Encyclopedia Titanica

The Loss of RMS Leinster

The Times

    Hide Ads



Further details of the loss of the Royal Mail steamer Leinster, the torpedoing of which was announced yesterday, emphases the brutal character of the enemy’s conduct of sea warfare. Of some 700 persons on board, including many women and children, about 450 are now reported to have lost their lives as a result of the outrage.

Mr Balfour, speaking with indignation yesterday at a luncheon of the English speaking Union, described the torpedoing of the Leinster as an act of pure barbarism, pure frightfulness, deliberately carried out, and said he could not measure the wicked folly of the enemy’s action. Mr Churchill, in his speech at Sheffield yesterday .... said that the sinking of the Leinster was proof that the heart of the German militarist was as black as ever it was.


On both sides of the Channel the news of the sinking of the Leinster on its journey from Kingstown to Holyhead, with the loss of hundreds of lives, has caused deep indignation. The King yesterday sent the following message to Lord French, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland:- “I am appalled to hear of this terrible disaster. Please let me have any further news. George RI”.

The following is the Lord Lieutenant’s reply:— “I trust your Majesty will be pleased to accept the warmest thanks of the Irish people for your Majesty’s kind and gracious sympathy, which appeals strongly to every Irish heart. Your Majesty shall be informed of any further news received.”

The Leinster left her moorings in Kingstown Harbour on Thursday morning in the charge of Captain Birch. She had on board nearly 700 passengers, and the crew numbered about 70. The approach of a torpedo was first noticed by a passenger, who informed the captain, but it was then so close to the Leinster that it was impossible to evade it. It struck the mail steamer between the forecastle and post office compartment, piercing her side. An attempt was made to bring the steamer about and make for port, and it looked as if this plan would succeed, despite the heavy swell, but a second torpedo struck the vessel amidships near the first-class saloon, and immediately there was a violent explosion which shook the ship from stem to stern. Many persons must have been killed by its force. The Leinster listed to port, and many men, trusting to their life-belts, dived into the sea, but most of them were drowned. Boats were promptly lowered, but some capsized before reaching the water, and their occupants were thrown out. Other boats were smashed against the sides of the ship. As the vessel began to settle it became apparent that the loss of life would be heavy. The sea was filled with a struggling mass of men, women and children. Some were clinging to rafts, others were scrambling into boats, but most of them had to give up the struggle for life and disappeared.

One survivor states that he saw the second torpedo coming, and he knew then that it was all over. There was a terrible explosion, and the boilers were literally blown to pieces. He jumped headlong into the sea, and at the same moment a little girl about five years old also jumped. He caught her just as she reached the water and swam with her towards a boat, which was struggling in a heavy sea. He got her into the boat, which was already full, and she was saved.

When the explosion occurred every light was extinguished, and water rushed in and flooded the lower compartments. Boats were got out from the davits, and a couple were safely floated, and picked up those people who had jumped or were scrambling down the side of the vessel.

A passenger who had a narrow escape said:— “High in the davits amidships and overhanging the side of the ship, just about the place where the torpedo struck. was a large lifeboat with about 70 people in it. That boat and those people were blown to fragments in the explosion and scattered in the great clouds of debris that darkened the sky. The whole ship was shattered in that awful smash. She was not so much sunk as blown up into the air. A moment afterwards nothing was left of her but odds and ends of wreckage and, as far as I could make out, only four boats, crowded with people, and also several rafts. There was a good supply of rafts, but many boats were smashed in the explosion. We were told that only one wireless call could be got off before the aerials and the installation gave way.



This evening the revised total of casualties from the loss of the Leinster stands at 451 and the number of survivors at 237. There are signs of mourning, everywhere in Dublin, and many public functions have been abandoned, including the Phoenix Park race meeting tomorrow, and the dinner which Lord Granard, the Irish Food Controller, was to have given next weeks in honour of Mr Clynes’s visit. Nearly 200 bodies are lying at King George’s Hospital, and there are about 50 at the City Morgue. Some of the survivors were visited today by the Lord Lieutenant and by King Manoel.

A torpedo-boat destroyer was the first vessel on the scene of the disaster. She picked up the mail boat’s wireless call for help. The destroyer was turned round, and in heavy seas dashed fully 30 miles at top speed back to the rescue. Her bridge was smashed to splinters, her nose and deck were under water, and her crew, hanging on anyhow, were drenched to the skin. Arrived alongside the scene of the sinking, she lowered a boat, and succeeded in picking up 33 survivors from the Leinster, all of whom she landed alive in Kingstown. The lifeboat was so badly knocked about during the rescue operations that it had to be cast adrift full of water.

