Oceanic — A Giant of Her Time

Oceanic — A Giant of Her Time


White Star Line’s Oceanic (1899) was launched on 14 January 1899.

Oceanic was named after the first White Star liner. The new liner was a giant of her time; the first ship to exceed Brunel’s Great Eastern in length (but not in tonnage). Upon her launch, Oceanic was the world’s largest ship, a title she held until 1901 when White Star’s Celtic eclipsed her.

Built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast,  the 17,274 GRT Oceanic was 685 feet long and 68 feet at her beam. The twin-screw liner was rated at 21 knots. She featured three masts and two funnels. Oceanic cost approximately US$3.6 million to build. Her handsome promenade deck extended for 400 feet.

Oceanic’s maiden voyage began on 6 September 1899: Liverpool-New York. She later made a westward passage in 5 days, 16 hours and 34 minutes.

Oceanic: A Giant of Her Time

A stereopticon “magic lantern” 3-D card image of Oceanic (1899).

Oceanic was dogged by bad luck for most of her 15-year career. There was a 1901 collision with Kincora under foggy conditions that resulted in seven fatalities. Then there was the time in April 1912 when Oceanic almost became involved in the near-collision between New York and Titanic as the brand new liner left Southampton on her ill-fated maiden voyage. (Titanic Second Officer Charles Lightoller, incidentally, was a former Oceanic officer.)

In 1905 Oceanic earned the dubious honor of becoming the first White Star ship to experience a mutiny. Stokers, upset with their hellish working conditions, put down their shovels and other tools, idling the liner. White Star management, and the UK government, weren’t amused. The industrial action resulted in the conviction and imprisonment 35 “black gang” workers.

Converted into an armed merchant cruiser, Oceanic met her demise in World War I, but not in the usual torpedo attack sort of way. She ran aground in the Shetland Islands due to a navigational error. The government hushed up the incident, however, fearing a negative impact on national morale.

The wreck wasn’t salvaged until 1924. Most of the last bits were carted away in 1979.

The Leeds Mercury-16 January 1899.

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