The sinking reported - Cork Examiner, 7 March 1918


The SS Kenmare, one of the fleet of the Cork Steampacket Company, was torpedoed in the channel on Saturday night, and sank in less than two minutes after being struck. Of the crew of 35 there were only six survivors. These were brought to Dublin, and five of them were taken to hospital, where they received every attention. Amongst the 29 lives lost was the skipper (Capt Blacklock), a native of Liverpool, but who has resided for some years in Cork, to which place most of those on board belonged.

Heart-rendering scenes were witnessed at the offices of the Steampacket Company, when relatives of members of the crew formed a constant stream of callers to ascertain if any news was to hand respecting those who, in many instances, meant everything to the families they left ashore. Amongst the earlier visitors was the daughter of Capt. Blacklock, whose innocent query, expressed with such child-like levity: “when is pappy expected up?” was yet so impossible to answer. Later on in the day two of the Captain’s children called, and when the dread intelligence was conveyed to them that their father was not amongst those saved, they were unable to appreciate the awful meaning of what had occurred and they cried bitterly. But those are only some of the many scenes witnessed. Relatives of nearly all the members of the crew visited the offices, and when it was stated that only six out of the thirty-five were saved it will be understood that there were many moist eyes amongst those who came and went. It is significant that amongst those saved is a man named Barry- certainly the oldest man aboard, and probably the oldest man sailing in the company’s service. The chief engineer, Mr. Thomas Murphy, is the son of a well-known and respected citizen, Mr. Murphy, Woodland View, and strangely enough, when in a different service his ship was torpedoed, and though that vessel carried a very large crew, they were nearly all saved. He had been sailing in the Kenmare for some little time back, relieving a Mr. O’Sullivan, Knockrea Terrace, Blacklock Road. Particularly sad is the case of the quartermaster, a man named Geoffrey Grant, who resided at Hibernian Buildings, who with his nephew, a sailor named Moore, are amongst the missing. Mr. Grant was the father of five children, and four years ago he buried his wife, a sister of Mr. Wm Parfrey, the well-known Gael. Probably no ship has been lost in which so many of the crew came from one locality, for the Kenmare was manned almost entirely of men from Dillon’s Cross, in the Northeast Ward, and from Ballinure.

The Dublin Correspondent of the Central News in a graphic account of the sinking of the Kenmare, says-The sinking occurred at seven o’clock on Saturday evening, and was without warning. Only six of the crew of 35 survive. Many of the men were in their bunks at the time, and were awakened by a loud explosion, which almost shattered the vessel. Though rushing quickly on deck they found the vessel awash, and only one small boat, which was not lashed, got clear. Its three occupants succeeded in rescuing three other men from the water. They were unable, owing to the wreckage, to proceed to the assistance of the others, who were shouting for help. After ten minutes the distressing cries died away, and the survivors in the small boat drifted for twelve hours before being picked up. They were scantily clad, and suffered terribly from the cold. Though all the survivors believe the sinking was caused by a submarine, none of them saw an enemy craft or the wake of a torpedo. The vessel appeared to have been struck amidships, and sank in about a minute after the explosion.

The following comprised the crew of the SS. Kenmare:-
W. Evans, mate. Tany Boyn, New Quay, Cardigan.
James Barry, donkeyman, aged 72 years, 102. Lower Road, Cork.
Tim O’Brien fireman, aged 30 years, 8. Green Lane, Liverpool.
A. Phillips, carpenter, aged 28 years, 33. Hood Lane, Liverpool.
James Wright, steward, aged 47 years, 13. Springmount Place, Dillon’s Cross, Cork
J. Broughman, gunner, aged 20 years.

