THE BURNING OF THE 'VOLTURNO' - PAGE 3
THE 2ND HALF OF
SIR ARTHUR SPURGEON'S 1913 BOOK
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On this page, I provide the SECOND half of the text of Arthur Spurgeon's (1861-1938) book The Burning of the "Volturno", published in Dec. 1913. The first half of that text was presented on this page.
But before I present the text, here are a couple more images from the Spurgeon book, courtesy of Ellen Karp. At left is an image of the vessel, published opposite the title page. And at right is an image of the Volturno which had the following descriptive words beneath it in the book (opposite page 20): 'A picture of the Volturno taken when the Carmania hove to in order to attempt to effect communication. The propellers of the Volturno are seen to be right out of the water'.
As with the first half, the numbers in brackets in the text below are the webmaster's additions & indicate the start of a page of that number.
THE BURNING OF THE "VOLTURNO"
ARTHUR SPURGEON, published by CASSELL AND COMPANY, LTD
London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne - 1913
Every moment of that long night the Captain was fearful lest the intense heat of the steel should ignite the strips of planking above. Had that happened, Heaven alone knows what the result would have been. That panic would have followed is certain, and then - chaos.
"The Feast of the Atonement"
The strangest part of the company on board was undoubtedly a group of Jews, mostly Russians, who were emigrating to New York. When the Volturno left Rotterdam the Feast of the Atonement was near, and therefore the Uranium Company obtained for the use of the Jewish passengers a sacred scroll and sacred horn, so that they could hold their celebrations during the voyage. I may add that the (36) scroll, which is written on parchment in Hebrew characters, was loaned to the Company for the voyage by the Rotterdam Synagogue at a cost of £50.
There was a Rabbi at the head of this band of Jews, who, coming from the interior, had most of them never seen the sea, or ships that go down to the sea. One can imagine their horror when, in the midst of a lonely ocean, they found that the ship which kept them afloat upon the water was furiously burning. They brought out their scroll, they sounded their horn, they knelt down together on the deck, and read the scroll, and recited their prayers many times during the day. During the night, when the moon had gone down, and all was dark excepting for the glare of the flames, they spent the long hours in repeating prayers and chanting psalms.
A Message of Despair
At 6.30 p.m., those on the Carmania saw (37) that flames were occasionally breaking through the great clouds of smoke, and we received a despairing message that the upper plates would soon give way. Shortly after, in desperation, Captain Inch succeeded in lowering a boat, which he placed in charge of the Second Officer and four men. The falls of this boat had been cut in the morning for use when the Carmania's boat was trying to get alongside. They therefore could not lower the boat right to the water, but only half way down and then let it go. Happily, it remained upright. Apparently, several planks were started, as Mr. Lloyd, the Second Officer, reported she was leaking. Mr. Lloyd made a statement in New York that his object in taking out this boat was to show that small boats could live, although such a heavy sea was running. The success of his demonstration was not (38) apparent, for, although he managed to reach the Grösser Kurfürst, and his men were, by good fortune, saved, the boat was dashed to pieces.
The experience of a boat sent out later by the Devonian is yet another proof of how hazardous a thing it was to venture upon the raging sea. Captain Trant, of the Devonian, lowered a boat as soon as he came up with the Volturno, at about 12.30 midnight. This boat returned after a great battle with the sea - a battle worth while, for a man from the Volturno had been picked up. While the crew were being taken back on board the boat capsized, but by great good luck the men were saved, though the boat was lost.
The Kroonland made several attempts to get alongside the Volturno with a small boat, and once, when the boat was near, Captain Inch tried to induce some of his (39) passengers to jump from the weather side, but none would run the risk.
