8th October 1921

SS Rowan is rammed and sunk

For a ship to be struck once might be considered misfortune. To be struck twice is quite something else.

SS Rowan was in fog off the west coast of Scotland, en route to Dublin, when she was rammed from behind by another steamer, the West Camak. Emergency procedures swung into action, but within 30 minutes and before her 97 passengers and crew could be evacuated, she was struck on the starboard side by a third steamer, the Clan Malcolm, which sliced her in two. The Rowan sank in less than three minutes, and between 20 and 30 people lost their lives (reports disagree).

“Death blow”

On 10 October 1921, the Daily Record told readers “how the SS Rowan received her death blow”, which it called “one of the most appalling and explicable sea tragedies that ever occurred off the coast of Britain”.

Had the Rowan only been struck once, she might have survived and made it back to harbour, as the Daily Record quoted witnesses who described the initial collision as more of a scraping during which it sprung a leak. The passengers, then on deck in their night attire, saw the Clan Malcolm approaching and assumed it was coming to their rescue. “Complaisance gave way to alarm, however, and alarm to naked fear, when the Clan Malcolm, instead of losing way, drew steadily nearer and nearer, until, in spite of frantic warnings, she struck the motionless Rowan with terrific force on the port quarter, just forward of amidships.”


The Southern Syncopated Orchestra, a black musician jazz group, had been travelling on the SS Rowan at the time of the collision, and one of its members had not one, but two very fortunate escapes.

The Belfast News-Letter of 5 December 1921 – just over two months after the sinking of the Rowan – reported on a collision between the mail boat and a schooner in the Irish sea. In an echo of the earlier disaster, the schooner was cut in two and sank “like a stone”. It was the mail boat’s maiden voyage and, it seems, there was great interest in seeing how fast it could travel.

One of the mail boat’s passengers was Eldbridg Eastman, of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, who should have been on the Rowan. Ten of his colleagues died when that particular steamer had been cut in half, but he had not been among them, as he had not arrived at the dock in time to board.



Other events that occured in October

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