SS Britannic (1874)

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SS Britannic.jpg
SS Britannic
Name: Britannic
Owner: White Star Line
Port of registry: United Kingdom
Route: Liverpool to New York standard route.
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast, Ireland
Yard number: 83
Laid down: 3 February 1874
Completed: 6 June 1874
Maiden voyage: 25 June 1874
Honors and
Blue Riband winner
Fate: Sold, Scrapped 1903
General characteristics
Type: Steamship, Twin funnel
Tonnage: 5,004 tons
Length: 468 ft (142.65 m)
Depth: 45 ft (13.72 m)
Installed power: Steam
Propulsion: Single screw
Sail plan: 4 masts, full-rigged ship
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h)
Capacity: 1,300
Crew: 150

SS Britannic was an ocean liner of the White Star Line. It was the first of three ships of the White Star Line to sail with Britannic name.

Britannic was a single-screw passenger steamship equipped with sails built for the White Star Line's North Atlantic run. It was initially to be called Hellenic, but, just prior to her launch, her name was changed to Britannic. Together with her sister Germanic, Britannic sailed for nearly thirty years, primarily carrying immigrant passengers on the highly trafficked Liverpool to New York City route. In 1876 it received the Blue Riband, both westbound and eastbound, by averaging almost 16 knots (30 km/h).


The Britannic and her sister Germanic were both built to carry a total of 1,720 passengers in two classes when fully booked, 220 Saloon Class Passengers (Title of First Class at that time) and 1,500 Steerage Passengers. As the ships were virtually larger versions of the "Oceanic" class ships built in the previous years, their accommodations were very similar, with some variances to give each ship its own character. Britannic's saloon accommodations, consisting of a large, spacious dining saloon and a large number of two- and four-berth cabins were located in the centre of the ship on the main deck, being the upper of the two decks enclosed within the hull above the waterline. The steerage accommodations were located on the two lower decks and consisted of large dormitory-style cabins capable of sleeping up to 20 passengers lined against the hull, with an open space running along the centre line of the ship where passengers could congregate. These accommodations were divided into two main sections at either end of the ship, berths for single men in the bow and berths for single women, married couples and families in the stern.


Britannic was rigged as a four masted barque, she was the first White Star ship to sport two funnels. She was powered by inverted compound reciprocating engines, supplied by Messrs Maudslay, Sons & Field of Lambeth. Britannic's hull was subdivided into eight watertight compartments by nine watertight bulkheads.[1]

Drawing of Britannic's engines.

As built the Britannic incorporated a novel system which allowed the single propeller to be raised and lowered while still connected to its shaft and without stopping the engine. This was achieved with a flexible coupling and an elongated aperture in the ship's sternpost. This feature was an attempt to overcome the disadvantage of long-hulled single-screw liners, which pitched in heavy seas. In bad weather the stern could rise enough to lift the propeller partially out of the water, reducing thrust and causing unpleasant vibration. The Britannic's adjustable propeller was angled below the horizontal when in the lowest position, to ensure the entire propeller remained submerged. In shallow water the shaft could be raised to the horizontal or slightly upwards to reduce the ship's draught and prevent a blade striking the seabed. With the propeller fully raised the entire propeller hub and one blade could be accessed without placing the ship in dry dock—it was hoped this would reduce the cost and time required to change any broken propeller blades. The shaft was raised and lowered by a small auxiliar steam engine in the ship's stern, operating rods connected to a bearing collar on the propeller shaft via a worm drive reduction gear. The system proved reliable and effective at its purpose of keeping the propeller submerged in heavy weather but when set at certain angles the flexible coupling caused heavy vibration and the equipment required significantly more maintenance than a standard drive system. It also reduced the efficiency of the propeller in calm weather unless the angle was adjusted to be perfectly parallel to the line of the hull, making Britannic slower than her conventionally-built sistership, the Germanic. In 1875, after less than a year in service, Britannic was taken out of service to be refitted with the same propeller arrangement as her sister - this work required not only removing the propeller mechanism and installing a new drive shaft but also fitting a new bed for the main engine to change its alignment. Once the ship was back in service her performance matched that of the Germanic, allowing the ship to make its own attempts at the Blue Riband.[1]


On 25 June 1874 she made her maiden voyage, from Liverpool to New York. In the autumn of 1876, she captured the westbound Blue Riband and a month later set the eastbound record as well, becoming the only White Star ship ever to hold both records simultaneously. She lost the westbound record to her sister, Germanic, in April 1877 and the eastbound one to the Guion Line's Arizona in July 1879.[2]

