The Ships They Sailed On
Genealogists have a reputation for collecting data; the name of the ship their ancestors arrived on, the date of arrival and port of arrival. However, I’ve always been fascinated by the ship itself. What is the history of the ships your ancestor immigrants arrived on? I think this can add some ‘color commentary’ to your family stories.
My grandfather, Otto Koster, arrived on Ellis Island August 21, 1906, on the ship Bremen.
I was able to find a picture and a short history of the ship on http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/, after logging in to my account.
About the Ship
The SS Bremen was built by the Schichau Shipyard, in Danzig, Germany, in 1897. She was 10,552 gross tons; 550 (bp) feet long; and 60 feet wide. She had Steam Quadruple Expansion engines, twin screw. Her service speed was 14 1/2 knots. She carried 2,330 passengers (230 first class, 250 in second class, 1850 third class). She had two funnels and two masts.
She was built for North German Lloyd Steamship Company, or the Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL), under the German flag, in 1897. She sailed the Bremerhaven to New York and Australia and Mediterranean to New York routes.
She was nearly lost in the Great Hoboken Pier Fire on June 30, 1900. She was laid-up from 1914 to 1918.
She was given as reparations (Germany, having lost the war) to P&O Lines, a British company, in 1919. She provided service on the London to Australia route.
She was sold to Byron Steam Navigation Company under the British flag, in 1921 and renamed Constantinople, where she provided service for the Mediterranean ports and to New York.
Owned by the same company, she was re-named King Alexander in 1924 but continued the same service routes.
She was scrapped in Italy in 1929, meaning Italy purchased her for scrap metal.
I was fascinated to find out how many passengers the ship could hold from each class. Imagine, 250 in first class and 1850 in third class, how crowded that must have been. Immigrants frequently traveled Third class, often called steerage, no doubt because it was less expensive. I also found out about a fire, other names the ship was known by, and that it was eventually sold for scrap.
The second of six ships to be named Bremen was one of the new ‘Barbarossa’ class‘.
What is a Barbarossa class ship?
“In the construction of these vessels, the aim was to provide for an unusually large quantity of freight, as well as for a large number of passengers in the three classes while keeping the cabin accommodation entirely separate from the freight space. The whole of the accommodation for cabin passengers was accordingly concentrated in an immense superstructure amidships, containing three decks, and fully 256 feet long. Thus the staterooms on the steamers of this class were situated in the most favorable and quietest position conceivable.”
Great Hoboken Pier Fire
I wanted to research the Great Hoboken Pier Fire in more detail. The idea of it seemed full of interesting story possibilities.
The fire hit the Bremen when she was only 3 years old. The fire was apparently caused by spontaneous combustion of cotton bales sitting on the pier.
“At the North German Lloyd docks in Hoboken on June 30, 1900, were four ships: Bremen, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Main, and Saale. All of these ships were tied to the dock and none of them had their power up. This put all of them in a very precarious position, as they were virtually incapable of moving with any speed under their own power. They were dependent on the tugboats to get them quickly away from the burning piers. The Bremen 2 threw off her lines and drifted until she was towed to midstream by tugs. She was beached in the Weehawken flats.”
Blanck, Maggie Land. “Hoboken Pier Fire, June 30, 1900.”Www.maggieblanck.com, 2004, www.maggieblanck.com/Hoboken/PhotosFire.html.
Through this site, you can follow the very dramatic burning of the Bremen.
Only a few persons from the Bremen survived. The search for bodies was prevented by the intense heat in the hold.
Later, the newspapers documented the mass burial of 76 victims of the fire.
“After the fire, the Bremen was rebuilt by AG Vulcan Stettin, lengthened to 575 ft, and her tonnage was increased to 11,540 GRT (gross register tonnage). She re-entered service in October 1901.”
In that renovation, she was lengthened 25 feet and gained 988 GRT (gross register tonnage). I was amazed that they could and found it financially viable to fix a ship so badly damaged. I am neither a shipbuilder nor renovator, but I find it fascinating that they could lengthen a ship. Do they just slice it at some point and then add 25 feet?
In less than a year and a half (June 30, 1900, to October 1901), she was back in service. When my grandfather sailed on her in 1906, she was virtually only 5 years old, rather than the 9 she would have been before the fire.
But the drama for the Bremen wasn’t over yet.
Bremen and the Titanic
“On 20 April 1912, while sailing from Bremen to New York, SS Bremen passed through the debris field left by the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Passengers and crew reported seeing hundreds of bodies floating in the water as well as many deck chairs and pieces of wood.”
This sighting of the bodies is verified by an eyewitness account by Stephan Rehorek.
The Bremen was broken up for scrap 1929 at E. Breda, Venice, Italy.
My great-grandfather, Jakob Sailer, arrived April 21, 1899, on the Lahn.
Once again, I was able to find a picture of the SS Lahn and a ship history on the Ellis Island site.
About the Ship
The SS Lahn was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1887. She was 5,681 gross tons; 464 (bp) feet long; and 49 feet wide. She had Steam Triple Expansion engines, single screw. Her service speed was 18.5 knots. She carried 1,030 passengers (224 first class, 106 in second class, 700 third class).
She was built for the North German Lloyd Steamship Co, under the German flag, in 1887. She served on the Bremerhaven to New York route. She was sold to the Russian Navy in 1904 and renamed Russ.
She was scrapped in 1927.
I was able to find out that she was a fast ship:
“The North German Lloyd steamship Lahn surprised and delighted her friends and admirers by making a remarkably quick trip from Southampton to New York. She passed the Needles at 5.30 P. M., August 2nd, and the corrected time of her passage was 6 days, 22 hours and 40 minutes, or within 1 hour and 17 minutes of the best time ever made. Her average speed was 18.36 knots per hour.”
