The Volturno leaving Rotterdam
Burning of the Volturno

Burning of the Volturno

Liverpool Mercury, Oct 18th 1913





The awful tragedy in mid-Atlantic by which 136 persons lost their lives through the burning of the emigrant ship VOLTURNO has startled and horrified the public almost as much as did the awful TITANIC, 18mths ago.

The VOLTURNO [3602 tons] is owned by the Canadian Northern Line of London and was chartered by the Uranium Steamship Co.

She left Rotterdam on October 2nd, for Halifax, Nova Scotia with 657 souls on Thursday week and had to be abandoned, 1,000 miles off the Fasnet.

The heavy death-toll is due to the fact that the fire broke out during a raging-tempest, so that although the VOLTURNO had more than sufficient boats to carry those onboard, they could only launch with a grave risk of being dashed to pieces or swamped when in the water.

That so large a proportion of those on board were rescued was due to the fact that she had wireless installation. Her pleas for help were heard widely over the Atlantic, and a whole fleet of liners immediately commenced to converge on her.

The first to come in sight was the Cunard Steamer CARMANIA, which reached the burning vessel at noon. 10 other steamers soon put in an appearance, but heavy seas effectually prevented rescue work. A lifeboat was launched but could not reach the vessel and returned with oars broken with the force of the waves.

The VOLTURNO'S crew had already launched 6 boats, 4 were dashed to pieces as she rolled in the great seas, their living-freight had perished to a man. 2 had reached the water safely but disappeared and it is conjectured they had been swamped.

Under such terrible conditions rescue work was useless and would-be rescuers had to stand by and witness the agony of the passengers and crew without being able to do a thing to help.

The wind moderated by daybreak and simultaneously an oil-tank steamer, summoned by a wireless message from the CARMANIA arrived on the scene. The NARRAGANSETT poured oil liberally upon the troubled waters, calming the angry waves, boats were then lowered from the small liners surrounding the burning ship.

521 were then safely taken off.

A startling report from America attributed the explosion to a bomb placed their by a discontented seaman, is officially denied.

The complete story was told in a series of interviews and statements made when the liners, which went to assist reached their destinations.

CARMANIA'S Captain's graphic story.

Capt BARR arrived at Liverpool with his ship on Monday

Capt BARR said, "We got news of the VOLTURNO being on fire about 8 o 'clock on Thursday morning, and turned for him at once. I asked the engineer to put on extra men and make all possible speed, which he did, we reached him about 11-23 and I rounded to the windward of him to take in the whole situation.

He was smoking heavily at the forward end, and people on the vessel were on the after end. There was a big sea running and it was running a gale almost. I turned to leeward of him, and had three boats and crew ready on that side. I could have had the whole broadside ready, but there was no need for that.

In the circumstances I decided to send one boat out as an experiment. I sent the 1st officer with the boat crew, but they were in difficulties as soon as they were clear of the ship. Indeed I thought they would be overturned by the sea. They could not possibly make their way under the lee of the VOLTURNO as they were compelled to head the boat up to keep her from capsizing. I tried to shorten my ship round, but we had to go round with a big sweep. Ships under the conditions prevailing drive about 2 mph; boats drive also, but not so fast.

"I believe one sea nearly capsized the boat, knocking the oars out of the men's hands. It half-filled the boat and left them with only three oars. In their circumstances they could not do much rowing, and had to get a sea anchor out and trust to that. That was what saved the boat from going. Meantime I got the boat to windward of me. 2 hrs later I picked her up. I got them all aboard without accident "boat and all" although I nearly lost her.

"I had been advised by wireless on my way to the VOLTURNO that he had 500 odd people on board and 150 were on boats. I asked if he could hold the fire long enough for me to look for the boats.

Eventually I got his consent on this course. About 3 o 'clock the German steamer SEYDLITZ was making for him I marconied the SEYDLITZ to stand by him while I went to look for the boats. It was squally and raining at the time.

