Nieuw Amsterdam (I) of 1906

Main Particulars:

TONN. BRT: 16,957 NRT: 10,714 DWT: 17,363
BUILT AT: Harland & Wolff Limited, Belfast, Ireland. YARD NO: 366
ENGINES: Two four cylinder quadruple expansion engines by yard.
ENGINE OUTPUT: 10,800 Ihp PROPS: Two (fixed)
SERVICE SPD: 16 Knots. MAX.SPD: 17.5 knots.
LENGTH Overall: 187.68 Meters BEAM OA: 20.88 Meters DRAFT: 10.68 Meters.
PAX.CAPACITY: 440 First, 246 Second, 1078 Third and 1284 in Tweendeck. CREW: 305
REMARKS: Bunker capacity 2591 tons of coal at a regular consumption of 190 tons a day.

NA 1906webAn artist drawing of the Nieuw Amsterdam of 1906

The construction of the Nieuw Amsterdam was a direct result of the great success of the Noordam, Rijndam, Potsdam trio of 1900. These were the first dedicated passenger ships in the company and due to their large third class/steerage capacity, real money spinners. They generated so much money for the company that the thoughts went to constructing a passenger ship that would be on par with what was being built by the foreign competition. There was no intention to compete for the blue Riband or to have the biggest ship afloat, but the company felt that it now could compete in the luxury segment, in the same way as the White Star Line and the Hamburg Amerika Line were already successful. Although most money was made in the emigrant trade each company that wanted to mean something had to offer eye catching ships with luxurious first class accommodation. The Nieuw Amsterdam was the first ship where Holland America applied this philosophy extensively. However the ship had to make money thus it still had extensive cargo holds. These would be used westbound to the USA for carrying emigrants. (The so-called Tweendeck accommodation) To achieve this collapsible wooden bulkheads were erected in the holds and this created private cabins and dormitories. After the emigrants had been landed in New York, these bulkheads would be removed again and the holds used for cargo. This was a very successful system and was used by the company for a long, long time. (I have a report in my collection, written my an emigrant who fled Germany in 1939, that he crossed to the free world in such a cabin on board the Rotterdam IV) In total there were seven holds and 14,500 tons of cargo could be carried or 1284 emigrants in this space.

NA 1906 under construction at Harland and Wolff web The Nieuw Amsteram under construction on the slipway of Harland and Wolff

By 1900 the Dutch shipbuilding industry was not yet ready and capable to built such a big ship and to such exacting standard and thus Holland America placed an order with the Harland and Wolff shipyard at Belfast, Ireland, which had also built some of the previous passenger ships of the line. The Nieuw Amsterdam was a steamship pur sang but it still carried a full set of sails for the masts of the ship. As far as we know, these were never used and were found, as new, in their storage bags when the ship went for scrap in 1932.

When the ship came into service, it was the 10th largest ship in the world and the biggest ship under the Dutch flag, until the arrival of the Rotterdam (4) in 1908. The keel was laid on 21 January 1904 and the hull launched on 28 September 1905. The official trial trip took place on 22 February 1906 and there a maximum speed of 17.5 knots was reached. Such a speed was more then sufficient to compete on the North Atlantic successfully. Passengers could choose the fastest ships, to reach their destination as quickly as possible, but that often resulted in being shaken all over the place during a crossing due to the vibration of the engines going full out at the maximum achievable speed. With a slower crossing there would be no vibration and the passengers could enjoy the comfort of the ship more. From Belfast the Nieuw Amsterdam sailed to Rotterdam were it arrived on the 24th.of February. Here it entered on the 26th. the new City Dry dock for two days of under water cleaning. After some more testing and inspections, it was delivered by the yard on the 6th. of March 1906 to Holland America.

