St. John's [NF] Daily News

Reprinted courtesy Robinson-Blackmore Printing and Publishing

March 17, 1931

transcribed by, and courtesy of, John Baird

Part 1

Feared Twenty Perished in Viking Disaster


Whole Stern Blown off Ship by Explosion and those in Cabin Killed or Injured—Survivors With Injuries making Slow progress Over rough Ice—Steamers on Front Advise Would take Two Day Reach Scene


At 7.30 p.m. last night fifty survivors had landed in Horse Island report Captain Kean Jr., the steward and cook badly injured and wireless operator Clayton King, of Brigus, navigator William Kennedy, of St. John's, and the doctor druggist John Roche, of St. John's were missing. Survivors say the magazine exploded blowing the whole stern off the ship while the rest caught fire and is still burning. Men reaching the Island in absolutely exhausted condition and unable to give a coherent account of the disaster. Residents of the Island state there is insufficient food to supply the needs of the influx and no medical supplies of any kind are available. Many disabled men are being brought along over the ice by comrades and making fair progress towards Island. It is indicated that twenty is likely to cover the total death list but the number of injured is not known. The fate of the three American picture men is not known but the owners of the ship believe they would be in the saloon at that hour, which was forward of where the explosion occurred.



To minister Mines and fisheries:–

March 16th– fifty or more men landed , others making fair progress towards Island. Explosion as yet unaccounted for. Two crowds have landed and others in sight. Later crowds bringing disabled men. Moderate north-north-west wind, temperature moderately cold, clear, ice conditions very rough and uneven. Men cannot account for what are dead as yet. Operator, navigator and doctor missing. Terribly hard to get information from men.



A message received about 4 p.m. yesterday from the operator at Horse Island stated: "men continually arriving at Island. Twenty men are known to be dead."


The Viking left port at 2 p.m. on march 9th. The ship did not report on Monday. On Tuesday the ship reported 20 miles east-southeast Cabot Island in heavy gale. No report was received on Wednesday. Thursday she was at Pool's Island in heavy weather; Friday night the ship passed Snap Rock at 6 p.m. in clear water. Saturday the Viking reported off Horse Harbor. No report received Sunday.

S. S. Viking signed a crew of 150 men, but twelve apparently did not go. Captain Abram Kean , Jr. wired the owners leaving port that he had 138 men on board, two stowaways, Edward Cronin, Plymouth Road, and Michael Gardner, Fleming Street. as well as Varrick Frissel, re-taking scenes for the picture "White Thunder", accompanied by A. E. Penrod and Harry Sargent of New York.


Arrangements were made by the government to despatch the ocean-going tug "Foundation Franklin" and that ship left about 1.30 with Captain Burgess as pilot, taking Dr. Blackler and Nurse Bartlett.

At 6 p.m. S. S. Sagona, Captain Jacob Kean, left taking Dr. Paterson, Dr. Moores, Dr. Stanley martin, and Nurse Paton and Rose Berrigan.

The following are the official messages received and sent yesterday morning:—

Horse Islands, March 16,— at 9 p.m. last night heard, terrible explosion. Early this morning wreckage of burning steamer sighted about eight miles east of here. Also men traveling on ice towards island. No particulars at hand yet. Ice in bad condition. Heavy sea.. Wind blowing off shore. First crowd men may reach Island, others have little chance. Making very slow progress. People only have sufficient supplies for selves. Also no medical assistance here; no chance getting to main land.

H. B. C. Lake.


The Viking is the first sealing ship Bowring Brothers, Ltd. have lost in over half a century, when the Hawk, Captain Arthur Jackman, was lost off Cape John on May 14th 1876, without loss of lives.


Peaceful quiet of Sunday Evening on Shipboard turned in Seconds Into Scene of Terror and Destruction—Food on Horse Island Insufficient but Sagona Has Good supply.

The peaceful Sunday night of hundred and forty men on board of the little sealer Viking, 276 tons, snugly ensconced in the ice fields off the peninsula between White Bay and Green Bay to the south of the Horse Island was broken at nine o'clock by a terrific blast heard on the sparsely settled Horse Island, eight miles away, a blast that shattered the steamer and set it on fire and took a toll of at least twenty men, maiming many others and turning the whole ship's crew adrift on the heavy ice to escape the flames of their burning vessel. The first word was received in St. John's Monday morning, a gruesome telegram describing the scene of the disaster while the scattered band of survivors were slowly and toilsomely making their way over the heaving ice filed, tossed by a heaving sea, to the Horse Islands. Up to the fall of darkness Monday night fifty survivors had landed on the Island.


