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Sunday, 28 June 2015

One Hundred Years Ago Today…

Painting of the DUMFRIESSHIRE under sail. From the collections of the State Library of Queensland, Australia (

The service life of this elegant deep-ocean voyager came to a tragic and abrupt end when it was torpedoed without warning by a German U-Boat, 25 miles south-west of The Smalls.

Under the command of Captain R. W. Furneaux, the four-masted barque DUMFRIESSHIRE had left San Francisco on the 22 January 1915 for Falmouth to await orders for the cargo that it was carrying to the UK. On receipt of these orders from her owners, the ship was to head north to Belfast to unload, and then it was to go to New York for its next Australia cargo.

When the torpedo exploded, survivors described how the deck was blown into the air. The lifeboats had already been swung out and so the crew, including three Swedes and an American, were able to make their escape before the vessel sank. The periscope of a German submarine was seen by the patrol boats that rushed to the scene, but the U-boat responsible has still to be confirmed. The steam trawler WEYMOUTH would eventually bring the survivors to Milford Haven.

The DUMFRIESSHIRE represents the last days of building large, square-rigged sailing vessels for use across a number of deep-ocean trade routes. The ship was the product of a particular boom, from 1888 to 1893. In these few short years, iron was largely replaced by steel in the shipyards of north-east England, on Clydeside and at Belfast. Improvements in rigging methods, steam engines to help haul sail, and alterations to hull design all combined to produce vessels which were still able to compete with steamships on the long hauls. They relied on crews, as few as 25 in number, to work them, as well as their structural strength to survive the worst the southern oceans could throw at them. Typical cargos were guano and nitrate from South America, coal from Britain to just about anywhere in the world, grain from San Francisco to Liverpool, timber from Oregon and Washington State to Britain, jute from Calcutta and coal from Newcastle, New South Wales to South America. We know the DUMFRIESSHIRE undertook all of these long voyages and circumnavigated the world many times during its 25 years for Thomas Law & Co, Glasgow.



Commemorating all who gave their lives for their country and who have no grave but the sea:

By Deanna Groom, Maritime Officer, RCAHMW

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