Lost at sea

Tales my grandfather would have told me. A sailor's life 1910-1941

Posts Tagged ‘maiden voyage

A sailor’s life – 64. Majestic’s maiden voyage

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Leviathan Majestic Berengaria in New York

White Star liner Majestic in New York, flanked by Leviathan and Berengaria, undated - collection merchantnavyofficers.com

“MAJESTIC, WORLD’S BIGGEST SHIP, HERE”, shouts the headline on the undated newspaper clipping. “White Star Liner Makes First Trip in 5 Days, 14 Hours, 45 Minutes.”

Bert Sivell was hugely excited when the steamer Majestic passed him in the New York narrows on 16 May 1922, at the end of her maiden voyage from Cherbourg. Yellowed cuttings spill from his letter that week.

Majestic docked in the north river at 18th Street, where a crowd was waiting on the pier head. Her passengers included the chairman of the White Star line, Harold Arthur Sanderson, and the executive head of Harland & Wolff, Henry Harland.

Everything in the lower and upper bays and the Hudson with steam power greeted the great ship vaporously,” wrote the unnamed New York reporter, “to show the gallant Briton that they believed in welcoming nautical genius, even if it did happen to be of German origin.”

The White Star leviathan Majestic started life as the Hamburg-Amerika line’s Atlantic challenger Bismarck, allegedly extended six foot during construction to outdo Cunard’s Aquitania and ensure her the title of biggest ship in the world. Unfortunately for Germany, she came down the slips a bare month before the outbreak of the first world war and remained unfinished in dock in Hamburg for the duration, gently taking on water. In 1919 she was handed over to Britain as war reparations, and was eventually completed (reluctantly and slowly) by the German workforce under the eye of Harland & Wolff’s engineers, who failed to prevent her being delivered for sea trials in the original HAPAG colours. It was not the Germans’ sole mute protest.

Majestic US newspaper report - maiden voyage May 1922

Majestic maiden voyage May 1922, newspaper report from New York

There was aboard the Majestic not a complete spirit of forgiveness for the talented Teutons who had put the hull of the splendid liner together,” Bert’s clipping records. “The Britons, mostly in a humorous spirit, recalled that just before the ship had left Hamburg, German painters had daubed in red lead on her hull many skulls and crossbones to show that they did not exactly wish the new ship a fine first trip.”

No bombs were discovered in remote corners, the report notes, slightly regretfully.



Majestic US newspaper cutting, part II

Majestic, continued

“The Majestic made a swift run from Quarantine to her dock and ten tugs assisted her in straightening out and heading for the pierhead at the foot of Eighteenth Street, North River. A great throng was there to greet her. For a moment they thought that the Majestic had decided to cut a trench across Manhattan Island … The sharp and lofty prow of the big ship was arrested, but not before she had stove in a twelve foot section of the corrugated pier shed and driven the startled group into confused flight.”


Bert was in hoots. Taking a chunk off the wharf was a rookie mistake. But Majestic’s tribulations were not over. Swishing past Pyrula again as she left New York outward bound for Europe later that week, one of the 800 steerage passengers jumped overboard and was lost.

The huge ship stopped in the narrows to search for him, but no body was ever found. It cost White Star thousands of dollars in fuel, “wear and wages”, the papers reported, and Majestic’s commander Sir Bertram Hayes felt constrained to issue a public statement after the New York Herald cheekily wired him to find out if he’d run aground.

Bert carefully cut out the story for Ena, but sadly he didn’t bother with the second column, tantalisingly headlined on the clipping: “Cocaine Worth $5,000 Found Under American Flags Aboard the America.”

America was the former HAPAG liner Amerika, seized in Boston when the US joined the war in 1917. Vaterland was caught in New York when war broke out, impounded and put into US service in 1917 as Leviathan. By the time Ena arrived in New York aboard the White Star’s new liner Homeric (formerly Norddeutscher Lloyd’s Columbus) in late 1922, HAPAG’s Imperator too was established as Berengaria – all taken as part of the allied countries’ crippling 132bn gold mark war reparations.

Read on: Death at sea – Raifuku Maru
Previously: To have and to hold, Pyrula 1922-1924

War reparations Germany 1920

War reparations: industrial machinery is shipped out of Germany, 1920, collection Bundesarchiv