SS Vestris

SS Vestris was a 1912 passenger steamship owned by Lamport and Holt Line and used in their New York to River Plate service. On 12 November 1928 she began listing about 200 miles off Hampton Roads, Virginia, was abandoned, and sank, killing more than 100 people. Her wreck is thought to rest some 1.2 miles (2 km) beneath the North Atlantic.[2]

Postcard of Vestris
United Kingdom
Name: Vestris
Owner: Liverpool, Brazil and River Plate Steam Navigation Co
Operator: Lamport and Holt Line
Builder: Workman, Clark & Co, Belfast
Launched: 16 May 1912
Maiden voyage: 19 September 1912 from Liverpool to the River Plate. 26 October 1912 First sailing to New York
Fate: Sunk 12 November 1928
Notes: Final voyage from Hoboken, New Jersey sailing from New York to Barbados and South American ports 10 November 1928 – 12 November 1928
General characteristics
Class and type: Passenger and cargo liner
Length: 496 feet (151 m)
Beam: 60 feet 6 inches (18.44 m)
Draught: Salt water draught in 1912 by Lloyds, 26 feet 9¼ inches for summer, and 26 feet 3¼ inches for winter. Salt water draught on her final voyage was found to have been 26 feet 11½ inches[1]
Decks: 614 NHP, producing 8,000 IHP
Propulsion: 2 × 4-cylinder quadruple-expansion engines, twin screw
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h)
Capacity: Passengers: 280 First Class, 130 Second Class, 200 Third Class
Crew: 250
Notes: sister ships: Vandyck, Vauban

The sinking, which attracted much press coverage at the time, remains notable for the loss of life, particularly of women and children, after the vessel was abandoned.[3][4][5] The sinking and subsequent inquiries may also have shaped the second International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in 1929.[6]


Workman, Clark & Company of Belfast, Ireland built Vestris in 1912. She was the third of an order of three V-class sister ships from the same yard, the others being SS Vandyck and SS Vauban. They were built for the New York to River Plate service. Vestris was launched 16 May 1912[7] and made her maiden voyage on 19 September 1912 from Liverpool to River Plate.[8]

Vestris was chartered as a military transport in World War I to cross the Atlantic Ocean from the United States to France. While on this service she was narrowly missed by a torpedo in the English Channel.[9][10] In 1919 Cunard Line chartered Vestris and she operated six circular services; Buenos Aires – Liverpool – New York – Buenos Aires.[8] According to A. A. Hoehling Vestris was among the last ships in contact with USS Cyclops in 1918.

In September 1919, Vestris, carrying 550 people, suffered damage from a fire in her coal bunkers. The crew fought the fire for four days before either HMS Dartmouth[8][11] or HMS Yarmouth[12] escorted the ship to Saint Lucia in the West Indies. Several days later the fire was extinguished.[12][13]

In 1922 the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company briefly chartered Vestris.[8]


Vestris left New York bound for the River Plate on 10 November 1928 with 325 passengers and crew. A day after leaving New York, the ship ran into a severe storm and developed a starboard list. The following day, the list worsened as cargo and coal bunkers shifted and the ship took on water through numerous leaks.[9]

On 12 November, at 9:56 a.m., an SOS was sent out giving her position as latitude 37° 35' N. and longitude 71° 81' [sic] W., which was incorrect by about 37 miles. The SOS was repeated at 11:04 a.m..[1]

Between 11 a.m. and noon, while the ship was off Norfolk, Virginia, the order was given to man lifeboats and the ship was abandoned. Two hours later, at about 2 p.m., Vestris sank at lat. 37° 38' N, long. 70° 23' W.[1] The rescue vessels arriving on the scene, late in the evening of 12 November and early in the morning of 13 November, were the steamships American Shipper, Myriam, and Berlin and the battleship USS Wyoming.[1][14]

Death toll

While estimates of the dead vary from 110 to 127, Time and The New York Times reported that from the complement of 128 passengers and 198 crew on board, 111 people were killed:[3][15]

  • 68 dead or missing from a total 128 passengers. 60 passengers survived.
  • 43 dead or missing from a total of 198 crew members. 155 crew survived.

None of the 13 children and only eight of the 33 women aboard the ship survived. The captain of Vestris, William J. Carey, went down with his ship. 22 bodies were recovered by rescue ships.

The father of future Major League Baseball pitcher Sam Nahem was among those who drowned when the ship sank.[16]


Press reports after the sinking were critical of the crew and management of Vestris. In the wake of the disaster, Lamport and Holt experienced a dramatic drop in bookings for the company's other liners and their service to South America ceased at the end of 1929.

Many inquiries and investigations were held into the sinking of Vestris.[3] Criticism was made of:

  • Overloading of the vessel.
  • The conduct of the Master, officers and crew of the vessel.
  • Delays in issuing an SOS call.
  • Poor decisions made during deployment of the lifeboats, which led to the two of the first three lifeboats to be deployed (containing mostly women and children) sinking with Vestris and another being swamped.
  • Legal requirements governing lifeboats and out-dated life-preservers.
  • Lack of radio sets in nearby vessels at the time.

Lawsuits were brought after the sinking on behalf of 600 claimants totaling $5,000,000.[4]

Vestris' sinking was covered by Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickok. Her story on the event became the first to appear in The New York Times under a woman's byline.[17]


  1. United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (24 May 1932). "Vestris – Decision on the Merits". Archived from the original on 15 January 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  2. Warwick, Sam; Roussell, Mike (2012). Shipwrecks of the Cunard Line. p. 145.
  3. "Catastrophe: Vestris". Time. 26 November 1928.
  4. "Vestris Disaster Company's Liability U.S Courts Ruling". Wellington Evening Post. National Library of New Zealand. 18 September 1931. p. 7.
  5. "Vestris Inquiry – Further evidence wireless messages unsolved mystery". Wellington Evening Post. CVI (116). National Library of New Zealand. 20 November 1928. p. 11.
  6. McDowell, Carl E; Gibbs, Helen M (1999) [1954]. "21: International Conventions and Treaties". Ocean Transportation. Washington, DC: Beardbooks. p. 431.
  7. "Launches-Irish". The Marine Engineer and Naval Architect. XXXIV: 455. 1912. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  8. "Lamport & Holts' S.S. "Vestris"". Blue Star on the Web. 3 February 2012.
  9. "The Vestris Disaster". Blue Star on the Web. 3 February 2012.
  10. Donahue, James. "Faulty Coal Port Blamed In Vestris Disaster". Ships.
  11. Heaton, Paul M (1977). "The Lamport and Holt Fleet, Part III: 1918–1940". Sea Breezes.
  12. "Liner afire 4 days with 550 aboard". The New York Times. 16 September 1919.
  13. "Fire on Liner put out". The New York Times. 23 September 1919.
  14. Kalafus, Jim (18 December 2006). "My God the Boat Is leaving Us". Encyclopedia Titanica.
  15. "Death Toll is now 111". The New York Times. 16 November 1928. p. 1.
  16. "Sam Nahem's Obit"
  17. Martinelli, Diana Knott; Bowen, Shannon A (2009). "The Public Relations Work of Journalism Trailblazer and First Lady Confidante Lorena Hickok, 1937–45". Journalism History. 35 (3): 131–40. Retrieved 18 December 2012.

Further reading

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