As soon as word of the disaster was received the Government despatched the ocean going tug Foundation Franklin harboring here to the scene. Dr. Blackler and nurse Bartlett were sent away on her and before darkness the steamer Sagona, was got away, with Drs. Paterson, Moore and Martin and nurses Paton and Merrigan with supplies of food and clothing for the survivors.

The crew of the Viking consisted of one hundred and thirty eight men, two boys - stowaways from St. John's, and three Americans, Varrick Frissell who was retaking some scenes for a picture made from the same ship last season, A. E. Penrod and Harry Sargent all of New York and a local man. The ship carried three engineers and six firemen all from St. John's.


It is customary to carry supplies of blasting powder to loosen the ice and clear a channel for the ship and this would be of considerable quantity, but whether the explosion came from this source or the boilers is not clearly indicated. That the detonation was heard eight miles distant on the Horse Islands would indicate. however, a blast of explosives rather than a boiler burst.


The last bad sealing disaster occurred on March 31st 1914 when seventy-eight men from the steamer "Newfoundland" lost their ship in a blizzard and froze to death on the ice flows. while on the very day that year the steamer "Southern Cross" on her way home deeply laden with seal pelts foundered at sea with loss of her whole crew of 173. Since the introduction of wireless there has been no serious disasters up till this one.

The Viking came to Newfoundland in 1904 and was owned by Bowring Brothers. Incidentally she is the first of that sealing fleet to meet disaster in fifty-two years. The Viking was the smallest of the fleet; on the front to undertake the voyage this season. Due to difficulties in the oil market all crew were reduced this year, the total reduction amounting to six hundred men in past years, the Viking has carried as many as 276 men.

Government Messages


To Supt. Postal Telegraphs:

March 16th— 9 p.m. Last Viking met with explosion. Men traveling here on ice. Men reported about 20 dead, not all landed.


Martime and Fisheries
St. John's

March 16th–Ice in bad condition. Heavy sea. Wind blowing off shore. First crowd men may reach Island . Others have little chance. Making very slow progress.—11.32 a.m.


Captain Injured— Five Missing

Minister of Marine and Fisheries
Copy telegram received to Supt. post Telegraph:

March 16th—Capt. badly injured, men report wireless operator, cook, steward, navigator and doctor missing. Impossible give particulars as yet. Men exhausted. Will advise again later.

Horse Islands.


Operator Horse Island

March 16th— Please reply as soon as possible to following questions; How many men have landed. What steamer is it. How did explosion occur. Can more men be seen on ice. If so how many. What is the weather direction, wind, temperature. What are ice conditions. Can men give any names of those injured or dead.

H. B. C. Lake.


Minister of Fisheries;

March 16th—Acknowledged. Impossible give particulars as yet. At 9 p.m. last night Viking met with explosion. Men traveled here on ice. Men report about twenty dead all not landed yet.—3.47p.m.

Horse Island.

Tried to Get Auxiliary

to A. G. Ashbourne

March 16th—Do best possible get you auxiliary schooner off immediately to Horse Islands as steamer supposed to be Viking had explosion last night eight miles east of there. Many men injured on ice we are sending steamer Foundation Franklin and Sagona from here this afternoon.

H. B. C. Lake.


"Unable to get out of Twillingate."


Horse Islands, Via Twillingate.
Marine and Fisheries, St. John's

"Many men still on ice severely injured . Nearly all men in cabin dead. Sten taken right from ship."

March 16th, to Sealing Steamers;
Wireless via Point Amour;

Viking met with explosion eight miles east Horse Island, Sunday night. Some men injured , some landed Horse Island today. Steamer Foundation Franklin left here two p.m. with doctor and nurse. Steamer Sagona leaving here five p.m with three medical men , two nurses and full medical supplies. If any possible chance one of sealing fleet reaching scene of disaster within twenty-four hours, please do so all possible as I fear some injured men may be on ice.

