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Minneapolis photographed at Tilbury for the Illustrated London News

S. S. Minneapolis

Sisters: Minnehaha, Minnetonka, Minnewaska (III), Mongolia, Manchuria, Arabic
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast, yard number 328
Launched November 18, 1899; maiden voyage March 29, 1900; torpedoed March 23, 1916
Hull: length 600' 8"; beam 60' 6"; depth of hold 39' 6"; 13,401 tons
Power: twin screws; quadruple expansion engines by builder with cylinders of 30", 43", 63", and 89" diameter, stroke 60"; 1,227 n.h.p.; steam pressure 180 lbs.
Registered in Belfast; official number 110515, call sign MMN

 

The Minneapolis was the first of the four famous Minne class ships ordered by Bernard N. Baker in 1898. An Atlantic Transport Line brochure brochure issued in 1923 boasted, "no ship ever had a more devoted following than these," and in 1947 the Minnes were described by the New York Times as "probably the most popular single-class ships in Atlantic shipping history." The Minneapolis cost $1,419,120 (£292,000) to build and had the largest registered tonnage of any ship afloat excepting the Oceanic when she was launched. Unusually, her maiden voyage took her across the Atlantic sailing in ballast. She collected her initial cargo and passengers in New York and arrived on the Thames for the first time on May 1, 1900. She is recorded in the Morton Allan Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals making a grand total of 155 voyages to New York between May 1900 and February 1915.

The Minne sisters were among the first ships to be fitted for wireless telegraphy. On February 5, 1902, the New York Times reported Minneapolis's wireless communication with Minnetonka, which had just defeated the Etruria in a chess match by wireless telegraphy. Soon after Etruria produced the first "wireless newspaper" at sea for distribution to passengers, and "thirty-six hours later the same experiment was repeated on the Minneapolis. The call letters for Minneapolis were "MMN."

The Minneapolis sailed under the command of Captain Thomas Gates, but in August 1900 when she grounded briefly in the Thames she was under the command of Sidney Layland. The following year she came to the aid of the four-masted steel barque Comet, which had been dismasted during her maiden voyage, and towed her into New York. Bernard N. Baker is known to have sailed home from business engagements in England on Minneapolis in May of 1901 to attend the wedding of his daughter Maguerite to Thomas B. Harrison, an official of the Atlantic Transport Line. In October 1903 the celebrated actor Sir Henry Irving sailed for New York on Minneapolis with his entire company, a total of 82 persons. According to a newspaper account, "many friends accompanied Sir Henry to the dock, and were entertained at a farewell luncheon on board." And in June 1907 Mark Twain traveled to England on this ship (his last European trip) to receive an honorary degree from Oxford University.

On October 9, 1913, the Minneapolis was one of 11 ships that responded to wireless distress calls from the burning Italian passenger cargo vessel Volturno. She was bound for New York carrying mixed cargo and a large number of emigrants, mostly from Russia, Poland and Bulgaria when a serious fire broke out forward during a storm. The Minneapolis launched a lifeboat at midnight but the sea was too rough and the boat was swamped as its crew was being recovered by the Carmania. The following day the Minneapolis launched all of her remaining lifeboats and saved 30 male passengers (the surviving women and children having been removed already by other vessels). The men were landed at Gravesend on October 14. The disaster cost the lives of 136 of the 657 aboard Volturno, and was hailed as an example of the value of wireless telegraphy. Captain F. O. Harker of the Minneapolis received the gold Sea Gallantry Medal from the Board of Trade and 21 members of the crew received silver medals and cash awards from the Atlantic Transport Line.

Captain F. O. Harker had been in command of the Minneapolis since at least September 1911, for his name was given when the New York Times reported the loss of a young lady passenger overboard in that month. By the summer of 1914 however the ship was under the command of Captain Clarke. The New York Times reported a July 4 oration on board by Mrs. Chapmann Chatt, President of the International Suffrage Alliance, noting the delighted applause afterwards on Clarke's presentation to her of a big "Votes for Women" banner. Apparently Clarke had anticipated her being invited to speak and visited the headquarters of the International Suffrage Alliance before sailing to obtain a suitable gift.

The Minnes made excellent military transports, and the British authorities clearly had them in mind for this role for years. The Minneapolis was one of the ships that took units of the British Expeditionary Force to France on the outbreak of war in 1914. She is recorded sailing from Southampton with the 1st Buffs on September 8, 1914 and arriving at St. Nazaire the following day. The War Diaries of the Northumberland Hussars contain an entry dated October 5, 1914, recording that the regiment had just sailed from Southampton on Minneapolis and that they disembarked at Zebrugge the following day. (Thank you Graham Pearson for this information.) The Minneapolis resumed her regular work on the North Atlantic for the Atlantic Transport Line brochure in December but made only two voyages before becoming a British military transport early in 1915. She crossed the Atlantic on the New York run a total of 155 times before being requisitioned.