The following statement by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord French, has been issued in Dublin:— “The Lord Lieutenant desires to express his deep and heartfelt sympathy with the relatives and friends of those who have lost their lives in the Royal Mail steamship Leinster. The organised, determined, and orderly attempt to save life, with the result that 103 persons were rescued from death in a very heavy sea, is another splendid illustration of the cool courage, intrepidity, and skill which have characterized our mercantile marine in so marked a manner throughout the war. The accounts of survivors agree in confirming the unselfish spirit of fortitude and the indomitable bravery with which all on board faced immediate death and disaster.

When we remember that throughout more than four years the Irish Mail packets have run unceasingly day and night, and throughout the whole time their captains and crews have faced the constant and ever-present submarine menace, we cannot but regard with deep admiration the skill, courage, and seamanship which they have abundantly displayed. Captain Birch and the crew of the Leinster have fallen as gloriously in the great cause as any sailor or soldier in the war, and the same applies to those devoted workers of the Postal Department who have also gone down at their post of duty. The Lord Lieutenant feels certain that, Irishmen of all shades of opinion will join as one man to help in the great work of bringing swift retribution borne to a people who can employ such barbarous methods of warfare”.


The Commodore in charge of the Naval Base, Kingstown, reports as follows:— “The mail boat Leinster was torpedoed on Thursday morning, immediately settling by the head. She was struck by a second torpedo, sinking three minutes later. On receipt of SOS message at Kingstown all vessels in harbour and two tugs from Dublin were dispatched to the scene. All the patrol vessels in the vicinity were concentrated on the position. The fastest craft reached the scene of disaster, where destroyers were already taking up survivors. A very heavy sea was running, making rescue work extremely difficult. Out of 780 persons on board there are 193 survivors. The first torpedo struck the ship right forward on the port bow; the second torpedo struck her on the starboard side, near the bridge.

Mr Francis Osborne, a Judge of the High Court of the Sudan, states that he saw a torpedo cutting through the water, and when it hit the Leinster she began to settle down by the head. He got over the side and slipped down a rope as others had done. Their boat was overloaded, and a heavy sea capsized her. He, with six others, clung to the upturned keel until rescued by a torpedo-destroyer. While the boat was tossing about close to the ship a second torpedo hit the Leinster. A frightful explosion followed, and a shower of splinters went up into the air. The sinking ship heeled over, and narrowly escaped carrying the boat down with her.

Alderman Joyce MP, said he was in the smoke-room reading a newspaper when he heard a crash. He assisted in lowering boats, and two minutes later a second torpedo struck the vessel, which sank in less than three minutes. There was no panic. He got into a boat which rescued a woman and two men in an exhausted condition from a raft. He had been shipwrecked four times before, but never had a more trying experience than he had that morning.


Captain Birch was the senior master of the City of Dublin Company, and was 62 years old. His fate is described by Mr John Wood, traveller for Messrs Miller & Woods, typefounders, Edinburgh and London, who got off in a crowded boat. Captain Birch, he says, was seen in the water near the boat, to which he was soon able to cling. He hung on for a long time, and was eventually hauled in, with his legs, one of which was smashed, hanging over the side. He was also wounded over the eye. The boat rapidly filled and was down to the gunwale when a torpedo boat arrived. On ropes being thrown from the latter there was much excitement among those in the boat, and it partly capsized. All the occupants, including Captain Birch, were thrown into the water. Mr Wood did not see Captain Birch afterwards, and he assumes that in his helpless state he sank immediately. Captain Birch’s body has been recovered.


The police in Dublin last evening stopped the publication of the Evening Herald, the evening edition of the Irish Independent. It is believed that the reason for the stoppage was the publication late on Thursday evening of a stop press edition, stating that it was believed that all the passengers in the Leinster were safe.


Mrs Alice Kingsworth, Westward Hotel, Worthing.
Francis Hegarty, barrister, Ottawa, Canada.
Alderman James McCarron, a prominent trade unionist and nationalist, Londonderry.
Charlotte Foley, Leinster Road, Dublin.
Miss Lydia Webb, Spout Farm, Rotherfield.
Christina Sophia Goodwin, Park Street, Liverpool.
Robert Keown, Shuttlewood Avenue, Highgate, London.
John Ledwige, Post Office sorter, Dublin.
Miss Julia O'Shaunnessy, Dublin.
Miss Edith Irvine, All Saints' Vicarage, Blackrock.
Owen John Jones, Second Steward.
Georgina O'Brian, St Augustine Road, London.
Anna Maud Barry, Military Hospital, Wilts (identified by passport).
Maud O'Grady, nurse, Isolation Hospital, Mitcham (also identified by passport).
Mrs Dookey, Leixlip.
Nurse Nora Gavoren, Northumberland.


Stanley C. Jenkins, UK


  Send New Information

Comment and discuss

Open Thread Leave a Reply Watch Thread

Find Related Items


Encyclopedia Titanica (2009) The Loss of RMS Leinster (The Times, Saturday 12th October 1918, ref: #9512, published 13 October 2009, generated 16th June 2024 06:12:06 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-loss-of-rms-leinster-dublin.html