Obdam of 1889 . Bad weather, Mutiny and sick soldiers.

Particulars:

PREV.NAME(S): British Queen
TONN. BRT: 3,983 NRT: 2,657 DWT: 4,491
BUILT AT: Harland & Wolff, Belfast, Ireland
BUILT IN: 1880 YARD NO: 138
ENGINES: One four cylinder compound steam engine constructed by James Jack & Co. of Liverpool, England.
ENGINE OUTPUT: 1,200 Ihp. PROPS: One (fixed)
SERVICE SPD: 10 Knots MAX.SPD: 12 knots.
LENGTH.O.A: 440,03 feet or 128,10 Meters LENGTH.PP: 124.97 Meters
BEAM OA: 39 feet or 11.82 Meters DEPTH: 9.67 Meters
DRAFT: 7.47 Meters.
PAX.CAP: 112 First, 72 Second and 430 Third Class. CREW: 64
SISTERSHIPS: Werkendam
REMARKS: Bunker capacity 1210 tons of coal.
NAME: Ship was named after a small town located in the North Western part of North Holland, which is one of the 11 provinces of the Netherlands and has Amsterdam as its county capital.
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HISTORY:
Constructed of iron with three full decks and could be rigged as a four mast barkentine. The ship was launched on 4 November 1880 and delivered one month later to the British Ship owners Company of Liverpool as the British Queen. (3,657 brt.) (Other sources indicate that she was delivered on 15 January 1881) The BSC was not really a shipping company but more of an investment group who built ships for their own account and then chartered them out to other shipping lines and/or sold the ships when the price was right.
The British Queen commenced her maiden voyage on 31 January 1881 with a trip from Liverpool to New York. This was followed by the start of a charter on 22 March 1883 for the New Zealand Shipping Company and later on she sailed for the British company’s: Shaw Savill, Inman, Anchor Line and Furness. At the end of the last charter in November 1883, the ship was laid up.
Bought in January 1889 by an independent company in which the NASM participated.After a refit the ship is renamed in Obdam and starts her first voyage on 23 March 1889 sailing from Rotterdam to New York. In 1890 the ship is fitted with electric light.

obdam-1889-web-version1 the Obdam of 1889. Docked at the company docks in Rotterdam. Captain Albert Schoonderbeek Collection.

Now a rather eventful career starts.
These were the days of the late 19th century when Trans Atlantic travel was not as safe and well regulated as it is now. No radars, no coastal stations monitoring every move, it was all do-it- yourself and sometimes hope for the best and God help us all. Bad weather, bad visibility and a lack of navigation aids and reliable equipment were the biggest problems to deal with. The Obdam had her share of adventures and misadventures. On 23 October 1890 it was reported in the New York Times that the ship had run ashore in tempestuous weather and was badly damaged. However when the Obdam made it to port, the captain reported that he had been far out to sea and not even close to where it supposedly had happened. The captain in command was Captain Bakker, who would make the head lines the next year, when he stopped a mutiny in a rather drastic way.

While in command of the Obdam during a crossing from New York to Amsterdam a dispute ensued with the engine room crew. The ship had left New York on 18 July 1891 and was carrying 300 passengers when on the second day of the crossing the ratings of the engineering dog watch (12 -4) refused to go to work. Thus just after midnight of the 20th.of July the engines stopped and for two hours the ship drifted. Luckily it was beautiful weather and very little swell so the ship was in no danger. The engineering officers ordered the crew to go to work but to no avail. Also a direct order from the captain was ignored. The captain had no inkling about any problems that might have been present among the crew as no complaints had been received. The chief engineer Mr. Bol, who tried to mediate, was threatened with personal violence when he wanted to enter the engine room and therefore went to see the captain.

Capt. Bakker armed himself with a revolver and backed up by the Quartermaster of the watch, who carried a large brass belaying pin, he went below. Greeted by a chorus of jeers and threats he ordered the men to return to work. He summoned the ring leader who was coming towards him to retreat and showed him the revolver. When the ringleader, a certain Peter Duzen, suddenly sprang forward the captain raised his revolver and shot a bullet into his abdomen. The rest of the mutineers then retreated to the other side of the engine room space. The captain ordered arms to be released to the other officers and this convinced the rest of the engine crew that it was better to return to work without delay. The injured person died shortly after from his wounds and was buried at sea the next day.