NA 1906 portside view in calm waters web
The Nieuw Amsterdam on a calm day in port

With Captain Frederick H Bonjer (The commodore of the company) in command the ship left on is maiden voyage on 7 April 1906 sailing from Rotterdam to New York. As this was such a large ship (about 40% larger then the previous flagship of the company) and had so many innovative idea’s, a large number of modifications were considered during its first year of operation and two years later she was sent back to her builders for numerous improvements. This took place between November and December 1908, a time of the year when North Atlantic trade was more quiet. As a result the passenger configuration was changed to 443 First, 379 Second and 2050 in Third Class. (17,149 brt.) Some space was taken away from the 3rd class and used for increasing the 2nd class accommodation. Also her forward Boat deck promenade was glazed in. This was a reaction to the great success that Rotterdam (IV) was having with a similar concept and made it possible that the First Class passengers could walk around the forward part of the ship protected from inclement weather and sea water. To offer more space in the First Class dining room, it was extended forward making it similar to the one of the Rotterdam (IV)

Here follow some interiors shots of the ship:

NA06SocialHallweb

The First Class Social Hall.

Note the Piano. Although the company porivided a piano as part of the luxury environment, no professional shipboard entertainment was made available. The passengers relied on a talented fellow traveller to play.

NA 1906 Japanese tearoom web

The Japanese Tearoom.

Another photo of a first class lounge, the Japanese Tearoom. This particular room attracted a lot of attention in the press as it was considered very innovative in this days.

na 1906 deluxe cabin web The Bedroom of a First Class suite

The decoration of a first class cabin would not be that much different than found at the home of the passengers who would book such accomodation. This is the bedroom of a first class suite.

NA06SecClassDinRoomWeb
The 2nd class Diningroom.

The 2nd class accomodation was understandbly less luxurious but offered good value for money. Please note the swivel chairs. Once the passenger had “swiveled” him or herself into position, he or she would be nicely wedged between the chair and the table to enjoy dinner with the danger that a sudden movement of the ship would mover the diner all over the room. For the cutlery and crockery on the table, there would be a ledge around the table to prevent everything moving off the table.

NA06SecClassSmokeRoom Web The 2nd class Smoking Room.

This was normally the domain of the male passengers only. Ladies would spend their time in the Social Hall or Drawing room.

na 1906 3rd class web

The 3rd class diningroom.

Holland America was one of the first company’s who realized that taken good care of their emigrants paid off in the future. Letters would go back to those left at home about the treatment on board with the fair chance that prospective emigrants would then choose HAL as well. For a poor emigrant it must have been heaven to be served at a table with table cloths and good quality cutlery and crockery.

When the summer season started for the North Atlantic in April 1910, the ship started to call at Plymouth in England, which was in conjunction with the fact that Holland America had obtained the Royal Dutch Mail contract the year before. Some of the express mail was now landed here on the Eastbound crossing and could be in Rotterdam (via British Rail and the Channel steamer) the next day, while the ship went on to call at France first before steaming to Rotterdam.

NA 1906 stern view Wilhle kade unusual dock wrong way web The photo shows the extra lifeboats positioned on the poop deck. This is also a rather unusual photo as the ship is docked starboardside alongside the passenger terminal at the Wilhelmina Kade. It was the norm that the ships would always dock portside alongside with the nose down river.

In April 1912 the Titanic sank, with great loss of life. This had great repercussions throughout the shipping world and resulted that a month later, in May 1912, six lifeboats were added to the poop deck (that is the uppermost deck near the stern) to increase the lifesaving capacity on board. The ship continued here North Atlantic sailings up and throughout the First World War. When the war was imminent many Americans were anxious to get home and the Holland America Line ships were sailing at top capacity. Such was the relieve, when they arrived home safely that at the end of such a crossing, the grateful passengers offered a plaque to the captain and the company out of appreciation.

NA 1906 Plaquette ww1web The plaque presented to Captain Baron in 1914 by grateful passengers. This plaque is now in the collection of the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam

The Kingdom of the Netherlands was neutral during this conflict of the world’s greatest powers and it meant that as long as trading was neutral as well, e.g. not favoring any of the feuding countries, Dutch flag ships could continue to sail. What was exactly meant to be neutral was often confusing and in 1915 the ship was stopped by the French auxiliary cruiser La Savoye for inspection to enforce these neutrality rules. 650 Germans and Austrians are taken off. Holland America was convinced that carrying these people was not against the rules as they were civilians but the French thought different. The La Savoye was also a passenger ship and the 650 could at least be carried in a certain comfort to France for internment.

