SS Southern Cross

SS Southern Cross, originally uploaded by eracose.

The SS Southern Cross is a model boat designed and constructed by Gus Menchions of Bay Roberts.
The SS Southern Cross was commissioned as the whaler Pollux at Arendal, Norway in 1886. On December 19, 1898 Pollux made its first Antarctic expedition where it made marine history by breaking through the Great Ice barrier to the unexplored Ross Sea.
Pollux was sold to Baine Johnston and renamed SS Southern Cross upon transferring to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1901. Southern Cross participated in every seal hunt from 1901-1914.

1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster

The 1914 sealing fleet included both the SS Southern Cross and the SS Newfoundland (under Captain Westbury Kean). The fleet left St. John’s on March 13, 1914. SS Newfoundland lost 78 sealers from her crew when they were stranded on the ice for two nights. Just as the terrible news of the SS Newfoundland tragedy was reaching St. John’s, the SS Southern Cross fell out of normal communication. The people of Newfoundland remained hopeful that tragedy would not strike twice, as evidenced by the April 3 Evening Telegram newspaper article below:

Nothing has been heard of the Southern Cross since she was reported off Cape Pine on Tuesday last, and the general opinion is that she was driven far off to sea. Various reports were afloat in the city last night, one in particular that she had passed Cape Race yesterday afternoon, but upon making enquiries this and the other reports were unfortunately found to be untrue. At 5:30 yesterday the Anglo [Anglo-American Telegraph Co.] got in touch with Cape Race and learned that she had not passed the Cape neither was she at Trepassey. A message from Captain Connors of the Portia said she was not St. Mary’s Bay. A wireless message was sent by the government to the U.S. Patrol steamer Senaca, which is in the vicinity of Cape Race, asking her to search for the Cross. The S.S. Kyle will also leave tonight to make a diligent search for her and it is hoped that something will soon be heard from the overdue ship, as anxiety for her safety is increasing hourly. If she had been driven off to sea, which is the general opinion expressed by experienced seamen, it would take her some days to make land again. The ship is heavily laden and cannot steam at great speed. Evening Telegram, 3 April 1914

Unlike the tragedy of the Newfoundland’s crew, the disappearance of the Southern Cross remained largely unexplained as no crewmen or record of the voyage survived. While a marine court of enquiry determined that the ship sank in a blizzard on March 31, little evidence exists to verify this. Oral tradition suggests that rotten boards gave out in the heavy sea and allowed the cargo to shift and capsize the steamer. Though the wreck of the SS Southern Cross accounted for the greater human loss of the two shipwrecks, some historians argue that the emotional impact of the SS Newfoundland disaster was more intensely felt because of the horrific stories survivors were able to recount.

These two disasters together constitute what is referred to as the 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster. A total loss of 251 lives from a province with a population of approximately 250,000 devastated families and communities.

Rockwell Kent – Kent’s Cottage – Landfall in Brigus

Artist, writer and adventurer, Rockwell Kent resided in Brigus for a year and a half, during 1914-15, at Kent cottage, so he was living in Brigus at the time of the disaster. He describes the impact of the loss on Brigus, where many of the sealers from the Southern Cross had lived. “It will pretty well clear out this place,” said one resident of the ship’s loss. According to Kent “The dread of the loss of this steamer had passed almost to certainty and the mention of the house, the wife, the children, the hopes and ambitions of any of those on her became a tragedy.” You can visit Rockwell Kent’s home in Brigus today.

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