SS Cymric was a passenger and cargo ship built for the White Star Line to sail between the United Kingdom and the United States. Launched at Harland and Wolff, Belfast on 12 October 1897, Cymric, shipyard number 316, was in service from 1898 until she was sunk during the First World War as a result of enemy action.
It is said that Cymric was originally designed primarily to be a livestock carrier, but it was soon decided to instead increase the passenger accommodation at the expense of her livestock carrying capacity; despite this change, Cymric could still carry livestock.
With Captain Henry St. George Lindsay in command, Cymric departed Liverpool for her maiden voyage to New York on 11th February 1898. According to the New York Times, there were no passengers onboard; only cargo and some livestock. The weather endured by Cymric during the voyage was described as being rough.
Cymric arrived in New York for the first time on 22nd February 1898. It was soon afterwards reported in the Geneva Daily Times that Cymric’s captain, Henry St. George Lindsay, had said that Cymric was the steadiest ship that he had ever been aboard, and that during the voyage he had put a glass filled almost to the brim with water on one of the saloon tables, and not a drop of it was spilled on the stormy passage.
During the Boer War, in 1900, Cymric was used for two voyages as a troopship, sailing from Liverpool to Cape Town. The first of these voyages started on 1st January 1900, with around 400 horses aboard and nearly around 1900 soldiers; the second voyage started on 1st March 1900, with around 450 horses aboard and over 1000 soldiers. During these voyages, Cymric was known as HM Transport No. 74.
While sailing from Britain to America, on 5th August 1900, at around noon, a fire was discovered in Cymric’s hold. The forward hatch was lifted, and pouring out came a yellowish vapor, chlorine gas, caused by, it is said, the fusion of ash soda by the fire mixing with bleaching powder. The fire was assumed to have been the result of spontaneous combustion.
While struggling to put the fire out – the fumes caused numerous members of the crew fighting the fire to become overcome and loose consensus – including the captain – Captain Lindsay.
The fire was eventually brought under control by the engineers cutting holes through the deck to allow steam and water through. Despite the fire burning for 36 hours, the ship itself was not believed to have been damaged at all, and nobody was seriously harmed.
At the end of a voyage from New York to Liverpool, on 19th January 1901, while in the River Mersey, Cymric was involved in a collision with the Prince Line’s Carib Prince. According to the New York Times and the New York Daily Tribune, the collision was caused by a strong flood tide driving Cymric towards the Carib Prince, causing Cymric’ port quarter deck to be damaged, her plates to stove, her rail to be carried away and, it was said, she had a hole in her stern measuring 12 by 21 feet – reaching to her main deck. They also reported that Carib Prince had suffered damage to some of her plates and her bowsprit had been carried away. The Republic and The World reported that the accident had taken place in dense/heavy fog. Cymric’s next voyage was not delayed by the incident.
Following a last voyage to New York, arriving on 16th November 1903, Cymric was moved to the Liverpool to Boston service; starting her first voyage on her new route on 10th December1903 – with Captain TP Thompson in command; arriving in Boston on 20th December.
While sailing from Liverpool to Boston, under the command of William Finch, on the morning of 3rd February 1908, Cymric, in extremely bad weather conditions, noticed the Phoenix Line’s St Cuthbert on fire off the coast of Nova Scotia. The fire abroad the St Cuthbert, a 4,954 ton cargo steam vessel, sailing from Antwerp to New York, had broken out the day before – and those aboard the St Cuthbert were in desperate need of help.
Due to the extreme weather conditions, for hours, Cymric could do nothing but stand by the St Cuthbert and wait for the sea to calm. When the opportunity eventually come about, one of Cymric’s lifeboats was launched – commanded by Chief Officer John Stivey – and the evacuation of St Cuthbert’s survivors began.
After making three trips to the St Cuthbert, the lifeboat had transferred all 41 of the survivors, including St Cuthbert’s captain, John Lewis. 14 people were lost in the disaster, mostly during earlier attempts to abandon ship. Captain Finch, Chief Officer Stivey and the crew of the lifeboat were all recognized for bravery for their part in the rescue. St Cuthbert was left to burn and sink.
The New York Times reported in April 1912, that at the time of the Titanic disaster, Cymric was at sea, travelling to Boston, and that news of the disaster had been kept from the passengers.
During the First World War, It was reported in the New York Tribune, on 26th November 1914, that there were rumors that Cymric had been sunk by the Germans in the North Sea. It was said that officials from the White Star Line knew nothing of the Cymric as she had been taken over by the British Government and was being used as a supply ship. The rumors that Cymric had sunk turned out to be false.
In usual White Star Line service, Cymric sailed from Liverpool on 20th December 1914, but instead of sailing to Boston, from this voyage, she changed back to her Liverpool to New York route; arriving in New York on New Year’s Eve.
While sailing from New York to Liverpool in July 1915, Cymric, under the command of Captain Beadnell, spotted the Gypsum Queen, a Canadian schooner, sinking. A lifeboat was lowered from Cymric and all nine people aboard the Gypsum Queen were rescued.
It was reported in the New York Times on 27th September 1915, that when Cymric had departed New York on 27th August 1915, she had onboard, it was said, 17,000 tons of cargo, said to have been the largest shipment of ammunition that had been made since the start of the war. It was said that in addition to hundreds of cases of rifle and revolver cartridges, Cymric also had aboard a large number of empty shells which were to be filled when in Britain. It was said that during the voyage, with the Germans being aware of her cargo, Cymric was targeted by U-boats; but safely arrived back in Liverpool.
On 12th April 1916, under the command of Captain Beadnell, Cymric departed Liverpool for New York for what turned out to be the last time; arriving in New York for the last time on 22nd April.
On 29th April 1916, loaded with cargo and with Captain Beadnell still in command, Cymric departed New York for Liverpool on what turned out to be her last ever voyage. Onboard were 112 people, all crew, except for according to the New York Times, 6 passengers who were said to have been members of the British Consular service; other sources also mention there being 5 sailors returning home aboard the ship.
At 4pm (or 1.10pm) on 8th May 1916, while Sailing 140 miles West North West of Fastnet, Ireland, Cymric was suddenly, without any warning, torpedoed by the German submarine U20 – the very same submarine that had controversially sank the Lusitania almost exactly a year earlier. The torpedo exploded into the port side of her engine room, and then immediately caused the death of 4 members of her crew.
With the crew seemingly believing the ship was sinking faster than she was, the ship was evacuated; tragically during the evacuation Chief Steward KB Malcolm was killed, having said to have fallen into the sea and drowned.
With the ship sinking more slowly than seemingly expected, it seems at least some of the crew returned to the ship, and despite the ship having no power, it is said that the crew were able to send a wireless message for help using battery power. Cymric sunk during the early hours of the next day, at around 3.30am. The 107 survivors were rescued and taken to Bantry, Ireland.
With the Lusitania having been sunk the year before with a huge loss of civilian lives – there seems to have been a fair bit of concern and demand for answers in America about the sinking – as yet again – a non-armed merchant ship had been sunk. Once it was confirmed that there were no citizens of neutral countries aboard and the ship was only carrying cargo – it seems to soon have been forgotten about.
The exact location of the wreck today is not known.