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The Hospital Ship Maine

S.S. Maine

Other Name: Swansea
Sisters: Maryland, Missouri, Montana
Builder: William Gray and Co., West Hartlepool
Launched June 8, 1887; maiden voyage 1887; wrecked 1914
Hull: length 324'; beam 40'; 2,809 tons
Power: single screw; triple expansion engine by Central Marine Engineering Company, of West Hartlepool, with cylinders of 24 ½", 40", and 65" diameter, stroke of 42"
Registered in London; official number 94303


The Swansea was built as a replacement for the wrecked Sussex and Suffolk. She was named after the port in South Wales at which the Atlantic Transport Line called regularly for freight, particularly tin. The line developed strong ties with Swansea very quickly, and several of its officers came from there. She was launched in 1887 as a cargo, passenger and cattle boat. Her engines were the subject of an article published in the magazine Engineering in 1888 and she was described in some detail in the Marine Engineer when it covered her launch:

Swansea.—On June 8th Messrs. W. Gray & Co. launched a fine steel screw steamer 324 ft. long, 40 ft. wide, and 29 ft. 6 in. deep ; built to the order of Messrs. Hooper, Murrell & Williams, of London. The vessel takes Lloyd's highest class, will carry over 4,000 tons deadweight, and is to run between London, Swansea, and Baltimore, being the latest addition to the Atlantic Transport Line of steamers, which includes the Surrey and the Maryland, also built by Messrs. Gray & Co. The new vessel has a steel spar deck sheathed with wood, a steel main deck, and the poop, bridge and forecastle are joined by a shelter deck for cattle. The bottom is constructed on an improved cellular double bottom principle. Six watertight bulkheads are fitted, and a permanent iron fore and aft bulkhead in holds to prevent shifting of cargo. Two strakes of shell plating are double at the bilge and topsides above Lloyd's requirements, and in addition to a deep bar keel, bilge keels are fitted. Three pole masts are fitted with yards on the foremast and a smart rig. Four hatches, with a powerful steam winch at each, and connected to work the bilge pumps., a steam windlass with capstan on the forecastle, steam steering gear in house amidships and screw steering gear aft. Two donkey boilers, two distillers to supply 4,000 gallons of fresh water per day into large deck cattle tanks and overflow into fore peak tank. A handsome saloon, state rooms for a few passengers, captain's rooms, ice house, &c. are fitted up in the poop. The officers are berthed in the fore part of the bridge. Arrangements of the most approved kind are made for conveying about 450 cattle, and a large number of ventilators are fitted to insure a good supply of fresh air to every part, side coaling and cargo ports are fitted, and everything is provided which can contribute to the safety and efficiency of the vessel. The engines are on the three cylinder triple-expansion type, working on three cranks. They are supplied by the builders' Central Marine Engineering Works, and possess all the latest improvements which the experience of the firm in triple-expansion engines has produced. The cylinders are 24 1/2, 40, and 65 inches in diameter, and the stroke of all the pistons is 42 inches. the details of the engines are similar to those of the s.s. Maryland, which has just crossed the Atlantic for the fifth time in between eleven and twelve days, carrying over 4,0000 tons of cargo, with the most satisfactory results. the boilers are of the double-ended type, and designed for a working pressure of 160 lbs. per square inch. They are exceptionally large, are intended to work under natural draught, supplying steam for the development of 1,200 I.H.P. in regular work at sea. The speed will be about 11 knots an hour. the engines and boilers have been built under the supervision of Mr. A. E. Allen of Hull, the engineer superintendent for the owners. The contract has been carried out under the supervision of Mr. F. Murrell, one of the owners, who has personally supervised the building of the ship. The christening ceremony was gracefully performed by Mrs. G. Baker, of Baltimore, U.S.A., wife of one of the managing directors of the Baltimore Storage & Lighterage Co. (Owners of the Maryland), who named the steamer Swansea. Mr. George Baker and Mr. Hooper, directors of the Atlantic Transport Line, were also present. Captain H. Murrell, late of the Surrey s.s., takes command of the Swansea, which will be ready for sea this month..

In 1888 the Swansea was renamed Maine to comply with the line's new house style.

In October 1899 the Boer War broke out in South Africa and Bernard N. Baker offered the British Admiralty a ship for use as a floating hospital. This offer was soon transferred to the American Ladies Hospital Ship Society, led by Winston Churchill's mother Jennie. In just 60 days the American ladies raised the money needed to adapt and equip the ship, completed the conversion, and had her sailing for South Africa. Baker paid for her crew and operating expenses. She sailed on her initial voyage with American medical staff including several female nurses, but on subsequent voyages carried British medical personnel, all of them male.