NA1906 boatdrill web During those scary days of the First World War, boatdrill were a regular occurence and here we can see the crew in participating in one. It brought some diversion to the passengers as well.

The United States entered the war on the 21 March 1917 and as it needed transport to get the US troops to Europe it started requisitioning the foreign passenger ships that were laid up in the various American ports. The Nieuw Amsterdam was exempt from this as it carried vital quantities of grain during each Eastbound crossing. The Dutch had a great shortage of grain as it normally bought this commodity in Germany. Due to its neutrality the German border was now closed so this grain had to come from across the Ocean. While on such a crossing, the ship left New York on 28 March 1918 with about 2300 Dutch men on board, all crew of some of the 134 Dutch ships that were requisitioned when the USA entered the war. Again with the country being neutral, the crews could not stay with their ships and for the remainder of the conflict the HAL ships sailed under American flag with USA crews.

The Nieuw Amsterdam came unscathed through the war as far as avoiding the U boats but it was less successful in avoiding the Dutch mud. On the 11th of April 1918 it ran aground near Maasluis (West of Rotterdam) in thick fog. To get everybody home quickly the company sent out all its tenders and harbour craft and these landed all the passengers safely at the Passenger terminal at the Wilhelmina Kade. The war ended on the 11 November 1918 (Armistice) and the ship could now safely cross the ocean again without the treat of war danger. During its first post war crossing it also carried 1715 French fugitives on board who were leaving their home country behind. Apart from those the ship had on this 21 December departure as regulars 149 First, 62 Second, and 35 Third class passengers on board.

NA 1906 stern view in dry dock web Here we see the Nieuw Amsterdam during one’s of its regular dry docks. Lifted out of the water by means of a floating dry dock, the underwater ship would be cleaned, inspected and repainted. At the same time all sorts of repairs, that can not be done while there are passengers on board, are taken care off during this period. Note the big flag at the stern with the anchor in the middle. This indicates that the captain in command was a Royal Navy Reserve Officer. This was quite common in those days, as the ship carried the Royal Dutch Mail and the ship could be turned into a troopship while the companies captain could remain in command.

With the reduction of the emigrant trade, caused by the American quota acts, the company had to change the occupancy configurations several times. This resulted by May 1926 in a configuration of 300 Cabin and 860 Tourist Class. The large emigrant capacity was now completely gone. In February 1928 Cabin is renamed in Tourist and Tourist in Third class to offer the most favorable passage fares under the existing Atlantic Pool rules. These rules had come in existence a long time ago to ensure that all the company’s would trade fairly on the North Atlantic and also that the class name covering a certain accommodation was in reasonable in relation to the quality of that accommodation.

NA 1906 Halifax 8 march 1928 presentation to captain The ship also called on occasion at Halifax Canada and here we see a photo of a presentation to the commander of the ship Captain de Jong, for landing the first emigrants at the new emigration Pier 21 8 march 1928. He received a walking cane as a present. (Picture taken from a newspaper produced by the Pier 21 Museum in Halifax)

During the winter season of 1928 the ship made a series of cruises from Boston to Havana and only sails the north Atlantic during the high season in the summer. However the ship is getting older and with the new flagship, the Statendam (III) in the offing, it is getting harder for the company to market the ship. There is a final try in 1930, as a result of the depression which lowers the prices, to try a ships lay-out of 442 First, 202 Second, 636 Third and 1284 in temporary bunks. Basically back to the old days but now marginal accommodation makes it possible to travel very very cheaply if needed but it is all to no avail.

The Nieuw Amsterdam arrives on 2 Oct. 1931 for the last time in Rotterdam and is then laid up. The ship is sold for scrap on 27 Jan. 1931 for a price of 137,600 Dutch Guilders to Japan. On 26 February 1931, it departs from Rotterdam for Japan to be scrapped at the Torazo Hashimoto, scrap yard in Osaka. On the last voyage, going around the Cape to Japan, it carries a full cargo of coal in her holds to help pay for the trip.

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