SS Ravenscrag

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Ravenscrag / Armenia
Ravenscrag 1898 sketch.jpg
Sketch of the Ravenscrag from an 1898 newspaper. However, it is not known if the artist ever saw the actual ship.[1]
Name: Ravenscrag
Namesake: Ravenscraig Castle[2]
  • J. & A. Allan & Co., Glasgow
  • (1866-1885)
  • F.G. Mabane, South Shields
  • (1885-1896)
  • John Crow Richardson, Swansea
  • (1896-1901)
  • Johanson Joh. & Co., Oslo
  • (1901-1907)
Builder: Robert Steele & Co.
Yard number: 52
Launched: 1866 in Greenock, England
In service: 1866–1907
Renamed: 1901 as SV Armenia
General characteristics
Class and type: clipper (iron hull)
Tonnage: 1,263 tons
Length: 219 feet (67 m)
Sail plan: full rigged. Converted in 1901 to a bark (barque)

Ravenscrag (or Ravenscraig) is the name of several ships, some being sailing vessels (SV) and some steamships (SS). One of the sailing vessels is historically significant for bringing to the Hawaiian Islands in 1879 Portuguese immigrants who subsequently introduced the ukulele to island culture.

Capt. Biggam's Ravenscrag[edit]

The best known of several similarly named ships, the Ravenscrag (spelled without the "i") is a British sailing vessel commanded by Capt. Biggam that on 23 August 1879 brought 419 Portuguese immigrants from the Madeira Islands to the Hawaiian Islands to work as contract laborers in the sugarcane plantations. The ship left the Madeiran port of Funchal on 23 April 1879 and took exactly four months to cross the Atlantic Ocean, round Cape Horn, and then sail across the Pacific to Honolulu, Hawaii.[3][4][5] Among the passengers were Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias, Jose do Espirito Santo, and Joao Fernandes, who are credited with introducing the ukulele to Hawaii.[6][7] This was the second ship of Portuguese immigrants to reach the Islands, having been preceded on 30 September 1878 by the German bark SS Priscilla.[8][9]

Though depicted in a U.S. Postal Service description of a 2004 commemorative stamp release as a wooden-hulled bark,[10] the Ravenscrag was actually a 1,263 tons, 219 feet (67 m) long, iron-hulled, three-masted sailing ship with square sails on each mast (i.e., a clipper).[11][12] It was commissioned by Scottish-Canadian shipping magnate Sir Hugh Allan for his Allan Shipping Line with freight service between Britain and the States, and named by Allan after his mansion in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, which had been named, in turn, after Ravenscraig Castle in Scotland.[2] The ship was built for Allan in 1866 by Robert Steele & Co. at Yard No. 52 in Greenock, England, and owned by J. & A. Allan & Company of Glasgow, Scotland, an Allan Line subsidiary that was overseen by Sir Hugh's older brother James Allan.[13][14]

Biggam, still under the employ of the Allan Line, is shown as captain of the Ravenscrag in an 1885 trade journal,[11] the same year the ship was sold to John Crow Richardson of Swansea, England. It was then sold in 1896 to F.G. Mabane of South Shields, England. Two years later the New York Times on 7 April 1898 reported that "the British ship Ravenscrag . . . has not arrived here (Callao, Peru) and is officially reported missing." The article further states that the Ravenscrag was "an iron vessel, built at Greenock in 1893, hails from South Shields, Eng. and is owned by T.G. Mabano."[15] Allowing for misspellings and incorrect reporting of dates, this is clearly the same ship that Captain Biggam and 419 Portuguese immigrants sailed 19 years earlier to the Hawaiian Islands. Though feared lost a sea, the Ravenscrag did arrive at the port of Callao several days late, having been delayed by unusually strong currents while crossing the Atlantic.[1][16]

The Norwegian firm of Johanson Joh. & Co. of Oslo in 1901 purchased the Ravenscrag, and renamed it the SV Armenia. The ship at this time was still full rigged for sail, but the Norwegians subsequently rerigged it as a bark.[17] The SV Armenia met its demise on 27 August 1907 when, while on a voyage from Rio de Janeiro to Glasgow to deliver lumber, it was attempting to put in at the port of Matane, Quebec in a thick fog, and ran aground at Capucins on the Quebec side of the St. Lawrence River.[14][18]

Rescue ship of the Polaris Expedition[edit]

Perhaps the first ship to bear the name Ravenscraig (with an "i") was a 581 to 589 tons, 140 feet (43 m) long, wooden sailing ship, sheathed in yellow metal (copper?), that was built in 1853 in South Shields, England, and owned by Lockart & Co.[19] Though registered in Kirkcaldy, Scotland it was employed initially in the Australian and New Zealand wool trade,[20][21] and was still in service in 1865 when shipping agents Levin & Co. and Bethune & Hunter ran ads advertizing passage from New Zealand to London.[22]

The Ravenscraig at some point was outfitted with a steam engine and converted to a whaling ship, which on 23–25 June 1873 was involved in the arctic rescue of the crew of the USS Polaris, which had been trying to reach the North Pole on an ill-fated expedition of the U.S. Navy.[23] The official testimony of one of the rescued sailors describes the Ravenscraig as "a bark of about 400 tons [a rough estimate], with steam-power . . . [that] hailed from Kirkcaldie (Kirkcaldy), but sailed from Dundee." The owner of this bark was Ninian Lockart, Esq. of Kirkcaldy, Scotland, whose firm of Lockart & Co. twenty years earlier in 1853 had first purchased the Ravenscraig.[24]