The Last Message
At 9.30 the sky was suddenly illumined with a lurid glare, and from the Carmania we could see that the flames were shooting up to a height of about seventy feet, exploding the magazine on the bridge and disabling the wireless. Before this happened the Captain sent his last wireless appeal for help. The final message received on the Carmania was "For God's sake send us some boats or do something." I modified this message somewhat when I sent it to England in the first instance, because I felt it was an unfair reflection on those who had been risking their lives for hours in trying to reach the Volturno by small boats. Captain Inch has since thanked me for having made the modification. I realised at the time that the message was the last despairing outburst of (40) an agonised man. If he had seen it in writing before it was aerographed I am sure he would have cast it in a different form, but during the whole of that twenty-four hours no written messages were received or dispatched. The Captain was too absorbed with other things to consider niceties of phraseology.
A Gallant Rescue
Whilst we on the Carmania were gazing at the awful spectacle of the flames shooting up to the masthead, a cry was heard coming over the tempestuous waters, "Help! Help!" The searchlight of the Carmania - the only ship on the scene possessing one - showed "a strong swimmer in his agony." A lusty cheer greeted him as he made his way towards the ship. It was a difficult task to get him aboard, and two of the crew, A. J. Heighway and W. Garvey, bravely went to his assistance. There was much cheering (41) when he was saved after twenty minutes' anxious suspense. The man, who was a German clerk, named Walter Trentepohl, was in a state of utter exhaustion, and was at once taken into the ship's hospital and attended to by Dr. Mackenzie. It seems he jumped overboard with an English passenger and a member of the crew. He made for the German ship, but as they did not hear him he came towards the Carmania. He was about an hour in the water. Some of the passengers on the Carmania declare they saw one of the other men who jumped overboard with Trentepohl carried past the bow, the current being too strong for him. I do not know what became of the third man.
The Man who was Saved
When Trentepohl arrived on the Carmania he had in his pocket a chunk of bread, some tobacco and two candles. I was curious to know why he carried the last named, (42) as he could not very well light them when he was in the water. To use his own words, "The two candles which were found in my pocket I made use of for my work, to light up the dark corners in the steerage. The candles were supplied to us by the ship. Their use, therefore, was officially sanctioned." This is contradicted by Captain Inch, who assures me that naked lights were not allowed in any part of the Volturno.
After Trentepohl had been brought aboard the Carmania, the moon, which had been shining fitfully through the angry clouds, disappeared, but we were able to see what was happening by the Volturno fire. The night we spent will never be forgotten. There was little sleep on board, except the sleep of exhaustion. Men and women paced the decks through the weary hours. Some obtained snatches of sleep in the (43) drawing-room or in the lounge. Some prayed for the souls in peril, and all were racked with heart-braking anxiety.
"For Those at Sea'
On the previous Sunday morning, when Captain Barr, at Divine service, had read the "Prayer for the use of Sailors and Persons at Sea," how little we thought that the dangers of the ocean would be brought home to us in such a tragic manner! The words came back to us with tenfold emphasis: "Look down in mercy on us, Thine unworthy servants, who are called to see Thy wonders on the deep and to perform the duties of our vocation in the great waters. Let Thine everlasting arm be underneath and round about us. Preserve us in all dangers, support us in all trials, conduct us speedily and safely on our voyage, and bring us in peace and comfort to our desired haven." (44)
These words returned to our minds again and again as, a short distance away, we saw the burning Volturno and her five hundred passengers on the verge of a holocaust. What appalled us more than anything else was our utter helplessness. Here were gathered together, thanks to the agency of the Marconigraph, the finest fleet of liners ever assembled in the middle of the ocean, all fitted with the regulation number of boats, but, owing to the fierce wind and furious sea, all absolutely powerless.
Soon after midnight the Grösser Kurfürst managed to lower a boat with a double crew, which, after battling with the waves for two or three hours, got within speaking distance of the Volturno. The boat, however, was forced to return, having had almost as trying an experience as the (45) Carmania men had passed through earlier in the day.
