fleeing the wreck, leaving them dead on site. 

There were 31 passengers on the boat that sank near Galevac islet, 7 men and 24 women. The maritime accident ended up in sixteen laundresses losing their lives that day. The oldest was 75 years old, the youngest was 14, and the group included two pregnant women as well.

127 years later, the place where the lavandijere of Preko used to wash their laundry bears a memorial, a sculpture called Our Mother (Naša mati) made by sculptor Anselmo Dorkin. A laundress carved in blinding white stone, hard at work – a touching token of remembrance of the sixteen unfortunate women forever etched into Ugljan’s history.


Source: Morski


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