Other ships named Ravenscraig[edit]

Another ship named the SS Ravenscraig was a 243 feet (74 m) long, 2,301 tons steamship built in 1900 at Port Huron, Michigan as a bulk freighter by the Jenks Shipbuilding Company for hauling iron and copper ore on the Great Lakes. It was, in fact, the first ship launched from the company's new ship yard. The SS Ravenscraig was sold in 1907, and taken off the lakes. When it was sold again in 1917 it was renamed the Edward F. Cragin. It remained in service until 1923, when it was scrapped in Italy.[25]

There is also record of a 137 feet (41.8 m) long, 333 tons British steamship named the Ravenscraig that was built in 1899 and sank on 18 September 1932 in the English Channel, just off the mouth of the Thames River, during a collision with another steamship.[26] A more recent ship to bear the name, one that was built about 1979, is a British, 950 feet (290 m) long, steel-hulled, bulk freighter that on 17 April 1989 helped rescue the crew of the cargo ship Star of Alexandria when it sank in the Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles southwest of Cape Cod.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The British ship Ravenscrag has arrived at Callao". San Francisco Call. 83 (134). April 13, 1898. p. 10. 
  2. ^ a b Appleton, Thomas E. (1974). Ravenscrag: The Allan Royal Mail Line. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 9780771007200. 
  3. ^ List of Passengers Per Ravenscrag, Captain Biggam, Bound to Honolulu. Hamilton Library, University of Hawaii at Manoa. 1879.  A transcription of this manifest is available at   "Immigrant Ship List for Ravenscrag". Hawaiian Roots - Genealogy for Hawaiians. Retrieved 15 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Arrival of Immigrants". The Hawaiian gazette. August 27, 1879. p. 2. Retrieved 28 October 2013. 
  5. ^ "Arrival of Immigrants". The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. August 30, 1879. p. 3. Retrieved 30 October 2013. 
  6. ^ King, John and Tranquada, Jim (2003). "A new history of the 'ukulele, 1838-1915". Hawaiian Journal of History. 37: 10–32. 
  7. ^ King, John & Tranquada, John (2007). "A Strum Through 'Ukulele History, from Madeira to Hawaii to the San Francisco Bay (online version)". Museum of Craft and Folk Art. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  8. ^ "The bark Priscilla". The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. Honolulu, Hawaii. September 14, 1878. p. 2. Retrieved 15 October 2013. 
  9. ^ Marques, Augustus (1886). Thrum, Thomas G., ed. "Portuguese immigration to the Hawaiian Islands" (PDF). Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1887 - A Handbook of Information. Honolulu, Hawaii: Press Publishing Company: 74–78. 
  10. ^ "August 23rd 2004. 125th Anniversary of the 'Ukulele". Hawai'i Post. Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  11. ^ a b Leading Manufacturers and Merchants of the City of Boston. Boston. Mass.: International Publishing Company. 1885. p. 116. 
  12. ^ "Shipping Summary - Arrival of the Ravenscrag". Otago Daily Times. March 13, 1878. p. 3. 
  13. ^ "Ravenscrag". Clyde-built Ship Database. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  14. ^ a b "SV Armenia". Wreck Site (online database). Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  15. ^ "Ship Ravenscrag Missing" (pdf). The New York Times. 7 April 1898. 
  16. ^ Stevenson, Paul Eve (1899). By Way of Cape Horn - Four Months in a Yankee Clipper. Philadelphia: J.P. Lippincott Company. pp. 326–327. 
  17. ^ "Oregon and Columbia - German Shipowners pay a compliment to webfoot state". The Morning Oregonian. October 2, 1901. p. 5. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  18. ^ "Shipwrecked in St. Lawrence River". The News. Frederick, Maryland: (subscription required). Aug 29, 1907. p. 1. 
  19. ^ "Ravenscraig - 1855". Register of Ships - transcribed from the Lloyd's Register of British and Foreign Shipping. Retrieved 30 December 2015. 
  20. ^ "Wool Fleets 1864 and 1865". New Zealand Marine News. 17 (2). 1965. pp. 53–58. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  21. ^ Stevens, Robert White (1878). On the stowage of ships and their cargoes. Plymouth, England: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer. p. 558. 
  22. ^ "For London to sail in a few days - Ravenscraig". New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian. 31 May 1865. p. 1 col. 1. Retrieved 17 October 2013. 
  23. ^ Robeson, George M. & Davis, Charles H. (1876). Narrative of the north polar expedition: U.S. ship Polaris, Captain Charles Francis Hall commanding. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. pp. 511–517. 
  24. ^ Robeson, George M. (1873). Report of the Secrertary of the Navy - Polaris Expedition. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office. pp. 12–13, 244–245, 469–470. 
  25. ^ Hilton, George w. (1995). Eastland: Legacy of the Titanic. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 26. 
  26. ^ "Ravenscraig". Wreck Site (online database). Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  27. ^ "Search continues for 2 crewmen from ship that sank in Atlantic". The Telegraph. Nashua, New Hampshire. April 18, 1989. p. 8. 

Further reading[edit]