News from 1911 Maiden White Star Voyage of Belgic III

Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
MAB notes

MAB notes: 1. Belgic III began her life as Atlantic Transport's cattle
carrier Mississippi. In 1906, she became Red Star's cargo carrier Samland
and five years later became White Star's immigrant ship Belgic. (ATL, Red
Star and White Star were all part of IMM and such inter-company ship
movements were not uncommon.) The series of articles that will appear here
in coming days describes her maiden White Star voyage, which began began at
Liverpool on 30 September, with calls at Capetown (25 October) and Hobart
(16 November). Belgic remained with White Star until 1913, and then returned
to Red Star as Samland. 2. Built for ATL by New York Shipbuilding at Camden,
New Jersey, this Belgic was the only U.S.-built ship ever to carry a White
Star name.

The West Australian, Perth, 10 November 1911
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,


Western Australia as a field for immigration has attractions equal to any
State in the Commonwealth. This has been fully demonstrated during the past
few days by the arrival of nearly two thousand immigrants. By far the
largest contingent that has entered this State arrived yesterday by the
White Star liner Belgic, there being 913 passengers on board for Western
Australia. Altogether the Belgic carried 1,554 immigrants for Fremantle,
Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, this State's proportion being nearly double
that of the three other States combined---a fact which goes to show that
Western Australia is looming large in the public mind in the old country at

The Belgic, which is making her first trip to these latitudes, has been
specially fitted out for the immigrant traffic. She was sighted from
Rottnest shortly after daybreak yesterday and anchored in the Roads about
four hours later. The chief immigration officer at Fremantle (Mr. I.
Crawcour) and his assistant (Mr. Wood) proceeded on board and throughout the
day these officers were kept very busy making the necessary arrangements for
the reception of the new arrivals. Almost from the time the vessel was
sighted a crowd began to assemble on the quay, and as the day wore on it
assumed quite large proportions, the majority having friends on board.
Shortly after 5 o'clock the Belgic weighed anchor and entered the harbour.
As she swung into a berth her decks presented a lively appearance, the new
arrivals signifying their pleasure at the termination of their long voyage
by frequent cheering and rounds of song. Little time was lost in landing,
and a couple of hours later the passengers left by special train for Perth.

The new arrivals appear to be a very desirable type, and Captain Thornton
speaks very highly of their conduct throughout the voyage. He has had 10
years' experience of the Atlantic trade, and he states that the immigrants
compare more than favourably with the class who emigrate to the United
States. In order to relieve the tedium of the long voyage Captain Thornton
and his officers organised a number of entertainment committees. Concerts
and dances were freely indulged in, and on one occasion a play written by
one of the passengers was "staged." The play was a signal success, many of
the principals displaying much histrionic ability.

Unfortunately the latter part of the voyage was marred by four deaths. After
leaving Cape Town two infants---one of them being born on board---died from
mal-nutrition, while a ten-year-old boy succumbed to to heart failure.
Almost from the time of departure from Cape Town a succession of heavy gales
was experienced, and the vessel received a severe buffeting. On the night of
October 26, during a particularly violent blow, an able seaman fell over the
side. The vessel was rolling heavily at the time, and the watch had just
been relieved when the man disappeared. A number of lifebuoys, and what is
known as a Holmes light, were immediately thrown overboard. Captain Thornton
had a very anxious time in manoeuvring the huge vessel in the heavy seas;
but, fortunately, the Belgic suffered no harm in the operation. Lifeboats
were got ready for lowering, and the vessel steamed back and round the
Holmes light. Nothing, however, was seen or heard of the unfortunate man,
although one of the lifebuoys was observed floating in the water. The man
was dressed in oilskins at the time, and, thus heavily weighted, his chances
of ever reaching one of the lifebuoys in the heavy sea was very remote.
After steaming about for some time the Belgic continued her voyage, the
incident casting quite a gloom over the ship.

