SS Viking

Name: Viking
Builder: Nylands Shipyards, Oslo, Norway
Laid down: 1881
Launched: 1882
Fate: Exploded and sank off Horse Islands in 1931
General characteristics
Tonnage: 310 gross register tons
Propulsion: Sails, Diesel Engine

SS Viking was a wooden-hulled sealing ship made famous by its role in the 1931 film The Viking. During her use in the seal hunt in Newfoundland, the ship was commissioned by the film crew. During production, an explosion destroyed the ship, resulting in the largest loss of life of a film production crew in film history.[1]


Fridtjof Nansen (left) and Captain Axel Krefting, sitting on just shot polar bear with the Viking in the background (One of the pictures from a journey with sealers to Vestisen during the period March to July 1882).

In 1881, Viking was built by the Nylands Shipyard at Christiania, Norway, the same location where another famous Newfoundland vessel, Southern Cross, was constructed. Viking was a vessel of 310 gross tons and equipped with a 90 horsepower (67 kW) auxiliary engine. She was launched in 1882 from the Nylands Shipyard.[citation needed]

In 1904, Viking was purchased by Bowring Brothers[not in citation given] of St. John's for the sealing industry.[2] She was placed under the command of Captain William Bartlett, who remained her master until 1923. Viking was the smallest of the Bowring Brothers' fleet, but was capable of carrying 276 men.[3]

Viking sailed for a number of years hunting the saddleback seal off the coast of Greenland. In 1882, Norwegian explorer, scientist and diplomat Fridtjof Nansen used her for his first Arctic expedition.[4]

The Viking

In 1930 and 1931, Viking was chartered by film producer Varick Frissell and Alexander Gustavus Penrod (the cinematographer of the film Down to the Sea in Ships) to make a film of the annual seal hunt off the coast of Newfoundland. She was commanded by Captain Bob Bartlett, son of William Bartlett, and was featured in the final production. The film was premiered on March 5, 1931, at the Nickel Theatre in St. John's. Its producers felt, however, that it required more sensational footage, so both Frissell and Penrod returned to the ice fields soon after aboard Viking, this time with Captain Abram Kean.

On March 15, 1931, about eight miles (13 km) off Horse Islands, while stuck in the ice, Viking was rocked by an explosion that blew the stern off the vessel. Dynamite loaded on the vessel to add to the sensationalism of giant explosions of icebergs had somehow been set off, killing 28 of the 141 on board. The deaths included Frissell and Penrod.[5]

Viking caught fire and sank.[6] The ship's loss was the first for Bowring Brothers in 52 years.[7] Some of the survivors made the over-ice trek to the Horse Islands, while others were rescued by vessels dispatched to the area.[8]

Despite the fatal accident, the film was completed and released in June 1931. The title was changed from White Thunder to The Viking. A French-language version, Ceux du Viking, was released in 1932.[9]



  1. ^ McIntosh, Andrew. "The Viking (White Thunder)." Canadian Film Encyclopedia. Retrieved: March 29, 2012.
  2. ^ "Trade and Commerce in Newfoundland." Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site, 2015. Retrieved: November 7, 2015.
  3. ^ Rist 2001, p. 230.
  4. ^ Huntford, Roland (2001). Nansen. London: Abacus. pp. 21–27. ISBN 0-349-11492-7.
  5. ^ Rhodes 2001, p. 95.
  6. ^ "Film and Video - Early Days." Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage. Retrieved: December 16, 2007.
  7. ^ "First disaster for 17 Years." St. John's Daily News, March 17, 1931. Retrieved: November 9, 2015.
  8. ^ "Viking survivors estimated at 118." The Evening Telegram, March 18, 1931. Retrieved: December 15, 2007.
  9. ^ "Ceux du viking (1932)." IMDb. Retrieved: November 6, 2015.


  • Rhodes, Gary Don. White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7864-0988-4.
  • Rist, Peter. Guide to the Cinema(s) of Canada. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. ISBN 978-0-3132-9931-5.

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