The Minneapolis also put out a boat in charge of an officer and six men, and their experience was even more thrilling than that of the German crew. The boat got within hail, and the officer shouted to the affrighted passengers to jump. They either did not hear, owing to the roar of the gale, or they were hypnotised by terror, for nobody responded to the suggestion. The passengers were in a state of semi-collapse. This really is not to be wondered at. They had seen earlier in the day over a hundred of their fellow passengers carried away or engulfed in the maddened sea, when the first attempt was made to escape. They knew that the fire was gaining ground inch by inch. They had seen the Carmania's boat and other boats beaten back after heroic efforts to reach them. They had witnessed the (46) failure of all the subsequent efforts to effect communication with the Cunarder, and their hopes of salvation, which may have quickened for a moment as steamer after steamer came into view, had waned, until now they were in abject despair. They were also enduring great physical sufferings, being ceaselessly tossed to and fro by the angry sea. It seemed at times that all must be swept overboard, but they held on like grim death.
Agonies of Inferno
Mothers were there with babies in arms, and they could only weep. Many passengers partook of no food for twenty-four hours. These people were passing through the terrors and agonies of an inferno, which became more real as the night came on. The heat became more and more intense. Owing to the direction of the wind, the smoke, which belched forth from the hold (47) in black clouds, was drifting away from them, and they were, therefore, spared the excruciating pain of death by slow suffocation. Happily the flames did not spread abaft the funnel, but when the detonators and rockets in the chart-room exploded the terrified emigrants thought their end had come. Terror drove them almost mad.
Meanwhile a disaster threatened the boat's crew of the Minneapolis, who, in returning, were carried away by wind and current. At a critical moment a terrific sea broke the rudder, and the crew were at the mercy of the waves. Fortunately their plight was seen from the Carmania by the aid of the searchlight, and Captain Barr at once proceeded to their assistance. When the ship got alongside the men were in an utterly exhausted condition, and it was with (48) the greatest difficulty that they were rescued. The officer was just getting out when a big sea bore down upon the boat, and he was thrown into the water. Luckily a line was lowered from the Carmania, and he was able to catch it and so was hauled on board. The boat was smashed to pieces against the side of the ship. The men had been in the boat for five hours.
Captain Barr's Abnegation
I have been asked many times why Captain Barr did not put out boats when other steamships did so and thus share in the triumph of rescue. My answer has been that Captain Barr showed wonderful self-abnegation. He knew his ship, with her turbine engines, was very difficult to handle. So he took up a position from which he could use his searchlight to advantage. If it had not been for this searchlight, the crew of the Minneapolis (49) life-boat must have been lost when the rudder was carried away. Again, if the Volturno had broken up and the passengers had been obliged to jump into the sea, the Carmania was just where they could have been picked up. Captain Barr's good judgment in this respect was demonstrated by the saving of the German clerk Trentepohl. Captain Barr by his resourcefulness did more than anyone to minimise the results of the disaster.
Taking the Risk
After the failure of the Minneapolis boat to reach the Volturno two or three other ships tried, and when the boats approached the burning ship Captain Inch arranged for the engineers and others to jump into the sea in order to induce the passengers to follow their example, in the hope of their being picked up by these boats. About seventy or eighty jumped (50) overboard, and of this number all were picked up except five or six, who were carried away. A Russian opera singer had a very trying experience. He did not need any persuasion to jump, but asked the Captain to give him his permission to go. "I want you to go," said Captain Inch, and over he went. The next Captain Inch saw of him was in New York. He had missed the boat, he told the Captain, and had clung on to a rope hanging from the ship's side. Dipping into the sea every now and then as the ship rolled in the intense darkness, he had sought for an hour and a quarter to climb back on deck. He succeeded in the end, but his legs and arms were frightfully burned, owing to slipping down the rope so many many times. Tears ran down his face when he saw the Captain in New York. He grasped both his hands with pleasure, (51) and then commenced, somewhat unnecessarily, as the Captain thought, to kiss him!
