In 1881 two new ships were ordered from Harland & Wolff: these were to be Ionic and Doric, designed and built for the immigrant service to New Zealand. Ionic (yard number 152) was launched on 10th January 1883, as a 4-masted barque-rigged freighter, with accommodation for 70 passengers, and the ﬁrst engines built by Harland & Wolff for White Star, as four-cylinder compounds.
On completion, J. Bruce Ismay joined Ionic at Belfast on 26th March 1883, and sailed to London, arriving on 1st April. Ionic was inspected by the Prince of Wales at London’s Royal Albert Dock, on 23rd April. Ionic left London on 26th April 1883, on charter to New Zealand Shipping, for her maiden voyage to Wellington. She arrived on 11th June, in a record 43 days 6 hours from Plymouth, and returned via Cape Horn, Montevideo, Rio and Plymouth.
After more than 18 months on charter, Ionic left London on 4th December 1884 on her ﬁrst voyage in the White Star/Shaw, Savill & Albion joint service to New Zealand. She arrived at Wellington on 20th January 1885 and began her return trip on 15th February. On 21st February 1885 Ionic encountered ice; the next day she would pass an iceberg estimated at 430 feet high. She arrived at London’s Royal Albert Dock on 1st April.
On 4th May 1889 while sailing for London, Ionic broke her crankshaft and was left with sails only. She headed back to Lyttelton, around 900 miles, arriving on 13th May. Interim repairs were completed and by 8th May one engine had been repaired. The crankshaft was replaced with a spare on board and she left on 30th May, arriving at Plymouth on 11th July.
On 8th February 1893, about 850 miles short of Cape Town, Ionic broke her tail shaft and nearly lost her propeller. Deploying sails, the captain headed toward Cape Town. Three days later, Castle Line’s Hawarden Castle agreed to tow her to Table Bay, arriving on 25th February. Following repairs, in April Ionic resumed her voyage to New Zealand. After an extensive reﬁt in Belfast in 1894, including new four-cylinder quadruple-expansion engines and boilers, and with upgraded refrigerating machinery, Ionic returned to the White Star/SSA joint service. By now only the foremast was still square rigged, and the accommodation had been refurbished.
In 1900, she was sold to G. Thompson & Co. (Aberdeen Line) for £47,000 and was renamed Sophocles, making her ﬁrst voyage on 23rd October. She made her ﬁnal sailing for Aberdeen Line on 21st August 1906, and was then laid up. Finally on 4th April 1908 Sophocles was broken up by Thomas W. Ward at Morecambe in Lancashire.