Where Crew of Viking Hailed From

The list of the crew who signed on contains twelve men more than Captain Kean actually reported to the owners. The list is geographically divided as follows: From

Port de Grave
St. John's
Bay de Verde
St. John's Est Extern
Harbor Main(Colliers & Vicinity)
Freshwater (Carb)
Bay Roberts
Little Hr. P.B.


The Following Official Bulletin was Issued by the Government Last Night and Sent to all Telegraph Offices in the Country.

St. John's, March 16—This Monday morning at eleven o'clock the Department of Mines and Fisheries received a wireless message from Horse Islands that there had been an explosion in an unknown steamer about eight miles eastward of Horse Island, and that the steamer was in flames. Later wireless messages reported men walking towards the island . A later message stated that some men had reached the Horse islands and reported that the steamer Viking, and that the magazine had exploded rear of the ship immediately sunk and that the rest of the ship started burning. A later message stated that Captain A. Kean Jr. was seriously injured, the cook, wireless operator, steward, navigator and doctor were missing. Impossible to wire further particulars as men who arrived on the island up to that hour were in such an exhausted condition that they could give no coherent story as to what had happened. Latest message received indicated probability of twenty being dead. Promptly on receipt of first telegram the Department of Marine and Fisheries arranged for the steamer "Foundation Franklin" to leave with doctor, nurse and medical supplies, which ship sailed at two-thirty, followed at six o'clock by the "Sagona" with three doctors and two nurses and complete equipment of medical and surgical supplies, also food and clothing supplies. Necessary telegraph officers are being kept open all night and all day tomorrow. Wireless operator at Horse Islands has been asked to telegraph names of all persons saved, injured , missing or dead, with full particulars of disaster. No reply received up to seven o'clock.


Sealing Disasters of the Past.

(Chafe's Sealing Book)

1823 Schooner "Active", Capt. Bonnell, lost with 25 men on Baccalieu , two men on the look out jumped ashore as she struck.

1840 Brig. "Catherine" , Capt. McCarthy of Carbonear, struck a pan of ice one stormy night as soon began to sink. Two men , Marshall and Walsh, climbed the rigging as the vessel sank in the water. As they reached the top gallant it touched a pan of ice, and they saved their lives.

1845 Barque "Ringwood", Henry Norman, lost with all hands.
Brig. "Peerless", Capt. John Nangle and 40 men lost.
Brig. "Eliza Margaret", Captain and 15 men lost. One man Frank Wiseman, went from Jib stay to top Gallant yard hand over hand and saved his life.
Brig "Mary" belonging to Ridley , had the misfortune to lose all her crew, who were out in boats with the exception of six men.

1848 Brig. "Hibernian", Capt. Hugh Nangle, was driven on the rocks near Hant's harbor, and half her crew perished trying to get ashore.

1852 Brig. "Hammer", Capt. Carew, ran ashore in snow storm near Cape Broyle, 37 men lost, only two saved.

1855 Brig. "Mary" ran down one of her own boats, 6 men drowned.

1863 Brig. "Gem", Thos. Green master, burnt to the water's edge at wharf, three men lost their lives.

1868 Brig. "Deerhound" lost 26 men in boats hunting old seals.

1872 Brig. "Village Bell" Capt. John Antle lost with 18 men in the Gulf.

1872 Schooner "Huntsmen", Capt. Dawe and his son lost in the Gulf with 47 men off Battler Harbor.

1873 Schooner "Dudanna", Capt. Jenkins lost in the Gulf with 20 men.

1874 S. S. "Tigress", Boilers blew up while at the seal fishery killing 20 men.

1882 S. S. "Lion" lost on January 6th, with all hands, proceeding to Trinity to fit out for the seal fishery.

1898 S. S. "Greenland", lost 48 men in a snow storm.

1913 S. S. "Beothic and S. S. "Bonventure" collided in the Narrows when starting for the seal fishery.

1914 S. S. "Newfoundland" lost 77 men in a snow storm.


At an emergency meeting of the Benevolent Irish Society called last night it was decided that the Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade which was to have been held to-day, would be called off. The members of the Society are in deep sympathy with the relatives of the crew of the ill-fated Viking as well as with those survivors who must have suffered untold hardships in Sunday Night's disaster. As an expression of that sorrow, the parade is abandoned for this year.

