The Daily Telegraph





By the rescue of the passengers and crew of the ill-fated German liner Hammonia in the Atlantic Ocean, some 100 miles off Vigo, on Saturday afternoon, British ships, British mercantile officers, and British crews added another glorious page to the record of heroic deeds, sublime courage and self-sacrifice for which the British Mercantile service is justly famed in every corner of the globe. It is a long and honourable record, a chapter in our history of which every citizen of the Empire should be proud.

The Hammonia was a British-built vessel of 7,197 tons, gross register, owned by the Hamburg-america Line, and was a comparativ­ely new ship, having been completed in 1909. She left Vigo shortly after noon on Friday, in command of Captain Alfred Hoefer, with 557 souls on board, consisting of 365 passengers and 192 officers and crew. The weather was blowing a stiff gale, and the majority of the passengers were suffering from the effects of the first rough weather experience­d since they left Hamburg. A large proportion of the passengers went below shortly after the Hammonia cleared Vigo, and were not up again until ordered on deck next morning, between 8.30 and nine o’clock, by which time the vessel’s doom was already sealed.


There is no definite informatio­n available as to the actual cause of the disaster. It is admitted by the captain and officers of the Hammonia that, during Friday evening and all through the night, the ship was “making water” to an extent far in excess of the ability of her pumps to cope with; but neither Captain Hoefer nor his officers would venture any opinion as to where the leak occurred or to what extent the vessel had sprung. Captain Hoefer holds the opinion that the ship was damaged by the fury of the gale experience­d, after leaving Vigo, when, he said, “it blew with the fury of hell.” Officers and members of the crew bear out Captain Hoefer’s statements regarding the weather; but there are those among the passengers who, while admitting that a stiff gale raged throughout Friday afternoon and night, ridicule the suggestion that it was such as could do any serious damage to a staunch ship like the Hammonia.

A most sensationa­l statement is made by a number of the passengers, and supported by others, to the effect that the disaster was brought about by reason of the coal ports not having been properly closed after the Hammonia had bunkered coal at Hamburg. On the run from Hamburg to Plymouth, and from the latter port to Vigo, the Hammonia was favoured by fine weather and a calm sea; and it was not until she left Vigo that the vessel met with high seas running over the line of her coal ports. Several passengers, in conversati­on with a representa­tive of The Daily Telegraph,

asserted that during Friday afternoon they witnessed the ship’s carpenter being lowered over the side of the vessel, and that, armed with a heavy hammer, he was endeavouri­ng to close securely the coal ports on the starboard side. This statement is denied by the ship’s officers.


Statements of survivors go to show that there was a lack of discipline on the doomed liner from the moment it became apparent that she would founder; and that there was a good deal of nervous excitement among the great body of the passengers, which, in the case of the Spanish section, assumed the proportion­s of actual panic. It is further alleged that there was no ordered discipline in the manning and launching of the lifeboats, the ship’s organisati­on in that regard having, it is asserted, entirely broken down. “In the midst of confusion and through lack of discipline on the part of the ship’s officers,” a passenger declared, “Spanish passengers got out of hand and proceeded to cut away the lifeboats’ tackle but failed to lower the boats in the proper manner. Some boats were smashed and others so damaged as to be useless. Tackle was cut away, boats literally fell into the sea, and these men, in their panic, regardless of the women and children, swarmed the boats in their mad rush to get away from the ship.”

“The scene was harrowing and disgracefu­l,” remarked another passenger. “Those wretched people, wild-eyed and panicstric­ken, rushing the boats; and women, many of them with children to protect, were thrust aside and left on the fast-sinking ship, while the Spanish male passengers, and a few Germans – the latter, for the most part, members of the crew – were clamouring to save their own skins. There was no vestige of organisati­on, authority, or timely discipline.”

The passengers had been told that Captain Day of the Kinfauns Castle had heard their cry and that the good ship was being rushed at all speed to their rescue. The moments seemed ages! The ship’s list increased. “There were moments,” remarked a lady passenger, “when we felt that all was lost. It was during one of those moments of utter despair that we heard Mr. Jubb, the English passenger, give a great shout. He pointed to a little streak of smoke, and then began to whistle. We never lifted our eyes from that smoke. Gradually it became larger, until, in a great black cloud of smoke, we could see the outline of this grand ship, the Kinfauns Castle, smashing and tearing through the waves to save us. I think we all shed tears of joy.”

“It was our salvation. Those splendid officers and brave men! We know now that officers on British ships are brave men and gentlemen, and your sailors are simply heroes. Their work was grand and noble, and their calm courage and discipline was a great contrast to what had taken place on the Hammonia. I wonder if you people of England know what gallant officers and fearless men your sailors are?”

Survivors of the ill-starred liner vied with each other in their acclamatio­ns of praise of Captain Day and the officers and crew of the Kinfauns Castle. Many of the German passengers speak English, and to them no terms were extravagan­t in giving expression to their admiration for Captain Day and those associated with him in the rescue operations.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom