News from 1907: Suevic's Grounding


Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 18 March 1907

WHITE STAR LINER SUEVIC IS ASHORE
---
On a Rock Near the Lizard---400 Passengers and a Crew of 160 on Board
---
ACCIDENT IN THICK FOG
---
Lifeboats Go to the Assistance of the Vessel---Loss of Life Not Anticipated
---
LONDON, March 17---The White Star Line steamer Suevic struck on a rock
and went ashore near the Lizard in a thick fog at 11:30 P.M.

The vessel is ashore on what is known as the Maentere Rock, under a
lighthouse.

Two lifeboats have been launched, and others have been summoned to go to
the assistance of the vessel.

There are 400 passengers and a crew of 160 on board the Suevic, but no
loss of life is anticipated.

The passengers and crew are being landed gradually. No lives have been
lost. The discipline aboard the steamer was splendid.
---
The Suevic, which is commanded by Capt. Selby, is of 12,500 tons and
plies between London and Australia by way of Cape Town.

The Lizard is the southernmost cape of England. It is a bold headland,
in Cornwall, situated amid picturesque cliff and rock scenery, and is
about sixteen miles southwest of Falmouth. There are two fine
lighthouses there. The Lizard is one of the three best-known marine
sighting stations in the world, the others being Sandy Hook and
Gibraltar.

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The New York Times, 19 March 1907

PASSENGERS SAVED FROM THE SUEVIC
---
Women and Children Taken Off First---Vessel Will Probably Be a Total Loss
---
LINER JEBBA IS WRECKED
---
Those on Board Her Rescued---Four Other Steamers Ashore on the English Coast
---
LONDON, March 18---Details of the disaster to the White Star Line
steamer Suevic, homeward bound from Sydney, New South Wales, by way of
Cape Town, with nearly 600 passenger and crew on board, show that she
struck the Brandies Rock [sic] close under the Lizard Lighthouse, at
about 10:30 last night, and will probably be a total wreck.

Lifeboats and tugs from the Lizard and Falmouth soon reached the scene
and, together with the Suevic's own boats, commenced landing the
passengers. The women and children were first sent ashore. There were no
fewer than 160 children on board, many of them being infants in arms,
whom the local fisherman and their wives lifted out of the boats and
carried through the surf to near-by cottages.

A fresh wind, rough sea, and fog hampered the landing operations, but
the fog lifted at about 7 in the morning, and from thence forward boats
loaded in quick succession. By 1 P. M. all the passengers had been
landed, but the crew stood by the wreck.

Capt. Jones, commander of the Suevic, had been at sea for thirty-nine
years, and this was to be his last voyage.

The North German Lloyd liner Kaiser Wilhelm II. this morning passed
close astern of the Suevic, which was then thronged with passengers. The
wrecked steamer's ow [sic] was low in the water, her fore compartments
were full, and she seemed to be pinnacled on the rocks. As plenty of
assistance was standing by the White Star liner, the Kaiser Wilhelm II.,
which had been going slow for ten hours owing to the fog, did not stop,
but proceeded for Plymouth.

Almost within sight of the Suevic, the Elder-Dempster Line steamer
Jebba, from Calabar, Lagos, and other West African ports for Plymouth
and Liverpool, ran on the rocks under the cliffs near Prawle Point in
the early hours of the morning. Her seventy passengers, many of whom
were soldiers invalided home from the West Coast of Africa, and her crew
were safely taken ashore by the breeches buoy.

Heavy seas are breaking over the steamer, rendering the lifeboats which
are still standing by her useless. The Jebba will prove a total loss.

Steamers, some of which are described as being large, are ashore near
Rye, Dungeness, Dover, and Cuckmere. The vessel ashore off Cuckmere is
the British steamer Newstead, from Novorossysk, Black Sea. Her position
is serious.

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Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 20 March 1907

THE SUEVIC MAY BREAK UP
---
Little Hope of Saving Her or the Jebba, Ashore Not Far Off
---
LONDON, March 19---The White Star Line steamer Suevic, which ran ashore
near the Lizard lighthouse the night of March 17, is still in an
exceedingly dangerous position. She has shifted slightly, and now is
leaning over to the starboard. There appears to be little chance of
refloating the steamer. The seas are running high, and it is thought
that if she remains long in her present position she will break in two.
The work of salvage had to be discontinued.

