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RMS Cedric

At the start of the 20th century, Harland and Wolff constructed four “Big Four Class” ships for the White Star Line. The Big Four were a quartet of ships that finally had a larger tonnage than the SS Great Eastern - a ship designed by British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, launched in 1858, and broken up for scrap in 1889.

The first of these ships was Celtic, launched in 1901; followed by Cedric, launched in 1902; then Baltic, launched in 1903; and finally, Adriatic, launched in 1907.

In the presence of J Bruce Ismay and other White Star Line, and Harland and Wolff officials, Cedric, yard number 337, was launched at Harland and Wolff, Belfast on 21st August 1902. When she was completed, at around 21,000 tons, Cedric was the largest ship in the world.

RMS Cedric
A postcard of Cedric.

Cedric, which was intended for the Britain to America service, Liverpool to New York route, began her maiden voyage from Liverpool on 11th February 1903, under the command of Captain Herbert J Haddock; she arrived in New York after a successful voyage on 20th February.

Early on a stormy morning, on 15th March 1905, during a voyage to New York, lasting 11 days, in which Captain Haddock was said to have described as being one of the most remarkable in his long experience, Cedric was struck by three huge waves, estimated as being at least 60 feet in height. The first wave struck the ship on the port bow, causing her to roll heavily to starboard; the second caused the cover of Hatch. No2 to be smashed, broke part of her port rail, and shattered a number of her port lights; the third and huge final wave bent a number of the ships forward plates.

On 21st March 1905, the New York Times reported that still during the above storm, on 16th March, a baby boy was born in 3rd class to Mrs Sarah Whitney. He was said to have been named Cedric, just like the ship in which he was born on.

In mid ocean, Sailing from Liverpool to New York on 13th May 1908, later described by the New York Times as “heavenly fireworks at sea”, Cedric’s passengers were able to enjoy watching a strange electrical storm in otherwise good sea conditions, lasting for around 2 hours. In its 17th May 1908 edition, The New York Times reported that, along with deafening thunder, “The lightning display was magnificent. The flashes were vivid and followed each other in such quick succession that for a time it played all over the ship, clothing her in fire. Great balls of fire appeared to chase each other down the steel masts”. At the time Cedric was under the command of Captain Charles A Bartlett, who would later be the captain of Britannic, Titanic’s younger sister ship, when she was sunk by a mine during the First World War.

At 11.23am, on 20th June 1909, Cedric become the first White Star Line ship to arrive at Holyhead, Wales, UK as part of White star’s new call at the port on the way to Liverpool to give passengers the option of leaving the ship at Holyhead, instead of Liverpool, and being able to board special trains that would get them to London much quicker than if they had disembarked at Liverpool.

After Arriving in New York from the Mediterranean, as part of a winter Mediterranean cruise, of which Cedric was involved with at least a few times during her career, the New York Times reported on 31 December 1909 that during the voyage 28 stowaways were found aboard, most of which were discovered, helped by them coming out if their hiding places during bad weather, and removed from the ship at Naples. The remaining stowaways discovered later on, 12 of them, were invited by the ships officers to join the steerage passengers for dinner on Christmas day.

Still under the command of Captain C A Bartlett, on 22 May 1911, Cedric crashed into one of the temporary pier extensions that were being constructed in New York so that Olympic and Titanic would be able to be accommodated there. Cedric caused several spiles to break off and splinter, and broke at least a dozen cross girders; Cedric was not believed to have been damaged in the incident.

Now under the command of Captain H Smith, making his first trip in command of the ship, Cedric turned up in New York 30 hours late on 21st January 1912 , after enduring strong gales and high seas all the way from the United Kingdom. During the voyage, on 15th January, with the ship believed to have seen 60 feet high waves, Cedric had an iron ladder on the aft promenade deck washed away and her No. 3 lifeboat smashed up, with Nos. 5 and 7 ending up being badly battered. The next day a stateroom window was smashed, causing a piece of the glass to be hurled across the room and end up stuck into a door; as well as two ladders that lead to the boat deck being washed away, damaging everything in their path. Fortunately, no one appears to have been hurt.

