Daily Event for August 7, 2010

The Germania was a passenger steamer built by Caird & Company in Greenock, Scotland in 1863 for the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfarhrt Aktien-Gesellschaft (Hamburg-American Packet Company), now known as HAPAG. She was 337' long, registered at 2,123 gross tons and could carry 725 passengers. A screw steamer, Germania had three masts and was rigged for sail as most ships of the time were. She serviced the Hamburg to New York route for her whole career, making her maiden voyage in August of 1863. On the return leg of her last voyage she left New York on Aug. 3, 1869 heading for Plymouth, Cherbourg and finally Hamburg, on board were 270 people of which 150 were passengers.

When approaching Cape Race on August 7, 1869 the ship encountered a heavy fog that had engulfed the coast of Newfoundland for three weeks or more. The master, Heinrich Emil Kier, slowed the ship to avoid a possible collision as he could hear fog horns but could not see the other vessels. It was about 5 a.m. when a small clearing in the fog revealed the rocky edge of Trepassey Bay, at once the engines were reversed, but it was too late, the ship ran aground on a rock and was stuck fast.

The Germania sat on the rock for about ten minuets and was finally backed off, but soon after a swell lifted the ship and dashed her back on to the rocks and stove her hull in. It was only a short time before Kier received a report that the ship had taken five feet of water and was filling fast, with this news Kier ordered the boats to be lowered without hesitation.

Unlike many disasters where the passengers panicked, there was good order and little of any confusion, the professionalism of the crew combined with the cooperation of the passengers made what could have been a tragedy into an inconvenience. In all eight boats were lowered and every man, woman and child got off the ship without any serious injuries, captain Kier being the last into a boat, shortly thereafter Germania healed over to starboard.

Of the eight boats, five were under Kier's control and it caused him great anxiety when he was unable to locate the other three boats which had become separated in the fog. The first boat to reach land was that of the first officer, T. Meeske, he found land at Portugal Cove around 11 a.m., but was unable to make it through the breakers until a fisherman on shore sighted the boat and at the risk of his own life jumped into the water, swam through the breakers and guided the boat to shore.

The two boats under the charge of the third officer and the chief carpenter landed at Biscay Bay about 2:30 p.m. apparently without any struggle. Captain Kier's five boats finally made land at 5 p.m. at Drook Cove, every last soul was now safe on land. From all accounts the survivors, who had nothing but the clothes on their backs, were very well treated by the local population, they were boarded and fed and any small injuries were treated. It took two days to arrange their transportation to Trepassey where the French cruiser Latouche-Treville was waiting to take them to St. John's. The French captain had generously offered his ship to Kier and his charges.

All were onboard the cruiser by 9 a.m. on Aug. 10 and they were promptly taken to St. John's arriving that evening. The passengers and crew were again well treated and reported that Capt. Bassett, the officers and men of the Latouche-Treville had "spared no pains nor expense in relieving, so far as they could, the wants of the shipwrecked". An address was presented to Captain Bassett and a second address was also dispatched to the Minister of Marine in Paris.

Several officers and crewmen remained at Trepassey to recover whatever they could, a few trunks and some other small items came ashore, but little of the possessions of those on board was ever recovered. Those who had stayed behind were taken to St. John's by the tug Diamond on Aug. 11. There was a quantity of silver and
specie onboard that was recovered by divers later. Capt. Kier returned to the wreck and stayed for some time to supervise the salvage effort. The survivors were picked up by another of the companies ships, Cimbria and left St. John's on Aug. 14. The ship broke up over time, but Germania was only the first large ship lost in Trepassey Bay during the weeks of fog in 1869, a second Hamburg-America ship, Cambria, went aground within a day or two, but managed to get free, however the Cleopatra faced the same fate as Germania, she went aground only four miles from Germania the following day.
© 2010 Michael W. Pocock

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