"I had not got the distance I intended to run when I got an urgent message from the VOLTURNO to come again and stand by him. I asked my officers to make any suggestions they could, and the chief officer, I think it was, suggested we should drop some liferafts under his lee and let them drift down to him. I thought the idea good and marconied that I would round his lee and drop the rafts. I went down to the leeward of him and on my way I could see the German SEYDLITZ was picking up his boat. He had put a boat off and apparently he had failed too. All the rafts slipped past the VOLTURNO ahead of him, apparently he could not move his engines.

"Then I backed astern and got my bow with 100 ft of his stern. He appealed to me to send a boat while he tried to drop lifebuoys for me to pick up to make a communication. His idea was to run a line across to pull the boat back and forwards. But no boat could stand that.

"By this time the GROSSER KURFURST was on the leeside of the VOLTURNO, so I then made a position windward of him. I had previously advised him during the morning that if he had to abandon his vessel, I would suggest lifelines and lifebelts. It was an idea of my own that a number of people clinging lifelines could be picked up by a ship dropping down to them when boats where impossible.

"By this time darkness was coming on. Other ships were arriving. I kept my position to windward of him all through the night.

"Sometime after 9 o 'clock we observed flames breaking out, and he was firing distress signals. Later on the GROSSER KURFURST, commenced sending boats, and asked me, by Marconi or Morse "I forget which" to look out for the boats, so that if they were unable to get back to their own ship, they could get back to mine, and I kept that position all through the night, feeling that if he must abandon ship, I could do the most good in that position.

"The MINNEAPOLIS, which had now arrived, was also sending boats out, and asked me to look out for them.

The GROSSER KURFURST was the first to send out boats. The Master deserves great credit for the handling of his ship. He was very smart, a very capable, and apparently a very noble man.

"I kept picking up boats by searchlight, and while I was doing this a small, handy boat called the CZAR got in between me and the VOLTURNO. His handy size and manoeuvring power enabling him to do this, and he did very good work there, picking up several boats while I found them with the searchlight. Some of the boats had lights, some had not. About 11 o 'clock a man was heard crying in the water. I picked him up with the searchlight and got him aboard in an exhausted condition. He was a third-class passenger from the VOLTURNO, who had swam out to us.

"I have been accredited with the stage management of the whole show, but each man took the best position according to his needs.

"Sometime after 4.30 I picked up with the searchlight 3 boats driving towards me. I made for the headmost. It was one of the MINNEAPOLIS boats with a crew. When we took them on board the officer in charge said he had been alongside the ship, but the people would not jump and he could not lay alongside on account of the sea. He had been out 5 hrs he said. There was more sea now, and we were using oil freely.

"I have been credited with causing the oil-ship NARRAGANSETT to use oil but it was his own idea entirely. Going after that MINNEAPOLIS boat got me out of my position. I came back with a big sweep, by this time all the other ships were busy getting around taking the survivors on board."

Captain BARR, who was suffering intensely from fatigue and strain, begged to be excused from saying more, and retired to his rooms to rest.

Fights on the doomed liner.

Survivors arrive in the Mersey

Stories of heroic rescues and fine seamanship were related by the officers and crew of the Leyland steamer DEVONIAN, which arrived in the Mersey on Tuesday, with 59 survivors of the VOLTURNO disaster on board, but the DEVONIAN brought no news which throws any light on the cause of the fire on the ill-fated vessel.

The DEVONIAN according to Capt GRANT, her commander was 130 miles away when she received the CARMANIA'S call, and came alongside the burning ship at 10 o 'clock, on Thursday night, about 14 hrs after the outbreak.

The DEVONIAN was the first of the rescuing fleet to get one of her lifeboats alongside the VOLTURNO, and the passengers who jumped into her boats were hoisted on to the DEVONIAN'S decks on coal-baskets.

