Emigration overseas in the 19th century was dangerous and full of uncertainties. Sometimes it also ended in a catastrophe, as in the case of the completely overcrowded "Austria" during her crossing from Hamburg to New York: on 13 September 1858 a fire broke out on the ship due to recklessness, after tar was used for fumigation instead of vinegar to wash out the tween deck and a used vessel had fallen over. Only 89 of the 542 passengers were rescued from other ships.
In accordance with the great media attention that the sinking of "Austria" caused in Europe, the marine and landscape painter Josef Carl Berthold Püttner (1821-1881) created this painting depicting the catastrophe in the year of the accident. In its October 30, 1858, issue the Leipzig-based "Illustrirte Zeitung" commented on the sinking of "Austria": "Once again, it is shocking to see how reality surpasses the most horrifying images of invention. Many horrible situations can be imagined, and the human imagination has done what is possible. In the most horrible belongs a burning ship on the high seas with the swarming, twitching, insane fear of death between the demons of fire and water. We have often seen and read paintings of this kind, but the sinking of the Austria surpasses anything created by brushes or pens of this kind."