On 4 July 1881 Britannic ran aground in fog at Kilmore, County Wexford, Ireland, and remained stuck for two days. All the passengers were safely landed at Waterford. Britannic sprang a leak in her engine room after being re-floated and was beached at Wexford Bay. She had to be patched up and pumped before returning to Liverpool for repairs.[2][3]

SS Celtic collision[edit]

On 19 May 1887, at about 5:25pm, the White Star liner SS Celtic collided with Britannic in thick fog about 350 miles (560 km) east of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Celtic, with 870 passengers, had been steaming westbound for New York City, while Britannic, carrying 450 passengers, was on the second day of her eastward journey to Liverpool. The two ships collided at almost right angles, with Celtic burying her prow 10 feet (3 m) in the aft port side of Britannic. Celtic rebounded and hit two more times, before sliding past behind Britannic.

Six steerage passengers were killed outright on board Britannic and another six were later found to be missing having been washed overboard. There were no deaths on board Celtic. Both ships were badly damaged, but Britannic more so, having a large hole below her waterline. Fearing that she would founder, the passengers on board began to panic and rushed the lifeboats. Britannic's captain, Hugh Hamilton Perry,[4] pistol in hand, was able to restore some semblance of order, and the boats were filled with women and children, although a few men forced their way on board. After the lifeboats had launched, it was realized that Britannic would be able to stay afloat, and the lifeboats within hailing distance were recalled. The rest made their way over to Celtic. The two ships remained together through the night and the next morning were joined by the Wilson Line's Marengo and British Queen of the Inman Line, and the four slowly made their way into New York Harbor. Britannic was repaired at New York and was out of service for nearly a month.[2]

Two-and-a-half-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt was on board the Britannic at the time of the collision, with her father Elliott, mother Anna and aunt Tissie. Eleanor was lowered into a lifeboat, screaming and protesting. She and her parents were taken to the Celtic and eventually returned to New York. Eleanor raised a huge protest at the prospect of going back on board a ship to continue the family's trip to Europe. Her parents went on to Europe, leaving the little girl with a maternal aunt. Eleanor had a lifelong fear of water and ships as a result of this incident.[5]

Czarowitz collision[edit]

On 2 January 1890, Britannic collided with Czarowitz—a British brigantine bound from Fowey, Cornwall, England, to Runcorn, Cheshire, England, with a cargo of china clay—in the Crosby Channel as Czarowitz was about to enter the River Mersey. Czarowitz sank.[6]

Later career[edit]

Britannic continued on the Liverpool–New York run. On one journey in August 1891, the 17-year-old ship recorded her fastest-ever crossing from New York to Queenstown, making the journey in 7 days, 6 hours, and 52 min.[3]

In August 1899 Britannic was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and converted for use as a troopship to transport soldiers to the Second Boer War in South Africa, becoming known as HMT (Hired Military Transport) #62. During this period, under the command of Bertram Fox Hayes, Britannic transported 37,000 troops to and from the conflict over three years.[7] In November 1900 Britannic sailed to Australia with a Guard of Honour to represent Great Britain at the inauguration of the Australian Commonwealth. She took part in the fleet review at Sydney Harbour to mark the occasion.[3][2][1]

Britannic laid up, just before being scrapped.


Following the end of the war in October 1902, Britannic was released from government service and returned to White Star who sent her to her builders in Belfast for a survey, with the intention that she might be refurbished and modernised for further use. The builders report in 1903 concluded that it would not be cost effective to bring the 29 year old ship up to modern standards, instead, she was sold for scrap for £11,500, and on 11 August 1903 she left Belfast under tow to Hamburg, Germany, where she was broken up.[1]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Kerbrech, Richard De (2009). Ships of the White Star Line. Ian Allen Publishing. pp. 25–29. ISBN 978 0 7110 3366 5. 
  2. ^ a b c d
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^
  5. ^ Lash, J. (1971). Eleanor and Franklin: The Story of Their Relationship, based on Eleanor Roosevelt's Private Papers. New York: W. W. Norton & Company
  6. ^ "Collisions at Sea". News. The Times (32900). London. 4 January 1890. col D, p. 6. 
  7. ^ News from 1924/1941: Retirement/Death of Commodore Hayes -

External links[edit]

Preceded by
City of Berlin
Holder of the Blue Riband (westbound)
1876 – 1877
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Atlantic Eastbound Record
1876 – 1879
Succeeded by