News from 1899 Maiden Voyage of Oceanic II

Mark Baber

On 13 September 1899, Oceanic II, the first ship longer than the legendary Great Eastern, arrived in New York at the conclusion of her maiden voyage. This story appeared the next day.

The New York Times, 14 September 1899

New White Star Liner Reaches Port About Three Hours Late
Green Firemen Held the Ship Back---Warm Welcome for the Newcomer---Harbor Craft Look Like Pigmies
Marking a new era in steam navigation, in marine architecture, and in the history of the ocean ferry, the colossal new steamship Oceanic of the White Star Line came into port yesterday from her maiden voyage. She was accorded a welcome in keeping with her distinction as the giantess of the seas.

Representing the highest notch, but in a natural evolution of steamship construction, she is not so much a wonder as was the Great Eastern in her day. The Great Eastern, however, did not foreshadow an Oceanic. Indeed her failure convinced the maritime world that a figure under rather than over 500 feet would be the limit of length to which ocean craft could be built. The Oceanic, with her 700 feet and more of length, overlaps the Great Eastern, and yet seems not so large, so splendidly proportioned is she.

The Oceanic made no steaming record on her maiden trip, and was reported a little late. That was due, however, to the fact that. owing to the strike of the marine firemen in England, she was compelled to put up with a scrub crew, mostly men green at the work, who accordingly failed to keep up a full head of steam.

Covering a course of 2,780 knots between Daunt's Rock, outside Queenstown Harbor, and the Sandy Hook Lightship, she made the distance in 6 days 2 hours and 37 minutes, averaging 18.96 knots an hour. Her daily runs were 443, 470, 457, 496, 483, and 431. The average hourly speed on the fourth day, when she reeled off 496 knots, was 20.5 knots.

As it had been announced by the agent that the Oceanic would be run so as to make this port at 7 o'clock Wednesday morning, there may have been some slight misgiving when she had not been reported at Fire Island at that time yesterday.


The misgivings were of short duration, if there were any, for soon after 8 o'clock her big hull was made out. She had the lightship abeam at 10:17 A. M., and passed in at the Hook at 10:45. The first craft to greet her was none other than the British cup challenger Shamrock, under sail and just outside the Bar.

The two craft seemed a mutual attraction, for while the duck-clothed sailors of the yacht lined along her deck and were sending up a cheer for the big steamer, the liner's passengers crowded to her rail to see the graceful white-winged thing and give back the cheer with gusto.

Sir Thomas Lipton was following the cutter in his steam yacht, the Erin. The Royal Ulster Yacht Club pennant at her taffrail was dipped and the whistle gave forth three blasts in salute. Then the Royal Naval Reserve ensign at the steamer's stern came down in salute and her big whistle roared a hoarse acknowledgement. There will be no mistaking that whistle at sea. It is sui generis---a basso profundo---and big like the ship.

The yachts looked mere toys beside the Oceanic. Sir Thomas and a party of friends standing on the bridge of the Erin swung their caps and joined in the cheers. In stately progress the huge steamer moved into the channel. The outgoing Germanic of the same line passed her inside the Hook and salutes were exchanged, while the little flags of the international code went up on the Germanic signifying "Welcome," while the Oceanic signaled back "Bon voyage."

Off Fort Wadsworth the Oceanic broke out a full dress of colors, rainbow fashion, fore and aft over her trucks. The three-pole masts are pretty lofty, but so long is the vessel that the vari-colored arch formed by the bunting seemed very much flattened out, just as the length of the Brooklyn Bridge robs the height of its glory. At the fore of the Oceanic flew the American flag, at the main her house flag, and the mail flag was displayed at the mizzen.


Seen from the upper bay as she entered the Narrows, the Oceanic suggested that she would make a good cork for the bottle, if this harbor was to be closed. She overtowered everything. The mail boat Postmaster General looked like a small model, while the Health Officer's boat and the revenue cutter Calumet appeared like steam launches such as might just have been let down from the big one's davits.

The Calumet's ladder, which has answered for all other steamships entering this port, was not long enough to reach the bulwarks of the Oceanic, and it became necessary to open the cargo ports to enable the members of the Surveyor's staff and the army reporters to get aboard. Commodore J. Pierpont Morgan's Corsair steamed alongside, Commodore Morgan having gone down the bay to meet Mrs. Morgan, who was a passenger aboard the Oceanic. The Corsair, big as she is for a yacht, seemed a pigmy alongside.