The Belgic is a fine type of immigrant steamer. This is her first trip to
Australia, she having been specially engaged on behalf of the various States
to bring immigrants to the Commonwealth. She has comparatively little cargo,
her owners having shut out about 3,600 tons of cargo in order to get away in
time and so keep faith with the Agents-General. Captain Thornton is no
stranger to Australia, and his last visit out here was about 12 years ago,
when he was master of the barque Tacora, in which he visited all the chief
ports in the Eastern States. The Tacora, it will be remembered, attempted to
tow the disabled Waikato to Fremantle about ten years ago. The task however,
proved too great for the "wind-jammer." The attempt was abandoned, the
Waikato being finally towed to Fremantle by another steamer. At this time
Captain Thornton had left the Tacora. The Belgic will replenish her coal
supplies at the Port, and is expected to resume her voyage eastward about
noon to-day. Amongst those who witnessed the disembarkation was the Premier
(Mr. J. Scaddan). The Fremantle passengers included eight assisted
immigrants---one family of six and two domestics. The nominated passengers
comprised 188 families, totalling 697, and 208 single persons. The nominated
immigrants were composed of 283 men, 332 women, and 290 children. It is
stated that the immigrants' luggage ran into something like 400 tons.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
MAB note:

MAB note: There is no opening quotation mark in the online original of the
third paragraph.

The West Australian, Perth, 11 November 1911
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,


As the White Star liner Belgic was about to continue her voyage to the
Eastern States last evening a most extraordinary scene took place. The
vessel's gangway had been drawn up, and the moorings were on the point of
being cast off, when one of the firemen was observed to throw his bag on to
the quay, and then lower himself over the side by means of a rope. His exit
was the signal for a general exodus, not only amongst the firemen, but also
the deck hands, and in less than a quarter of an hour over thirty men had
deserted. The affair caused considerable excitement amongst the large crowd
assembled on the quay, which evidently included some sympathisers with the
deserters judging from the cheering which greeted each man. The exodus had
apparently been carefully pre-arranged, and Captain Thornton and his
officers were practically powerless to prevent it. Realising that he could
not take his vessel away from the quay with the fragment of a crew still
left on board, the commander, after consulting with his agents, decided to
issue warrants for the arrest of the men on a charge of refusing duty.

The whole affair is a serious one for the ship, as in the event of the men
persisting in their refusal to proceed to sea, it probably means a long
delay. The Belgic has over six hundred immigrants on board for the Eastern
States, and the owners would be put to the cost of keeping them on board.
The trouble appears to have originated with five or six malcontents, who
have resented what they regarded as too rigid enforcement of discipline.
During the voyage they succeeded in enlisting the sympathy of other members
of the crew, until now practically every man has developed a grievance.

When spoken to late last night, Captain Thornton said that he had issued
warrants for the apprehension of the men. It was absolutely necessary that
they should return to the vessel, as otherwise he could not continue the
voyage. During the voyage, he explained, he had had to see that discipline
was maintained, and certain firebrands amongst the crew resented this. He
had issued instructions that members of the crew were not to consort with
the passengers, and this was probably one of the chief grounds for the
dissatisfaction that existed. There had been certain breaches of that order,
and he had, in the interests of all concerned to log the men. Since their
arrival at Fremantle the men had endeavoured to enlist the sympathies of the
passengers, and had circulated rumours amongst them that the ship was
unsafe, and would never cross the Bight. They also stated that she was now
drawing a foot more water than when she left Capetown, and to a certain
extent I find that these absurd rumours have gained some credence amongst a
section of the immigrants."

Most of the deserters subsequently proceeded to the Sailors' Rest, where
they indulged in an impromptu concert. The proceedings were continued until
a late hour. Altogether 38 warrants were issued, and it was expected that
they would be executed during the early hours of this morning, after the men
had retired, the Superintendent of the Sailors' Rest having been notified to
accommodate the men at the Rest. The deserters will be brought before the
Fremantle Bench this morning, when an order will probably be made for them
to be placed on board the Belgic.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The West Australian, Perth,

The West Australian, Perth, 13 November 1911
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,


