SS Ionic (I)

Ionic (I), shipyard number 152, was a passenger and cargo ship built by Harland and Wolff, Belfast for the White Star Line; launched on 11 the January 1883, intended for use on the United Kingdom to Australia and New Zealand service. Her engines are said to have been the first ship engines to actually have been constructed by Harland and Wolff.

Just prior to her maiden voyage – while in London on 23rd April 1883 – Ionic was visited and toured by the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, who was the future British King (Edward VII) and son of Queen Victoria. It was reported in The South Australian Register on 25th April 1883 that the Prince of Wales had “expressed great admiration of the vessel” and showed “great interest in the extensive refrigerating machinery” found onboard the ship. Amongst those onboard to greet the Prince of Wales was White Star Line’s owner Thomas Ismay.

Temporarily charted to the New Zealand Shipping Company, Ionic began her maiden voyage from London to Wellington, New Zealand on 26th April 1883 – under the command of Captain Hallett; arriving in Wellington on 11th June 1883. It was reported in The Press, of New Zealand on 10th July 1883 that Ionic would be returning to London on that day “full of cargo, consisting of frozen meat, wheat, wool and skins, tallow, and a good quantity of grass seed.” As well as £70,000 worth of Gold.

It was reported in various Australian newspapers in early February 1884 that Ionic had arrived in London from New Zealand with 60 per cent of her cargo of mutton (reported simply as meat in some reports) damaged by fire. What caused the fire damage, the newspapers fail to say.

Shortly after completing her last voyage for the New Zealand Shipping Company, Ionic departed London for her first voyage for the White Star Line on 4th December 1884, as part of a joint service between the White Star Line and the Shaw, Savill & Albion Line. After departing London, UK on the 4th December, under the command of Captain JG Cameron, Ionic sailed to Plymouth, UK, departing on 6th December; arrived in and departed Tenerife on 12th December, where coal was brought onboard, and arrived in and departed Hobart, Australia on 15th January; arriving in Wellington, New Zealand on 20th January. Ionic departed Wellington to return home to London on 14th February 1885.

After leaving Lyttelton, New Zealand, heading home to London, on 2nd May 1884, Ionic’s crank shaft broke, disabling the ship. With her engines out of service, Ionic returned towards Lyttelton, using her sails, until 8th May, when one engine was put back into action. Ionic arrived back in Lyttelton on 13th May, and, after being repaired, sailed home on the 30th May. Ionic was under the command of captain Kidley at the time. Her cargo and passengers were transferred to other ships.

Just before Christmas in 1889, some of the cargo loaded aboard Ionic was damaged after a fire broke out aboard the ship while she was docked in London. Despite the fire, Ionic was able to leave London for New Zealand on 28th December, 2 days behind schedule.

While sailing from the United Kingdom towards Australia, on 8th February 1893, around 850 miles away from Cape Town – Ionic, under the command of captain kidley – suffered a broken shaft – resulting in the ship becoming motionless and stranded – until three days later when Hawarden Castle, belonging to Donald Currie and Co, found Ionic and towed her into Cape Town.

Once in Cape Town, Ionic was inspected and new parts were sent for from the United Kingdom – so that the ship could be repaired there at Cape Town. Repaired, Ionic eventually arrived in Hobart, Australia on 25th April 1893.

In early 1894, Ionic was refitted at Harland and Wolff, Belfast. Amongst the improvements made were new improved engines, new refrigeration apparatus for her cargo, and the refurbishment and improvement of her passenger accommodation.

Ionic departed London for her last White Star Line voyage to Australia and Zealand, on 21 December 1899; arriving in Wellington, New Zealand on 4th February 1900.

Later in 1900, Ionic was sold to the Aberdeen line, renamed Sophocles, and continued to sail to Australia. She began her first voyage, London to Australia, for the Aberdeen Line 23rd October 1900. She was broken up for scrap at Thomas W Ward, Morecambe, Lancashire, UK, in 1908.

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