Abyssinia — A Miracle Rescue

Abyssinia — A Miracle Rescue


Like many liners, Cunard Line’s Abyssinia (1870) hauled both passengers and cargo. In December 1891, it was the cargo that nearly killed her passengers and crew.

Built by J. & G. Thomson of Clydebank, Glasgow, the 3,253-ton Abyssinia was 363 feet long with a beam of 42 feet. The single-screw liner was rated at approximately 12 knots. She featured three masts and a single funnel.


Spectators on the Vancouver waterfront watch Abyssinia (1870) depart, circa 1887.


An engraving of Abyssinia under sail and steam.

An engraving of Abyssinia under sail and steam.

Abyssinia faithfully served Cunard’s Liverpool–New York route and continued on the same run after being sold to Guion Line in 1880. Later, after being chartered to Canadian Pacific Line, she changed oceans and began serving a Vancouver-Hong Kong-Tokyo route.

Sailing again for Guion, on 18 December 1891, Abyssinia caught fire in the mid-Atlantic. The blaze, which began in a bale of cotton, quickly overwhelmed the crew. Miraculously, in those pre-wireless days, lookouts onboard the nearby Norddeutscher Lloyd liner Spree spotted the smoke. The German ship sped to the scene and evacuated all of the passengers and crew from the stricken liner. There were no fatalities, other than Abyssinia herself.

The New York Times, 1891 December 23.

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