This ship's government service was tragically brief because she was torpedoed and sunk by U 35 195 (Kptlt. von Arnauld de la Periere) with one torpedo 195 miles from Malta on March 23, 1916, with the loss of 12 of her crew. She was sailing from Marseilles to Alexandria at the time of her loss carrying 60 tons horse fodder. The destroyer Sheldrake rescued 166 of her crew and 1 passenger. Minneapolis evidently remained afloat for some hours after the attack and was towed in turn by by the destroyer Lydiard, the sloop Nasturtium and finally by the tugs Veteran and Milon, but sank on March 25. She was under the command of Captain Harker at the time of her loss.

Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; The Ships List; The Rowan Public Library, History Room, Digital Archives ; The World's Work, February, 1904, pages 4467-4470: "The Work of a Wireless telegraph Man"; The Illustrated London News, May 12, 1900; Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present, Eugene W. Smith, Massachusetts, 1977; Peter Searle's Volturno website ; The Great War Forum; 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; Atlantic Transport Line. brochures of c.1909 and August 1913 (Kinghorn); The New York Times, June 30, 1898; April 8, 1900; April 10, 1900; May 14, 1901; February 5, 1902; April 6, 1902; October 11, 1903, January 26, 1907; September 4, 1911; July 18, 1914

 

The postcard printed by the line for passenger's use shows the Minneapolis in New York harbor (Kinghorn)
The postcard printed by the line for passenger's use shows the Minneapolis in New York harbor (Kinghorn)

Minne upper promenade deck from an Atlantic Transport Line brochure brochure (Kinghorn)
Minne upper promenade deck from an Atlantic Transport Line brochure brochure (Kinghorn)

Minne promenade deck from an Atlantic Transport Line brochure brochure (Kinghorn)
Minne promenade deck from an Atlantic Transport Line brochure brochure (Kinghorn)

Minne saloon deck from an Atlantic Transport Line brochure brochure (Kinghorn)
Minne saloon deck from an Atlantic Transport Line brochure brochure (Kinghorn)

Minneapolis photographed at Tilbury for the Illustrated London News
The Minneapolis photographed at Tilbury shortly after her first appearance on the Thames in May 1900 (Illustrated London News)

Minneapolis deck views, taken at Tilbury in May 1900
The Minneapolis, foreward saloon deck view, taken at Tilbury in May 1900 (Ilustrated London News)

Minneapolis deck views, taken at Tilbury in May 1900
The aft deck view, taken at Tilbury in May 1900 (Ilustrated London News)

A luxury suite of rooms on the Promenade Deck
A luxury suite of rooms on the Promenade Deck of the Minneapolis, from a brochure probably published early in 1909 (Kinghorn)

The Dining SaloonPassengers promenading on the
The Dining Saloon of either Minnehaha or Minneapolis and a drawing of passengers promenading on the forward saloon deck of a Minne class ship
From a brochure probably published early in 1909 (Kinghorn)

Mark Twain on deckTwain autograph on concert program
Mark Twain with fellow passengers on Minneapolis and an autographed concert program (Rowan Public Library)

Photo postcard (Kinghorn)
Photo postcard depicting the Minneapolis c.1900-1907 (Kinghorn)

A short letter written on board the Minneapolis (Kinghorn)
A short letter written on board the Minneapolis (Kinghorn)
Click for PDF file (5,657)

Photo postcard (Kinghorn)
Photo postcard depicting the Minneapolis (Kinghorn)


Enamelled sterling silver souvenir spoon sold on the Minneapolis c.1911 (Ian Newson)

Photo postcard (Kinghorn)
Photo postcard showing a sports day sack race, evidently made from a passenger's snap (Kinghorn)

Photo postcard (Kinghorn)
Photo postcard showing a children's sack race on sports day, evidently made from a passenger's snap (Kinghorn)

Minneapolis postcard
Photo postcard depicting the Minneapolis (eBay)

Minneapolis postcard
Postcard depicting the Minneapolis, mailed in 1914 (Kinghorn)

Minneapolis launching her lifeboats,
Minneapolis launching her lifeboats, October 9, 1913 (Volturno website, Private collection)

Volturno survivors on the aft deck of Minneapolis,
Volturno survivors on the aft deck of Minneapolis. October 9, 1913 (Volturno website, Private collection)

S.S. Minneapolis with Volturno Survivors on Board, an etching
S.S. Minneapolis with Volturno Survivors on Board, an etching
by Nelson Ethelred Dawson (1859-1941) (Volturno website)

Composite photo of  minne class HMT (Ian Newson)
A composite photograph of a Minne class ship in service as a transport during World War One. Given the lack of visible ventilators on the aft deck this is probably the Minnetonka,
but the Minneapolis would have looked very similar. From an album compiled by James Grant Hutchison, an Atlantic Transport Line officer for many years. (Ian Newson)

 

For more information ...

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

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