1903 - 1909
the beginning of the 20th century, many of the most interesting
ships on the North Atlantic were not British. They were from Germany -
either from the illustrious Norddeutscher Lloyd or the distinguished Hamburg-Amerika
Linie. The speed queens were the Norddeutscher Lloyd’s expanding Kaiser
Wilhelm der Grosse-class which had entered the race in 1897. When the
class was completed in 1907, N.D.L. had four sisters for a fashionable
express-run over the Atlantic. The Hamburg-Amerika Linie also had a greyhound
in their Deutschland who held the Blue Riband for many years in
the beginning of the century - paying the prize of vibration and unpopularity.
had left speed temporarily and invested in large, steady and reliable ships
such as the White Star Line’s Big Four-class, which begun in 1901 with
the 21,000-tonner Celtic. The Cunard Line had been totally outmanoeuvred,
and could only boast the ageing Campania and Lucania as their
was not only the flagships of the shipping companies that were of importance.
Several smaller vessels made the backbone of every eminent line. In the
beginning of the 1900s, the British Dominion Line commissioned
a 15,000-tonner they intended to name
Columbus. Not being a
rival, the White Star Line admitted the Dominion-liner to be constructed
at Harland & Wolff’s shipyard in Belfast. The agreement between the
White Star Line and Harland & Wolff consisted of that no rivalling
company to White Star should be able to have their vessels constructed
at Harland & Wolff. In return, all White Star ships were built at Harland
|The Columbus stayed
with the Dominion Line only for a short while before she was transferred
to White Star and renamed Republic.
26, 1903, the Columbus was launched into the River Lagan, and on
September 9, she was handed over to her owners. The ship was just above
15,000 tons and did not exceed 600 feet in length. The service speed would
be around 16 knots. The Columbus was soon ready for her maiden voyage
and on October 1, she made her first trip between Liverpool and Boston.
as the White Star Line, the Dominion Line was part of the ever-expanding
International Mercantile Marine, controlled by the American J. P. Morgan.
After having entered service in the Dominion Line, the I.M.M. management
thought it better if the Columbus would join the White Star Line
instead. The route would be the same.
was, and on December 3, 1903, the vessel made her first voyage for the
White Star Line as the new Republic. The Republic continued
on the Liverpool-Boston passenger trade route until 1904 when she was transferred
to the New York-Mediterranean run for cruising.
continued to serve the cruise-passengers until the end of the decade. The
last voyage the Republic would ever do started at New York harbour
on January 22, 1909. She left with 525 passengers and 297 crewmembers bound
for Naples via Madeira. Close to six in the morning the next day the ship
was surrounded by thick fog 175 miles from the Ambrose Lighthouse. With
no modern equipment ship captains of today are used to, the Republic’s
commanding officer Captain William Sealby had given the order to slow down
marginally. To further ensure himself and his ship of safety, the ship’s
whistle was ordered to be blown in at close intervals to inform other vessels
of the Republic’s presence.
Italiano steamer Florida, inbound for New York was at this time
very close to the Republic. She had failed to be alerted
in spite of Captain Sealby’s
efforts, and at nine minutes to six the Florida accidentally rammed
the Republic. She struck the British vessel’s port side just aft
of midships. The Republic’s engine room immediately started flooding.
Still unused in history before, Captain Sealby ordered the radioman to
use his Marconi wireless station and call for assistance. The international
distress signal C.Q.D. was sent out in the air for other vessels to pick
up. One of the first things that happened after the collision was that
the Republic’s lights and all other power went out. The Marconi-man
Jack Binns had to use the extra-power.
|The First Class Library on
board the Republic.
had drifted back into the fog after the collision, and did not seem to
be contactable. However, there were many other ships in the vicinity. The
White Star liner Baltic at 23,000 tons was the world’s fifth largest
vessel at the time, and as soon as she got the message from the Republic
she steamed on into the hazardous fog. The Cunard Line’s former Blue Riband
champion Lucania also sped towards the stricken liner, as did the
Inman & International liner New York (the same vessel that almost
stopped Titanic on her maiden voyage three years later).
any of these vessels reached the disaster-site, the only ship that could
help the alarmingly listing Republic was the Florida. The
ship seemed to remain afloat after the impact and turned towards the Republic
after having been sounded. On this winter-voyage she carried about nine
hundred Italian emigrants to the Americas. When she arrived back to the
Republic, the transfer commenced. Almost full at the beginning,
the Florida became dangerously overloaded when almost eight hundred
extra passengers stepped aboard.
settled slowly downwards stern-first, and when the transfer to the Florida
had been finished, only Captain Sealby and 46 members of his crew remained
on the poop deck. The captain still hoped his ship could be towed to safety.
had on her way to the Republic lost herself in the dense fog. When
she finally arrived to her fleet mate she found her
almost derelict, and a smaller
Italian liner crumpled and overloaded. The Baltic immediately took
on board both the Republic’s and the Florida’s passengers.
This was not an easy task, though. When all the children had been transferred,
the English first-class men took their turn before the ‘Italian trash’
- whether man or woman. The Italians were outraged and almost rioted, but
‘discipline and the privilege of class were upheld’.
|The Republic sinking
by the stern after having been hit by the Lloyd Italiano liner Florida.
Coast Guard Revenue Cutter, the Gresham, arrived the next day on
the scene, which now had become a gathering-spot for many ships. She attached
a line on the Republic and intended to tow her to safety. But at
8.25 p.m. the Republic started to settle rapidly and landed on the
ocean floor 34 fathoms below. She sank so quickly that Captain Sealby and
his men had to be taken from the water. At the end, only four lives were
lost, due to the impact.
was escorted to port by the New York. She was later sold for £40,000,
after having been repaired, and the Lloyd Italiano Line used the money
to pay the White Star Line. They had sued Lloyd Italiano for the collision
and won the case in court.
the loss of the Republic was the largest ship-loss ever. Instead
of increasing the safety of ships, the self-confidence of the shipping
lines grew; it had taken almost two days for the Republic to sink,
and almost one hundred percent of the people on board had been saved. This
was due to the Republic’s twelve strong bulkheads and the assistance
of nearby vessels. An increase of ships’ lifeboats did not seem necessary.
But fate would ultimately prove different. In 1912, a similar collision
between an iceberg and a large ship occurred. The ship had sixteen strong
bulkheads, but unfortunately there were no vessels nearby, and the lifeboats
were not sufficient.
|The Columbus/Republic -
||585 feet (178.7 m)
||67 feet (20.5 m)
||15,378 gross tons
||Steam quadruple expansion
engines powering two propellers.