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Maritime Disaster: The SS President

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The SS President was a British passenger liner that was the world’s largest ship when it was commissioned in 1840, and the first steamship to sink on the transatlantic run when she was lost at sea in March 1841 with all 136 people on board. From 1840 to 1841, she was the world’s largest passenger ship. The British and American Steam Navigation Company, the ship’s owner, went bankrupt as a result of the sinking.

The SS President was 500 GRT larger than the British Queen, which was the largest ship at the time. Her sumptuous cabins stood in stark contrast to Cunard’s fleet’s spartan accommodations. Great American wanted passengers to feel like they were in a five-star hotel rather than on a cruise ship. The saloon was Tudor Gothic in design and was 80 feet by 34 feet. A picture gallery was located aft of the ordinary staterooms, with ten oil paintings showing scenes about Christopher Columbus. A total of 110 guests could be accommodated in standard staterooms, with an additional 44 passengers in Servants cabins. The typical staterooms with two berths were seven feet by seven feet.

Sea to Sky

SS President’s inaugural journey, which took place in August 1840, lasted 16.5 days and averaged only 8.4 knots (15.6 km/h), compared to Great Western’s 9.52 knots (17.63 km/h) record. Because both Great Western and Cunard’s Acadia had sailed the previous week, President left the Mersey with few passengers under Captain Robert J Fayrer. In comparison to Great Western’s eastbound record of 10.17 knots (18.83 km/h), her return trip averaged only 8.4 knots (15.6 km/h) The terrible performance was blamed on Fayrer, who was replaced by Michael Macarthy Keane for the second journey.

President’s third and last westbound voyage to New York, which left Liverpool in February under new Captain Richard Roberts, lasted 21 days. On March 11, 1841, she went back to England with 136 passengers and crew, as well as a large cargo manifest. President was seen labouring in severe seas on her second day out in the treacherous area between Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank after being caught in a gale. She was never seen after that. The Rev. George Grimston Cookman, who had served as Senate Chaplain, and the famed Irish comedic actor Tyrone Power, who was the great-grandfather of the film star of the same name, were among the passengers that perished.

The late ship deathwatch had been in effect for months. Queen Victoria asked for a special messenger to be sent to her if there was any news about the ship. Unfortunately, any messages to the Queen were not delivered by any messenger.


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Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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