Capt. P. Blacklock, master (married), 9. Park View, Victoria Road, Cork.
R. Johnstone, 2nd mate, 1, Grattan Hill, Cork.
Thomas Murphy, 1st engineer (married), 37. Oriel, Bootle, Liverpool.
L. Ogle,2nd engineer, 10. Kenilworth Street, Bootle, Liverpool.
A. Shaw, 3rd engineer, 36. Woodbine Road, Tartown, Huddersfield.
J. Keenan, greaser (married), 138. Barrackton, Cork.
P. Corcoran, greaser (married), 3.Clahane cottages, Lower Road, Cork.
W. Lyins, fireman, 18. Dillon’s Cross, St. Lukes, Cork.
J. Driscoll, fireman, 24. Tower Street, Cork.
Michael Coleman, fireman (married), Gt. Wm. O’Brien Street, Cork.
Jas. Fitzgerald, trimmer, 274. Old Youghal Road, Cork.
Michael Ahern, trimmer. 7. Glen View, Dillon’s Cross, Cork.
R. McLoughlin, A.B. Vennel Street, Glenarm, Antrim.
Jno. Keefe, A.B. Ballinure, Blacklock, Cork.
Jeff Grant, Q.M., 8.Victoria Road, Cork.
S. Bowen, Q.M., 4.Harrington Row, Cork.
M. Delea, A.B. (married). 61. Dominick Street, Cork.
P. Fennesy, A.B. (married), 51.Hibernian Buildings, Cork.
P. McCartie, A.B., Langford Place, Cork.
W. Moore, A.B., (married), 7.Corporation Buildings, Cork.
J. Good, A.B., 8. Fort Street, Cork.
O. Kemp, Cook, 9. Boreenmana Road, Cork.
A. E. Aston, gunner.
R. Macaulay, gunner.
E. McNamara, cattleman, Walsh’s Avenue, Blackpool, Cork.
D. Sullivan, Cattleman, Spring Lane, Blackpool, Cork.
W. Hartnett, cattleman, 56.Watercourse Road, Cork.

Tim O’Brien, of Cork, said the ship was torpedoed on Saturday. He was in his bunk at the time, in the steerage over the propeller, and was thrown by the force of the explosion some yards. The lights went out immediately. Four other firemen were sleeping in the room. There was some confusion in the darkness, but he succeeded in getting a flash lamp and his lifebelt and made for the deck followed by James Barry. When he got on deck the ship was sinking fast. Along with Mr. Evans he got into one of the lifeboats and floated off the ship. As they were leaving the ship they grabbed the donkeyman and pulled him into the boat. At this time the Captain was on deck shouting instructions as to the lowering of the boats. After leaving the sinking ship they rescued the carpenter and a gunner from the water. Meanwhile 25 of the crew had put off in a boat, which became upturned and from which only one man, the steward, was rescued. They found him with his head through the bottom of the boat and extricated him with great difficulty, he being powerless to assist, as one of his arms was broken. They remained in the vicinity for a quarter of an hour in the hope of picking up the other men.

For about ten minutes cries were coming from the water for assistance, but owing to the wreckage, they were unable to get to their drowning comrades. At about seven o’clock in the morning they were picked up by a small coaster. They were then nearly dead with the cold, the majority being only half-clad. He (O’Brien) was in his shirt and trousers. The night was very cold and a heavy sea was running.

James Wright, chief steward, who had sustained a fractured arm, and was badly bruised about the left eye, told how he was talking to Captain Blacklock in the latter’s cabin just before the vessel was struck. It was just twilight and nobody saw the submarine. A terrific explosion was the first they knew of anything happening. The Kenmare immediately took a big list and commenced to go down by the stern. In a minute or a half or two minutes at the most, she had disappeared and he was struggling in the water. When he and the captain realised what had happened they both rushed out on the deck and lowered one of the boats. He and as many of the others as could got into the boat, which was upturned by the suction of the vessel sunk, and they were all thrown into the sea. “I was struck by something” he said “as we were thrown out and knew I was badly hurt, but was thinking of saving myself. I thought of my wife and child, and then made a struggle for it. It was a case of fight for your life. I was swimming about with my arm broken, fighting away for all I was worth for what seemed like a long time, but what was probably about ten minutes, before I was pulled into a boat. I was speaking to Captain Blacklock just before on deck, and that was the last I saw of him. He may have jumped off, but I am afraid he is gone. We were in the open boat from_____o’clock at night (his watch had stopped exactly at the hour) till a quarter past seven the next morning.

As to the chances of those who are missing having been picked up, Mr. Wright shook his head and said he was afraid the chance was nil. I hope they have lingered, but I am very doubtful, because we passed two or three boats upturned. Mr. Wright said he was lucky to have been saved, and believed that if he had not been a strong swimmer in his younger days he would never have escaped. He was on the Kenmare when she was successful in eluding a German submarine over two tears ago when she had no gun, and only escaped by the speed and skill with which the vessel was handled.

Joseph Broughman said the force of the explosion lifted the gun from its socket. The later struck him on the back, and he was thrown into the sea. He swam about and eventually got hold of some wreckage before being pulled into a boat. He was one of the six survivors who got into this boat, which was the only one that kept afloat. They fixed the oars to steady the boat, but the latter were broken and carried away, and all they could do through the long, weary night was drift.

Arthur Philips, the carpenter, who suffered from shock, bur appeared to have greatly recovered, said that when the vessel was struck he was in his room. Immediately he went on deck, put on his life-belt, and with the others on deck he attempted to launch the lifeboat, “of course we could not do it,” he proceeded “because everything was fast, and the axe and hatches had been carried away. The vessel was sinking at the time, and a rope was made fast so that we might lower ourselves; but before we could get away the boat sank and I went down with her. Owing to the belt I came up again, and fortunately was clear of the wreckage which was strewn around. I then got on a capsized lifeboat, and all around I could see sailors clinging to wreckage. There was a gig aft, and the donkeyman and fireman got onto it. This small boat was astern, after having floated off, and after swimming some distance, I was also taken on it. It kept clear of the wreckage and capsized boats. All the other boats were smashed or capsized. Mr. Evans was in the gig, and if that had not kept right we would have been all lost.”

Mr. Phillips added that the gunner, Joseph Brougham, was also taken onto this boat, but the other gunners were lost. So far as he was aware none of the crew saw the torpedo, and there was no warning given, and the captain (Mr. Blacklock) was close up by him when he went down. This was following the explosion, which almost slit the vessel asunder, as it sank in less than two minutes. Every effort was made to get to the rescue of the sailors clinging to the wreckage and upturned boats, even until the little gig was threatened with being lost. “We could hear the sailors singing out” he explained, “and never left the place until we could hear no more voices. We were driven by a heavy sea, and as the boat got clear we saw the chief steward caught in a wrecked boat and rescued him. He had a broken arm. For 13 hours we were tossed about in the sea until picked up on Sunday morning, when we were picked up by a collier. We never thought the gig would have lived during the night. The Kenmare was struck amidships and owing to the suddenness with which she went down there was no chance of doing anything for the lowering of the boats, the only one of which that got away being that in which the six of us were saved.”

James Barry, the donkeyman, said he was 72 years of age, and was 22 ½ years on the ship, having joined her after being built. “It was Mr. Evans who saved me,” he observed. “I ran up the ladder like a monkey up a stick after hearing the explosion, which was a terror out and out. It shook the whole ship, and the gun jumped off with the force of the blow. I had not any lifebelt on me at all, nor had I any boots or covering on my head. Owing to the cold I feel now as if I had no feet; and is it any wonder after being exposed as I was for 13 hours.”

Mr. Barry knew one of the crew, and could tell the time when each of them joined the ship. “The only one that was on it as long as myself was John Keenan of Cork, a greaser, and he joined it the same day as I did,” concluded the donkeyman, who appeared to be a very hardy type of seaman.

The above article is courtesy Brendan Mooney, from an article viewed at Cork Library.

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