SS City of Boston

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City of Boston mail steamer.jpg
City of Boston Inman Line of Mail Steamers
Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svgGreat Britain
Name: City of Boston
Operator: Inman Line
Builder: Tod and Macgregor, Partick, Glasgow
Yard number: 131
Launched: 15 November 1864
Fate: Lost 1870
General characteristics
Displacement: 2,278 long tons (2,315 t)
Length: 305 ft (93 m)
Beam: 39 ft (12 m)
  • 2 × steam engines (600 hp total)
  • single screw
Sail plan: Three-masted (ship rigged)
Speed: 12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph)
Memorial to a family lost in the disaster in the porch of St Pancras Parish Church, London.

The SS City of Boston was a British iron-hulled single-screw passenger steamship of the Inman Line which disappeared in the North Atlantic Ocean en route from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Liverpool in January 1870.[1]


The City of Boston was built by shipbuilders Tod & Macgregor of Partick, Glasgow and launched on 15 November 1864. Her maiden voyage, on 8 February 1865, was from Liverpool to New York via Queenstown.


The City of Boston sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia for Liverpool on 28 January 1870 commanded by Captain Halcrow. She had 191 people on board: 55 cabin passengers, 52 steerage passengers and a crew of 84. A number of the passengers were prominent businessmen and military officers from Halifax. She never reached her destination and no trace of her was ever found.

A violent gale and snowstorm took place two days after her departure which may have contributed to her loss. Collision with an iceberg was another explanation suggested at the time.[2]

City of Boston had been fitted with a two-blade propeller to replace her original three-blade propeller which had been broken during her previous voyage, and Captain Brooks of the SS City of Brooklyn expressed the opinion that the new propeller would not be strong enough to let her make headway against the adverse weather.

Rumors of the "Dynamite Fiend"[edit]

On 11 December 1875 the mystery of the City of Boston took a brief turn, that looked like it might give a solution, albeit a melodramatic one. On that day the German seaport of Bremerhaven was the scene of a dynamite explosion that killed eighty people. It turned out that a barrel being stored on board a ship had been a specially made dynamite bomb with a remarkable timer. It was to explode and sink the ship and kill most (if not all the passengers) out at sea (where no trace of the vessel would be likely to be found). The purpose was to collect insurance on the cargo. The premature explosion of the barrel caused the man responsible (one "William Thompson") to shoot himself. He became known in the period as the "Dynamite Fiend". In time Thompson was revealed to be one Alexander Keith, Jr. a Canadian from Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the wake of the discovery of his scheme and crime, police departments around the world were wondering if Thompson/Keith had been involved in the disappearance of other ships.

Thompson had been in New York City in the winter of 1870, and it was wondered if he had any hand in the disappearance of the City of Boston. At the time he had sent two large money transfers to his wife from New York, and that looked like a possible pay-off by some partners in the scheme. As he came from Halifax, and the City of Boston was headed for Halifax, it looked like there could be a connection, especially as part of the cargo included a shipment of furs by one "James Thompson" of Halifax. However, further investigation found that Mr. James Thompson was a real merchant, who lost a valuable shipment of furs on the City of Boston, and (ironically) was unable to get the shipment insured. After that the possibility of a link between Thompson/Keith and the disappearance of the City of Boston diminished.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gibbs, C. R. Vernon (1957). Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean: A Record of Atlantic Steam and Motor Passenger Vessels from 1838 to the Present Day. John De Graff. p. 117.
  2. ^ "City of Boston-1870", On the Rocks Shipwreck Database Nova Scotia Museum


  • Ann Larabee The Dynamite Fiend: The Chilling Tale of A Confederate Spy, Con Artist, and Mass Murderer (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), illus. p. 106, 144, 167, 177, 182. ISBN 1-4039-6794-6.