SS Florizel

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SS florizel.jpg
Passenger Liner SS Florizel arriving St. John's Harbour.
Career (Newfoundland) St Patrick's saltire.svg
Namesake: Shakespearean character of The Winter's Tale
Owner: Bowring Brothers
Operator: Red Cross Line
Builder: C. O'Connell & Company Ltd.
at Glasgow
Commissioned: 1909
Homeport: St. John's, Newfoundland
Fate: Sank after striking reef at Cappahayden, Newfoundland 23 February 1918. 94 people killed.
Status: Wreck
General characteristics
Tonnage: 1,980 tons net
3,081 tons gross
Length: 305.5 ft (93.1 m)
Beam: 43.1 ft (13.1 m)
Depth: 29.6 ft (9.0 m)
Propulsion: Steel Screw Steamer
Speed: 12 Knots
Capacity: 145 First Class
36 Second Class
Notes: Safety Equipment:
submarine signaling apparatus and wireless

SS Florizel, a passenger liner, was the flagship of the Bowring Brothers' Red Cross Line of steamships and one of the first ships in the world specifically designed to navigate icy waters.[1] During her last voyage, from St. John's to Halifax and on to New York, she sank after striking a reef at Horn Head Point (46°50′56″N 52°56′20″W / 46.84889°N 52.93889°W / 46.84889; -52.93889Coordinates: 46°50′56″N 52°56′20″W / 46.84889°N 52.93889°W / 46.84889; -52.93889), Cape Race near Cappahayden, Newfoundland, with the loss of 94 including Betty Munn, a three-year-old girl, in whose memory a statue of Peter Pan was erected at Bowring Park in St. John's.

The sinking of Florizel and the loss of life, compounded by the controversy surrounding her ill-fated voyage was the subject of a book by Cassie Brown entitled A Winter's Tale - The Wreck of the Florizel, ISBN 0-9698767-4-2.


Florizel was primarily a passenger liner, built for the Bowring Brothers to replace an earlier ship, the SS Silvia, which had been lost at sea. Built of steel, she was one of the first ships in the world to be specifically designed to navigate the icy waters around Newfoundland and Labrador. The vessel was modified each spring to participate in the annual seal hunt off the coast of Newfoundland, and participated in the rescue of sealers during the Great 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster. Often captained by Captain Abram Kean, she broke many records on her numerous voyages to the seal hunt.[2]

Florizel was also used as a transport vessel during World War I. In October 1914 she carried the first 540 volunteers of the Newfoundland Regiment, the Blue Puttees, to Europe.

Bowring Brothers were the operators for the New York, Newfoundland and Halifax Steamship Company, Limited. At the time of Florizel's construction she was considered a luxury liner; she had room for 145 first-class accommodations.

The Bowring fleet of ships of that era were given names from Shakespearean plays: Florizel was named after young Prince Florizel in The Winter's Tale.

Last Voyage[edit]

Florizel left St. John's on 23 February 1918, for Halifax and then on to New York, with 78 passengers and 66 crew. Among the passengers were many prominent St. John's businessmen. Shortly after the vessel left port the weather turned nasty and after nine hours of steaming southward the captain, William J. Martin, assumed that he had rounded Cape Race and consequentially turned westward. However, because of the gale force winds Florizel had actually traveled just 45 miles and was well short of the Cape. The sea crashing against the rocks at Horn Head Point was white with froth and Captain Martin mistook it for ice and eventually crashed full speed into the rocks. Most of the passengers and crew that survived the initial crash found shelter in the Marconi Shack, the least damaged portion of the ship.

The rescue[edit]

An SOS was sent out and received by the Admiralty wireless station located at Mount Pearl.[3] By the evening of 24 February the first rescue ships had arrived to no sign of life. The weather had abated somewhat when light was spotted and a rescue attempt was carried out after the storm had calmed. Of the 138 passengers, 44 had survived the initial crash and after 27 hours, the ship struck ground and the last of the passengers and crew were rescued. Medals of bravery were awarded to several crew members of HMS Briton and HMS Prospero who had responded to the wreck; these were given by the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII, while he was in St. John's in 1919.