The Oceanic was drawing 26 feet 9 inches at the bw and 27 feet 8 inches aft. Her sides rose up 23 feet above the water line, and above this was the promenade deck and the boat deck on which are the officers' quarters, and still above this the Captain's bridge, 53 feet above the water line. The towering funnels have a height of 140 feet from the keel.

With 383 first cabin passengers, 244 second cabin passengers, and 829 passengers in the steerage, and these augmented by 434 in the crew, there were all told 1,890 souls aboard. So roomy is the Oceanic, however, that there wasn't the slightest suggestion of her being crowded. The roominess of her decks, both the upper and the promenade, impressed one at once.

Her passengers were found in a state of great enthusiasm. It had been perfect weather. The sea had been smooth, the winds light, and the Oceanic had hardly deigned to respond to the swell. She is so long that she rides over two ordinary seas, and she is of such rigid stability that she at no time rolled more than five degrees. The veriest tyro failed to get seasick.

What especially pleased the passengers was that the engines caused absolutely no vibration. One could hardly tell whether or not they were going. The log showed that there were light northeast winds and fine weather the first day, moderate southerly winds, with sky overcast, the second day, moderate westerly winds, with a light shower, the next day, and moderate easterly winds, with sky overcast, to port.


"I am well satisfied with the ship and proud of my command," said Capt. Cameron.

"The engines are most satisfactory, and in their behavior exceeded my most sanguine expectations," said Chief Engineer Thomas W. Sewall.

The chief engineer is the senior engineer of the line, and was formerly on the Majestic. "There was not a stop or a slow down throughout," he continued. "The machinery works perfectly and without any vibrations."

He then explained that the engines are of the balanced or compensating weight style. The furnaces intended for a coal consumption of 400 tons a day, which was the consumption also of the Great Eastern, did not burn within 100 tons of that amount. The greatest pressure of steam carried was but 160 pounds, while the boilers are designed to carry 190 pounds. This was due, however, to his 183 green hands, for there is a good deal of science in keeping up fires and making steam.

The Oceanic has fifteen boilers of the return tube type, double ended, under which there are in all ninety-six furnaces.

The result is that while the Oceanic can develop 28,000 horse power, she developed only five-sevenths of that, or 20,000 horse power, on her present voyage. With this power her screws made but seventy-two revolutions a minute.

The Right Hon. W. J. Pirrie, Mayor of Belfast, Ireland, and Chairman of the Harland & Wolff Shipbuilding Company, designers and builders of the Oceanic, had a word to say for his company's creation. Mr. Pirrie came over not only to observe the working of the new steamer, but also to be the guest of Sir Thomas Lipton during the cup races. Mr. Pirrie said: "She has done all that we ask. She is fast enough, and I consider her voyage a feat for the first one. I have the satisfaction of knowing, too, that the passengers and officers are pleased with her."

Mrs. Pirrie, who stood with her husband, was delighted with the screeching welcome the Oceanic was receiving as she threaded her way up the channel of the upper bay. She interrupted to say that the Oceanic was the fulfillment of her husband's dreams. Then she told how she had raised, through the courtesy of the White Star Line, £600, by selling passes to those who wished to inspect the vessel while she was still at Belfast. This was for the benefit of a hospital, for which she had raised from various sources £100,000.


A newspaper man suggested to Mr. Pirrie that no record had been broken. “No,” Mr. Pirrie replied, “the only record she is built to beat is that for regular running. She is to swing back and forth across the Atlantic with the regularity of a pendulum.”

“If there was a cyclone,” persisted the scribe, “would she arrive on time?” The reply was that her engines were sufficiently powerful to bring her in on time in any kind of weather the North Atlantic produces.

“And how would it be if the ocean was like a millpond?”

“She would get in on time, just the same.”

One of the officers said subsequently: “That is all right, but you let her come across logging 500 or 550 knots a day, and get her, say, 600 miles east of Sandy Hook ahead of time; do you think she will stop? Why, it isn’t in human nature to hold her back. Just wait and see.”