The Elder-Dempster Line steamer Jebba, which ran aground the morning of
March 18, almost within sight of the Suevic, also is in a dangerous
position, and there is very little hope of saving this vessel.

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Mark Baber

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At this point, The New York Times dropped the ball on the Suevic story for about a month; the next article that appeared was on 21 April. In the meantime, Suevic's bow remained hard aground and the forward holds were flooded. Her stern, however, remained afloat and undamaged. The decision was made to salvage the rear portion of the ship and on 28 March the first dynamite charges were set off in the hull in an attempt to sever the bow from the stern. The blasting was successful and on 2 April the stern floated free from the bow. Since the engines were still intact, Suevic's stern was able to proceed to Southampton on its own power, arriving there on 4 April.

This series will resume on 21 April, with the Times' article of that date in 1907.
 

Mark Baber

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Suevic aground. The caption reads: SALVAGE OPERATIONS ON THE WHITE STAR LINER "SUEVIC." THE X X INDICATES WHERE SHE IS BEING CUT IN TWO. THE A A PORTION WILL BE LEFT ON THE ROCKS.

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Mark Baber

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Suevic's bow, abandoned. The caption reads: WRECK OF THE "SUEVIC" SHOWING THE BOW PORTION (ABOUT 184 FEET) LEFT ON THE ROCK AT THE LIZARD.

85555.jpg
 

Ernie Luck

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In the papers today, The Royal National Lifeboat Institution's biggest rescue is being remembered in Britain today. 456 people were rescued from the white Star Liner 'Suevic' when it was wrecked on rocks off Lizard Point Cornwall. Capt. Smith was not at the helm, was he?
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Mark Baber

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[MAB Notes: Here, after several years' delay, is the 21 April 1907 article I mentioned 5 messages up from this one. This article appeared in the Sunday Magazine section of The New York Times, and was accompanied by several illustrations of Suevic before her accident, of the severed stern backing away of the still-grounded bow,
and of the stern at Southampton.]

The New York Times, 21 April 1907

THE REMARKABLE WORK OF ENGLISH WRECKERS
---
White Star Liner Suevic Reaches Port Under Her Own Steam with 100 Feet
of Her Bow Missing
---
Dynamite Used to Cut the Loaded Vessel Apart in Order to Save a Portion
of the Hull and Cargo
---
The accompanying pictures tell the story even more graphically than
could the pen of what has been described as one of the most wonderful of
salving feats ever accomplished. The big White Star liner Suevic went
ashore on Stag Rock, near the Lizard, on March 17. She was steaming at
a 13.14 knot speed on her way to London, and she grounded so hard and
fast that all efforts to free her were useless. Her passengers were
landed in safety and a part of her cargo was removed.

It became apparent to the officials the Salvage Association and the
management of the White Star Line that only a part of the Suevic could
be salved. An examination showed that the after part, containing the
engines, was practically undamaged, as the watertight bulkheads had been
closed.

It was decided to cut off the bow of the stranded craft and try to save
the best part of her hull. Not only was this accomplished successfully
by the use of dynamite, but the Suevic, with engines throbbing, backed
away from the rocks on which she had been fast, leaving a hundred odd
feet of her bow behind her. With the aid of four powerful tugs she
reached Southampton in safety, and she is now in dry dock there. A new
bow will be fastened on to her, when, it is expected, she will be as
good as ever.

On March 21 a salvage steamer got alongside the Suevic and began taking
off cargo. Investigation showed the vessel was fast in the grip of the
rocks from her No. 3 hatch to her prow. The cutting operations were
begun on the 28th. The break was made through at No. 3 hatch, just aft of
the jagged hole made by the rocks. The task required large quantities of
explosives and necessitated not only extreme care, but the engineering
ideas of experts.

A blast was placed in position, and after it had been exploded an
examination of the hull had to be made and careful calculations made
before the next charge could be put into position.