The investigation[edit]

Captain Martin, who had survived the tragedy, was held responsible for the disaster, because of the lack of soundings taken during the course of the voyage. His certificate was suspended for twenty-one months. It was not until later that Captain Martin was found not to have been at fault. The Chief Engineer, J.V. Reader, had reduced the speed of the vessel as soon as she left port, bypassing the captain's orders to proceed at full speed. This action had caused the ship to make less distance than had been thought. The reason cited for Reader's action was to prolong the trip to Halifax such that the vessel would have to dock overnight and allow Reader time to visit his family while there.[1]

Lost passengers of historical importance[edit]

  • Patrick Laracy, owner of the Crescent theater in St. John's.
  • John Shannon Munn, managing director of Bowring Brothers (and a step-son of Sir Edgar Rennie Bowring, a founder of the company), with his three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Shannon "Betty" Munn.
  • James H. Baggs, curling, Bay Of Island

Passengers perished

First class
  1. Frederick C. Smythe, 44
  2. James H. Baggs, 40
  3. William F. Butler, 50
  4. Mrs. W. F. Butler, 40
  5. Patrick Laracy, 50
  6. Edgar Froude, 38
  7. James J. McCoubrey, 40
  8. Robert Wright, 45
  9. James Miller, 30
  10. James Daley, 40
  11. Miss Annie Dalton, 33
  12. Miss Mabel Barrett, 23
  13. Thomas McMurdo McNeil, 45
  14. Frank Chown, 19
  15. Fred Snow, 22
  16. Edward Berteau
  17. Jack C. Parsons, 27
  18. Newman Sellars, 20
  19. George Massie, 41
  20. Mrs. Massie, 38
  21. Miss Katherine Massie, 8
  22. William E. Bishop, 38
  23. Charles H. Miller, 42
  24. Captain O. P. Belleveau, 38
  25. George A. Moulton, 33
  26. Master Clarence E. Moulton, 7
  27. F. Gerald P. St. John, 20
  28. William Moore
  29. Michael Connolly, 74
  30. John Connolly, 31
  31. George Parmiter, 25
  32. Captain Joseph Kean, 44
  33. John Shannon Munn, 37
  34. Miss Betty Munn, 3 12
  35. William Earle, 42
  36. Michael O’Driscoll, 37
  37. Miss Blanche Beaumont, 11
  38. Miss Evelyn Trenchard, 30
Second class
  1. Joseph Maloney, 29
  2. Mrs. Mary Maloney, 28
  3. Master John Maloney, 7 months
  4. Patrick J. Fitzpatrick, 42
  5. Andy Power, 24
  6. John Costello, 49
  7. William Guzzwell, 11
  8. Miss Elizabeth Pelley, 29
  9. Peter Guilfoyle, 27
  10. Edward Greening, 36
  11. George Long, 37
  12. R.J. Fowlow, 23
  13. Geo. Puddester, 42
  14. John Lynch, 55
  15. Walter J. Richards, 24
  16. Leonard Nicholl, 31
  17. James Crockwell, 50
  18. Herbert Piercey, 22
  19. James Bartlett, 25
  20. Charles Howell, 24
  21. John Forrest, 23
  22. George E. Stevenson, 53

Officers and crew perished

  1. John R. King, Second Officer, Arichat, N.S.
  2. John V. Reader, Chief Engineer, Halifax, N.S., 45
  3. Charles Snow, Second Steward, St. John’s
  4. Miss Margaret Keough, Stewardess, St. John’s
  5. Fred Guthrie, Second Cook, Liverpool
  6. Joseph McKinnon, Baker, Glasgow
  7. Ramon Rez, Messroom Steward, Spain
  8. P. Lynch, Waiter, St. John’s
  9. Gordon Ivany, Waiter, St. John’s
  10. Austin Whitten, Waiter, St John’s
  11. Stan Squires, Waiter, St. John’s
  12. Stan Foley, Waiter, Grey Islands
  13. M. L. Dunphy, Waiter, St. John’s
  14. Thomas Hennebury, Oiler, St. John’s
  15. A. Moody, Butcher, New Hampshire
  16. Geo Crocker, Sailor, St. John’s
  17. William Walters, Sailor, Trinity
  18. Charles Bailey, Sailor, Port Rexton
  19. John Power, Sailor, Paradise, P.B.