Captain Bakker informed the head office when the ship arrived in Boulogne Sur Mer in France this being the first stop after the North Atlantic crossing. These were the days before wireless at sea. When the ship arrived in its home port Amsterdam, the captain went with the general manager to the local court to make a statement. The court preliminary decision was that the captains actions were justified in this case of mutiny and also that no charges would be pressed against the other crew, as it was understood that the ring leader had somehow set them up. Most of the mutineers where from Liverpool and London and they decided to go home at once instead of waiting for any follow up to this case.

However the Dutch prosecution service saw things different and considered them not mutineers but strikers and charged Captain Bakker with murder. The trial went ahead while the captain was at sea in command of the Obdam. On March 22, 1892 he was sentenced in absence to one year in jail for manslaughter. Hal advised in a press release (they had them in those days as well) that Capt. Bakker who was 46 years old, had been with the company for the last 15 years and was one of the companies most popular officers. The company was planning to ask the Dutch Queen to commute his sentence and they had absolutely no intention of taking any action against him. In contrary they commended him on his steadfastness in the situation. The appeal was heard on 2 June 1892 in Rotterdam and the prosecutor asked for the more severe sentence of four years, while the defense requested acquittal. On June 16, the Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to three months for cruelty. After serving those three months captain Bakker was given command of the ss Werkendam and continued his career with the company.

When it was bad weather, and especially when the visibility was bad, ships tried find a safe anchorage and wait for things to get better and the weather to clear and the –often limited- navigational aids to become visible again. Thus it happened on the 4th of March 1893 that the Obdam ran aground in the middle of the Hudson at Roemer shoals. She was not the only one; also the French steamer La Gascogne did the same thing. A third vessel the Tancarville incoming from Bordeaux touched ground as well and lost her rudder. A fourth vessel the schooner Roger Drury had done the same thing earlier in the morning. The turn in the weather must have really surprised them. With the pilot on board the Obdam had been inbound for New York and was going slowly up the river. With worsening visibility the pilot miscounted the buoys, thinking he was in mid channel, but he was not. As the ship grounded on the high tide, the initial actions of three tugs were to no avail and it was decided to wait for the next tide. To make the most of the lost time, the company agent brought the NY health officer on board to pre clear the ship. 10 guests then left with a tugboat for New York, the rest opted to wait on board. Late in the afternoon, four tugs managed to free the ship and the Obdam safely anchored in deeper water. The next morning at first light she steamed into New York and docked safely. There was no damage and very little recriminations. It just happened in those days.

Damage to the ship did occur near the end of October 1895 while the ship was on a crossing from the Netherlands to New York. She broke the tail end of the shaft and had to be towed into Halifax as she only had one propeller. This was done by another passenger liner, the Pennland from the Red Star Line. On board were 8 saloon, 6 six second class, 106 steerage passengers and a lot of Dutch mail. The Obdam (measured at 3,558 brt at the time) had left Rotterdam on October 19 and was supposed to have arrived in New York on 2 November but arrived that day in Halifax in tow. It was several weeks before the ship was back in service again. All passengers and the mail were sent to New York by train while the Pennland continued to Philadelphia.

In 1896, the ship received a major refit when new propulsion machinery was installed. The plant consisted of two new boilers and one three cylinder triple expansion engine (1,950 Ihp. / 2500 Hp.) All made and installed by the Nederlandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij of Rotterdam. This was a shipping company that operated her own shipyard and also did work for other companies. The new machinery increased her speed to over 15 knots. At the same time the passenger accommodations were extended by enlarging her promenade deck by including a shelter deck. (This is a not completely enclosed deck so it does not count for tonnage /tax calculations)

obdam-1889-picture-two-web-version Another photo of the Obdam, this time from the port side. Captain albert Schoonderbeek Collection.