The members of the Society will meet at the hall at 9.15 this morning.

J. C. Pippy
President Benevolent Irish Society.


S. S. Sagona which left at six p.m. carries two wireless operators to maintain continuous day and night services. All telegraph offices on the circuit to Horse Island have been ordered to remain open all night.

The Sagona has taken enough food for 15 days for 120 men and adequate medical supplies.

"Sagona" is expected to make the trip in twenty-four hours while the Foundation Franklin should reach there about ten Tuesday morning.


S. S. Viking was built at Arendal, Norway, in 1881 and has been continuously engaged each season at the seal hunt since then. Last year the same ship made special trip at the conclusion of sealing voyage for the purpose of taking scenes for a movie picture illustrative of the sealing fleet and a hundred and twenty miles further north in the Straits of Belle Isle. The owners have not instructed them to proceed to the scene of the disaster. The Sagona has food supplies for a hundred and twenty men for fifteen days.


(To Minister Marine and Fisheries) from S. S. Neptune:

Sorry to learn of disaster to Viking and part of crew. We are in the vicinity Greenly Island, Bell Island. Fear it is impossible for us to reach scene of disaster in time.

(Sgd.) Barbour.

From S. S. Eagle:

Sincerely regret Viking affair. Hopeless any sealing ship reaching scene before Sagona.

(Sgd.) Kean

From S.S. Ungava:

Sorry impossible to reach Viking's position in less than two days. Kindly give me full report.

(sgd.) Winsor.

March 18, 1931


Miraculous Rescue Off Stern Wreckage.

Three Men Found Drifting on Wreckage of Stern of Viking fifteen Miles Off the Land Are Doing Well —Sagona's Captain Considers Most fortunate Chance— A Few Survivors Still Landing on Island—Five Men in Tragic Position.


S. S. Sagona, March 17—(5.15p.m.)–Picked up three men adrift on a part of the ship's stern , position 15 miles E. S. E. Cape John, Gull Island. Men rescued on part of ship stern were wireless operator King, Navigator Kennedy, and an American, Sargent.

(Sgd.) KEAN

Minister Marine & Fisheries
St. John's

S. S Sagona, March 17—10.53 p.m.— Present condition of Kennedy, burnt about face, scalp wounds not serious. Sargent has eye affected but not in serious condition, best off of three. King has simple fracture of left leg, both feet frozen, shocked doing well, will advise to-morrow. Captain most fortunate in locating the three men as they were 22 miles from the scene of the accident. Captain says no chance of reaching Horse Island to-night as ice tight and heavy swells. Anxious to know casualties at the Horse island so we may take necessary supplies ashore.

Dr. Moore.


To Minister Marine and Fisheries
St. John's

8.52 p.m.—5.30 p.m. saw three men on the ice. Have sent crew with dory to their rescue. Ice very tight. Will report particulars later

Carter, Beothic

Minister Marine and Fisheries
St. John's S. S. Beothic, via Fogo, March 18.— (12.30a.m.)— Our search party returned to the ship at 10.30 p.m. with nothing to report seeing light which went before them toward Horse Island . They followed the same within a mile and a half from the Island, but then lost trace of it. Now communicating with Horse Island to try and find out if any men landed to-night. Position six miles east by south Horse Island. Ice tight, heavy swell. Still searching . Ice very hard to travel over.



To S. S. Ungava sent by Captain Kean of S.S. Viking, and picked up by Minister.

"Three men , second hand; and an-other sailor (five altogether?) About five or six miles east by south from centre of the Island. Have been two nights and two days without food or water. Locate as quickly as possible. Men have legs broken.



S.S. Eagle to Bowring Brothers:— passed wreckage 12 miles north northwest Cape John Gull Island. Still searching in darkness. Proceeding toward where Beothic rescued three men. Will search that area at daybreak.

(Sdg.) W. B. KEAN.


To Minister Marine and fisheries

4.46 p.m. —Horse Island men are bringing three more men to land, all very disabled.



Walking Impossible

S. S. Sagona, via Fogo, March 17, —8.55p.m. Eight p.m. position six miles southwest Gull Island, bound for Horse Island. Saw no sign of any other bodies on ice. Ungava alongside now steaming by edge of ice, believe it will be tight. Will give details later. Impossible survivors to walk as ice is broken up.