The sinking reported - Irish Independent, 7 March 1918




(Passed by Censor)

A distressing sea tragedy occurred on Saturday night when the SS Kenmare, belonging to the Cork Steampacket Co., was sunk, presumably by a submarine. Only 6 of the crew of 35 survive.

The sinking occurred as the ship was returning, and was without warning. Many of the crew were in their bunks, and were awakened by a loud explosion which almost shattered the ship from end to end. Though rushing quickly on deck, they found the vessel awash and only one small boat, which was not lashed, got clear, this floating from the stern of the ship. Its 3 occupants succeeded in rescuing 3 other men from the water. They were unable to proceed to the assistance of others, who, clinging to the wreckage, were shouting for help. After 10 minutes, the distressing cries died away, and the survivors in the small boat drifted for 12 hours before being picked up. They were scantily clad and suffered terribly from cold.

One of the rescued is aged 72, and was on the ship from the day she was launched, over 22 years ago. Except for swollen feet caused by the cold and a slight scalp wound, he is in good health. John Keenan, who joined the ship with him, and Capt Blacklock are amongst the lost. Mr Johnson, the chief officer, who was also drowned, had been previously rescued in a similar case.

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 from the explosion.

The survivors are: -

James Evans (mate), Cork
James Barry, 72 (donkeyman), Cork
Arthur Phillips, 28 (carpenter), Warrington
Tim o'Brien, 30 (fireman), Cork
Joseph Broughan, 20 (gunner), Birmingham
James Wright, 47 (chief steward), Cork

Captain Blacklock (master), married, Cork
M. Johnson (chief officer), Grattan Hill, Cork
Thomas Noble (engineer), Liverpool
M Shaw (engineer), Liverpool
Michael Coleman (fireman), married, Cork
Robert Mcloughlin (fireman), Belfast
Michael Aherne (fireman)
Samuel Keeffe (fireman), Cork
William Lyons (fireman), Cork
John Driscoll (trimmer), Cork
Joseph Fitzgerald (trimmer), Cork

Patrick Corcoran (married), Cork
John Keenan (married), Cork
? Ogle, Liverpool

Jack Good, Cork
? Mccarthy, Cork
Wm Moore (married), Cork
? Finnessy (married), Cork
Geoffrey Grout, quartermaster
? Bowen, quartermaster

Ned Mackey,
Davy ?
and one other

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien, relating his experiences to an "Irish Independent" representative, said the ship was torpedoed on Saturday. He was in his bunk in the steerage, over the propellor, and was thrown by the explosion some yards. The lights went out immediately. Four toher 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 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 after lifeboats and floated off the ship. As they were leaving the ship they grabbed teh donkeyman and pulled him into the boat. At this time the captain was on the 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 on a boat which became upturned and from which only 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 other men. For about ten minutes, cries were heard for assitance, but owing to the wreckage, they were unable to get to their drowning comrades. They were picked up by a small coaster when nearly dead with the cold, the majority being only half clad. O'Brien was in his shirt and trousers. The night was very cold and a heavy sea running.

James Wright, chief steward, told how he was talking to Capt Blacklock in the latter's cabin immediately 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 and a half or two she had disappeared and he was struggling in the water. When he and the captain realised what had happened, they both rushed out on deck and lowered one of the boats. He and as many of the others as could get into the boat, which was upturned by the suction as the vessel sank, 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 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.

"It seemed like a long time, but what was probably about ten minutes, before I was pulled into a boat. I was speaking to Capt 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 7 at night till a quarter past 7 in the morning."
Asked as to th echance of those who are missing having been picked up, Mr Wright said he was afraid the chance was hil. "I hope they have", he said, "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 ahd not been a strong swimmer in his younger days, he would never have escaped. He was in the Kenmare when she was successful in eluding a German submarine over two yeras ago, when she had no gun, and only escaped by the speed and skill with which the vessel was handled.
Joseph Brougham said the force of the explosion lifted the gun from its socket, so that the latter struck him in 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 was drift.

Arthur Phillips, the carpenter, who suffered from shock, said when the vessel was struck he was in his room. Immediately he went on deck, put on his lifebelt and with others on deck attempted to launch the lifeboat. "We could not do it", he proceeded, "because everything was fast, and the axes and hatchets 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, he came up again, and fortunately was clear of the wreckage. "I then got on a capsized boat, and all around I could see sailors clinging to the wreckage. There was a gig aft, and the donkey man and the fireman got into it. This small boat was astern, having floated off, and after swimming some distance I was also taken on it. It kept clear of the wreckage and the capsized boats. All the other boats were sunk or capsized. Mr Evans was in the gig, and if it had not kept right we would have been all lost."

Mr Phillips added that Jos. Brougham was also taken onto this boat. So far as he was aware, none of the crew saw the torpedo-boat and there was no warning given, and Capt. Blacklock was close by him when he went down. This was following the explosion, which almost tore the vessel asunder. 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 theh 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.

"For 13 hours, we were tossed about in the sea until picked up on Sunday by the collier. We never though the gig would have lived during the night. Owing to the suddenness with which the Kenmare went down there was no chance of doing anything fo rthe lowering of the boats, the only one of which that got away being that in which the six men were saved."
James Barry, the donkeyman said. "It was Mr Evans who saved me. I ran up the ladder like a monkey 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, 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 woonder after being exposed as I was for 13 hours?"

Mr Barry knew every one of the crew, and cold tell the time when each of them joined the ship. "The only one taht was on it as long as myself was John Keenan, a greaser, and he joined it the same day as I did".

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