Mitchell Families Online


Migrant Ships

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SS Athenic (1901-1962)

Three large liners, known as the "Athenics" because the SS Athenic was the first of the class to be built, were especially designed to operate on the profitable London to New Zealand service for at least 30 years.

Although these ships are generally known to be Shaw Savill liners, they were actually built for and by, the White Star Lines house builders, the famed Harland & Wolff Shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Athenic was the first of the trio to be launched on August 17, 1901, and was delivered to her owners on January 23 1902 following her sea trials. She departed on her maiden voyage from London to New Zealand on the February 13, 1902, sailing via the Canary Islands, Cape Town, Hobart - Australia to Wellington. She returned to England sailing around Cape Horn, Rio de Janeiro, Las Palmas, Plymouth and back to the Thames to London.

In addition to transporting passengers, these three sisters had considerable cargo spaces, including massive insulated cargo holds that were capable of carrying up to 98,800 carcases of frozen lamb. In addition their general cargo holds provided an additional 8,375 tons for dry cargoes, although around 2,340 tons of space was reserved as a coal bunker. The ships daily consumption was around eighty tons of Welsh or ninety-two tons of Westport coal. Thus for their outbound voyages these ships carried general cargoes in all holds, then for the return voyage from New Zealand her insulated holds were converted and refrigerated for the frozen meat bound for England.

She was requisitioned for use during WW1 and was utilised to carry men, horses and equipment to Alexandria, Egypt. At that time, she was the largest troop ship ever sent from New Zealand to the Middle East.

After the war, Athenic was returned to her normal commercial service and in 1926, the now prefixed 'RMS Athenic' became a two class ship offering Second and Third Classes only. She continued her voyages, however she was sold in May 1928 to the Norwegian Company Brunn & von der Lippe of Tronsberg who extensively rebuilt her Tyne side and renamed her 'Pelagos', a whaling factory ship. Her conversion proved so successful that a number of other half sisters were purchased such as the Runic, Medic and Suevic and in due course they all joined her in the whaling industry.

Twelve and a half years later on January 15, 1941, she was captured by the German Raider SS Pinguin along with one other factory ship, one depot ship and eleven whale catchers. SS Pelagos was converted to become an oil tanker to refuel German U Boats and she was attached to the 24th submarine flotilla based in Norway. On October 24 1944, U Boat U-69 torpedoed her, which was an act of spite by the Germans, and she sank to the bottom of the harbour at Kirkenes. After a year on the bottom, the Norwegians raised her and she was completely refitted and placed back into service for another good eighteen years. Eventually the SS Palagos, ex Athenic, now aged 61 years, was sold to be broken up in Germany by Eckardt & Company of Hamburg in 1962. There is no doubt that this was a well built ship having lasted this long and having survived the bottom of the harbour for some twelve months!

Owner/SourceAcknowledgements and further info: SS Maritime - Classic Liners of Yesteryear.
DateAdded 03 Jul 2012
Linked toLeonard Judson Ayers (Emigration); Sarah Ann Cooper (Immigration); John William Langabeer (Immigration); Maria Matilda Stagg (Emigration)

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