The passengers talked about the Oceanic and little else until Tuesday night, and then they decided that it was time to do something. They held a meeting in the saloon and appointed Morris K. Jessup Chairman, and the Dr. Patton, President of Princeton, drew up resolutions commending the steamer for all of her exceptional qualities, her owners for their enterprise, her builders on their success, and her commander, Capt J. G. Cameron, Commodore of the line, and his officers for their seamanship and uniform courtesy. Lord Chief Baron of Ireland Palles seconded the resolutions and they were carried with a cheer.

There was a Committee of Resolutions and a Committee of Arrangements, in which appeared the names of Prof. Sidney G. Ashmore, Charles H. Knox, Charles F. Clark, Henry Hentz, C. A. Coffin, C. H. Coster, C. C. Cuyler, W. Crosfield, D. Cunningham, John Colville, M. P.; Charles Duggin, the Rev. Francis Goodwin, Charles Hands, C. R. Hosmer, Col. De Lancey Kane, W. G. Kirby, H. D. McCord, Charles M. Preston, James R. Roosevelt, George Henry Sargent, George Sherman, W. Storrs Wells, Edward Winslow, and George W. Ward.

Mr. Ward, who is Vice President of the Commercial Cable Company, said that he had been a passenger on the Great Eastern when she had come here in 1869. He commented on the fact that the Great Eastern had rolled terribly, so that her yards dipped the seas, and at times threatened to roll herself over.

The committee sent up to the bridge, requesting Capt. Cameron to come down to the saloon but the Captain sent back his regrets, explaining that, as the steamer was nearing the land, his place was on the bridge. It was recalled that when certain vessels had met untimely ends their masters were exchanging toasts in the cabins, and the incident but served to heighten the admiration expressed for the Oceanic’s commander.


A crowd gathered at the Battery as the Oceanic passed into the North River, and the top of the Produce Exchange Building was black with spectators. The tooting of the tugs and ferryboats which now took up the work of reception attracted the occupants of tall buildings down town to their windows, and the bulkheads along West Street were soon lined with people, while at the White Star Line piers, at the foot of Bank Street, there was a very large gathering.

Those who gazed at the big steamship as she moved now slowly up the river found that, as she has been described, she was in fact very much a reproduction of the familiar Majestic and Teutonic of the same line, differing only in size, and this was apparent principally because of the lilliputian appearance of all other craft. One feature conspicuous was the loftiness of her two funnels. These are elliptical, being 19 feet by 15 feet in diameter, 140 feet in height from the keel, and 125 feet from the fire bars.

It was at the end of the flood tide when she swung her bow toward the New York shore opposite her pier, the time being 12:45 P. M. The southerly side of the southernmost one had been prepared for her. She came straight in while nine tugs got alongside her on the port hand ready to push their noises against her quarter after her bow got within the pierhead line, so as to prevent the tide carrying her stern up stream.
Do their best, it swung her somewhat.

As her side moving slightly forward came in contact with the chafing gear at the rounded corner of the pier, it scraped off some rope, steel cable, and timber, mixing the mess up in fine pulp that stuck in the overlapping plates of her side, and to the heads of the bolts which hold in place her bunker ports. In fact, the heads of some of the bolts were nubbed off flush along with a streak of paint. The damage was of no consequence, but gave an idea of the tremendous weight of the craft.


The special gangplank, with three passageways on it, railed off, for the first cabin passengers, was rigged from a platform reached by a dozen steps. It was at 1:30 P. M. that the first passenger disembarked, and soon the pier presented an animated spectacle. The crowd was an unusually large one, for in addition to the friends of an unusual number of passengers there was a host of shipping men who had obtained passes to witness the arrival of the Oceanic.

The great size of the steamer was here again impressively apparent. Her promenade deck was even with the roof of the new and high pier shed. A noticeable feature of the sides of the ship is the thickness of the overlapping plates, while in the upper strake the rivets literally cover the plates with their protruding round heads.

Going aboard and entering her companion way to the first cabin and saloon there is an impression of palatial size. The work is all in paneling and the color effect of dark oak, with white and crimson, the decks or floors being laid with rubber mosaic in white and crimson also.

The color scheme of the main saloon would seem bold, so much does the gold predominate, were it not for the detail in which there is an ample intermixture of the white or cream and of crimson. The walls from the height of the tables are practically of gold, while below that line carpets and table covers in green or crimson give a subdued effect. The paneled rook is ablaze with gold on a cream enameled ground. The apartment is 80 by 64 feet, and from the centre of the roof rises a dome. The sides of the dome are treated with allegorical figures representing Britannia, Columbia, Liverpool, and New York.

