SS Florizel

SS florizel.jpg
Florizel arriving St. John's harbour
Namesake: Shakespearean character of The Winter's Tale
Owner: Bowring Brothers
Operator: Red Cross Line
  • C. O'Connell & Company Ltd.
  • at Glasgow
Commissioned: 1909
Homeport: St. John's, Newfoundland
Fate: Sank after striking reef at Cappahayden, Newfoundland
General characteristics
  • 3,081 tons gross register
  • 1,980 tons net register
Length: 305.5 ft (93.1 m)
Beam: 43.1 ft (13.1 m)
Depth: 29.6 ft (9.0 m)
Propulsion: Steel Screw Steamer
Speed: 12 Knots
  • 145 First Class
  • 36 Second Class

SS Florizel, a passenger liner, was the flagship of the Bowring Brothers' Red Cross Line of steamships and one of the first ships in the world specifically designed to navigate icy waters.[1] During her last voyage, from St. John's to Halifax and on to New York City, she sank after striking a reef at Horn Head Point, near Cappahayden, Newfoundland, with the loss of 94 including Betty Munn, a three-year-old girl, in whose memory a statue of Peter Pan was erected at Bowring Park in St. John's.


Bowring Brothers were the operators for the New York, Newfoundland and Halifax Steamship Company, Limited. The Bowring fleet of ships of that era were given names from Shakespearean plays: Florizel was named after young Prince Florizel in The Winter's Tale. Florizel was primarily a passenger liner, built for the Bowring Brothers to replace an earlier ship, the SS Silvia, which had been lost at sea. At the time of Florizel's construction she was considered a luxury liner; she had room for 145 first-class accommodations.[1]

She was one of the first ships in the world to be specifically designed to navigate the icy waters around Newfoundland and Labrador. The vessel was modified each spring to participate in the annual seal hunt, an additional source of income. She was built of steel and had a rounded bow and almost a flat bottom, to enable her to slide up on an ice floe and break through.[2] Often captained by Captain Abram Kean, she participated in the rescue of sealers during the Great 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster and she broke many records on her numerous voyages to the seal hunt.[3]

Florizel was also used as a transport vessel during World War I. Before its conversion into a troopship, the sealing steamer only accommodated 50 crew and 250 passengers.[4] In October 1914 she carried the first 540 volunteers of the Newfoundland Regiment, the Blue Puttees.[5][2][6]She joined a fleet of 33 Atlantic liners and six Royal Navy warships, to form the largest contingent of troops to cross the Atlantic for Europe.[7]

Last voyage

File:Red Cross Liner SS Florizel wrecked on the Rocky Coast of Newfoundland 1918
The rescue fleet assembled about sunken SS Florizel at 8:30 AM February 24, 1918

Florizel departed St. John's on Saturday, 23 February 1918, for Halifax and then on to New York, with 78 passengers and 60 crew.[1] Among the passengers were many prominent St. John's businessmen. Shortly after the vessel passed through the St. John's Narrows at 8:30 PM the weather turned nasty. The vessel's log was not deployed due to the ice conditions. After sighting the Bay Bulls Lighthouse and losing sight of land at 10:20 PM, none of the three lighthouses south of Bay Bulls were sighted. Nevertheless, after eight hours of steaming southward, Captain Martin reckoned that he had rounded Cape Race, maintained his order for full speed, and ordered the final course change at 4:35 AM to West by South. At this point, without the benefit of either the log or lighthouse sightings, the Captain had only soundings and engine RPMs to verify DR position, however, neither were utilized. Florizel, had actually travelled just 45 miles and was well short of the Cape. The sea crashing against the rocks at Horn Head Point was white with froth and Captain Martin mistook it for ice and crashed full speed into the rocks at 4:50 AM. Most of the passengers and crew that survived the initial crash found shelter in the Marconi Shack, the least damaged portion of the ship.