Baby Rolls into the Sea
One woman, with her baby in her arms, overcome with fatigue, fell asleep against the rail. When she woke the baby was gone; it had rolled into the sea.
Several other curious things happened. One man, for instance, when told to take off his great Russian boots, did so, and calmly hung them round his neck. They were there when he was taken into one of the boats, and then, of course, were thrown away.
Another man - a Steerage Steward - went about all the day with both life-belt and life-buoy round his body. When he was told to jump he calmly took them both off, laid them on the deck, and went into the water without them - the very moment, (52) of course, when they might have been of inestimable value.
The Heroic Captain
So occupied was Captain Inch with the work of endeavouring to hold back the progress of the flames on the one hand, and that of preventing confusion and panic among the passengers on the other, that he had no food from Wednesday night until Friday morning. And he admits that he felt no need of it. Occasionally during the worst hours of that memorable Thursday the Steward would bring him a cup of hot coffee, but the Captain sent him back with the coffee untasted. His sole sustenance, if it can be called such, was tobacco, and he smoked continuously from the moment he set to work to fight the flames until he left on the last boat for the Kroonland.
During the long-drawn watches of that (53) awful night Captain Inch and the Chief Engineer, assisted by two or three seamen who remained with them, spent their time in improvising rafts, so that when the ship broke up, as they expected it would at any moment, the passengers might be able to keep themselves afloat until perchance they were picked up by one of the boats cruising around. I cannot imagine greater courage than this. Captain Inch and the Chief Engineer knew that the fire was stealing its way aft, but they kept the grim secret to themselves, and while the flames roared forward, and the tempestuous sea lashed the sides of the vessel, they steadily went on making rafts.
Thus the night wore away. To the Captain's intense relief the fire did not get beyond the women's steerage on the starboard side, but the deck was becoming hotter and hotter, and he realised they could (54) not possibly hold out more than an hour or so longer.
Coming of the Boats
Happily the wind and sea went down during the night, and at daylight the boats were able to get alongside. The first boat to arrive was one from the Devonian. Captain Inch stretched a rope across the deck and put the men on the weather side and the women and children on the lee side, The women, clinging to lines or rope ladders, dropped into the boats, while the children were lowered by heaving lines.
The Heroic Captain
There were several exciting incidents during the transfer of the children. A man threw his child overboard, and it hit the thwart of the boat. The father tried to follow, but the Captain knocked him down. He jumped to his feet, leapt over the rope, (55) rushed to the side, eluding the Chief Officer, who tried to stop him, and dropped into the boat, where he got a good hammering.
A second man, disguised in the great coat belonging to the Third Officer, was caught trying to push his way into a crowded boat; he also was promptly knocked down by the Captain, and he stayed on board till the last.
One of the women threw her child overboard in the hope of its falling into the Devonian's boat. It fell with a splash between the ship and the boat, and but for a plucky Devonian man, named Hazelwood, must have been crushed to death. Hazelwood did not hesitate a moment; almost as the child hit the water he dived in after it, and got it into the boat. "It was the quickest thing I ever saw," says Captain Inch, to whose arm the frantic mother clung, screaming (56) with terror, until she saw her child so nobly rescued.
Then came the turn of the men.
As there was no possibility of sorting out the passengers into families in the work of rescue, it came about that there were many separations. Fathers, mothers and children found themselves on different ships bound for different ports, and many suffered days of distress and agony, as they did not know whether their loved ones were saved. Ultimately I believe all the members of the rescued families were brought together again - a happy result due largely to the admirable organisation of the Uranium Steamship Company, backed up by the charitable societies in the various ports where the rescued were landed. In two cases at least brides were separated from their prospective husbands, but they discovered one another's (57) whereabouts, and the marriages took place in New York within a month of their separation in mid-ocean.