This ship was described by The Nursing Record and Hospital World as “the most complete and comfortable hospital ship that has ever been constructed.” The four wards were named Whitelaw Reid (after the chairman of the committee on Nurses of the Trained Nurses Maintenance Society, who organized the American nurses), Bernard Baker, Columbia and Britannia. She was outfitted for 170 patients and carried a small isolation ward, an elaborately equipped operating theatre, and an X-ray installation.

The Maine left for South Africa on December 23, 1899, with Jennie Churchill aboard, and arrived at Durban on January 23, 1900. The authorities in South Africa wanted to use her as a transport to ship wounded men home for long-term treatment, but the indomitable Jennie Churchill insisted on her staying on station as originally intended to treat men as close to the fighting as possible. When the siege of Ladysmith was raised however and thousands of casualties suddenly needed access to medical facilities Jennie agreed to use the Maine as a transport. After several voyages between South Africa and England she was transferred to the China station to support the campaign against the "boxers."

After a total of 15 months in commission the Maine was laid up in Southampton from January 1901. Bernard N. Baker gave her to the Admiralty in July 1901 and her medical fittings were given at the same time by the ladies of the Maine Committee. Marking the gift, Earl Shelbourne read a statement from Bernard N. Baker in the House of Lords:

In offering the Maine, I should like, as a citizen of the United States, to express appreciation of the long protection afforded my interests under the British flag. I am also influenced by the noble work achieved by Americans in equipping and maintaining the Maine while in service in South Africa and China. I trust she will long be an emblem of the cordial relations existing between the citizens of the United States and those of the mother country.

The Maine was not laid up for long, for she was soon recommissioned and attached experimentally for a year to the Mediterranean squadron. She was designated as a Royal Fleet Auxiliary when that class of vessel was established in 1905 and participated in the Coronation Fleet Review off Torbay in June 1911.

Unfortunately, the Maine ran aground in thick fog in the Firth of Lorne to the south of the Scottish island of Mull on June 19, 1914. Her loss left the British without a single hospital ship at the outbreak of World War One. A succession of later British hospital ships carried the name into the 1950s.

Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; wikipedia; S.S. Maine Medallion; The Ships List; http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/; http://hometown.aol.co.uk/; www.merchantnavyofficers.com; http://www.gwpda.org; Merchant Fleets in Profile 2; the Ships of the Cunard, American, Red Star, Inman, Leyland, Dominion, Atlantic Transport and White Star Lines, Duncan Haws, 1979; Winston S. Churchill: Youth, 1874 - 1900, Randolph S. Churchill; The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill, Randolph Spencer Churchill, 1908; Jennie, Vol. II, Ralph G. Martin, 1971; The New York Times, April 24, 1900; May 8, 1901; July 2, 1901; July 25, 1901; June 18, 1914; January 27, 1935

Obverse of Maine medal (Kinghorn collection)reverse of Maine medal (Kinghorn collection)
The medal struck to commemorate the conversion of the Maine to a hospital ship. Known in "white metal," this sterling silver example is mounted as a brooch,
probably like that worn by Jennie Churchill. Another identical brooch, cataloged in a 1958 Africana Museum and Transvaal Museum Catalogue as "the only known
example of the medallion in silver," was "thought to have belonged to a member of the organizing committee of the American Ladies Hospital Ship Fund." (Kinghorn)

Whitelaw Reid Ward on the Maine (With the Maine to South Africa)
Whitelaw Reid Ward on the Maine (With the Maine to South Africa)

The operating theater, from The Navy and Army Illustrated Volume 14, 1902 (Google Books)A ward, from The Navy and Army Illustrated Volume 14, 1902 (Google Books)
The operating theater and a ward from The Navy and Army Illustrated Volume 14, 1902 (Google Books)

The Maine in Durban harbor flying her unique combination of flags (The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill)
The Maine in Durban harbor flying her unique combination of flags. She was painted white, with red crosses and a broad green stripe,
but by the time she reached the Canary Isles on her first voyage her "would-be immaculate white paint" had been battered
"foggy-gray" by a storm in the Bay of Biscay (The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill)

Lord Roberts touring the Maine in Durabn harbor (The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill)The aft deck from The Navy and Army Illustrated Volume 14, 1902 (Google Books)
Left: Lord Roberts touring the Maine in Durabn harbor (The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill).
Right: The aft deck from The Navy and Army Illustrated Volume 14, 1902 (Google Books)

Jennie Churchill and her son Jack (Winston's younger brother) on Maine in Durban harbor (The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill)The Maine in harbor and at at sea (bottom: Museum of the Order of St John)
Left: Jennie Churchill and her son Jack (Winston's younger brother) on Maine in Durban harbor (The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill)
Right: The Maine in harbor and at at sea (bottom: Museum of the Order of St John)

Triple expansion engines of the S.S. Maine (Engineering, February 10, 1888)
Triple expansion engines of the S.S. Maine (Engineering, February 10, 1888)

 

For more information ...

Kinghorn "The Atlantic Transport Line 1881 - 1931" McFarland, 2011

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