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a photo postcard depicting Mesaba

S.S. Mesaba

Other name: Winifreda
Sisters: Menominee, Manitou, Mohegan, Marquette
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast, yard number 319
Launched September 11, 1897; delivered February 17, 1898; maiden voyage March 3, 1898; torpedoed September 1, 1918
Hull: length 482'; beam 55'; 6,833 tons
Power: single screw; triple expansion engine; 772 n.h.p.; 13 knots
Registered in Liverpool; official number 109392; call sign MMV

 

This ship was built originally for the Wilson & Furness-Leyland Line as the Winifreda and was delivered to her owners on February 17, 1898. She was one of five sister ships purchased on July 21 by the Atlantic Transport Line on or soon after completion to replace ships bought by the U.S. government for use in the Spanish-American War. The Atlantic Transport Line paid an average of £140,000 for each of these ships.

The Winefreda made her last voyage for her original owners in June 1898, on the London to New York route for which she had been designed. She made her first two roundtrips for the Atlantic Transport Line under her original name, and was then renamed. Mesaba is recorded in the Morton Allan Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals making 104 voyages to New York for the Atlantic Transport Line between November 1898 and March 1914 (and none under her original name), making her one of the line's busiest passenger ships.

On October 4, 1900 the New York Times reported "Mesaba in Collision Again." She had struck the Zeta; leaving New York at the outset of her voyage she had been in collision with the Wilson Line ship Martello. Mesaba sustained only slight damage, but Martello was so badly damaged that she had to return for repairs in dry dock. The Mesaba was under the command of Captain Seagrave at the time. Her call letters were "MMV."

In 1909, when the new Minnewaska entered service on the London to New York route, the Mesaba became the reserve steamer for that service, standing in for the Minnehaha for example while that ship was being repaired after running aground on the Scilly Isles in 1910. Famously, the Mesaba, sailing as a freighter, was one of the ships to warn the Titanic about the presence of ice, but tragically her information never reached the doomed liner's bridge.

The Mesaba made three Antwerp to Boston and Philadelphia sailings for the Red Star Line between 1912 and 1914, before returning to Atlantic Transport Line service in June 1915. She was torpedoed by UB 118 on September 1, 1918, and sank in St. George's Channel 21 miles from Tuskar Rock, while making a convoy voyage from Liverpool to Philadelphia in ballast. Twenty lives were lost, including that of the ship' commander.

Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; The Ships List; Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present, Eugene W. Smith, Massachusetts, 1977; The Great War Forum; Merchant Fleets in Profile 2; the Ships of the Cunard, American, Red Star, Inman, Leyland, Dominion, Atlantic Transport and White Star Lines, Duncan Haws, 1979; The New York Times, October 4, 1900

The Mesaba's promenade deck from an accommodation plan in an A.T.L. brochure
The Mesaba's promenade deck from an accommodation plan in an Atlantic Transport Line brochure (Ian Newson)

The Mesaba's saloon deck from an accommodation plan in an A.T.L. brochure
The Mesaba's saloon deck from an accommodation plan in an Atlantic Transport Line brochure (Ian Newson)

photo of a promenade deck cabin from 1909 ATL brochure
A promenade deck cabin on Mesaba, from an Atlantic Transport Line brochure of c.1909 (Kinghorn)

The program for an entertainment staged on board the Mesaba c.1900 (Kinghorn)
The program for an entertainment staged on board the Mesaba c.1900 (Kinghorn)
Click for PDF file (3,986 KB)

This detail from a postcard mailed in 1903 shows a ship beside the Atlantic Transport Line. pier in New York (Kinghorn collection)
This detail from a postcard mailed in 1903 shows a ship beside the Atlantic Transport Line pier in New York. A copy of this image at Mystic Seaport was captioned by the sender "Mesaba."
But on this example the ship was erroneously labeled by the sender "Fürst Bismark," and the writer believes the image actually depicts one of the new Minne class ships. (Kinghorn)

postcard on Minne class, captioned for MesabaPhoto of Mesaba
This postcard depicts a Minne class ship, and the same image was captioned for use on each vessel on the London to New York route — including the smaller and older Mesaba.
The photo to the right shows what Mesaba actually looked like. (eBay, Ian Newson)

Photo of Captain Clarke (ian Newson)Photo postcard of Mesaba
Captain Clarke of the Mesaba, from an album compiled by James Grant Hutchison, an Atlantic Transport Line officer for many years (Ian Newson), and a photo postcard depicting Mesaba

 

For more information ...

Kinghorn "The Atlantic Transport Line 1881 - 1931" McFarland, 2011

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