This process involved the greatest risk to the divers, who were
frequently washed from their feet against the ship's side. They worked
at a depth of forty feet and stood at times on fragments of two other
wrecks.

In the uncertain light they saw ghastly evidence of the treacherous
nature of the Cornish coast.

Owing to the vessel being loaded, they had to break her up from the
outside, and this increased the difficulty of the undertaking. As holes
were blasted in the Suevic's hull, carcasses of mutton kept washing out
and dropping down upon them. The divers stuck to their task with a
courage nothing short of heroism.

At 6 A. M. on April 2 the last charge of dynamite was exploded, and,
with the breaking out of a number of plates on the starboard side, the
Suevic's hull was parted. Soon after the vessel's engines began to work
and she backed aft into deep water minus her bow. Tugs were waiting, and
under their guidance she successfully made the trip to Southampton, a
distance of 170 miles, and entered the harbor at 9 o'clock on the
morning of April 4.

The length of the ship that has been salved is about 400 feet, leaving
about 184 feet still on the rocks. This includes No. 1 hold, which was
submerged, containing copra, wool, and general cargo. The contents of
holds Nos. 2 and 3, consisting chiefly of food supplies, have been also
lost. So far as can be ascertained, the cargo that has been actually
salved amounts to about $10,000.

The portion of the hull of the Suevic salved is computed to be worth at
least $750,000, while the salvage operations are expected to cost
something like $250,000.

The salving of the ship, therefore, represents a saving to the
underwriters of half a million dollars.

It is interesting to note that this process of salving, which is of such
great importance to owners and insurance people, originated In Liverpool
some years ago. Its first successful application was in the case of the
Milwaukee, which subsequently had a new bow built and attached, and went
into active service again. This task was carried out by the Liverpool
Salvage Association. The next successful instance was that of the
Highland Fling.

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Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 6 October 1907

HALF A SHIP LAUNCHED
---
New Forward Part for the Suevic to be Joined to Salvage of Wreck
---
BELFAST, Ireland, Oct. 5. A most remarkable launch occurred here this
morning, when the new bow built for the White Star Line steamer Suevic,
to replace the one left on Stag Rock, near the Lizard, on March 17 last,
slid into the water. The Suevic ran on the rocks in a fog, and after
long and ineffectual attempts to refloat her, the salvers cut away her
forepart, refloated the rest of the ship and towed it to Southampton,
where it is now in dock and ready to receive the new bow.

The latter, which is 200 feet long, much longer than the old bow, is
fitted with deckhouses, Captain's bridge, and a spur, will be towed to
Southampton, where it will be placed in the same dock as the other
portion, and the two sections will be connected, not as two clean-cut
parts, but almost in the same shape as when they were separated, the
jagged ends of the iron works the bent pipes, and splintered woodwork
having been prepared for accurately joining the two portions of the
steamer.

There was no loss of life when the Suevic struck the rocks. The 400
passengers and 160 members of the crew were all safely landed, owing to
the splendid discipline which was maintained on board.

At the time of the accident the Suevic, which was a vessel of 12,500
tens, plying between London and Austraia, [sic] by way of Cape Town, was
commanded by Capt. Jones, who on that occasion was to have completed his
last voyage at sea. The inquiry into the accident made by the Board of
Trade resulted in finding that it was due to an error on the part of the
Captain in maintaining full speed while heading toward land in thick
weather. His certificate was suspended for three months.

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Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 26 October 1907

SUEVIC'S BOW ARRIVES
---
Shipbuilding Wonder Has a Perilous Voyage to Southampton
---
SOUTHAMPTON, Oct. 25---The new bow, built for the White Star Line
steamer Suevic, to replace the one left on Stag Rock, near the Lizard,
last March, docked here to-day, after a perilous voyage of six days from
Belfast.

It was launched at that port Oct. 5.

