In the later part of the 1880’s, White Star Line struck a deal with the British Government to help fund the construction of two new ships. The deal was that the Government would help to fund them in return for in time of war the ships being available to be and designed to be easily converted into armed merchant cruisers. The first of these ships completed was RMS Teutonic, followed by a sister ship RMS Majestic.
Teutonic, shipbuilder’s yard number 208, was launched on 19th January 1889 at Harland and Wolff, Belfast. As well as being the first passenger ship designed to be easily converted in to an armed merchant cruiser, she was also White Star’s first twin screw (two propellers) ship and the first to completely abandon sails.
On 21st May 1889, Teutonic was boarded by her first royal person, the son of Queen Victoria and future British King, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. He was in Belfast to open Harland and Wolff’s new Alexandra Graving Dock, which he did from the Bridge of Teutonic, as the ship sailed into the new dock.
After the full completion of Teutonic, she left Belfast her birth place, and on 29th July 1889 arrived at Liverpool her home port, where she was quickly converted into an armed merchant cruiser to be shown off at the Spithead Naval Review.
At the Spithead Naval Review on 4th August 1889, Teutonic was again boarded by the Prince of Wales, who this time was accompanied by Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German Emperor. During their tour, the Kaiser remarked that "We must have some of these".
After returning to Liverpool, and having been changed back from being an armed merchant cruiser, under the command of Captain Parsells, Teutonic departed Liverpool for her maiden voyage to New York on Wednesday 7th August 1889. She arrived in New York on Wednesday 14th August.
During a westbound crossing on 5th August 1891, Majestic, Teutonic’s sister ship, won the Blue Riband of the Atlantic for the fastest westbound crossing. Just 2 weeks later, on 19th August, Teutonic snatched the Blue Riband from her sister after a westbound crossing of 5 days, 16 hours and 31 minutes. Teutonic, which held the title for 11 months, was the very last White Star Line ship to hold the Blue Riband.
While under the command of Captain Cameron on 8th January 1895, in freezing weather and terrible sea conditions, Teutonic spotted a two masted fishing schooner, Josie Reeves sinking. Teutonic’s crew tried to reach the Josie Reeves crew using a Starboard lifeboat of Teutonic, but due to the weather conditions they found it an impossible task and had to give up. In the end Teutonic made her way as close to the Josie Reeves as possible and all 9 of the fishing schooners crew made their way to Teutonic using their own dories (small boats) and were safely rescued by Teutonic’s crew.
In New York on 10th march 1895, members of Teutonic’s crew who were involved in the rescue received medals from the Life Saving Benevolent Association, of New York.
Nearly eight years after the last time she had attended and temporally converted into an armed merchant cruiser, Teutonic again took part in the Spithead Naval Review on 26th June 1897. With the Prince of Wales again in attendance, this Naval Review was a part of the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years on the throne).
In New York Bay on 21st November 1898, Teutonic collided with the United States transport Berlin; fortunately the damage to Teutonic was so minor that it was no more than a slight mark on her starboard bow, with Berlin suffering no known damage. Most of the passengers were not even aware of the incident until being informed by the ships stewards.
In 1900, During the Boer War Teutonic served Britain as a troop transport.
In a reminder of the dangers of the sea, while in the Atlantic Ocean, at about 9am on Sunday 24th February 1901, Teutonic suddenly without any warning was struck by a massive wave; amongst the chaos the ships two lookouts were thrown to the deck from the Crow’s Nest high up on the ships mast. Fortunately the ship survived and there were no fatalities.
In an odd occurrence of a lighting and snowstorm, on Sunday 13th December 1903, as Teutonic neared New York her foremast was stuck by a bolt of lightning which caused the top of the mast to split. Her captain, Captain McKinstry, said that, blinded by the flash from the lightning, he initially thought there may have been an explosion on board.
While Teutonic was on fire at her pier in New York on 28th July 1905, with New York Fire Fighters and the fireboat McClellan in attendance, the voice of the ships storekeeper, John Burns, who had been asleep, was heard calling out from his cabin.
He was trapped in his cabin and the wall of the electrician’s cabin next to his was burning. Through his porthole window, the Fire Fighters quickly dampened him with water and rushed to rescue him; though, it would take half an hour to free him, all the time with the Fire Fighters cooling him with water every minute or two.
As well as the fire in the electricians and storekeepers cabin, the fire also damaged the ships port engine room, where the fire fighters rescued two of the ships stockers who were found uncon-scious. Despite the damage caused by the fire, Teutonic sailed as usual from New York five days lat-er.
In June 1907, Teutonic was moved from the Liverpool-New York service to the Southampton-New York service. She was joined on the Southampton route by Adriatic, Oceanic and Majestic. Her first voyage on the new route started on 12th June, under the command of Captain Harry Smith.
On 16th August 1907 the New York Times reported that at sea on 11th Au-gust, while he was “Temporarily insane from heat”, one of the ships stokers jumped over board and soon started shouting for help. A lifeboat was low-ered to rescue him and exhausted, he spent the rest of the voyage in the ships hospital.
As she was leaving New York for Southampton, at about 11am on 16th June 1909, Teutonic ran aground and become stuck at the eastern entrance of the Ambrose Channel. Her Captain, Captain James, sent a message saying the ship was stuck and that he would be able to move the ship with the rising tide. At about 1.30pm she was finally able to free herself on her own, and after a quick inspection of her hull was able to continue to Southampton.
In May 1911, Teutonic was transferred from the Britain to America, Southampton-New York Service to the Britain to Canada, Liverpool- Montréal service. She made her first voyage on this service on 13th May.
A year and a half after the Titanic disaster, it was reported in various newspapers that Teutonic, under the command of Captain James, had nearly come to the same fate as Titanic. As she was steaming from Montréal back to Liverpool, in thick fog, at 3.30pm on 22nd October 1913, an iceberg was spotted right ahead of the ship; the order Hard to port and full astern was given and the ship is said to have just cleared the iceberg.
After the outbreak of World War I, from September 1914, Teutonic was used to serve her country as an Armed Merchant Cruiser, a job she was designed to do. She served with the 10th Cruiser Squadron.
In August 1915, the British Admiralty bought the ship from the White Star Line. In 1918, Teutonic was used as a troopship steaming between Britain and Egypt, although still owned by the Admiralty apparently she was back to being managed by the White Star Line. She survived the war and continued to be used until at least July 1920.
Teutonic was laid up at Cowes Roads, Isle of White, UK, and was then broken up for scrap at Emden, Germany in 1921.