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(III), Mongolia, Manchuria,
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast, yard number 329
Launched March 31, 1900; delivered July 7, 1900; torpedoed September 7, 1917
Hull: length 600' 8"; beam 65' 6"; 4 decks and shelter deck; fitted with electric light and refrigerating machinery; 39' 6" depth of hold; 13,403 tons gross, 11,839 under deck and 8,647 net
Power: twin screws; quadruple expansion engines by builders, with cylinders of 30'", 43", 63" and 89" diameter, stroke 60"; 1,227 n.h.p.; 16 knots
Registered in Belfast; official number 110520; call sign MMA; code letters RSHM
The Minnehaha was the second of the four famous Minne class ships ordered by Bernard N. Baker in 1899 with money loaned by J.P. Morgan. An Atlantic Transport Line 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 Minnehaha cost a total of $1,419,120 (£292,000) and was launched and entered service just two months behind Minneapolis. She sailed on her maiden voyage from Belfast to New York and London on July 7, 1900, and on August 11, 1900 commenced her first voyage from London to New York. She is recorded in the Morton Allan Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals making a grand total of 160 voyages to New York between August 1900 and December 1915.
Captain John Robinson commanded Minnehaha until his retirement in 1907 and was replaced by Sydney Layland. As a new vessel Minnehaha had a narrow escape in channel fog when she almost collided with the South Eastern and Chatham packet Lord Warden. When she arrived in New York on September 18, 1900, she struck and sank the New York Harbor Towing Company tug American in the North River, killing two of its crew. On December 27, 1904, while she was at anchor off Gravesend Minnehaha's stern was struck by the British steamer John Sanderson. Almost two years later, in October of 1906, Minnehaha rammed the Cunard Liner Etruria as both vessels attempted to leave New York harbor in fog. And in January of 1907 Minnehaha lost a propeller and had to complete her voyage with only one. And on April 17, 1909, she grounded in the Gedney Channel, the dredged passage that forms the entrance to New York harbor, but was refloated the following day.
Most famously of all however, the Minnehaha ran aground on the Scilly Isles in fog on April 18, 1910. Landing the passengers was the first priority and they were welcomed warmly by the locals that some resisted the line's attempt at removing them to the mainland to continue their journey. Once the passengers were safely ashore attention turned to the ship, which was first assumed to be a total loss. After 18 hours or so it was decided to remove the crew from the ship, leaving behind a skeleton crew of 20 or so men, mostly engineers. Cargo, which included pianolas, motor cars and of course cattle, was thrown overboard in an attempt to lighten the ship forward. Salvaged freight not spirited away by the islanders was later sold at auction on the mainland.
The Engineering Superintendent of the Atlantic Transport Line went down for ten days immediately after the accident to monitor the attempts to salvage the ship, and kept detailed notes of the work (292 KB PDF file). Clearly he was not impressed with the operation. But eventually on May 11 the ship herself was successfully refloated after three weeks aground, and two days later she steamed under her own power to Falmouth with an escort of salvage vessels. From there she went on to Southampton for repairs. Her damage proved not to be very serious and she was able to resume the London to New York service on October 27, 1910. The Board of Trade blamed Captain Layland for the incident, and suspended his license for three months. He left the line's employment soon after.
Mark Twain, after living in Europe since 1891 and traveling around the world working to pay off his debts, chose to sail home to the United States on the Minnehaha in October 1900. On arrival at New York he joked with members of the press that he needed a 16,000-ton liner for the baggage he had accumulated! The Minne class ships were among the first be fitted for wireless telegraphy. The Minneapolis was using her equipment by the beginning of April 1902 and her call letters were "MMA." On the fringe of range of the Marconi transmitter at Poldhu in England the Minnehaha relayed part of the midnight Marconi news service from Titanic the night before she sank.
Unlike her sisters, the Minnehaha was not requisitioned for use as a military transport during World War One but remained in company service. Sailing under the command of Frank H. Claret she maintained her regular and direct London/New York passenger/cargo service and was defensively armed. Passengers however, were few and the London- New York passenger service seems to have been terminated at the end of 1915. The Minnehaha continued sailing as a freighter, and became a well-known as a carrier of munitions. In the summer of 1915 survived a fire-bomb planted in New York by the German activist Erich Muenter after he had exploded a device in the Capitol building in Washington D.C. Muenter, who had been living underground under various aliases since his 1906 indictment for poisoning his wife, wanted the house of Morgan to stop financing war loans to the European allies and shipments of ammunition to them.
After leaving his fire bomb in New York he traveled to the younger J.P.Morgan's home on Long Island. The financier opened the door and managed to wrestle his assailant to the ground despite being shot in the groin. The butler then knocked Meunter out with a chunk of coal and called the police. Meunter later committed suicide in jail. Having been warned by wireless that there might be a device planted on his ship Captain Claret had the crew search the vessel. Nothing was found, but at 12:30 the bomb detonated. It caused considerable damage and started a fire that the crew could control but not extinguish, but miraculously it had been placed with harmless general cargo and did not detonate the many tons of high explosive on board.
The Minnehaha made 26 voyages from New York carrying munitions and sailing alone. Ironically she was in convoy with five other vessels when she was eventually torpedoed and sunk by U 48 12 miles from Fastnet on September 7, 1917. Reports of the incident conflict, but it seems that the Minnehaha was struck without warning. In one interview Captain Claret recalled that "she immediately took a big lurch to starboard, and by the rate of the water rushing in aft I realized that the vessel was soon to go down." She evidently sank extremely rapidly, stern first, "with her bow pointing like a column in the air."
Two rafts were ashed off the hurricane deck as the ship went down and the 110 or so survivors crowded onto these or bobbed about in the sea until rescued by the patrol boat that another vessel had alerted to their plight. Captain Claret was later decorated with an O.B.E. for his "extraordinary heroism and presence of mind" and for personally saving eleven men. The Minnehaha lies some 12 miles south-east of Fastnet Rock, sitting upright, and mostly intact although some sections are now beginning to collapse. The funnels and winches are clearly visible and portholes are still intact.
A 1903 painting of the Minnehaha by Antonio Jacobsen is known to exist. It was sold by Antique Associates of West Towensend, Massachusetts in about 2000.
Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; The Ships List; IrishWrecksOnline.net; Gilbert Provost's Register of Ships; The Red Star Line and the International Mercantile Marine Company, Vernon E.W. Finch, Antwerp, 1988; Atlantic Transport Line. brochures of 1909 and 1913 (Kinghorn collection); London Ship Types, Frank C. Bowen, London, 1938; A Century of Atlantic Travel: 1830-1930, Frank Charles Bowen, 1930; Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present, Eugene W. Smith, Massachusetts, 1977; 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; The Great War Forum; The New York Times, June 30, 1898; September 18, 1900; September 19, 1900; December 27, 1904; October 21, 1906; January 26, 1907; July, 19, 1907; April 21, 1910, February 25, 1915; July 15, 1915; August 12, 1915; October 30, 1915; September 15, 1917; September 16, 1917; December 19, 1917; Typed notes on the salvage of Minnehaha (292 KB PDF file), George Pottie, Superintending Engineer, Atlantic Transport Line, April 1910 (Kinghorn); The Isles of Scilly: Their Story, Their Folk, Jessie Mothersole, 1910
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