In 1898 the ship became fully owned by the company as it bought the shares held by the other investors. In April of the same year the United States Government became interested in the Obdam for use in the war against Spain and rumors persisted that the ship had been bought. However it was not until 24 June 1898 that the United States government took possession of the Obdam. She was part of a group of 8 vessels (the other seven where from the Atlantic Transport Line) which were purchased at the same time for the Puerto Rico campaign which formed part of this war between Spain and the USA. The ship was bought as it would be able to hold a complete regiment of troops. The Quartermaster General of the US army paid HAL $ 250,000 for the ship. This was done by means of a broker, a certain Mr. Samuel D. Coykendall. Under the supervision of a Major J.W. Summerhayes the ship was fitted out to carry 300 horses and 1000 men.

The sale was made in great haste. The Obdam had been ready to sail on June 25 with 90 saloon passengers and was bound for Rotterdam. When the sale went through they were advised that the ship would not sail at all and they could have their money back if they wanted or the company would book passage for them on other steamers. The ship remained at Hoboken and was unloaded as quickly as possible and handed over on the 25th. The date she had been scheduled to depart for the Netherlands.

The Obdam now became a troopship and she kept making the headlines. She was assigned the description: Troopship nbr. 30 and was eventually rated to carry 50 officers, 1300 men and 100 horses. The ships crew numbered 75 a few more than she had had in civilian life. Under command of Capt. J.F Alrey, the USS Obdam sailed on July 9th for Charleston to pick up the 3rd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. On board were numerous supplies for the war effort including 20,000 tents, 60 kegs of horse shoe nails and several 100 tons of foodstuffs. After the troops had embarked the ship sailed from Charleston to Ponce, Puerto Rico, where it arrived on the 28 July 1898 after a violent storm.

Her next recorded voyage was on 11th of August when she sailed from Newport News with on board General Fred D. Grant with the remaining six companies of the First Kentucky regiment. Again the destination was Puerto Rico. From Puerto Rico the ship sailed home on the 6th. of September with on board General Miles with the 2nd Wisconsin volunteers, consisting of nine companies totaling 828 persons. Part of this group had gone with the Obdam to Puerto Rico earlier in July. The remainder of the Wisconsin Volunteers was returning home later. When the ship docked in Jersey City, the whole army throng travelled home with the Erie railroad who had offered the best price to the Quarter Master General. When all had disembarked, she sailed the same day, 12 September, for Long Island to shuttle sick and wounded soldiers from local army hospitals to New York. Then all was prepared for her next voyage south again.

On 15 Sept. 1898 the USS Obdam sailed under the command of Capt. Walter Allen from Pier 22 in Brooklyn for Ponce Puerto Rico. On board was the first Battalion of the Sixteenth Pennsylvania Regiment, totaling 415 men. Further on there were seventy regular passengers, sixteen postal clerks and a crew of seventy five. The cargo consisted out of regular troop supplies and two ambulances for the army hospitals. The battalion was joining the rest of the regiment that was already stationed in Puerto Rico.

The return voyage commenced on the 25th September 1898 and the ship sailed with 191 convalescents on board and 104 discharged soldiers and teamsters. The ship left Ponce in Puerto Rico and arrived in Santiago on the 27th. where a row erupted over the sick soldiers on board. The Surgeon Major of the ship complained that he feared that too many sick were being put on board the ship for the return voyage home and that these had to survive on the same (canned food and hard tack) rations as the healthy troops. His complaint to General Lawton was dismissed with him being accused of showing lack of discipline.

The ship sailed on 2nd of October under the command of Capt. Allen and arrived on 12 Oct. in New York and anchored of Liberty Island. Upon arrival the immigration officials counted 305 soldiers. (200 were noted as sick, 50 on leave, and the rest were discharged soldiers and teamsters) They also noted smoke coming out of the forward hold. On the 29th a smoldering fire had been discovered in the forward hatch where 800 tons of soft coals had been stowed. Flames were seen bursting from the coal and only a wooden deck separated the fire from 80.000 rounds of ammunition. As most of the coal had turned to powder, a result of having been in the hold for months on end as ballast, it was thought that the combustion was spontaneous. Solders helped the crew to shift the ammunition and then the lower hold was opened and water poured in. In the meantime the ship had returned to Santiago. While in this port, locals were employed to deal with the burning coal. As these were not very much in the mood to do the dangerous work, they were forced with drawn pistols to start dumping the coal over the side while most of them had to walk bare footed on the hot deck. After about 60% of the coal was dumped the hatches were closed and the ship left Santiago. However the fire flared up again and water was anew pored into the hold reducing the fire to smoldering. This resulted in a hot wooden deck for the whole voyage. Nobody felt very comfortable with this situation and all troops were relieved to arrive at the anchorage. On 13 October the ship safely docked at pier 1, Brooklyn where the fire was extinguished.

