Maritime History of the Great Lakes
When an Old Time Liner Bounced Off an Iceberg: Schooner Days CCCLXXXV (385)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 18 Feb 1939
Full Text
When an Old Time Liner Bounced Off an Iceberg
Schooner Days CCCLXXXV (385)

by C. H. J. Snider


"Hail, Ice and Snow, that praise< the Lord,

"I've met them at their work,

"And wished we had anither route,

"Or they anither kirk."


BUT 20 years before Kipling introduced us to MacAndrew, our family came to Canada on the Allan liner Moravian. Henry Fry's History of North Atlantic Steam Navigation says that the Peruvian and the Moravian were built in the '60s by Steele, of Gourock, and were each 2,600 tons and 500 h.p. nominal. These figures do not tell much. The tonnage was the net custom tonnage, or estimated carrying capacity, and the h.p. was derived from an old formula based on low pressure. Fry says they were the handsomest screw steamers sailing out of Liverpool, fast, but "pickpockets" because of small carrying capacity, owing to fine lines.

The picture of the Moravian shows a yacht-like sheer with clipper stem, and not much deck hamper. You might call her barque-rigged or a topsail schooner, with large gaff sails on all three masts, the fore and main being also square rigged. My age was not yet seven years, with previous seafaring confined to the tidal Medway. I could not understand why on some days we could walk aboard on the level and on other days it was necessary to go down a slippery gangway.

The voyage to Canada on the Moravian was a bit rough. She was a lively ship but comfortable. We were in the second cabin, originally intended for hospital quarters. It consisted of two sleeping cabins, one for men, one for women, with eight berths in each, and a good-sized dining room, which must have been on the main deck, as there was a skylight overhead. As a small boy I was put in the ladies' cabin with my mother and baby brother. The other occupants were a young woman, who was kind to me when I was sick, and another with a tin bonnet box that was always getting adrift at night and making a clatter on the floor. The table was well supplied, and I made my first acquaintance with ice cream.

One detail more—-the Moravian was steered from a wheelhouse just forward of the funnel. It was still considered right that the helmsman should see some of sails, which were carried for use, and with favorable winds must have furnished driving power equal to many tons of coal in a day.

The last night in the open Atlantic was rough, with things knocking about. A large dish in the dining room broke loose and crashed to the floor. Next evening we got to the Straits of Belle Isle, and the sea went down. At midnight, just after the watch was changed, the Moravian plumped into an iceberg, taking it head on. The long bowsprit and the clipper stem cushioned the shock, and no doubt stopped the ship, for it was not likely that she was doing more than ten knots. As an experienced mariner I said, "There goes another dish!"

There was considerable anxiety for half an hour, but no panic. My father, with others, was asked to stand by a bilge pump on the main deck, but it was not needed. Presently the word was passed that there was no damage under water, and I suppose we all went back to bed. The headgear was a mass of wreckage, and next morning the fore deck was still buried under crushed ice and splinters. But the foremast stood up valiantly.

I had almost forgotten the incident until many years afterwards I ran across the well-written story of an experienced reporter, and was surprised to find how closely it agreed with my childish recollections. Hon. George Brown was a passenger, but at first contact with land he satisfied himself with a very modest despatch to the Globe. He knew the Allans had shown great courage and persistency in working the St. Lawrence route, and that ice was not the least of their troubles. But on getting home he wrote fully to his family, who were visiting in Scotland, and this letter is printed in the "Life and Letters" edited by Sir Alex. MacKenzie, published in 1882. It is still worth reading.

Hon. George Brown's narrative:

"I cabled you from Father Point, informing you of the safe arrival of the Moravian in the St. Lawrence, but I said nothing of the accident that happened to us on our voyage. I enclose slips of a despatch I have sent to the Globe from Father Point. This slip, I need hardly say, puts the affair in its most modest light. In truth, every soul on board escaped death by a hair's-breadth.

"The iceberg was a very large one, and we ran straight at it but fortunately it was washed away below and had no ice protruding from it under the water; and better still the Moravian's cutwater extends out very far and her bows are immensely strong, and she has an enormous bowsprit, stretching far out. Consequently the bowsprit struck the iceberg squarely, smashing it into splinters, forcing it from its strong socket, and crushing a number of the iron plates from the bow. We struck the iceberg just as the bell struck midnight. I had gone to bed fifteen minutes before, and was asleep, but the lurch instantly awoke me, and I knew at once what had happened. I jumped out of bed, and as I did so the vessel fell over on her side, all but on her beam ends, and I was thrown over against the settee, and all the things in the berth with me.

"The conviction flashed on me that this was the effect of the water pouring into the ship, and that we were fast settling. A million things rushed through the mind in these few dreadful seconds, but the feeling of joy and thankfulness overtopped all other thoughts that you and our darlings were safe and away in the coming struggle for life.

"It soon appeared, however, that this rolling over of the ship was caused by her sheering off from the iceberg, and she righted herself in a few long moments. I rushed on deck, and found myself the first passenger who had scrambled up stairs. I went at once on the bridge; learned the exact position from the captain; saw how promptly every step for emergencies was being taken; observed the perfect discipline among the men; and then went astern to aid in maintaining composure among the passengers.

"The forward compartment of the ship was at once closed off from the other compartments; the pumps were set to work to bail out the water that was rushing in; the cargo was moved from the forward hold, and the leaks stopped up as well as possible—-the debris of the bowsprit and fore-rigging was cut off and thrown overboard—-and by 10 o'clock peace and thankfulness reigned throughout the ship.

"I have seen far more flutter on a railway train from a shrill whistle of "down-brakes," because a cow had got on the track, than there was among the 400 people on board. Some passengers were seen busy getting on swimming jackets and getting floating mattresses ready, and gathering things suited for the boats, but not a creature showed craven, fear or even manifest loss of self-control. Not a soul went into a boat, except the men at work getting them out; there was not even any eagerness displayed to get into them or keep near them. Captain Wylie and his officers are entirely blameless in the matter. From the moment we left Moville until we arrived, the anxious care and caution of them all could not have been surpassed."

All of the above is a contribution from a staunch friend of "Schooner Days," Mr. W. Q. Phillips, of Sarnia, well known in Toronto as a yachtsman. He owned the Sagitta here, and was secretary of the Lake Yacht Racing Association forty years ago. His vivid first-hand account of "steaming under sail" in the seventies, the greatest decade of Schooner Days on the Great Lakes, gives an excellent background for the time

—Compiler, Schooner Days.


A contemporary and successor to the 'MORAVIAN"- the Inman liner "CITY OF ROME," from an ancient photograph lent by His Honor Judge Morson.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
18 Feb 1939
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
    Latitude: 50.7972438293104 Longitude: -58.031693125
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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When an Old Time Liner Bounced Off an Iceberg: Schooner Days CCCLXXXV (385)