Matters in connection with the s.s. Belgic were brought to a conclusion on
Saturday evening, and during the early hours of yesterday morning the ship,
with her immigrants and a full crew, took her departure for the Eastern
States. During the morning the deserters were dealt with at the Fremantle
Police Court, and shortly before 2 o'clock the steamer was moved from her
berth at Victoria Quay to one of the river buoys, where she tied up until
the difficulty with the crew was adjusted. Later in the afternoon 27 of the
deserters were taken aboard the Belgic, and given the opportunity of
resuming duty, and so escaping imprisonment. Of that number three only
refused duty, and on being taken ashore were brought before a bench of
justices, and sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment. Some 17 men were picked
up on shore, and these, together with the 24 of the old crew, who agreed to
turn to again, were signed on, and the vessel was able to resume her voyage
without further trouble.

The majority of the seamen and firemen who deserted on Friday had a short
spell of liberty. At 1.30 on the following morning Sergeant Hopkins,
accompanied by eight constables, visited the Sailors' Rest, where 27 of the
deserters had sought accommodation, and took all of them into custody.
Another man had been arrested on the previous day while in a state of
intoxication, and on Saturday forenoon two other men gave themselves up
voluntarily. Nearly half the men had absolutely no money, and the largest
amount possessed by any one of them was only a few shillings.

The portion of the Fremantle court room allotted to the public was crowded
when the men were brought up on Saturday morning. Mr. E. P. Dowley, R.M.,
and Mr. T. Smith, J.P., were on the Bench. The charge against 28 of the men
was that of refusing duty and deserting from the Belgic. The remaining two,
John Johnson, a seaman, and John Blower, a fireman, were charged only with
being absent without leave. Their cases were first disposed of, and they
were ordered to be placed on board the boat and fined 2s. 6d., the sum to be
deducted from their wages.

On the other defendants being brought into Court, a fireman named James
Sullivan stepped to the front of the small crowd, and said he could not be
classed with the others, as he was not a member of the Belgic crew.

On Captain Thornton, the complainant, being examined, in regard to
Sullivan's assertion, he said that the latter had been sentenced to a term
of imprisonment in Capetown for assaulting the chief engineer. For being
absent without leave, eight or nine other men belonging to the ship were at
the same time sentenced to terms short enough to allow of them being
returned on board before the steamer sailed. When they had applied for these
other men, the Capetown police, through some mistake, had sent along with
them this man, James Sullivan, and he had not been noticed until too late.
He had been written off when he was sentenced, but by a clerical error "P.
Sullivan" was put down as the name.

Mr. J. P. Dwyer, who represented the complainant, said he did not think they
could sustain the charge against this man and the R.M. told Sullivan he
could go, which he did with no loss of time.

In his evidence relating to the charge against the other defendants, Captain
Thornton said the trouble began about 6 o'clock on the previous afternoon.
They were just on the point of sailing, when he was informed by the chief
officer that the men were refusing duty. Immediately afterwards the men came
along in a body, and told him they would not go to sea until the ship had a
full complement. The full complement of the Belgic was 49 or 50 all told. He
told the men he had no intention of leaving without a full complement. He
proposed to take the ship out to the roads and anchor there, and in the
meantime the officers would scour the town and pick up those of the men who
were absent. It was useless for him to try to get the full crew while the
boat was at the wharf, as no sooner would two or three be gathered in than
two or three others would be missing. He spoke to the men reasonably and
fairly, but they refused to listen, and flatly declined to leave the wharf.
Then he spoke to them individually as they passed him, but both the engine
and the deck crews refused to work unless the full crew was collected at the
wharf. As a matter of fact, he had a full numerical complement even then,
without the absentees. The company did not underman their ships.

Mr. Dwyer. What is the loss sustained by the delay?---£500 to £600 per day,
to say nothing of the loss of business and disorganisation of trade.

Continuing, the witness said there were five or six ringleaders, who had
been causing trouble throughout. Of these he named Jeffreys, Cooney,
Niblock, Forsyth and the man Sullivan. At the time he spoke to the men it
would only have taken 10 minutes to get out to the roads. They had some 600
passengers on board for the Eastern States, and he knew some of these had
employment waiting for them.