After the Titanic disaster, Cedric is said to have been ordered to remain in New York to immediately return Titanic’s surviving crew home to Britain. From onboard Carpathia, J Bruce Ismay sent a wireless message suggesting that Cedric should wait to take the crew and himself back. Due to the US Titanic Inquiry, Titanic’s crew were not able to immediately leave the US, and Cedric sailed back to Britain without any of Titanic’s survivors.

On 30th July 1914 Cedric departed Liverpool on a routine crossing to New York. Following the German invasion of Belgium, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914, while Cedric was still at sea. Being a British ship, there were fears for her safety because of the possible threat from German war ships. Cedric was ordered to make her way to Halifax, Canada as quick as she could; eventually meeting up with HMS Essex, who escorted her the rest of the way to Halifax. To try to hide Cedric from the Germans at night, windows were painted black and all visible lights were turned off. Her passengers had to complete their journey by train.

After the outbreak war Cedric made her last regular commercial sailing from Liverpool on 21 October 1914; on board, it has been said, were 500 Irishmen who were believed to have been leaving Ireland to avoid the potential of future conscription into the British Army; it was said by others arriving from Ireland that it was believed they had received money from German agents to leave to avoid them serving in Britain’s war effort.

After her last 1914 commercial voyage, Cedric served as an armed merchant cruiser and as a troop transport. In early 1916 she returned to commercial service, with her main role being transporting supplies, including munitions, back home to Britain, and apparently also Canadian troops. It should perhaps be noted that accurately detailing most of her war time service has not proved to be the easiest task, and that there are considerable differences between the dates and history given of her service during World War 1 amongst some of the secondary sources of information available. The information chosen here comes from primary sources. A more in depth look into her war time history will hopefully be undertaken by this website in the future.

While in a convoy on 29th January 1918, Cedric accidently rammed into the Canadian Pacific’s Line’s Montreal; Montreal was taken in to tow, but, near Liverpool, the next day she sunk into the sea.

After the war Cedric returned to her usual White Star Line service. In 1919 she was refitted at Harland and Wolff.

While in New York on 24th July 1919, a large shipment of mattress in Cedric’s holds 5 and 6 were destroyed by fire, along with several hundred barrels of flour thought to have been destroyed by water and smoke damage. At 6.45pm a steward noticed smoke escaping from the holds hatches; the ships fire crew were immediately called and upon opening the hatch, fire crew member Mr Edwards become instantly overcome by smoke and fell into the hold. After the smoke had been thinned out with water, five members of the marine division of the New York Fire Department made their way down into the hold to rescue Mr Edwards; after hearing nothing of the five men, a further 3 men were lowered into the hold on crane, only to immediately signal to be lifted back up as the conditions were impossible. Eventually, a rescue squad went down into the hold with gas masks and electric lanterns; in the hold they found the six men unconscious. Although Mr Edwards was taken to hospital with a broken ankle and suffering from the effects of the smoke, all 6 of them were ok.

While sailing towards New York, on 18th January 1920, Cedric, under the command of Captain J Carter, received an SOS message from the US Army transport Powhatan, which was in trouble with a flooding boiler room. Unable to assist due to bad weather, Cedric stood by the ship until the 20th before arriving in New York on the 21st, 30 hours late. Powhatan was assisted back to port by other vessels.

While leaving New York in a heavy gale, on 6th March 1920, still under the command of Captain Carter, Cedric was struck by a car float, loaded with box cars, that was being towed by a tugboat. In the collision Cedric’s rudder was damaged, and, out of control, Cedric had to be towed back by 15 tugboats. The damage to her rudder was so serious that her voyage had to be cancelled, and Cedric ended up being stuck in New York until a new steel casting could be sent from Britain, with an estimated repair bill of at least $100,000. It was the tugboat that was blamed for the accident.

While returning home to Liverpool on her way back from New York, surrounded by heavy fog, Cedric collided with the Cunard line’s Scythia, near the south coast of Ireland. The damage to Cedric was only minor but, although, not to badly damaged, Scythia had to return to Liverpool to be repaired.

On 5th September 1931 Cedric began her very last commercial White Star Line voyage, from Liverpool to New York. Upon returning she was laid up before being sold for scrap; leaving Liverpool on 11 January 1932 heading for the ship breakers at Inverkeithing, Scotland, UK.

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