The SS Mexican was a 378' long passenger ship built for the Union Steamship Company in 1883 by Sir James
Laing & Sons in Sunderland, England. She was built to compete with the Castle Lines new steamers on the
South African route, her and her three sisters did just that for many years.
On April 4, 1900 the Mexican began the return trip of her last voyage for the Union Steamship Company
when she left Cape Town bound for Southampton. They pulled out of port around 8:30 p.m. and began the trip north, about 80 miles out of port at 1 a.m. captain Copp found himself in a heavy fog bank, he ordered the ship slowed to half speed and sounded the ship's whistle regularly. When another whistle was heard in the fog Copp stopped his ship to ascertain the course and speed of the approaching vessel.
The SS Winkfield was being used as a troopship and had departed England on Mar. 13 with the Northumberland Yeomanry and the Yeomanry hospital, 325 troops on board, there were also 241 horses. When she arrived she was to be used as a hospital ship. Winkfield entered the fog bank at normal speed, but hidden just behind the fog was the Mexican.
Copp searched the fog for some sign of the approaching vessel and soon he saw her, the red light on the bow
coming through the fog, and almost on top of his ship! Copp ordered the engines to full ahead and the helm
hard to starboard, hoping to minimize the damage by causing the Winkfield to glance off his ship.
On the Winkfield her captain did the exact opposite, his engines were put to full reverse and the helm hard to
port, however neither of these maneuvers could stop the collision, they were just too close. The Winkfield
rammed the Mexican on the starboard side just ahead of the funnel. Several cabins were smashed and half of
the bridge was destroyed as well, fortunately nobody had been killed on either ship.
The Winkfield moved off in the fog leaving the Mexican and all onboard alone, she did not go far, but
apparently her captain feared running down people in the lifeboats and did not attempt to move in too close. There were 244 passengers and crew on the Mexican and very soon after the collision the lifeboats were lowered. There seemed to have been very little if any panic since the ship did not seem in danger of sinking quickly, but there were reports of the crew having little experience with the boats.
Nevertheless everyone got off the ship without incident, a few crewmen and captain Copp remained on board
to assess the damage. After about four hours dawn broke and the fog began to lift, the Winkfield moved in closer and began taking on the people in the boats. After all were on board several boats returned to remove the mails and what ever luggage could be saved, shortly thereafter the SS Montrose, also a transport, arrived and soon removed the remainder of the crew from the Mexican, when all had been done to remove what could be salvaged, the two ships left the area and the Mexican sank some hours later.
The official enquiry into the sinking sighted the Board of Trade rules as the culprit, and exonerated both
captains from responsibility. It is fair to say that if both men had not reacted quickly to the danger the Mexican may have gone down rapidly taking many of those on board with her, as it was they all made it home, albeit a bit
later than planned.
© 2009 Michael W. Pocock
SS Mexican, date and location unknown.
2005 Daily Event
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