SS Celtic (I)

SS Celtic was a 3,867 ton iron steamship with four masts and one funnel – built for the White Star Line to sail with passengers and cargo between Britain and America.

Originally intended to be named Arctic, it was decided to change the ships name to Celtic to avoid any association with another ship of the same name, a Collins Line paddle steamer which had sunk in 1854 with a great loss of life. Following the success of the first ships built, Celtic and her sister ship Adriatic (I) were amongst the earliest to have been built by Harland and Wolff for the White Star Line.

Celtic, shipyard number 79, was launched at Harland and Wolff, Belfast on 8th June 1872. Her sister ship Adriatic had already been launched on 17th October 1871. Upon completion Celtic sailed to Liverpool, and then, on 24th October 1872, with Captain Digby Murray in charge, departed Liverpool for her maiden voyage to New York via Queenstown.

Celtic arrived in New York for the first time on 5th November 1872. While in New York, it was reported at the time by the New York Times newspaper that, a large company of invited guests had been invited aboard to view the ship and were said to have been "treated to a handsome collation on board". The newspaper also reported that “The saloon […] is magnificently decorated and upholstered. The state-rooms are large and commodious, possessing every known appliance, [including electric bells and hot and cold water,] calculated to insure the comfort of the passengers” .

J Bruce Ismay, the son of White Star Line’s founder Thomas Ismay, and himself the future Managing Director of the line, departed Liverpool aboard Celtic to sail to New York for the very first time on 15th January 1874. He then returned home aboard Celtic on 16th August 1874. The last time he ever landed in New York was in 1912, along with Titanic’s other survivors, aboard RMS Carpathia.

Sometime after leaving Queenstown on a voyage from Liverpool to New York, having departed Liverpool on Thursday 15th January 1874, Celtic hit some floating wreckage during the night causing her to lose all the blades of her propeller. She was then towed back to Queenstown by White Star Line’s Gaelic, where her cargo was transferred to Gaelic and her passengers had to wait to be picked up by White Star Line’s Baltic on Friday 23rd January. Celtic was repaired and returned to service.

It was reported in the 9th June 1874 edition of the New-York Daily Tribune that in a dense fog on the morning of 8th June 1874, Celtic – having arrived in New York from Liverpool the day before, and, partly because of the fog, but mainly because it was a Sunday, had anchored and stayed still overnight – was hit by the steamer Matteawan “squarely in the stern,” causing part of her railing to be carried away and one of the stanchions to be crushed; while Matteawan’s Pilot house and all of her upper works were said to have been badly shattered. Nobody was hurt on either ship, and it was said that few of Celtic’s passengers were even aware of the accident. The report states that "according to her officers, the Celtic's bell was constantly ringing," but the officers of Matteawan claimed no such bell was ringing.

An article appeared in the 13th February 1880 New York Times describing how, 800 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, “a strange passenger” boarded the ship in mid-ocean – a large white owl, said to have measured nearly five feet from wing to wing. The owl was said to have “dropped on one of the forward spars in an exhausted state one evening”, and after being brought to the deck by a crew member, was thought to be nearly dead from cold and hunger. After slowly recovering, the owl was described as being perfectly well, and safely arrived in New York aboard Celtic.

Edward Smith, later the captain of many of White Star Lines finest ships, including Titanic during her doomed maiden voyage, joined the White Star Line as Celtic’s Fourth Officer in March 1880.

Following Celtic’s 15th December 1883 departure from New York, with Captain Gleadell in charge, reports started to appear later in the month noting that Celtic had failed to turn up in the United Kingdom and that nothing had been heard of her.

When the Hamburg-American Line steamer Gellert arrived in Plymouth on 30th December – her crew reported that they had sighted Celtic on the 22nd and one of Celtic’s pursers had come aboard their ship and told them that a day into the voyage Celtic’s propeller shaft had broken and that they were having to use the ship’s sails to proceed. The purser requested that they tow Celtic – but – due to the weather, the request had to be declined. Gellert offered to take on Celtic’s passengers and mail, but it was said that Celtic’s passengers refused to enter the boats because of a gale – so Gellert went on her way.

When the steamship Argosy passed Celtic on 5th January, Argosy offered to take aboard four passengers from Celtic. Lots were drawn to choose the four; two of the winners took their places aboard Argosy; the other two were said to have sold their places to the highest bidder. White Star Line’s Britannic (I) found Celtic on 12th January, and, after transferring a supply of whisky and brandy aboard, towed Celtic to Queenstown then on to Liverpool – where Celtic completed her voyage 22 days overdue.

While Celtic, with 869 passengers aboard, was steaming from Liverpool to New York, during the afternoon of 19th May 1887, about 350 miles off Sandy Hook, White Star Line’s Britannic (I), steaming from New York to Liverpool, appeared through thick fog; action was taken to avoid each other, but the two ships collided. Celtic’s bow was severely damaged; Britannic suffered damage to her port side and took on water.

Lifeboats were lowered from Britannic, women and children first, and made their way to the less seriously damaged Celtic. Once it was established that Britannic was not in danger of sinking, some of the lifeboats returned to the ship. At least four steerage passengers aboard Britannic died as a result of the collision. There were no fatalities aboard Celtic. Both ships were escorted to New York by Wilson Line's Marengo and Inman Line's British Queen.

On 9th June 1887, following the collision between Britannic and Celtic, at a Naval Court held in New York at the British Consulate, Britannic’s Captain, Hamilton Perry, was “severely censured” for the speed the ship was going and for failing to give appropriate signals. Celtic’s Captain, Peter Irving, was “severely censured” for the speed the ship was going in the weather conditions. The inquiry thought that improvements should be made to the way ships signal in such situations. Both Britannic and Celtic were repaired and returned to normal service.

Celtic started her last White Star Line Voyage, from Liverpool to New York, on 4th February 1891; arriving in New York on 14th February. After returning home, Celtic seems to have then been unused.

Celtic was sold in 1893 to Thingvalla Line, and, with her name changed to Amerika, become a Danish ship, sailing from Copenhagen to New York; although, it is said, Amerika only ever made eight of these voyages.

Amerika was broken up for Scrap in Brest, France, in 1898.

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