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Richard Griffiths

Captain Richard Grifftiths, Commodore Captain, Atlantic Transport LineCaptain Griffiths was commodore of the line, the senior Captain in the service of the Atlantic Transport Line when his ship, the brand new Mohegan, was wrecked at the outset of her second voyage in October 1898. Griffiths, who was probably responsible for the navigational error that led to the wreck, was one of the 106 people who lost their lives on that occasion. He was last seen on the bridge ordering lifeboats away as the ship sank rapidly beneath him. Griffiths was described in The Times' coverage of the official inquiry:

Captain Griffiths was the senior captain in the company's service, and the company had the greatest confidence in him. He was sent to Hull in July to superintend the completion of the vessel, and to have things done by the builders which he regarded as necessary. Born in 1852, Captain Griffiths commenced his sea service as a boy in 1869 and passed successively through the grades of ordinary seaman, A.B., third mate, second mate, and chief officer, serving nine years in sailing vessels, and obtaining his master's certificate 11 years ago, on July 22, 1887. Nothing against him had been recorded during his lifetime.

The same witness stated that "Captain Griffith was rather reserved in temperament and a strict disciplinarian" and the line's manager Alfred Strover Williams noted:

I have known Captain Griffiths for the last 12 or 13 years. He was a first-class officer, a very sober, collected man, and a first rate disciplinarian. He was in every way a most capable officer, and one in whom I had the utmost confidence.

Asked if Griffiths was a morose man Williams replied "No, he was a self-contained man. He did not speak two words if one would do. He was fairly sociable, but if there was business to be done he did not waste a word."

Griffiths commanded the Atlantic Transport Liner Massachusetts and letters to her captain published with record of the Board of Trade inquiry into the loss of the Mohegan show that in September 1894 and February 1895 he was in command of Manitoba. In addition, the Times' coverage of the Board of Trade inquiry records that Griffiths was in command of the Minnewaska in June of 1898, immediately before her sale to the U.S. government. At the time of the Mohegan's loss Griffiths was, according to a newspaper interview with B. N. Baker, shortly to have supervised the compeltion of a new twin scew steamer for the line.

Griffiths lived in London with his wife and three children. There is a persistant but unsubstantiated story that Griffiths' headless body was found on a beach weeks after the wreck, but his descendants maintain that his body was never found. The family plot at Abersoch in North Wales features a memorial inscription, but no burial. A report published in The Cornishman on November 8th 1898 decribes the recovery of various bodies, and records that, "A corpse pitched up at Porthousestock on Monday was headless, and, from the clothes, judged to be that of a fireman." Could this be the germ of the headless captain myth?





For more information ...

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

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