On board during this trip was another part of the 3rd Wisconsin Volunteers who had gone over in July. They did not like Captain Allen (*) very much as he had not wanted to take them home from Ponce. He had wanted them to pay for the voyage and they did not have any money. (This was a volunteer regiment so they had to pay their way home) In the end the soldiers had refused to leave and the captain, not able to get them of the ship again, had restricted them to living on the open aft deck. Also on board the ship was a certain Colonel C.H. Gibson of the National Relieve Association who had studied, during the crossing, the conditions under which the soldiers had to travel. Upon arrival in New York he was to report directly to president McKinley about the living circumstances on board the troopships. He found that the sick soldiers had to buy their own food on board. A passenger had advised him that (he the passenger) had been buying food for the soldiers out of his own pocket as the (governmental) food supplied for free was not edible and was limited to rice, starch and coffee. The regiment even had to supply the ship with cooking utensils to get food cooked on board. In the end the Red Cross supplied food when the ship arrived at the anchorage. There had not been enough hammocks and some troops had to sleep on the deck without blankets. The soldiers brought even worse stories home from Cuba. Officers had been getting drunk on whisky meant as medicine for the sick. Typhoid fever contracted in the camps had not been treated etc. etc.

(*) During this voyage Capt. Allen who was in charge of the operation of the ship, excluding the navigation had run into a conflict with a captain Pugsley who claimed that as he was the navigation captain; Captain Allen was under his command as far as navigational decisions were concerned. He had kicked Captain Allen several times of the bridge. Pugsley was relieved of his command when the ship arrived in Santiago. Whether Captain Allen was in the right or whether it happened because Captain Allen’s brother was an influential congressman remained unclear. Several other ships had similar issues and the New York Times speculated that the government would have to issue clearer instructions of who was in charge on a troopship, where and when.

Things on board had improved greatly by December 14th. when the ship returned from a round trip that had started on thanks giving day. Apart from the fact that the soldiers were still dressed in their tropical gear and were landed in New York in December, the voyage had gone well. Those who arrived hungry had not been willing to spend the money received to buy food or clothes. (Approx. $ 25,–per soldier) They had also received $1.50 a day for travel expenses while a good meal on board was only about 50 cents. This time the chief steward had menu’s available to choose food from. A complaint listed by a senior officer was that some of the ratings had used their $ 1.50 a day to buy a cabin berth, leaving the officers with nil.

The Obdam continued trooping and sailed on 30 Dec. 1898 from Savannah with the 6th, Missouri Volunteer Infantry landing them on 2 Jan. 1899 in Havana. Further on the 3rd Nebraska Volunteer Infantry with the Headquarters staff of the 1st Battalion staff was carried as well as some men of the 6th Missouri 1st Battalion

Then the government decided that all these troopships bought during the campaign should receive proper American names. And so on 24 February 1899 the Obdam was renamed in McPherson. (3,656 tons displacement). This happened as the war department decided that it would keep a number of the steamers and not try to re-sell them when the campaign was winding down. Thus 5 ships were renamed at the same time.

The now Ex-Obdam lasted for 6 more years in Government service and was then sold in 1905 to the F. Zottie Steamship Co. of New York and renamed in Brooklyn.

Resold in 1906 to the L. Luckenbach Steamship Co. of New York and renamed in Susan V. Luckenbach.

Sold once more in 1915; this time to the Onega SS Corp. (Barber Co. of New York ) and renamed in Onega. (3. 636 brt) As such she was torpedoed on 30 August 1918 in the Bristol Channel of Godrevy Light house by the German submarine UB 125 (Commander Werner Vater) and sunk in Position 50.17 North, 05.22 West. The ship was on the way from Bordeaux to Swansea, carrying pit props. (wooden pilings for the mines) 26 people died in the sinking.

Sources:
125 years of Holland America Line by Dalkmann & Schoonderbeek
Articles from the New York Times
www.uboat.net
Author’s personal archive.

HAL History and its ships Past and Present