Mr W. H. BAKER 2nd Officer of the DEVONIAN, stated that, when the first of the rescuing boats went alongside there was a wild rush among the passengers to be taken off, the VOLTURNO'S officers had to fight some of the men off with their fists in order to secure the women and children should go first. A frenzied woman passenger attempted to throw her baby down into one of the boats, but the child fell into the sea. A sailor named Arthur HAZELWOOD gallantly jumped in and rescued it.

One of the survivors is a pretty, little girl of 5 yrs who has been separated from her parents and friends, she speaks a language no one has been able to recognise, and to whom and where she belongs nothing is known.

Women and children first

Officers fight with cowardly men.

2nd officer BAKER, who was in charge of the first boat to rescue passengers from the VOLTURNO, relates a graphic story to one of our representatives to whom he explained that he was an old cadet of H.M.S, CONWAY.

"Early in the morning following our arrival on the scene of the disaster," said 2nd officer BAKER "I determined to make an attempt to reach the burning vessel, "Neck or nothing, let us go" I said to the men, and a crew of eight agreed to go out on the boisterous sea, and amidst perilous conditions. The DEVONIAN had then manoeuvred to within 100 ft of the burning liner.

"When we were near to the vessel we could see there would be a rush by those on board to escape. We called to those in charge to keep back the men, who were pressing forward, and to let us save the women and children first. 4 officers then used their fists to drive the men back, and some of them went down like ninepins."

The work was carried out with the most considerable danger. Sparks were flying, the heat on the sides of the vessel was intense, and the smoke was blinding. From time to time some relict of the fire, such as a disjoined derrick, or piece of the funnel would tumble into the water, and might have easily injured rescuers and rescued alike. Some of the children actually did alight on their heads, and one little one whose legs struck the bulwarks, was saved by the gallantry of one of the sailors.

"On the VOLTURNO" added Chief officer BAKER, "We could see the smoke coming up between the beams of the deck, and the men were almost standing in flames.

"During the night the scene was horrible. Shrieking was continuous and several of the women held up their babies and outlined them in the blaze, and begged of us to come and rescue them."

VOLTURNO'S Officers tell their story.

The rescue ships.

Carmania criticised.

Mr LLOYD, 2nd officer of the VOLTURNO, who arrived at New York on Wednesday aboard the GROSSER KURFURST, stated, in the course of an interview, that the statement that the crew rushed the boats and forced the passengers from them was absolutely untrue. The men fought the fire heedless of all peril. The allegation that the VOLTURO'S boats were rotten was equally unfounded. They were practically new.

An exchange message says that according to Mr LLOYD, the first boat lowered swung under the stern and the propeller literally smashed her to matchwood, cutting the unfortunate occupants to pieces. It was the most horrible sight imaginable.

Mr LLOYD is most bitter in his criticism of the other liners in their failure to send boats.

He says :-

"Captain INCH became desperate and called for volunteers to show the other captains that it was not impossible to launch the boats. I, and three others volunteered and got as far as the GOSSER KURFURST, but our boat was smashed and we were almost lost.

Capt INCH sent out wireless messages saying, "My God, Can't stand this long. Our boat has gone. Send me some boats."

The Captains of the other boats replied, "We have tried our best. The sea is too heavy and no boat could live in it."

We risked death for hours, but made the KURFURST, 2 miles away; and showed the Captains that a lifeboat could live in that awful sea."

Mr LLOYD asked why the CARMANIA only picked up one person, replied, "God only knows! No boats were lowered by the CARMANIA, and no boats were sent by her even after we showed the way."

Many passengers on the KURFIRST, including Mr J. H. ADAMS, of Baltimore, Mrs ADAMS and Mrs M. T. LANGENHEIN of Pittsburg, corroborated the statement by the 2nd officer.

Capt INCH'S story.

In a wireless Capt INCH of the VOLTURNO tells an awful story of the fire, and how the watch below was imprisoned and burnt to death. Two boats put off from the burning steamer and were never seen again. He and his officers did all possible to calm and save the passengers. There was no panic, but the women broke down and cried when help was alongside.

