28th June 1904

Scottish-built SS Norge sinks close to Rockall

Despite the name, SS Norge was built and launched in Scotland. She is also remembered for sinking off the Scottish coast on a transatlantic voyage causing what was, at the time, the largest ever recorded loss of life at sea.

SS Norge strikes rocks

Her final voyage had started in Copenhagen, bound for New York via the the north coast of Scotland. Unfortunately, this route took her on a course towards Rockall, Helen’s Reef, and Hasselwood Rock. While Rockall is easy to spot, the same can’t be said of the Reef, or of Hasselwood Rock, which is covered at high tide and, even when the tide is low, only protrudes from the water by a metre.

SS Norge struck Hasselwood Rock, which tore a hole in its hull, allowing water to rush in. This entered at such speed that she sank in less than fifteen minutes. This wasn’t enough time to get all of the 727 people onboard into her lifeboats, some of which were destroyed in the evacuation operation.

Disastrous evactaution

The New York Times of 5 July 1904 carried an extensive report of the sinking on its front page. It detailed how “many persons, retaining their presence of mind, seised life preservers, only to find in some instances that the strings were rotten and that they could not be quickly put around their bodies”. Worse, as they started to lower the lifeboats, “the starboard lifeboat began slowly to fail, when to the horror of those onboard the stern tackle failed while the bow tackle ran free. Those who were in it clung desperately to the sides and seats until a great wave came towering along and struck the boat, smashing it against the side of the ship. The occupants of the boat who were not killed by the impact were thrown into the water”.

The second lifeboat that was lowered made it safely to the water, only for another large wave to again smash it to pieces against the hull of the SS Norge. A third boat was similarly lost.

The dead and dying

In all, around 640 of the 727 onboard SS Norge died as a result of the accident. Many were killed on or around the ship, but even some of those who were rescued spent more than a week in lifeboats without shelter from the weather or sun. Of these, many died of exposure.

The Pittsburgh Daily Post of 5 July 1904 told how around 100 who had been saved from the wreck were brought ashore at Stornoway. Around 30 of these had been picked up by Cervona, a steamer from Leith, when it came across them close to the Isle of Lewis. “They were in woeful plight, nearly all of them being naked. One dead child was with the party.” A further 70 were landed by the German steamer, Energie.



Other events that occured in June

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