SS Delphic (I)

SS Delphic (I) was a 475ft long, 8273-ton steam ship with 4 masts, one funnel and twin-screw propellers, commissioned to carry cargo and third-class passengers between the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Later, during the First World War she was one of White Star Line's ships lost to enemy action. At the time of the start of her career to Australia and New Zealand, she was reported as being the largest ship sailing on her route.

After have being said to have been delayed by an engineer's strike, Delphic, ship yard number 309, was launched into the water at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, ready for the final stages of her construction to begin.

When it was time for Delphic to begin her ocean-going career, it had been decided that her first two voyages would be Atlantic crossings from the United Kingdom to the United States. under the command of Captain Sowden, she began her maiden voyage – sailing from Liverpool to New York, on 17th June 1897 – arriving there on 30th June. Upon her arrival the New York tribune newspaper remarked that she was a "remarkable ship in regard to her cargo and coal carrying capacity" and that “her cold storage compartments alone, it is estimated, can carry 100,000 frozen sheep." Delphic then began her journey home to Britain on 10th July, but instead of sailing back to Liverpool, this time she sailed to Gravesend (a town on the river Thames, near to London,) from where, on 31st July she began her second voyage to New York. The Mercury newspaper reported afterwards that Delphic had carried from New York to London “two of the largest cargos of grain that have ever been shipped by one vessel”.

Delphic began her maiden voyage on her intended route to New Zealand as part of White Star Line’s joint service with Shaw, Savill & Albion Line – sailing from Gravesend to Welington – on 1st October 1897. Note: some sources, including newspaper reports from the time say her voyage began on 30th September, but other sources including a good report in the Australian newspaper the Mercury, and the shipping intelligence report in the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph, give the date as 1st October, which appears to be the correct date. Amongst the ‘passengers’ onboard were eight valuable homing pigeons, two Airedale Terrier dogs, a Scotch Collie dog, and six prize sheep, two of which were rams, four of which were ewes.

From Gravesend, she sailed to Plymouth (where she arrived during the evening of the next day), before then leaving Great Britain behind, and headed towards Cape Town, in South Africa, where she arrived on 25th October. After leaving Cape Town later in the day and continuing on her way, the weather deteriorated and Delphic found herself in a heavy gale lasting for 20 hours, denting her wheelhouse. Captain Sowden was reported as saying he had never before experienced such a terrific gale. Delphic then called at Hobart, Tasmania, Australia on 16th November before then completing her maiden voyage to New Zealand when she arrived at Welington on 21st November 1897.

Apart from an incident at Hobart on 16th November 1898, while on a voyage from Britain to New Zealand, not Delphic’s fault, in which a small boat returning to shore after having brought a harbour pilot aboard Delphic, capsized in a ‘stiff breeze’, her career to date had been successful, seemingly uneventful; although, after the completion of the same voyage, and having sailed from Welington to Lyttleton while she was still in New Zealand, a correspondence signed by an importer, appeared in the Press newspaper on 13th December 1898, criticizing the "slow manner" in which the cargo was being discharged from the ship; noting that as the ship " contains the Christmas supply of goods for the grocers, &c, it is most vexatious," and that "the vessel has now been at work a week, and from what I can learn it will be pretty well the end of the year before she finishes discharging at the rate of progression she is now making.”

Following the outbreak of the Second Boer War fought by the British Empire against the South African Free State and the Orange Free State between 11th October 1899 to 31st May 1902, Delphic was engaged in transporting soldiers to and from the war. The Times newspaper reported that, while leaving London’s Albert dock for Cape Town loaded with 233 soldiers on 31st March 1900, the amount of “well-dressed friends” who had come to watch the ship depart was an even higher number of people than usual. It was noted that the “farewell scene was exceptionally prolonged and animated.” It seems together with carrying out her usual commercial activities Delphic continued to transport soldiers thought and immediately beyond the war. There are a number of reports in Australian newspapers of the time about soldiers being returned back home there by Delphic.

The Friday 15th November 1901 edition of the Tasmanian News newspaper of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia reported the lucky escape of Delphic's carpenter when while he was carrying out some maintenance to the side of the ship on some staging, he fell off it and into the sea, with the ship said to be traveling at twelve knots sailing off and leaving him behind in the sea, with him said not to have known how to swim. Fortunately, he had been noticed, the ship was stopped and a lifeboat was quickly lowered while he was said to have turned over on to his back and managed to stay afloat; although exhausted, he was safely brought back on board, and it was then reported that two hours later he was back at work continuing the same maintenance he was doing before he become a man overboard.

At the time White Star Line’s Titanic struck an iceberg in April 1912 Delphic was probably at home in port within the United Kingdom awaiting her next voyage. An occasion on which icebergs were spotted by those aboard Delphic was as she was sailing between the United Kingdom and New Zealand in late December 1914 – as reported on New Year's Eve 1914 by the Daily Post of Hobart, Tasmania, while steaming on Christmas Day through what was described as a miniature icefield a "magnificent spectacle" was observed aboard Delphic when four icebergs were passed by the ship. An article within the New Year's Day 1915 edition of the Daily Telegraph of Launceston, Tasmania described one of the ice bergs as being 500ft high and 200ft long, being flat on its top and having a sheer drop down to the sea.

By the time of the voyage in which Delphic passed the icebergs, what would later be known as World War I had begun, and although she remained in commercial service Delphic was an enemy target.

On 16th February 1917, while sailing near the southwest coast of Ireland, the German submarine SM U-60 did attempt to attack the ship by firring a torpedo, fortunately, however, the torpedo missed.

The next known time a torpedo was fired at Delphic she was not so lucky as while sailing from the United Kingdom, said to be with a cargo of coal, starting her voyage from Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, intending to sail to Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, a torpedo was fired at her from the German submarine SM UC-72, Delphic was sank and tragically it is reported that five people were lost in the sinking. The exact location of the wreck does not appear to be known, though it is reported that Delphic sank 135 miles away from Bishop Rock, within the Isles of Scilly, a group of British islands just south west of the island of Great Britain.


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