The VOLTURNO could not be saved.

3rd officers narrative.

Mr DISSELMAN, 3rd officer of the VOLTURNO, arrived at New York on Wednesday on board the GROSSER KURFURST with 104 other survivors.

The cause of the fire he said was the explosion of a drum containing oil or chemicals in the forepart of the vessel. The VOLTURNO trembled as if she had been struck by a heavy shell, and almost immediately other drums began to explode in rapid succession, giving the impression of a severe cannonade.

Capt INCH, from the bridge shouted an order to man the lifeboats , and the sailors at once sprang to the davits. The passengers came running in panic to the decks and crowded to the rails, increasing the difficulty for the crew in lowering the boats.

"Capt INCH'S eyes were badly burned that he could not read the wireless messages, and I read them to him. He wanted nothing to eat all he wanted was to save the passengers."

"Capt INCH tried to shoot a line over to one of the rescuing boats with a rocket, but the rocket shot up leaving the line behind, and a spark from it set off all the other rockets at once. Almost at the same minute the ship was again shaken by a terrific explosion near the bridge. Half a dozen passengers jumped into the water, and Capt INCH turned to me and said, "If you see a chance for your life take it and jump." Some of those which jumped overboard had lines tied around them and we pilled them back on deck when we saw that they could not make the boats."

Mr DISSELMAN effected his own escape by sliding down a rope to a lifeboat alongside, and he gave a most vivid account of the other rescues.

With regard to the inactivity of the Captain of the CARMANIA in helping the work of the rescue, Mr DISSELMAN said the Captain did all he could and it was utterly impossible for the CARMANIA'S boats to live in the sea when she first arrived. Later on there was an abundance of small boats from other ships which rendered the use of her own superfluous, she rendered the best service by covering the boats engaged in the rescue work with her searchlight.


Lloyd's agency states that H.M.S DONEGAL has been despatched by the Admiralty from Lamlash to seek and destroy the derelict VOLTURNO. The DONEGAL is a twin-screw armoured cruiser of 9.800 tons.


VOLTURNO survivors parents traced.

Owing to the publicity given to the lonely condition of the little girl taken off the burning VOLTURNO and brought to Liverpool, unable to give any intelligible account of herself, the shipping authorities of the port have succeeded in tracing her connections.

She is Slav, her name is Hedgwig DUDOWITZ, and her parents have been found in Dinghampton, New York.

Hedgwig was going out to join them when the terrible fire occurred. For a couple of days no interpreter in Liverpool could discover what language she spoke, but while at play with some companions at the Cunard boarding-house she let fall some which gave a watchful interpreter a clue.

Progress was made rapidly Hedgwig who is in good health and happy, is being forwarded to her parents, the representative of the Uranium Steamship Co making all arrangements for her comfort.

The Company wish to thank all who have taken an interest in the matter, and to acknowledge the friendly offers made to adopt the child.

No fewer than 20 to 30 letters and telegrams received to the effect.

Liverpool Mercury Nov 1st, 1913

Lloyd's agent at the Lizard telegraphs :-

Oct 27th, 1-5am, passed east, 12-45am, CHARLOIS, Sabin for Amsterdam, she signalled the following message.

Oct 17th, Saw the steamer VOLTURNO in dangerous position in the Atlantic about 47 north and 37 west, totally burnt out. Found several dead bodies on board. We opened the coffer of the inside injection and left her when she was sinking. Very bad weather the whole trip.

The Rotterdam steamer CHARLOIS which arrived at Ymuiden this week, reports finding 4 bodies between the decks, so burnt as to be unrecognisable. One was that of a child. The CHARLOIS brought several articles from the VOLTURNO.

Awards to crew of the DEVONIAN for rescue of VOLTURNO survivors

Jan's informative pages on the VOLTURNO with crew lists etc


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