Encyclopedia Titanica


The seal hunting ship Samson was built in 1885 at Logebergskaret, Arendal, Norway. She had a registered tonnage of 525.

The Samson together with the Pollux were pioneer vessels in the Seal hunting trade. The Samson was also famous for being used by Richard Byrd in the Arctic.

There has been speculation that the Samson was close to the Titanic during the sinking of that vessel. Many survivors claimed to have seen lights or been told while boarding lifeboats to pull for a light on the horizon. May think that this vessel was the Californian but some have argued for the presence of a third ship, visible to both the Titanic and Californian. Among the leading proponents of this theory was Leslie Harrison, general secretary of the Mercantile Marine Association in the 1960s. In an article for the Guardian (London) newspaper "Clue to the Titanic ghost ship " in 1963 he considered that the captain of Californian, Stanley Lord had been the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice. The Californian had been, he claimed, more than 20 miles away, while the Samson was, according to one of its crew, very much nearer

Hendrik Bergethon Naess, a mate on the Samson in April 1912 stated that when he shipped on board the Samson she was in the Norwegian town of Tonsberg. Coal and other equipment was shipped in. The Samson was at that time owned by a company managed by August Fosse in Trondheim, Norway. The captain was C. L. Ring.

On 9 February 1912, according to Naess, the ship left Tonsberg. It sailed to the north of the Orkney Islands. Then it sailed for the hunting grounds off Newfoundland. As they approached Newfoundland they expected to see icebergs so the crew measured the sea temperature initially every hour. When the temperature later sank to zero, they took the temperature every half hour. The fog came in reducing visibility, not clearing until they were beyond Cap Hatteras.

Naess claimed that on the night of 14-15 April 1912:

"I was on duty that evening, but I sat with the captain and drank a rum toddy and smoked an evening pipe. Just before midnight I went on deck, waiting to be relieved. While I was walking there, I noticed two big stars in the sky far away to the south These stars were very low, I told the watch on the bridge, go up the mast and see what it could be. I thought it might have been American seal hunters. The watchman on the bridge shouted that it was not stars, but lanterns. And he told us that he saw a lot of lights. Then suddenly some rockets appeared.. Then suddenly all lights went out, and it became dark. "

The Samson did nothing in response to these rockets but this, explained Naess, was because Samson was sealing in territorial waters and could have been prosecuted for doing so illegally. Samson sailed north, to avoid detection. When dawn came they were miles away and could not see any ship. There was no sign of there having been any either. They passed several big icebergs.

Soon the crew forgot about the incident, and continued northwards. The hunting was not good, so they sailed for the Denmark Straight to catch klappmyss. After four days they met the ice at the Davisstredet, where they were caught by the ice for some time. After a while the ice broke up, and "Samson " was able to get out.

The ship was hit by severe wind and the Samson was hit by a piece of ice and the captain decided to seek safe harbour in Iceland. It was in Iceland that the crew got the news about the Titanic from the Norwegian consul.

Naess said that when he got back on board the Samson he compared their positions and saw that Samson had been within 10 miles of the sinking ship(1).

In the late 1920s "Samson " was sold to the American explorer Richard Even Byrd. It was renamed City of New York. Byrd used the Samson on his first expedition to Antarctica (1928 - 29).

On 30 December 1952 while being towed to Halifax, Nova Scotia the ship ran aground off Yarmouth. A fire later broke out which quickly spread throughout the vessel.

Recent research has indicated that the Samson was reported in port in Iceland shortly before the date of Titanic sinking which would make her presence on the scene impossible. But speculation about the possible presence of a third ship continues.

Agderposten (Arendal, Norway), 9 September 1998

Arne Mjaland, Norway