Tyneside’s personal tale of Titanic loss

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A HUNDRED years ago, as you read this, Titanic was just a few days away from the commencement of her voyage to disaster.

The loss of life consequent on her sinking was catastrophic, as we know, the reverberations being felt even here in the North East of England.

William Stead, a charismatic former editor of the Northern Echo, would be among the dead; as would be a Wearside electrical engineer, called Sedgwick, who had married just nine days earlier and was on his way to a new job in Mexico, where his bride was to join him.

And pity 19-year-old Alfred King, from Gateshead, who had served his time at Clarke Chapman’s as a pattern maker.

He had been thrilled to get a job as a lift boy for the Titanic’s first-class saloon. He, too, never came home.

But in the scale of loss, the sinking of this ship impacted far more heavily on Tyneside than the Titanic’s ever did.

This is a fabulous picture from Kevin Blair, showing the Viking in dry dock at Palmer’s in 1914. Her loss would be felt acutely in South Shields and its surrounding towns.

The Viking was built in 1888 by Robert Napier & Sons, Govan East, as Atrato for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. She was sold to the Viking Cruise Line in 1912 and, on the outbreak of war two years later, was requisitioned and converted into an armed merchant cruiser, renamed Viknor.

A few days before Christmas 1914 she completed her articles at South Shields Mercantile Marine office. Her crew were a mix of merchant seamen, naval ratings and 25 men of the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve. Also reputedly, says Kevin, a German national suspected of being a secret agent and six stowaways, who were also drowned.

Some years ago I looked back to the Gazette’s account of the Viknor’s loss.

By the middle of January she was off the north coast of Ireland. To this day no-one really knows what happened to her. The weather was poor but the area was also a freshly sown German minefield. What is unarguable is in subsequent days, bodies began washing ashore.

Two weeks later the Admiralty officially declared her lost. Of the 200-plus men who died, around 90 were from Tyneside alone, among them assistant steward Joseph Sewell, of Albion Terrace, South Shields, aged only 16; carpenter Robert Moffit, of St Aidan’s Road; stoker John Hardie, of Commercial Road, and fifth engineer John Bradley, of Holystone Street, Hebburn, to name but a very few. Also leading stoker Bartholomew Logan, of Rekendyke Lane in Shields, who left a wife and five children.

* An odd fact for you – present at the Viking’s launch was one Bram Stoker, thought to be the later creator of Dracula.