SS Deutschland (1866)

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For other ships of the same name, see SS Deutschland.
Name: Deutschland
Operator: Norddeutscher Lloyd
Builder: Caird & Company, Greenock, Scotland
Launched: 29 May 1866
Fate: Wrecked, 6 December 1875, Kentish Knock
General characteristics
Type: Passenger cargo vessel
Tonnage: 2,800 gross register tons (GRT)
Displacement: 2,278 tons
Length: 325 ft (99 m)
Beam: 40 ft (12 m)
Propulsion: Steam, single propeller
Speed: 11 kn (20 km/h)
Crew: 90

Deutschland was an iron passenger steamship of the Norddeutscher Lloyd line, built by Caird & Company of Greenock, Scotland in 1866.


Constructed as an emigrant passenger ship, the Deutschland‍ '​s maiden voyage date is unconfirmed. The National Archives note it as being 29 Oct 1866[1] although a departure date of 15 Sep 1866 is found on[2] There were a total of three ships named the Deutschland 1866-1945.[3]


The wreck of the Deutschland

The Deutschland sailed from Bremerhaven on 4 December 1875, commanded by Captain Eduard Brickenstein, with 123 emigrants bound for New York via Southampton. Weather conditions were very bad, and the ship had no clear idea of her position until, at 05:00 on 6 December, she ran aground in a blizzard on the Kentish Knock, a shoal 25 mi (40 km) off Harwich. At the time she was 30 mi (48 km) from where Captain Brickenstein estimated she was.

An attempt to go astern was made but failed when the stress fractured her propeller. The vessel began to take on water and as the tide rose she failed to lift off the shoal as had been expected. The sea began to break over her and the wind rose to gale force. By 10:00 the next morning the order had been given to abandon ship, and the crew and passengers panicked. While distress rockets were fired and numerous ships passed by, none took any notice.

One boat was launched, but was swamped, while a second boat with the quartermaster, a sailor, and a passenger aboard, eventually drifted ashore on the Isle of Sheppey the next day with only the quartermaster left alive. This alerted people to the accident, and help eventually reached the wreck in the form of the steam paddle tug Liverpool which reached it on 7 December, 135 persons being saved out of a total of 213.


Soon after the news of the disaster had broken, the wreck was raided by men from the nearby coastal towns, particularly Harwich and Ramsgate. An artist from the Illustrated London News produced an illustration of the scene which depicted the wreckers as resembling a flock of vultures. The Times also described the scene, saying that corpses had been ransacked, and their jewellery stolen.

While there were some far-fetched suggestions that the Deutschland had been deliberately wrecked, there were well-founded allegations of deliberate delay in coming to the ship's assistance, as well as some of negligence. The Times published a leader which said that the Deutschland‍ '​s grounding had been known for 15 hours of the 30 hours it took for the tug Liverpool to come to her aid, and Captain Carrington, her master, was criticized for his slowness to act.

The Board of Trade enquiry into the accident opened at Poplar, London on 20 December. It was not usual to hold such an enquiry in the case of a foreign registered vessel being wrecked outside the three-mile limit, and it may have been done to respond to the criticisms which had been raised regarding the delay in coming to the ship's aid. Charles Butt QC, who had been briefed by the German government, stated that it was surprising that "a large steamer with upwards of 200 persons aboard should have lain on a dangerous sand close to the English coast for thirty hours before any assistance came to her".

The enquiry eventually exonerated everyone of any blame except Captain Brickenstein, who, it was decided, had "let his vessel get ahead in its reckoning" and "shown a very great want of care and judgement". Brickenstein asked the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck for an official German investigation, but this was ruled out.


Among the victims of the shipwreck were five Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Hearts from Salzkotten, Westphalia, in the Kingdom of Prussia, who had been emigrating to the United States. This was both to escape the anti-Catholic Falk Laws and to answer the need for nursing care in the German population of St. Louis, Missouri. Their deaths inspired Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins to compose the poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland. Four of the five Sisters were buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery in Leytonstone, London, (a fifth whose body was never found is recorded on the memorial) and their deaths are commemorated every year in a memorial service held on 6 December in Wheaton, Illinois, by the Franciscan Sisters of their religious congregation now headquartered there.[4]

See also[edit]


  • Simpson, A.W. Brian (1996). Leading Cases in the Common Law. Oxford University Press. pp. 251–253. ISBN 0-19-826299-X. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°40′00″N 01°37′00″E / 51.66667°N 1.61667°E / 51.66667; 1.61667