Oil Upon the Waters
The arrival of the tank steamer Narragansett full of oil was most timely. Seventeen hours previously Captain Barr has sent out a general message inquiring whether a tank steamer was in the radius. The Captain of the Narragansett replied that he would arrive at six o'clock, and he did. He at once pumped huge quantities of oil round the burning vessel, literally pouring oil upon the troubled waters. The effect was marvellous, for a breaking sea was turned into a swell, and thus the progress of the small boats was facilitated.
It was a stirring spectacle to see the assembled vessels putting off their boats as day broke, and when the work of rescue was completed the Captains of the (58) steamers reported to the Carmania the following numbers saved:-
Grösser Kurfürst 105 Czar 102 Kroonland 90 Devonian 59 Seydlitz 46 La Touraine 40 Minneapolis 30 Narragansett 29 Rappahannock 19
The total death toll was one hundred and thirty-six.
Those saved by the Kroonland included the Captain, Chief Engineer and the two Marconi operators. The Captain lowered himself into the Kroonland's boat at 8 o'clock, exactly twenty-five hours after he had sent out the signal S O S, and after passing through the most trying ordeal to which a human being can be subjected. (59)
He took a last look round before he left the ship. He tells me that the entire deck was an irregular - a mad - switchback; for all the world as though it were rubber and mammoth fingers had poked upwards from below. The sides of the ship, too, were just as bad - her plates open and bent, not a regular foot all the way down to the hissing water-line.
There was a moment during the night when the concentrated power of the imprisoned flames broke loose and met him full in the face. He looked down to No. 1 hold. By that time it was a mass of twisted girders and charred and splintered woodwork. It was a cauldron of leaping flames, and up through it came a stifling draught of hot air which sent him reeling backwards. An awful pain shot into his eyes. What really happened was that (60) the film over the eyeballs had been dried up. He was blind for four days on the Kroonland, and suffered intense agony.
Another remarkable fact has been recorded by Captain Inch. A yellow-funnelled ship, he says, watched the spectacle, but what ship it was, and for what port she was bound, has never been discovered. She came up late in the afternoon, and lay some distance away from the other waiting vessels. As night dropped down she burned coloured lights, which is it supposed were to guide the boat she was launching. Having no wireless, she could not speak. and had probably been drawn to the spot by the reflection in the sky. On board the Volturno they named her the Vulture because she was waiting, and for want of knowledge of her real name (61) she has remained the Vulture to this day.
It is needless to say that there was great rejoicing on the Carmania when news of the rescues became known, and the night of sorrow was turned into a morning of gladness. Before the assembled boats were dismissed, Captain Barr was warmly congratulated by the other Commanders on the part he had played in this wonderful drama of the sea.
"Heroes of the Nations"
One cannot pay too high a tribute to the heroism of those who manned the various ships assembled, without distinction of race, for no crew displayed greater pluck than another. Here were assembled the ships of many nations, of Great Britain, the United States, Germany, France, Russia, but the call for courage appealed as strongly to the men of each, and was as bravely (62) answered. Assuredly here was proof that in hours of great stress nationality does not count. Lord Desart, the Wreck Commissioner, paid a well-deserved tribute at the Board of Trade Inquiry to the bravery of the crews of the rescuing liners, and this too has been finely expressed by the Press of both hemispheres.
On Sunday afternoon, October 12th, a general assembly of first-class passengers was held on the Carmania with Sir H. Evan M. James, K.C.I.E., in the chair.
The following resolutions were carried unanimously:
"The saloon passengers of the R.M.S. Carmania in a general meeting, desire to record their high appreciation and admiration of the promptitude, courage, and seamanship displayed by the Captains, Officers, and Crews of the assembled (63) steamers in their successful efforts to save the surviving crew and passengers of the SS. Volturno on Thursday and Friday, October 9th and 10th, 1913, and they further desire that a copy of this resolution, signed by the Chairman, be sent to the Captain of each ship present on this occasion, and to the Captain of the Volturno, together with an expression of their deep sympathy with him and the Officers, Crew and Passengers.
