Saturday, 19 October 2013

Anecdote Saturday - SS President

Launched in 1840, the SS President was regarded as the largest and most luxurious paddle steamer (and sail) of the time. She was designed for the trans Atlantic route and turned out to be the slowest ever paddle steamer, averaging 8.4 knots.

She was also regarded top heavy with an extra third deck, requiring cargo overloading to compensate for her heavy roll. The owners, British and American Steam Navigation Company, placed emphasis on her accommodations approximating that of a hotel rather than the utilitarian passenger ships of the Cunard Line etc.

Designed by Macgregor Laird, the saloon measured 80 ft by 34 ft, and was laid out in a Tudor Gothic style. In addition to opulent staterooms, she had a picture gallery with ten oil paintings of Christopher Columbus. The President could carry 110 passengers and another 44 in the Servant's cabins.

She was significantly underpowered further hampered by the fact that she could not employ feathered paddles (far more efficient and better power output) due to patent laws of the time. Although her wooden hull was subdivided into watertight compartments, after just two round trips, she required a refit due to a weakened and twisted wooden hull.

11 March 1841, bound for Liverpool, the President ran into a storm off the Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank. She was spotted the following day labouring in the gale, weighed down by an extensive cargo manifest. She carried 136 passengers and crew. The President was never seen again.

Even Queen Victoria took an interest in the loss of this grand steamer and requested that a special messenger be sent to her if word on the mystery was received. Lost among the passengers were the Rev. George Grimston Cookman, and the Irish comic Tyrone Power. George Grimston Cookman was an eloquent Wesleyan Methodist clergyman, who served two terms as Chaplain to the US Senate in Washington.  His family were well know in politics for political reform, emancipation and spiritual revival.

The 'death watch' for the missing ship continued for months after her loss. No trace was ever found, the British and American Steam Navigation Company folded after this loss, which reminds us of the Waratah and the Blue Anchor Line.

My book 'Waratah Revisited' will be available by 12 December, via Amazon. I explore the human aspect of the tragedy and take a closer look at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. Revelations abound. Don't miss it!


Mole said...

Impressive illustrations ... and yet another ship swallowed by the sea. Your database of these grows apace, Andrew.


Thank you Mole. There is an almost compulsive intrigue regarding ships swallowed up by the sea. I suppose it taps into our vulnerability as humans combined with the desire to know 'where it all went wrong'? Andrew