Passengers saved

  1. Lieut. Alexander Ledingham, 30
  2. Ralph Burnham, 23
  3. Joseph Stockley, 22
  4. Major Michael S. Sullivan, 42
  5. John J. Cleary, 27
  6. William Parmiter, 40
  7. John P. Kiely, 32
  8. William Dodd, 22
  9. W. Noah Dauphinee, 36
  10. Archibald E. Gardiner, 32
  11. Albert G. Fagan, 29
  12. Dave Griffiths, 24
  13. Miss Kitty Cantwell, 21
  14. Miss Minnie Denief, 21
  15. Thomas Whelan, 27
  16. G. M. Mullowney
  17. John G. Sparrow, 27

Officers and crew saved

  1. Captain William J. Martin, 43
  2. Chief Officer William James, 35
  3. 3rd Officer Philip Jackman, 31
  4. 2nd Engineer Thomas Lumsden, 35
  5. 3rd Engineer Eric Collier, 26
  6. 4th Engineer Herbert Taylor, 22
  7. Marconi Operator Cecil Sidney Carter
  8. Asst. Marconi Operator Bernard John Murphy, 24
  9. Bosun Michael F. Power
  10. Carpenter Jacob Pinsent, 32
  11. John Johnston, Pantry Waiter, 22
  12. James Dwyer, Waiter, 22
  13. Joseph Moore, Cook
  14. Fred Roberts, Cook, 27
  15. Edward Timmons, Oiler
  16. John Davis, Oiler
  17. A Hatchard, Sailor
  18. Henry Dodd, Waiter, 21
  19. Alex Fleet, Waiter
  20. William Dooley, Sailor, 34
  21. Joseph Burry, Sailor
  22. Thomas Greene, Sailor
  23. George Curtis, Gunner
  24. Henry Snow, Waiter
  25. Charles Reelis, Waiter
  26. Jose Fernandez, Fireman
  27. Wm. Molloy, Sailor.[4]

Survivors of historical importance[edit]

Bodies not recovered[edit]

  • Francisco Fornas, fireman, Spain.
  • Edward Greening, Bonavista.
  • Charles Howell, Trinity.
  • Gordon Ivany, St. John's.
  • Clarence E. Moulton, St. John's.
  • Leonard Nicholl, St. John's.

Recipients of the Royal Humane Society Medal for Bravery at Sea[edit]

The SS Gordon C[edit]

  • Captain E. C. Perry
  • Chief Engineer Robert Pierson
  • Seaman Joseph Budden

The SS Hawk[edit]

  • Captain Martin Dalton, R.N.R.
  • Seaman Daniel Ralph, R.N.R.
  • Seaman Michael Whelan, R.N.R.

These men, along with H. Clouter, C. W. Penny, R.N.R., Adolphus "Dolf" Morey, R.N.R., G. Westcott, R. Pierson, and J. Budden, also received the Board of Trade Medal for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea (Sea Gallantry Medal or S.G.M).[5]


  1. ^ a b Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, ISBN 0-9693422-1-7.
  2. ^ Paul O'Neill, The Oldest City: The Story of St. John's, Newfoundland, 2003, ISBN 0-9730271-2-6.
  3. ^ Exhibits, Admiralty House Museum & Archives.
  4. ^ St. John's Daily News, 22 February 1918.
  5. ^ Chapter XIX of Awards of Board of Trade Medals for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea, original available at the Royal Humane Society in London

External links[edit]