"That the Captain be requested to convey to Captain Barr an expression of their admiration of his prompt and energetic action in connection with the Volturno rescue operations.
"That a subscription be opened to recognise materially the efforts of the crew of the boat which went out in a high sea to endeavour to communicate (64) with the SS. Volturno, a share thereof to be handed over to Sailors Heighway and Garvey in recognition of their individual acts of courage, and that out of the fund a suitable presentation be made to Mr. F. Gardner, the First Officer, who was in charge of the boat.
"That the following committee be formed to carry out the resolutions already adopted, with such consequential additions as may be deemed necessary and proper: Sir H. Evan M. James, K.C.I.E.; Sir Arthur Eliott, Bart.; Mr. Mayson M. Beeton; Mr. Arthur Spurgeon, J.P.; Hon. Mr. Norman McLeod; Mr. A. S. Watt; Mr. Charles F. Hart; and Mr. Thomas K. Laidlaw."
At the dinner table on Sunday evening the sum of £101 10s. 6d. was collected, (65) which was subsequently brought up to £110 10s. 6d.
A gold watch was purchased and presented to First Officer Gardner, and the balance of the money was divided amongst the members of the crew concerned.
The watch bore the following inscription:-
THE BURNING OF THE
MR. FRANCIS GARDNER,
First Officer of the R.M.S. Carmania,
by the Saloon Passengers,
in recognition of his gallant work,
October 9th, 1913.
Practically all the Managing-Agents of the Companies have acknowledged the receipt of the Resolutions, and letters have also been received from most of the Captains expressing their appreciation. (66)
When the passengers and crew had left the burning vessel, and the waiting ships had dispersed to their various ports, leaving the ill-fated Volturno to the mercy of the sea, the end had not yet come.
Before Captain Inch left the Volturno he tried to sink her by opening the sea valves, but this was impossible, as he was unable to get anywhere near the engine-room. So, for eight days the charred derelict was driven hither and thither by the sea - a danger on the ocean paths. A British cruiser was sent out to remove this menace to shipping, but was unable to locate the Volturno.
The Finding of the Hulk
On October 17th, however, she was sighted by the Charlois, a Dutch oil steamer (Captain Schmidt) bound from Port Sabine, Texas. Captain Schmidt, who was ignorant of the great catastrophe of the (67) 9th, came upon the Volturno at night, and in the darkness flames could be seen issuing from the forecastle and stern. Not knowing the extent of the tragedy, and thinking there might be some survivors aboard the derelict, at 10.45 p.m. Captain Schmidt lowered a boat in charge of his First Officer to hover near the Volturno during the night watches. No voice came through the darkness in answer to the hailing of the boat's crew; a grim, foreboding silence met them.
The Scene of Tragedy
Then came the dawn, and with it the opportunity to board the smoke-blackened, charred derelict. It needed no practised eye to see what had happened and how intense had been the heat! Every scrap of wood in the ship had been burned. The after decks had all fallen through, and little heaps of melted (68) metal representing the buoyancy tanks were all that remained of the Volturno's boats.
Search of the vessel proving futile, the last act in the drama of the Volturno was played: the sea-cocks and outer circulation tubes were opened, the water poured in, and the vessel began to sink slowly beneath the waters through which she had hitherto so proudly forged her way.
PRINTED BY CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED, LA BELLE SAUVAGE, LONDON, E.C.
Webmaster's Note. The above represents the second half of the entire book. The first half is provided here.
I was interested to see at the bottom of a list of rescue vessels on this page, a reference to a vessel named the New York, having been reported on the scene. Said to be an American Line vessel which left New York for Southampton on Oct. 10, 1913. That is the first reference I have seen anywhere to that vessel. Could it be 'The Vulture'? See the paragraph entitled, The "Vulture", in the above text. Did American Line ships have yellow funnels, I wonder? Does anybody know? If so, do please write to me. I suspect, however, that the New York could not, as a practical matter, have arrived at the disaster scene until rather later.
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