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The Times, 20 April 1907

THE STRANDING OF THE SUEVIC
---
At Liverpool, yesterday, a Board of Trade inquiry was opened before Mr.
STEWART, the stipendiary, and assessors as to the stranding of the White
Star Company's steamship Suevic on March 17 on the coast of Cornwall, while
on a voyage from Melbourne to London and Liverpool, via Plymouth. The
Suevic, which was the largest British vessel engaged in the Australian
trade, on her homeward voyage, left Teneriffe for Plymouth on March 13 with
382 passengers on board, a stowaway, and a crew of 141 hands all told. She
had a cargo of about 1,000 tons, composed largely of meat, rabbits, and
butter. On Sunday, March 17, about 10 25 p.m., during hazy weather and with
a moderate wind blowing, the vessel stranded. No lives were lost.

Mr. Paxton, for the Board of Trade, stated that the real point in the
inquiry was as to the cause of the disaster. There was no doubt that the
primary cause was under-estimating the vessel's speed, because at the time
she struck the log registered 127 1/2 knots, and, if that had been correct,
so far as the distance she had ran was concerned, she would have been ten
miles off the Lizard. The sound signals from the Lizard were heard before
the stranding. The question was-"Was the weather around the ship such as
justified the master in proceeding as he had done?"

Evidence was given by lifeboat men and lighthouse men on the Cornish coast
as to the state of the weather at the time of the stranding of the Suevic,
and the distance at which the Lizard light could be seen when fog prevailed.
One witness stated that he had known occasions when the light could not be
seen from the sea a quarter of a mile away. Richard Green, a pilot at
Falmouth, considered the Lizard light a bad one in any weather. It was too
fierce, and it was difficult to judge the distance from it. Alfred Vingoe, a
pilot and coxswain of the Penzance lifeboat, expressed the opinion that they
could pick up the loom of the present strong electric light at a greater
distance than the old light.

Captain Thomas Johnson Jones, master of the Suevic, described the course
which he set, and said that just before the stranding there was nothing in
the weather to indicate that there was any danger. The first suggestion he
got that they were near land was from the second officer on the bridge. This
was a minute and a half before the vessel struck. The light appeared high
up, and that showed they were close in. He gave the order "Hard a-port," but
too late. He thought a strong current was the cause of his overrunning his
distance. There must have been a current he did not allow for. The weather
was not thick at the time the Suevic struck. The witness had received a
letter from the captain of the Golconda to the effect that he was carried
out of his course 11 miles by the current on the date the Suevic was
wrecked.

The inquiry was adjourned until Monday.

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The Times, 25 April 1907

THE WRECK OF THE SUEVIC
---
INQUIRY CONCLUDED

---
The Board of Trade inquiry into the wreck of the Suevic on the coast of
Cornwall on March 17 was continued in Liverpool on Monday and Tuesday and
concluded yesterday before Mr. Stewart, the stipendiary magistrate, and
assessors.

Captain Jones, the master of the Suevic, continued his evidence on Monday
and stated that the course he set at noon on the day of the wreck was right
as far as direction went, and there was no question as to the accuracy of
his compasses. He expected to get into the radius of the Lizard light at
9 27 p.m., and at 10 p.m., according to the log of the vessel, he was five
miles within the radius, and he then calculated that he was 16 miles from
the Lizard. Although he had not seen the light, he did not think the vessel
was steaming too fast. He saw the loom of the light at 10 15 p.m. low down,
and it appeared to agree with his calculations. Under the weather conditions
which prevailed he expected to see the light ten miles off. When he did see
the light he steered towards it to get his correct bearing for Eddystone.
The light suddenly appeared high up, and the witness then saw that the
vessel was closer to the Lizard than he anticipated. Had he not seen the
light his lead was ready for use, but seeing the loom at 10 15 he did not
use it, although he would have done a minute later. The steamer struck at
10 27. They heard the foghorn afterwards.

The fourth officer and the engineers also gave evidence.

On Tuesday the testimony of the seamen on watch on the night of the wreck
was given. It was to the effect that during the night there was a high fog,
thick up above and thinner down below. None of them saw the Lizard light,
although one of them saw the loom of a light on the water before the vessel
struck. Conflicting statements were made as to fog signals. One witness
stated that he never heard any such signals until three or four minutes
after the vessel stranded; another seaman stated that he heard and
reported a foghorn two minutes before the mishap; while a third man said
he heard the signal three or four times before the wreck, but never
reported it because he had had no instructions to report such signals, and
every one on watch was supposed to hear a fog signal.