The library over the saloon is a charming apartment, broken by bays and cosey nooks, the ornamentation being in the style of Louis XV, while the smoking room is designed to lure others than smokers to its comfortable precincts. Less elaborate but not less comfortable is the second cabin. This is located further aft. Throughout the staterooms are of a size found in few vessels.


It was not till all of the passengers had gone ashore that Capt. Cameron and the administrative officers found time to breathe. It is not a small list---that of the officers---but each man selected for a post on the latest and largest vessel of a line is a happy man, and the names of the happy ones on the Oceanic are as follows:

Chief Officer-J. B. Ransom, R. N. R.; First Officer-A. W. Roberts; Second Officer-J. H. Ditchburn; Third Officer-J. G. Little; Fourth Officer-A. W. Barber; Purser-T. H. Russell; Surgeon-W. F. N. O’Loughlin; Chief Steward-J. Bartholomew; Chief Engineer-T. W. Sewall. Port Side: Second Engineer-G. Jones; Third Engineer-T. W. Ruddle; Fourth Engineer-A. D. Varian; Assistant Second-J. A. Mungale; Assistant Third-P. Adamson; Assistant Fourth-G. Rawsthorne; Assistant Fifth-E. Blackburn, and Assistant Sixth-J. Spencer. Starboard Side: Second Engineer-W. Glenn; Third Engineer-M. Brown; Fourth Engineer-J. W. Crabb; Assistant Second-A. Edwards; Assistant Third-A. Kinning; Assistant Fourth-A. H. Kelly; Assistant Fifth-F. E. Pratten, and Assistant Sixth-T. W. Freeman; Electrical Engineer-R. J. Thomas; Assistant Electrical Engineer-H. Kenningham, and Refrigerating Engineer-T. Wainwright.

When it is understood that there are seventy-nine auxiliary engines in the hull of this mammoth steamship in addition to her big triple-compound engines, it may be understood that there is work for all of this staff in the engine department.

Constructor Andrews and Assistant Engineer Cummings of Harland & Wolff, who had come as passengers, said that they were entirely satisfied with the ship’s performance.

The prediction made in the days after the Great Eastern had proved so dismal a failure, that henceforth vessels would not be built to exceed 500 feet in length, has been referred to. But events having proved that wrong, and the Oceanic an accomplished fact, it would seem that only the depth of harbors or a depth which may be practically dredged will limit future productions.


The force of this is illustrated in the case of the Oceanic. With her length of 705 feet 6 inches over all, her molded depth of 49 feet 6 inches, and beam of 68 feet, she has a mean draught of 32 feet 6 inches, a draught, light, of 25 feet, but a draught fully laden of 35 feet. With only 30 feet of water in the channels of this harbor at low water, 29 feet is the deepest a vessel may safely load, and this means that the new steamer must sacrifice about 5,000 tons of her cargo carrying capacity because of the limit placed by the conditions of the harbor.

John Lee, manager here of the White Star Line, in speaking of this yesterday, said that they would look forward hopefully to the completion of the work provided for by Congress, which will give to New York a channel of 40 feet.

Statistics of representative steamers of various lines and of the Great Eastern are shown in the following table:

[The table, which cannot be accurately reproduced here, has six columns, headed "Name and Line", "Length Between Perpendiculars", "Beam", "Depth", Load Displacement (Tons)", "I.H.P.", and "Speed". The entries contained in that table, with each column separated by a "/", are:]

Great Eastern/680.0/83.0/57.6/27,000/8,000/13.50
Oceanic, White Star/685.0/68.0/49.6/28,500/28,000/20.00
Deutschland, H.A./662.6/67.6/44.0/23,000/35,000/23.00
Kaiser W. der Grosse, N.G.L./625.0/66.0/43.0/19,684/27,000/22.51
Lucania, Cunard/600.0/65.0/41/6/19,000/30,000/22.01
St. Paul, American/535.0/63.0/42.0/16,000/20,500/21.02
La Touraine/French/520.0/56.0/34.6/11,685/12,000/19.65
City of Rome, Anchor/560.0/52.0/37.0/12,000/11,000/17.0
Statendam, Hol.-Am./525.0/59.8/43.6/17,000/6,200/15.00

In references which have been made to the comparative dimensions of the Oceanic and the Great Eastern there have appeared to be some discrepancies, particularly in the matter of depth and tonnage. This in part is due to conflicting records of the Great Eastern and in part to the differences of construction. In the days of the Great Eastern it was thought necessary to protect all decks and cabins by high topsides and bulwarks, and the Great Eastern had no superstructure save small single-story deck houses, her sides being carried up to give her a molded depth of 57½ feet.