An SOS was sent out and received by the Admiralty wireless station located at Mount Pearl.[8] The Evening Telegram newspaper reported, "... first news of the disaster was picked up by the Admiralty wireless station at Mount Pearl in a radio from the stranded ship: 'SOS Florizel ashore near Cape Race fast going to pieces.'"[9]

By the evening of 24 February, the first rescue ships had arrived to no sign of life. The weather had abated somewhat when light was spotted and a rescue attempt was carried out after the storm had calmed. Of the 138 passengers and crew, 44 had survived the initial crash and 27 hours after the ship had struck ground, the last of the passengers and crew were rescued. Medals of bravery were awarded to several crew members of HMS Briton and HMS Prospero who had responded to the wreck; these were given by the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII, while he was in St. John's in 1919.


Captain Martin, who had survived the tragedy, was held responsible for the disaster, because of the lack of soundings taken during the course of the voyage. His certificate was suspended for twenty-one months. It was not until later that Captain Martin was found not to have been at fault. The Chief Engineer, J.V. Reader, had reduced the speed of the vessel as soon as she left port, bypassing the captain's orders to proceed at full speed. This action had caused the ship to make less distance than had been thought. The reason cited for Reader's action was to prolong the trip to Halifax such that the vessel would have to dock overnight and allow Reader time to visit his family while there.[1]

Passengers and crew

Lost passengers of historical importance

  • Patrick Laracy, owner of the Crescent theater in St. John's.
  • John Shannon Munn, managing director of Bowring Brothers (and a step-son of Sir Edgar Rennie Bowring, a founder of the company), with his three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Shannon "Betty" Munn.
  • James H. Baggs, curling, Bay Of Island

Other lost passengers

First class
Second class

Officers and crew perished

Passengers saved

Officers and crew saved

Survivors of historical importance

Bodies not recovered

  • Francisco Fornas, fireman, Spain.
  • Edward Greening, Bonavista.
  • Charles Howell, Trinity.
  • Gordon Ivany, St. John's.
  • Clarence E. Moulton, St. John's.
  • Leonard Nicholl, St. John's.

Recipients of the Royal Humane Society Medal for Bravery at Sea

SS Gordon C

  • Captain E. C. Perry
  • Chief Engineer Robert Pierson
  • Seaman Joseph Budden

SS Hawk

  • Captain Martin Dalton, R.N.R.
  • Seaman Daniel Ralph, R.N.R.
  • Seaman Michael Whelan, R.N.R.

These men, along with H. Clouter, C. W. Penny, R.N.R., Adolphus "Dolf" Morey, R.N.R., G. Westcott, R. Pierson, and J. Budden, also received the Board of Trade Medal for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea (Sea Gallantry Medal or S.G.M).[11]


  1. ^ a b c d "Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume 2 [Extract: letter F] :: Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador". Memorial University DAI. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  2. ^ a b Royal Newfoundland Regiment Scrapbook - Book 1 (compiled by Charles Sydney Frost). St. John’s, NL. pp. 19, 38, 123, 203.
  3. ^ Paul O'Neill, The Oldest City: The Story of St. John's, Newfoundland, 2003, ISBN 0-9730271-2-6.
  4. ^ Evans, John J. (1909). The Newfoundland Quarterly 1909-11, vol. IX. St. John's, NL. p. 19.
  5. ^ "Arrival in England. A group of warrant officers and sergeants taken on board S.S. Florizel on October 15th, 1914". The Daily News. St. John’s, NL. 4 October 1954. p. 4.
  6. ^ Great Big Sea (1997) “Recruiting Sergeant”, folk song depicting the role of S.S. Florizel in troop transport, specifically the Newfoundland Regiment in WWI.
  7. ^ Legg, Joanna; Parker, Graham. "Battle Studies. Mobilization of the 1st Canadian Division". Archived from the original on 6 April 2009. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  8. ^ Exhibits Archived 26 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Admiralty House Museum & Archives.
  9. ^ Evening Telegram (St. John's, N.L.), 1918-02-25 page 3.
  10. ^ St. John's Daily News, 22 February 1918.
  11. ^ Chapter XIX of Awards of Board of Trade Medals for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea, original available at the Royal Humane Society in London

External links

Further reading

Brown, Cassie (1976) A Winter's Tale—The Wreck of the Florizel. Doubleday. ISBN 0-9698767-4-2.

Coordinates: 46°50′56″N 52°56′20″W / 46.84889°N 52.93889°W / 46.84889; -52.93889

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