The chief engineer and the chief officer of the Belgic gave corroborative

Only one of the defendants when called upon chose to give evidence, James
Campbell, an able seaman. He said he understood that by law there should be
an able seaman for every boat on the ship. There were 16 boats on the
Belgic, and at the time the captain spoken [sic] to them there were only
nine able seamen available. Witness also complained that at Capetown the
captain had told a Customs officer that he had the scum of Europe aboard.

Mr. Dwyer said the captain wished to make a requisition that the men should
be placed on board again with the exception of Jeffreys, Niblock, and
Forsyth, the ringleaders, who were really, the complainant said, the cause
of the whole trouble.

The Bench sentenced Jeffreys and Niblock to 14 days' imprisonment each, and
made an order that the remainder of the men should be placed on board before
the ship sailed, and have one day's pay deducted from their wages.

On the men being taken back to the Belgic later in the day it was found that
three of the men still refused duty. They were again brought up at the
Police Court---Mr. J. J. Higham and Captain Smith, J.'sP. on the Bench. The
men---J. Johnson, J. Campbell, and W. Forsyth---were each sentenced to six
weeks' imprisonment, and the Bench passed severe strictures on the conduct
of the men in hanging up the ship and totally disregarding the great loss
and inconvenience they caused.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Advertiser, Adelaide, 2

The Advertiser, Adelaide, 20 November 1911
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,


"Hurrah! I'm as happy as a sandboy." And she looked it. Satisfaction and
content were plainly visible in her chubby face. She felt that it was good
to be alive. On the beautiful blue sky and conditions in general she
bestowed her praises. Her prospects in this new land were at any rate much
brighter than the outlook up there in Scotland, where hard work was rewarded
with a grinding wage. She was one of the party of domestic servants who
arrived by the White Star liner Belgic about midnight on Friday. "But how
hot it is"--- this at 7.30 a.m. She raised no objection, however, when
informed that much warmer conditions would be experienced during this
summer. "I don't care, and I'm jolly glad we're here." She was an average
sample of the 26 "domestics" aboard. With the other 221 Adelaide passengers,
they were crowded along the deck rail watching the Outer Harbor wharf to
catch a glimpse of those friends or relations who had beckoned them to come
and settle in this faraway country.

Watching for Daddy

"There's daddy," remarked one woman to her children. Daddy had come to
Adelaide about 12 months ago to "sound the place." And there were many
daddies on the wharf - many with tears of joy in their eyes at seeing their
loved ones again. Those men discovered that life in Australia was a step or
two above that which they had forsaken, and their confidence in the country
was demonstrated by the fact of them sending for their wives and families.
One man on the wharf was asked what brought him to Australia. "Work," he
answered. "It does not matter where it is so long as I get work. I am
bringing out a large family. I came out myself first because I didn't know
what sort of place this was. I didn't want to bring my family out here to
starve." A young woman was pacing the deck awaiting the lowering of the
gangway. She had been to Canada, and was of opinion that "it was one of the
worst places on God's earth in which to try your luck." She returned to
England because there was no work there. She hopes to do much better in
South Australia, she said.

Preparing the Way

The immigration officer (Mr. E. J. Field), and the boarding officer (Mr. D.
R. Davidson), boarded the Belgic at the Semaphore, and remained on board all
night. The passengers were early astir, and breakfast was served at 4
o'clock to enable them to land as soon as the vessel was berthed at the
Outer Harbor. Miss Taylor of the Y.W.C.A.. and Mrs. Bussell, of the Emigrant
Girls' Welfare Society assisted the immigration officer in looking after the
domestic helpers, who were taken to Royal House, Hackney, where they will
remain until ready to proceed to the homes of their nominators.

There were 47 men, 84 women, and 116 children besides the "domestics" for
Adelaide. Three of the latter were nominated by their intended husbands, who
were, of course, at the Harbor to meet them. Sixteen of the men are
agricultural laborers, and the majority of the others are artisans. They are
a particularly fine lot, and the opinion was expressed by the ship's
officers that the South Australian contingent was by far the most orderly,
and comprised good people who should make worthy citizens. The nominators,
said Mr. Field gave guarantees that employment would be awaiting their
nominees, and they should have no difficulty in placing them, as before the
nominations were accepted the department made careful enquiries as to the
occutions [sic] of the intended immigrants. It has been said that workmen
are not required in Australia, but representatives of firms were busy on the
vessel making enquiries for tradesmen of all descriptions. One man from a
well-known factory in Adelaide wanted tinsmiths, and another was on the
lookout for boilermakers and blacksmiths for Melbourne. Neither of them was

Conditions On the Belgic

This was the first large batch of nominated immigrants to arrive in
Australia, and the Belgic, which was specially fitted for the Atlantic
emigrant trade, is making her first voyage to Australia. The vessel left
Liverpool with 1,746 souls on board, including a crew of 210. Some of the
immigrants stated that they had to live on food almost unfit for
consumption. One man said the meat "began to walk" at times, and other
people were of opinion that they had been badly treated. A young lady who
comes from London, said the meat was sometimes all right, but it was badly
preserved and cooked, and they had had some placed before them that was
tainted. She had spent practically the whole of the voyage in her cabin, and
she said:---"When anything was given to us good it had what we called the
Belgic taint about it. The condition of the boat throughout was simply
horrible," she continued, "and I wonder how we all survived the ordeal."
Others said the lavatories were in a shocking condition. As is known, some
trouble was experienced with the crew, who, according to one of the
passengers, refused to work on leaving Liverpool owing to the food given
them. They were said to have demanded better food than that given to the
passengers. At Cape Town the trouble reasserted itself, and scathing
comments concerning the conditions on the vessel were made by a South
African newspaper. More difficulty was met with at Fremantle. Just as the
steamer was about to leave some of the crew threw their baggage overboard
and endeavored to desert, and a delay was occasioned.

The Captain's Statement

Captain Thornton said some of the men got into gaol at Cape Town and
Fremantle, the trouble at Fremantle, he said, was principally caused by the
drunkards and the disorderlies, not only among the crew, but also the
passengers. The trouble with the firemen was caused by the men not obeying
orders. The Commonwealth authorities demanded that the passengers should be
kept separate from the crew, and it was quite right, too. "You don't want
your cargo ruined before it gets here," he continued. "It is a pity the
Agents-General did not take more care in selecting the emigrants. They were
a mixed lot, but the South Australian contingent I think were the best.
There are always a number of 'copperheads' in any community, and when 2,000
people get together a gaol is always needed for some of them. No trouble
whatever was experienced at sea, as there strict discipline can always be
maintained, but when a crew get ashore and make straight for the
public-house the trouble begins. Although there are some estimable people
going to the eastern States the South Australian crowd is the best. Of
course it was hard to keep the bad element from the good. Even at the table
the roughs with their bad language were liable to contaminate the better
class. It is regrettable that a country like Australia should not
receive the best people for its citizens." With regard to the complaint
about the food, Captain Thornton said most of the immigrants were never so
well treated in all their lives. Concerning the accounts published at Cape
Town, the captain said:---"They appeared in a paper that had just been
established, and probably the chap who wrote the report had the

"The Meat was a Bit Tough"

Mrs. Storrie, the matron, stated that they started with a scratch crew from
Liverpool, but had a splendid voyage. Before leaving she was under the
impression that only about 300 emigrants besides those for South Australia
were travelling by the Belgic. Over 900 were for Western Australia. Although
there were too many on board to be looked after properly they were well fed,
but the meat, she admitted, was a bit tough at times. Mr. Field said he had
made enquiries and was satisfied that there were no grounds for complaints
of any kind.

An Official Report

Mrs. Helen Storie, the matron appointed by the Agent-General to take care of
the women and children for South Australia on the Belgic, in an official
report to the Immigration Officer, stated, with regard to the accommodation
and food provided, that she had travelled twice to Australia, twice to New
Zealand, twice to South Africa, and three times to Canada, and could,
without hesitation, say that the food and berthing arrangements were better
than some and no more uncomfortable than the others. She states that the
food put before the passengers was the best of its kind---bread, Irish tub
butter, Crosse Bros.' marmalade and jam, porridge, soup, potatoes, pickles,
varied with fish and eggs---and only once did she get a stale egg. Mrs.
Storie adds that this being the first experience most of the passengers had
of ship life it was a frightful hardship to some, and their blessings had to
be pointed out to them. They had the whole length of the ship to walk about
on, and the liberty of staying in their berths until 10 a.m. if so inclined,
and they could have their breakfast carried up to them.