With the White Star Line's pioneer steamer, the first Oceanic, in 1871, the open decks and superstructure were introduced, and this scheme of marine architecture has since prevailed. Thus it happens that the new Oceanic's molded depth is but 49 feet 6 inches. But had the Great Eastern's sides been similarly constructed she would have had but 48 molded feet depth, while, were the Oceanic built up to the same point, with reference to her decks, she would have had several feet more molded depth than the Great Eastern.


Again, while the Oceanic has seven decks, the Great Eastern had but four. The diversity in construction, therefore, rather than in space capacity, accounts for the Great Eastern's apparent advantage in registered tonnage and in depth.

Another distinguishing factor of the difference in construction lies in the fact that in the Great Eastern, in which cellular construction was first introduced, the framing was all longitudinal, the girders being spaced five feet apart, while the Oceanic's frames are of the usual transverse rib build and are spaced 31½ inches. The Great Eastern's double bottom, with two feet between the skins, was carried above the water line, instead of, as in the Oceanic, confined to her actual bottom, so that while her molded breadth was eighty-three feet, within her hold she was but seventy-nine feet wide, giving her but a few inches more space in the beam of her lower hold than has the Oceanic.

An interesting comparison is found also in the coal supply and steaming radius of these two gigantic vessels. The Oceanic, with a bunker capacity of 3,700 tons of coal, can steam 23,400 miles at a speed of 12 knots. The Great Eastern's coal bunker capacity was 12,000 tons, and with this she was expected to be able to steam only to the Orient and back to England without recoaling. As her best speed crossing the Atlantic averaged but 13½ knots, it is presumed that she could have maintained, going to and from the East on this coal supply, a speed of probably less than ten knots, perhaps not more than eight knots.

Despite her enormous coal-bunker capacity the Great Eastern's failure was due largely to her lack of power, though her propelling machinery was considered huge at the time. She had ten boilers built for a working pressure of 20 pounds, as compared with 180 pounds pressure common at this day, and she had 112 furnaces, which burned, when the vessel was at full speed, 400 tons a day. Her side wheels, placed well forward of amidship, were 56 feet in diameter, while her single screw was 24 feet in diameter. The paddle engines developed 3,500 indicated horse-power, and the screw engines 4,500 indicated horse-power.

It took three and one-half years to build the Great Eastern. The first attempt to launch her failed, and three months' time and an enormous sum of money were expended getting her afloat. Finally completed, she was said to have cost $4,250,000. The Oceanic is reported to have cost $5,000,000. The Great Eastern was originally to have been called the Leviathan, and when the White Star Company first decided upon its new vessel the name Gigantic was considered, but it was finally determined to name her after their pioneer steam vessel, Oceanic.

Of the big vessels of to-day the Oceanic's nearest rival is the Hamburg-American Line's steamship Deutschland, now building, and which will register 15,500 tons. Following her are the North German Lloyd steamship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, of 14,379 tons gross register; the Hamburg American Line steamer Pennsylvania, of 13,726 tons; the Patricia, of 13,000 tons, and between 12,000 and 13,000 tons are the Lucania and Campania of the Cunard Line, the Graf Waldersee and Pretoria of the Hamburg-American Line, and the German steamers Grosser Karfuerst and Kaiser Friedrich. The American Line steamers St. Louis and St. Paul are of 10,795 tons. The German steamship Belgia measures 11,100 tons.

Under the British flag there are nine vessels of over 10,000 tons, and under the American flag only four, those of the American Line. No other nations except Germany possess vessels of over 10,000 tons.

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Can anyone recommend a book or other source with detailed photographs and/or drawings or plans of the Oceanic (1899)? I would like to build a model of her for my wife, as her great-grandfather, Amund Fremming, arrived at Ellis Island on her maiden voyage.

The more I read about her, the more interesting Oceanic seems to have been. Any help is appreciated.