Captain Murray, marine superintendent of the White Star Line, stated that
on Easter Sunday night, when he was engaged on the salvage of the
Suevic, the Lizard light was obscured by fog, whereas the lights in a farm
house at about the same distance and level could be seen. This was
corroborated by John McLellan, Liverpool underwriters' surveyor, who was
present at the salvage operations. He attributed it to the fact that
electric light did not show through the fog like an oil lamp, which he
considered was more penetrating.

Mr. Stewart said he thought the Court would be justified in calling the
attention of the Board of Trade to the fact that some doubt had been
expressed by competent witnesses as to whether the penetrating power of
the electric light at the Lizard was as useful to navigation in a fog as
oil lamps, and that it might become an additional danger unless navigators
were thoroughly aware of it.

Mr. Sanderson, manager of the White Star Line, said that the master of the
Suevic had had the reputation in the company for many years of being a
thoroughly good shipmaster and an exceptionally careful navigator, and
counsel for Captain Jones urged that if there was a mistake it was a pure
error of judgment, and not a wrongful act or default on the captain's part.

Yesterday, in answer to the questions put in by the Board of Trade, Mr.
Stewart stated that the findings of the Court were:-

(1) Proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify the position of the
vessel at noon on March 17 last. The exact position was ascertained by
observations of the sun, which gave lat. 47° 57' 24" N., long. 6° 52' 15" W.
A safe and proper course was set and steered from this position to make the
Lizard light, but no allowance was made for tide or currents. (2)(a) Having
regard to the state of the weather, the vessel was navigated at too great a
rate of speed after 10 p.m. of March 17 ; (b) the lead was not used, and it
should have been used, at 10 p.m., when the master knew that he was well
within the range of the Lizard light but could not see it; (c) the vessel
was kept too long running on a course direct for the land at full speed
after 10 p.m., as the Lizard light had not then been seen nor the lead used.
(3) The master vas not justified in relying entirely upon the patent log to
show the actual distance run over the ground without making any allowance
for the influence of the tide. (4) The fog signal at the Lizard lighthouse
was sounding between 9 50 p.m. and midnight of March 17 last, two blasts
every two minutes, and it was heard by the lockout men (Anderson and Murphy)
in the crow's nest on board the vessel, after the light had been seen and
before she struck, and by the master and second mate at the time the order
was given to port. (5) The Lizard light was first seen at 10 15 pm. No
measures were then taken for the safety of the ship, as it was assumed that
she was ten or 12 miles distant from the light, and so the course and full
speed were continued towards it for 12 minutes longer, when she struck. (6)
A good and proper lockout appears to have been kept, but not sufficient
consideration allowed for the state of the weather when the light was first
seen. (7) The stranding of the vessel was caused by continuing a direct
course towards the land at full speed in thick hazy weather, when the Lizard
could not be seen its full range, and without making any allowance for tide
or current, and, when the light was seen, continuing the course and speed
towards it without taking proper precautions to verify the position of the
vessel by the lead and the distance run. (8) The vessel was not navigated
with proper and seamanlike care after 10 p.m. on March 17 last. The
weather was dark and hazy, with drizzling showers of rain. The Lizard light
had not been seen, and it was necessary to use great caution in approaching
the land on the course the vessel was steering. (9) The stranding of and
the material damage to the steamship Suevic were caused by the default of
the master, with whose certificate the Court is consequently called upon
to deal.

The Court, in giving full consideration to the previous record of the
master, his conduct after the casualty, and the way in which he gave his
evidence, suspends his certificate for a period of only three months.

Mr. Stewart.-The judgment of the Court, therefore, is "that the stranding
of and material damage to the said vessel were due to the default of the
master, Mr. Thomas Johnson Jones, whose certificate, No. 02628, the Court
suspends for a period of three months from the date hereof."

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