Source: Ocean: Magazine of Travel, Vol. III, No. 2, September 1889, Page 41”
From that same site, I was able to obtain a lunch menu:
“This luncheon menu is for an unnamed class of passengers for a June 1900 Eastbound voyage of the S.S. Lahn of the Norddeutscher Lloyd Bremen Steamship Line. The menu is written in German and English.”
From that same site, different page, I was able to find a list of company rules and regulations given to passengers.
North German Lloyd Steamship Company Rules & Regulations (1898)
A. Transportation of passengers.
1. Rates for through tickets, or rates for circular tours, are arrived at by a combination of given rates.
2. Tickets are issued only for first and second class railway transportation in connection, with steamship tickets reading via the lines of the North German Lloyd.
3. The Tickets are not transferable.
4. Tickets are good 12 months from the date of sale. Date of final limit is shown on the cover of the ticket book.
5. The tickets are good for all regular trains. For the use of Vestibule trains, passengers holding I or II Class tickets, are required to pay the usual excess fare. For the use of sleeping cars, passengers are required to pay the regular sleeping car rate.
6. Children not over 4 years of age are carried free. Children between the ages of 4 and 10 years are carried two on one whole ticket. For one child alone, the full fare has to be paid.
7. By payment of the difference in the second and first class fares, second class passengers can change at their pleasure from second to first class.
8. Tickets must be shown to Conductors or other railway officials when required.
9. Passengers can stop over on final limit tickets, at all stations designated on such tickets, At all other stations, stopovers are granted upon application to the Stationmaster, (Stations-Vorstand) who will endorse tickets.
10. The coupons of tickets are collected either by Conductors on trains, or station officials upon arrival at destination.
11. Claims for unused book tickets or coupons should be addressed for adjustment with proper explanation to the North German Lloyd, Passage Department. Bremen.
B. Transportation of baggage.
1. Baggage is only checked through to those stations to which a baggage tariff exists
2. The amount of baggage carried free by the railways is in no case more than 25 kg., while on a number of railways all baggage carried has to be paid for. It is therefore advisable to send heavy baggage by ‘freight’, as the time in transit is not long and charges very reasonable.
3. Passengers having baggage destined to points beyond Berlin, Leipzig, or Vienna, and going via these points, have to make arrangements for its transfer between the different stations in these cities.
4. The presence of passengers at custom house stations, at the time of baggage examination, is absolutely necessary, as the railway companies cannot be held responsible for any loss or delay, occurring through passengers absence.
Source: Guide Through North America, Souvenir of the North German Lloyd, Bremen, published in New York in April 1898.
This site has a copy of the Lahn’s layout and description.
And my g-grandmother, Anna Zurcher, arrived on the Lapland, April 2, 1913.
From the Ellis Island site:
About the Ship
The Lapland was built by Harland & Wolff Limited (Harland & Wolff Heavy Industries, still in business today), from Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1908. She was 17,540 gross tons; 620 (bp) feet long; and 70 feet wide. She had Steam Quadruple Expansion engines, twin screw. Her service speed was 17 knots. She carried 2,536 passengers (394 first class, 352 in second class, 1790 third class). She had two funnels and four masts.
The Lapland was built for Red Star Line under the British flag, in 1908. She sailed the Antwerp to New York route. Her maiden voyage: was Antwerp to Dover to New York in April 1909.
She was chartered by White Star and Dominion Lines in 1914. She became a troopship in 1917.
She was returned to the Red Star Line, British flag, in 1920. From 1926-33, she was primarily a cruising service.
She was broken up in Japan in 1934.
It turns out that the Lapland also has a connection to the Titanic.
“Lapland returned the 167 surviving crew members from the Titanic disaster, who had been released by the U.S.Court of Enquiry to Plymouth, England. They were kept in third class to try to keep them segregated from members of the press. The crew members were tendered ashore at Plymouth by the paddle steamer Duchess of York, arriving back in England on 28th April, a mere 13 days after Titanic sank.”
Another site provided information regarding a Court of Enquiry and the Lapland’s involvement.
Information about the construction of the Lapland showed unique construction that was related to the Titanic in a different way.
“Constructed with a ‘Belfast Bottom‘ (a cellular double bottom extending the whole length of the ship), the vessel also had ten watertight bulkheads including a center line bulkhead in the cargo holds and ‘tween decks. Similar in design to the torpedo bulkheads fitted in the Cunard liners Mauretania and Lusitania, this feature, if it had been incorporated in Titanic would have undoubtedly prevented that vessel from sinking.”
What I found particularly interesting about the Titanic connection in two ships that my family arrived on, was that my family had another Titanic connection. The family story is that the Zurcher family had tried to book passage on the Titanic, but it was full. How do you prove that?
One thing I was able to determine is that the Titanic sunk in 1912 and the Zurcher family arrived April 2, 1913. So it is possible.
This is from the Lapland manifest, showing my g-grandmother Anna, and her son Christian. There is also a daughter named Anna, sister to Christian.
Christian was the youngest that arrived that day, age 11. Later in life, Christian was interviewed for a newspaper article and verified that story. I call that documentation.
Other stories you might find while researching your ships might involve ships colliding with each other, disease outbreaks (my grandfather’s family had 3 members quarantined at the Ellis Island hospital for measles, as stated on the ships manifest), or sunk at sea.
I find histories of ships include fascinating details and I think you’ll find they’ll enrich your family story as well. Or perhaps you will just enjoy the history of it.
What is your ship’s story?
Note: We are free to use pictures from the Ellis Island site with attribution.