Anchor Line’s California (1907) was launched in Glasgow on 9 July 1906 at the D&W Henderson shipyard. Her maiden transatlantic voyage, Glasgow to New York, began on 12 October 1907.
California (not to be confused with Californian, the Leyland Line vessel that notoriously failed to respond to Titanic’s distress calls on the morning of 15 April 1912) was one of many small workhorse liners that attracted little attention during their time and are largely forgotten today. At 470 feet long and 58 feet at beam, the 8,662 GRT California carried 1,214 passengers (232 first class, 248 second class and 734 third class) at a rated service speed of 16 knots.
While far from luxurious, she was outfitted with many modern (for the time) technologies, including electric light and refrigeration.
California was plagued by misfortune during her relatively brief life:
- On 28 June 1914 California ran aground in dense fog on Tory Island off the northwest coast of Ireland. Though no lives were lost, the ship was extensively damaged. Repairs took nearly two months.
- On 13 May 1916 a fire broke out in California’s Number 1 cargo hold as she was was being loaded at Manhattan’s Pier 64 with munitions destined for the World War I battlefront. Fortunately, the blaze was quickly spotted, otherwise the resulting explosion would have devastated much of lower Manhattan.
- On the morning of 7 February 1917 California met her final calamity. Inbound to Liverpool at full steam, she was torpedoed off the Irish coast near Fastnet by U-85. She sank in nine minutes; 41 lives were lost. Capt. John L Henderson went down with his ship yet, amazingly, bobbed back to the surface and was rescued. It was a rare bit of good fortune associated with an otherwise tragically unlucky liner.
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