SS Britannic & SS Oceanic


Joseph Bell’s second and third Engineering appointments were to Britannic & Oceanic respectively.  For those who are interested, here are detailed descriptions of these ships.

SS Britannic the transatlantic screw steamer was built of iron and launched in February 1874, by Harland & Wolff in Belfast, and making her maiden voyage to New York from Liverpool on the 25th June 1874 the service provided by the Ocean Steam Navigation Co Ltd., or White Star Line.  On her maiden voyage, she broke both the eastbound and westbound records with passages of less than 7.5 days at an average speed of 15.7 knots. She held the Blue Riband from 1876 – 1879.  She remained in the service of the White Star Line until 1899, after which she was requisitioned  by the Royal Navy and converted for use as a Troopship taking soldiers to the Boer War in South Africa.  Until the war ended in 1902, she had transported around 37000 troops to and from the conflict.

The Britannic and her sister ship, the Germanic [1875], were a great advance on the six mail steamers which preceded them in the fleet.  Their small ratio of beam to length, characteristics of the early White Star liners, was at first criticised , but the public soon patronised the ‘narrow ships’.  The main saloon was placed amidships, an innovation introduced by Mr Thomas H Ismay.  Accommodation was provided for approx. 1200 passengers, and the crew consisted of around 130 men.

The Britannic was rigged as a four-masted barque.  She had two funnels, and was propelled by inverted compound-expansion engines of 4970 h.p.  These were constructed by Messrs Maudslay, Sons and Field, at Lambeth, as the Belfast yards were unable to produce heavy machinery.  The two high-pressure cylinders 48″ diam., and two low-pressure cylinders 48″ in diam., and the two low-pressure cylinders 83″ in diam., were arranged in tandem pairs with the former on top; the stroke was 60″.

Steam at a pressure of 70 lbs per sq. inch was supplied by eight double-ended oval boilers, with a total heating surface of 19,500 sq. ft.  The screw propeller, which rotated at 52 revs per min, was 23.5 ft diam., and 28 to 31.5 ft pitch.  The normal speed of the vessel was about 15 knots.

Principle dimensions of Britannic were as follows:  Gross register, 5004 tons; displacement, loaded, 9100 tons;  length over all, 468 ft; length between perps, 455 ft; breadth, 45.2 ft; depth to main deck, 33.7 ft.

SS Oceanic being Joseph Bells third appointment, was the last British transatlantic liner to be launched in the 19th century.  She was launched on the 14th of January 1899 by Harland & Wolff in Belfast  built of steel and engined there,  making her maiden voyage  from Liverpool to New York on the 6th of September 1899.  She was fitted with electric lights and had the facility of refrigeration.  This was the first White Star ship to experience a mutiny on board.  The event resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of thirty-five coal stokers who were very unhappy with the commanding officers about their working conditions.

The hull was subdivided by 13 transverse water-tight bulkheads about 49ft apart, while a longitudinal bulkhead, 97 ft long, divided the port and starboard engine-rooms.  There was a cellular double bottom, which extended the whole length of the ship, and included nine longitudinal girders.  The double bottom was 5.1 ft deep, except in the vicinity of the engines, where its depth was increased by 2 ft.  The frames, for about two-thirds of the length amidships, were of channel section 9″ by 4.5″ by 4″ spaced 31.5 in apart; but towards the ends, these were replaced by frames of angle and reverse-angle riveted to each other.  The plating, which was of steel, varied from 1″ to 1.4 “.  There were seven plated decks, five of which were continuous from stem to stern.  Accommodation was provided for 410 first-class, 300 second-class, and 1000 third-class passengers; a total compliment of 390 officers and crew were carried.

The vessel was propelled by two sets of triple-expansion engines, which indicated 28000 total h.p.  Each set had four cylinders, one high-pressure 47.5 in diam., one intermediate 79” in diam., and two low-pressure each 93 in diam., all with a common stroke of 6 ft.  The reversing was effected by combined steam and hydraulic power.  Steam at a pressure of 192 lb per sq. in, was supplied by 15 return-tube boilers, 12 of which were double-ended, and three single-ended.  The larger boilers were 16.5 ft diam, and their total weight 1100 tons.  The twin-propellers, 22.2 ft diam, had gun-metal bosses and three manganese bronze blades, and were fitted very close together; an aperture in the stern frame allowed for this.  The propeller shafting was of hollow steel and 25.2 in diam.  On trial, the vessel attained a speed of more than 20 knots.

The Oceanic had bunker accommodation for 3700 tons of coal, sufficient to enable her to steam 24000 miles at a speed of 12 knots, and was built under Admiralty supervision for use as an auxiliary cruiser if necessary.  The vessel was wrecked off the north of Scotland in September 1914.

Principle dimensions of the Oceanic were as follows:  gross register, 17040 tons; displacement at load draught, 28500 tons; length over all 704 ft; length between perps., 685.7 ft; extreme breadth, 68.4 ft; depth, 49 ft.





















2 Responses to “SS Britannic & SS Oceanic”

  1. Chris Hughes Says:

    Very interesting. Wonderful to read about the earlier White Star steamers.

    • castlehead Says:

      Glad to know that you found it interesting, as I know that the technical bits can be a bit boring for some.

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