SS Belgic

SS Belgic (III) served as a White Line immigrant ship from 1911 to 1913, sailing between Britain and Australia. Originally named Mississippi (II), she was built for and originally served the Atlantic Transport Line. She was the only ship to serve the White Star Line to have been built in the United States.

Mississippi, shipyard number 8, was launched at New York Shipbuilding Corporation’s shipyard in Camden, New Jersey, United States on 15th December 1902. An article appearing in the New York Times newspaper the following day noted that she was built for the Atlantic cattle trade of her company, had a gross tonnage of 8,100 tons, and that she was rigged as a four-masted schooner, with two sets of triple expansion engines.

Her maiden voyage, from Baltimore, Maryland, United States to London, England, United Kingdom, started on 16th April 1903. It was reported in the New York Times in October 1903 that Mississippi had arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States to take a cargo of cotton. It was reported that Mississippi was the largest American freight carrier to ever come to that port and will sail away with “the greatest cargo of cotton ever shipped” from that port.

In July 1906, Mississippi was transferred from the American Transport Line to the Red Star Line – both companies were by this time owned by the International Mercantile Marine Company. Mississippi’s name was changed to Samland, and upon being transferred to the Red Star Line, she started to sail from Antwerp, Belgium to New York. American newspapers at the time reported that she was renamed Samland in honour of America and the term Uncle Sam. Her maiden Red Star Line voyage started from Antwerp on 7th July 1906.

On 30th August 1911, Samland was transferred from the Red Star Line to the White Star Line, also owned by the International Mercantile Marine Company. Renamed Belgic, and put into service as an immigrant ship, she began her maiden White Star Line voyage on 25th September 1911, sailing from Liverpool in the United Kingdom to Australia, with around 1554 immigrants aboard.

During her maiden White Star Line voyage, Belgic arrived in Capetown, South Africa on 18th or 19th October 1911 with her coal reported to have been “heated”, resulting in the coal having to be “discharged” from the ship before she continued on with her voyage.

Belgic arrived at her first Australian port, Fremantle, on 9th November 1911. At Fremantle around 913 or 917 of the around 1554 immigrants stated to have been aboard ended their voyage aboard the ship, to start their new lives in Australia. The Australian newspapers described the immigrants arriving aboard Belgic in terms such as they “appear to be a very desirable type" and “they are a particularly fine lot”, and Belgic’s captain, Captain Thornton, is reported to have spoken highly about their conduct during the voyage.

Belgic was supposed to depart Fremantle the day after arriving, on 10th November, but things did not go to plan due to, just prior to departing, over 30 of her crew, made up of fireman and deck crew, suddenly deserting the ship.

With so many of her crew absent, Belgic was effectively stranded in port. The majority of the absent crew were arrested during the early hours of the next day at the Sailors Rest, another two handed themselves into the police and a further crew member had already been arrested while drunk.

The majority of the crew arrested were fined, to be taken from their wages, and were ordered to return to the ship; those considered to be the ringleaders were sentenced to 14 days imprisonment; and one was released from the court after it was confirmed he had actually been discharged from the ship in Cape Town after assaulting the Chief Engineer, and had been mistakenly returned to the ship by the police there.

Three of those ordered back to the ship refused to resume duty, and were then sentenced to six weeks imprisonment. With additional crew members signed on, Belgic continued her voyage on 12th November.

Belgic arrived at her berth in Adelaide during the morning of 18th November, where around 247 immigrants departed the ship. A number of newspaper reports covering Belgic’s arrival in Adelaide were noticeably negative: including a report in The Advertiser newspaper saying that passengers had been criticising the food available aboard, and saying that the lavatories aboard the ship had been described as being in a shocking condition. The immigration officer is, however, said to have not had concerns about the condition aboard the ship. Belgic then departed Adelaide on 20th November.

From Adelaide, Belgic proceeded to Melbourne, where she arrived on 22nd November, landing around 200 immigrants. The next day, she then sailed to Sydney, completing her maiden Australian and White Star Line voyage, arriving on 26th November, and landing her remaining passengers. Before departing Australia she sailed to Newcastle and then Brisbane for cargo purposes, before returning to Sydney on 15th December, and then beginning her voyage home to the United Kingdom on 22nd December.

Belgic’s second voyage to Australia was supposed to have begun from Liverpool on 23rd March 1912, but had to be delayed due to a national coal strike in Britain. The coal strike affected the schedule of many ships, and, due to there being a lack of coal, resulted in some passengers having to be transferred from other ships to the maiden voyage of Titanic, which sailed shortly after the strike ended. Belgic eventually set sail on 27th April 1912, arriving at Fremantle, Australia for the second time on 11th June.

Belgic began her final voyage as a White Star Line ship on 21st May 1913, sailing from Liverpool to Australia. This time, arriving at Fremantle on 3rd July, Adelaide on 9th July, Melbourne on 13th July and arriving at Sydney on 27th July. She began the journey home from Sydney on 7th August.

Ending her White Star Line career, Belgic was transferred back to the Red Star Line; the name Samland was given back to her, and she was returned to her North Atlantic crossings.

In May 1915, during the First World War, it was discovered that Samland had a ‘fire bomb’ aboard, hidden aboard before she departed land, and intended to ignite out at sea, attempting to destroy the ship. A couple of months later the New York Times reported what had happened, saying that Samland was “uninjured, the bombs having failed to ignite”, and that the bombs had been “discovered after the cargo had been removed, tossing about amongst the dunnage.” A later article in the New York Times, around 2 years later, reporting on a court case regarding the fire bombs, included Samland in a list of ships on which fires or explosions had occurred or on which bombs were found: saying: "May 13--Samland, fire at sea."

In February 1916 it was announced that Samland would be used to sail for the Commission for Relief in Belgium, supplying food to the people of Belgium and Northern France, both occupied by the German army, and suffering from a lack of food. Samland sailed with food from the United States (and possibly other places) to Rotterdam, Netherlands, where the food was then transferred to civilians who needed it in Belgium and Northern France.

In January 1915 newspapers reported that, on one such voyage, on 4th December 1916, Samland was about 900 miles west of Fastnet, when a shot was fired across her bows from a German commerce raider; Samland stopped; a boat from the German vessel was said to have made its way over to Samland with two German officers and four marines aboard; Samland’s wireless apparatus were said to have been taken down and thrown overboard, and the German officers are then said to have spent an hour inspecting the captain’s, Captain Wadsworth, papers. When satisfied that the cargo aboard was for relief purposes, Samland was allowed to continue on her way to Rotterdam.

After the war, Samland returned to her usual Red Star Line service, and continued sailing into New York for many years; arriving there for the last time in February 1931. After this, she was, in the same year, sold for scrap, and soon broken up.

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