Happenings During the Voyage

There were two births on board and three deaths. Three stowaways were
discovered before reaching Fremantle. Fine weather was met until leaving
Cape Town, and when crossing the Indian Ocean an able-bodied seaman, who had
turned out 10 minutes before time to begin work, as ordered, was washed
overboard. The vessel cruised round for some time, but could not find any
trace of the missing man. The voyage to Adelaide occupied 54 days.

Cinematograph Films

The Assistant Government Photographer (Mr. Michell) was at the Outer Harbor
early on Saturday morning and secured a series of cinematograph films
depicting the arrival of the Belgic and the landing of the immigrants. The
films will be forwarded to England, where they will be used at lectures by
the Immigration Agent.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
MAB note:

MAB note: From this point on, the reporting of Belgic's movements around
Australia that I've found so far is rather uninteresting. Her arrival at
Sydney on 27 November was noted (as far as I can tell) only by a listing of
the passengers intending to disembark there and a routine item the "Shipping
Arrivals" column of The Sydney Morning Herald, and the same is true of her
calls at Newcastle and Brisbane. This series may, or may not, therefore be
at an end; if I find anything of more than ordinary interest, it will appear

The Argus, Melbourne, 23 November 1911
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,


After a protracted and eventful voyage the steamer Belgic arrived from the
United Kingdom yesterday with 200 passengers for Victoria. When the Belgic
left the United Kingdom she had on board 1,700 new people for Australia. At
Cape Town a delay was caused by a fire, and later, when 900 passengers had
landed at Fremantle, there was a further delay owing to trouble with a
section of the crew. As the result of these delays the Belgic was over a
week late in reaching Melbourne.

Mr. A. Y. Bramwell, of the Advertising and Intelligence Bureau met the
Belgic at the outer harbour in South Australia, and on the voyage to
Melbourne he was able to get in communication with all the Victorian
passengers. The summary of the Victorian party which he supplied on the
arrival of the steamer was as follows:--- Adults married, males 13, females
17; single males 143, females 6; children under 14, males 9, females 11. A
second classification showed that the bulk of the newcomers were farm
labourers, seven being landseekers. There were also on board two young women
classified as domestic helps. These and the wives included in the party were
interviewed by Mrs. Bingham.



Feb 22, 2013
Hillarys Western Australia.
Belgic. Hello Mark, as a newcomer this is my first attempt asking for your help, I am looking for information regarding SS Belgic which departed Liverpool on the 11th Oct 1912 for Australian ports, can you confirm that this would be the Belgic iii which you wrote about on her maiden voyage in your post # 4190 ? I have found a passenger list for the Oct 1912 voyage, which includes an Ancestor of mine "Miss Susan Grinling" who was to disembark at Sydney, I have not been able to find any reference of the ship arriving at any Australian port, or any trace of Susan Grinling in Australia after 1912, makes me wonder if she could have married en route. Is there any way of checking the Ships arrival at ports,and passengers disembarking, any help would be very much appreciated. Regards, Gerry

Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
can you confirm that this would be the Belgic iii which you wrote about on her maiden voyage in your post # 4190 ?
Yes, it is. Belgic III was around from 1911 to 1913, so if your ancestor traveled to Australia on Belgic in 1912, that's the ship. Here's a picture of her in one of her other identities, as Red Star's Samland:
Belgic III (Samland).jpg
I have not been able to find any reference of the ship arriving at any Australian port
Have you tried the National Library of Australia's online newspaper archive, Newspaper Home? There may be something there.
Is there any way of checking the Ships arrival at ports,and passengers disembarking
In addition to the newspaper archive, you might want to try Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters.

Good luck.

Belgic III (Samland).jpg

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