On 14th January 1899 Oceanic (yard number 317) was launched at Harland & Wolff,. She was designed as a twin-propeller, steel-hulled vessel, with two sets of triple-expansion engines producing 28,000hp. Accommodation was 300 First Class, 190 Second Class and 1,000 Third Class.
On 26th August she left Belfast for Liverpool. Oceanic sailed from Liverpool on her maiden voyage on 6th September, with 1,456 passengers. However, because many of the stokers were untrained, she made the crossing with the engines operating at 75% of their potential and arrived at Sandy Hook on 15th September, at an average 19.57 knots. Oceanic left New York on 20th September on the return leg.
Oceanic was involved in a number of incidents throughout her career. She went aground in fog off Three Castles Head, Ireland on 9th October 1900. Early on 8th August 1901, in thick fog off Tuskar Light, Oceanic collided with the cross-channel steamer Kincora, which quickly sank, taking seven of her crew. Oceanic made her ﬁrst sailing from Southampton on 19th June 1907.
On 1st August 1914 Oceanic sailed from New York,, with 1,000 passengers, 6,000 sacks of mail and $6 million in gold, and arrived at Southampton, and on 8th August she was requisitioned as an Armed Merchant Cruiser. On 25th August HMS Oceanic sailed to join the 10th Cruiser Squadron at Orkney, to patrol the Western Approaches. However, there was some evidence of “abnormal difference of deviation” on her compasses when so far north. At this time the regular Merchant Navy captain was still aboard each cruiser, but under a Royal Navy captain, with inevitable clashes over matters of authority.
On 8th September Oceanic was on patrol. The naval captain, William Hayter, ordered a course to pass between the island of Foula and the Shaalds. The White Star captain, Henry Smith, strongly advised against going into such shallow water, but was over-ruled. Subsequently Oceanic ran aground: the crew were quickly transferred to Alsatian. It proved impossible to pull her off the rocks, and in the end it was accepted she was a total constructive loss. The guns and ammunition were removed and the instruments dismantled. Amazingly, at the later enquiry both captains were absolved of all blame!
On 25th August 1916 an auction was held at Southampton of ﬁxtures and ﬁttings that had been removed in late 1914. In early 1924 the wreck was sold to Scapa Flow Salvage and Shipbreaking Co. for just £200. However, after only one dive, it was clear the local currents made any salvage impossible.
Extracted from “White Star: the Company and the Ships”
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