News from 1914 The Wreck of Oceanic II


Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 10 September 1914

LINER OCEANIC LOST ON ROCKS
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Famous White Star Steamer, Armed as Cruiser, Wrecked on Coast of
Scotland
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ALL ON BOARD ARE SAVED
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British Press Bureau Announces That the Big Vessel Is a Total Loss
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NOTED AS MILLIONAIRE SHIP
---
Years Ago the Favorite Vessel of J. P. Morgan, Philip Armour, Wm. C.
Whitney and Other Wealthy Men

---
Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES
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LONDON, Sept. 9---The Press Bureau announces that the armed merchant
cruiser Oceanic of the White Star Line was wrecked yesterday on the
north coast of Scotland and has become a total loss. All of the officers
and crew were saved.

James Parton, European manager of the White Star Line, when called on
the telephone by THE NEW YORK TIMES correspondent and asked if he had
any particulars of the loss of the Oceanic, was much agitated.

"I have no news to give," he said and hung up the telephone.

The official announcement gave no details of the loss of the vessel, nor
any information as to what mission she was engaged in. The Oceanic was
reported in the navy list published yesterday as having been taken for
Government service.

This month's Navy List gives the following officers for the Oceanic:
Capt. William P. Slater, Commander Harry Smith, R. N. R.; Lieut.
Commander M. P. Stokes, Lieutenants of Royal Navy Reserve V. L. Wiles,
G. E. Warner, R. Mortimere, C. H. Greame, C. H. Lightolier and D. Blair.
----------
The Oceanic was the second steamship of that name, built by Harland &
Wolff of Belfast in 1899 for the Oceanic Steamship Company of Liverpool,
and was for many years one of the most popular vessels in the Atlantic
passenger trade. She was designed when Thomas H. Ismay was Chairman of
the company, and he took a personal interest in the decorating and
furnishing of the ship.

No expense was spared on the Oceanic, and the cost of gilding her dining
saloon was said to have been nearly $200,000. All her public rooms were
finished in the same luxurious manner, and for years after she came out,
in September, 1899, the Oceanic was the favorite ship of J. P. Morgan,
Cornelius Vanderbilt, W. C. Whitney, Philip Armour, and many other
wealthy men. Her May sailing to Liverpool up to ten years ago was called
"the millionaires' trip," because a large number of the richest men in
the United States made a practice of sailing together on her and giving
special dinners and luncheons on the voyage.

Refurnished Three Years Ago

Three years ago the International Mercantile Marine Company spent about
$250,000 on the Oceanic in refurnishing her, building a new
companionway, with heavy carved bronze gates at the saloon entrance. The
saloon also was regilded. J. Bruce Ismay, who was President of the
company at that time, wished the ship to be kept up to her original
standard because she was the last that his father saw launched and was
his pride among the fleet.

The last time the liner left New York was on Saturday, Aug. 1, at noon.
She carried passengers and mails for Southampton via Plymouth, and was
in command of Capt. Harry Smith, R. N. R., the senior Captain of the
White Star Line, who was navigating officer on her when she went ashore.
Upon her arrival at Southampton on Aug. 8 the passengers were hurried
ashore and a naval crew took charge of the vessel. In twenty-four hours
they had put eight 6-inch guns on her upper decks and had hung ropes
around the bridge to protect the officers from rifle fire, the cabins
were taken down and she made her first trip to Havre on Aug. 12 with a
load of British troops. At that time she was flying the white St. George
ensign of the Royal Navy and had a naval Captain, officers, and crew on
board.

Graceful as a Yacht

From a sailor's point of view the Oceanic was one of the most graceful
vessels that ever entered New York Harbor. She had yacht-like lines, and
there was a jaunty rake to her funnels and masts. For years she
maintained a speed of 21 1/2 knots, and up to her last Atlantic voyage
she could make 20 1/2 knots.

Her dimensions were 706 feet long, 68 feet beam, 50 feet depth of hold,
and 17,274 gross tonnage. She was a twin screw ship, schooner rigged,
and carried a crew of 385 men. When the Oceanic was taken over by the
navy in Southampton her funnels and hull and superstructure were painted
black.

The White Star Line officials said last night that they had no knowledge
of the movements of the Oceanic after she was taken over by the British
Government. It is surmised that the liner might have been on her way to
Archangel to carry Russian troops to Belgium or to protect unarmed
transports coming from that port.

The original cost of the Oceanic is said to have been about $4,500,000.

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Inger Sheil

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I'd forgotten Greame was on board that final voyage, MAB! Thanks for posting that article.

I know I've mentioned it before, but her premature loss is the one I really feel a pang about. You can sense it in the article - a genuine sense of affection and loss.
 

Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 11 September 1914

OCEANIC BROKEN UP AFTER STRIKING ROCK
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White Star Liner's Hull Parts and Vessel Is Abandoned as a Wreck

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ABERDEEN. Scotland, Sept. 10---The trawler Glenogil, which has arrived
here, reports having assisted in the rescue of the crew of the White
Star steamer Oceanic, wrecked off the coast of Scotland, and in
transferring them to another ship.

An attempt was made to refloat the Oceanic, which had struck a rock, but
the hull parted and the attempt was abandoned.
----------
LONDON. Sept. 10---A notice posted today at the offices of the White
Star Line said the steamer Oceanic ran ashore.

This Is the first definite news as to what caused the loss of the
Oceanic. Last night it was said that she had been wrecked on the north
coast of Scotland, but no further details were given out

The Oceanic had been taken over for Government service. All her officers
and crew were saved.

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Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 12 September 1914

PERIL IN OCEANIC RESCUE
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Trawler Braved Rocks In Darkness to Save Liner's Crew

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LONDON, Sept. 11---Capt. Armour of the Aberdeen trawler Glenovil told
the following story of his rescue of the crew of the White Star liner
Oceanic:

"It was misty and very dark Tuesday morning off the north coast of
Scotland when our attention was arrested on our homeward way by signals
of distress in the direction of the coast. It required skillful
seamanship, which would have been impossible to a larger boat
than ours, to bring the Glenovil near enough to discover the Oceanic on
the rocks.

"Finally, after a long and hard tussle in the nasty sea, we brought
ourselves alongside. Ropes and ladders were lowered over the side of the
liner, down which the crew scrambled and tumbled to the deck of our
boat.

"In a short time practically every available inch of our space was
occupied by men from the big boat. We got 400 of them and then steamed
off---we could hold no more---and emptied them on a larger steamer which
was standing off in the distance unable to get any nearer without
herself running on the rocks of this dangerous coast.

"After transferring our human freight we returned quickly, but
cautiously, and took off the remainder who were similarly transferred to
the boat in the offing. The rescue was attended with great risk on
account of the heavy sea and darkness and the dangerous rocks all about.
The Captain of the Oceanic was the last to leave his ship. He paid us a
high compliment and thanked us warmly."

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Mark Baber

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The Times, 10 September 1914

WRECK OF THE OCEANIC
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TOTAL LOSS OFF SCOTLAND

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The Secretary of the Admiralty announces that the armed merchant cruiser Oceanic, of the White Star Line, was wrecked yesterday near the North Coast of Scotland, and has become a total loss.

All the officers and crew were saved.
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The Oceanic, which was built by Messrs. Harland and Wolff at Belfast in 1899, and had a speed of 21 knots, was until recently employed in the White Star service between Southampton and New York. Her registered tonnage was 17,274, and she had accommodation for more than 800 first and second class passengers. She was commissioned as a merchant cruiser on the outbreak of the war.

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Mark Baber

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The Times, 21 November 1914

THE OCEANIC COURT-MARTIAL
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At Devonport yesterday, the Naval Court-martial acquitted Commander
Henry Smith, R.N.R., who was charged with stranding the armed merchant
cruiser Oceanic, of which he was commander when she was in the White
Star service. The accused argued that he had no authority from the
Admiralty to take charge of the ship after she had been taken over by
the Admiralty, the Navy regulations having laid down that under such
circumstances a naval reserve officer was not entitled to assume charge.

A third Court-martial was opened for the trial of Captain William
Slayter, R.N., who was commanding the Oceanic when she was wrecked.
Lieutenant David Blair, R.N.R., the navigating officer, has already been
found guilty and ordered to be reprimanded for his share in the
stranding of the vessel.

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Mark Baber

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The Times, 23 November 1914

CAPTAIN OF THE OCEANIC ACQUITTED
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The trial by Court-martial of Captain William Slayter, commanding the armed
liner Oceanic, wrecked off Foula Island, Shetland, on September 8, on a
charge of negligently or by default stranding that vessel, was concluded at
Devonport on Saturday.

Captain Slayter expressed regret that while he was taking necessary rest
below the responsible officers on deck had not stopped the vessel when land
was sighted and ascertained the vessel's precise position. He contended that
had these precautions been taken the vessel would not have grounded.

Captain Slayter was acquitted.

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Mark Baber

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Rather than re-post what's below now that the 100th anniversary has arrived, I just refer you to the articles already posted here, published this week in 1914.
 
Last edited:

paulreynolds

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Mark, thanks for all the info about the wreck of the Oceanic. I came across this event when researching my wife's mother's family. My wife's great grandfather was Captain Harry Smith who was on the Oceanic when she struck the reef off Foula and who survived not just the shipwreck but the court martial.

One of the postings here quoted extensively from my account, coming via Cathy Lansley I think. How it got to her I don't know but I am grateful that it has got a wider circulation. However I did make one error in thinking that the loss of the Oceanic had been kept a secret and thanks to you for demonstrating that this was not so.

Paul Reynolds
 

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