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The Collision between the Thingvalla and the Geiser, Details of the disaster

2000 - Halifax Morning Herald Sat. Aug 18, 1888
Thrilling Story of the Sinking of the Gesier [sic]

- With a Gaping Hole in Her Bow
- The Story of the Horror as Told by Captain Laub
- The Scene When the Gesier [sic] was Engulfed.

The outline of the ocean horror off Sable Island told in yesterday's Herald sent a thrill of excitement through the city that has not been equaled since the loss of the Daniel Steinman with 129 lives at Sambro Island. When at eight o'clock yesterday morning a barquentine rigged steamer flying the Danish ensign was signaled off the harbor, every person who had read the account in the morning papers saw the signal, knew that one of the participants in the great tragedy would soon be in dock. Hundreds of curious sight seers lined the wharves as she slowly crept along: and the gaping hole in her bow that met the astonished eyes of the spectators was something that had never before been seen even in this port, which is now the recognized headquarters for Atlantic lame ducks. The LaHavre fishing schooner Capio was towed in by the Thingvalla--why will be explained in the captain's story. She docked at Pickford & Black's wharf (her agents). Among the first to board her was a Herald reporter, accompanied by Captain Ove Lange, who kindly volunteered to act as interpreter, if one was required. The officers and crew were all as dumb as oysters. They could tell nothing. "But I will tell you the whole story," said Capt. Laub, " as soon as I can cable my arrival to Denmark and telegraph the New York agents. Captain Laub is a fine representative of that splendid body of Danish sailors whose skill, experience and caution are proverbial. He is exceedingly courteous and though he had had no rest or sleep since the great catastrophe, the appalling nature of which had of course greatly depressed his spirits, he promised to place himself at the service of the reporters at the earliest moment.


The whole of her bow from ten feet below the upper deck, right down to the keel and back nearly 30 feet to the first bulkhead, was cut away as clean as if she was built of paste board which had been cut by a sharp knife. A small schooner could almost be built in the gaping hole. No steamer ever before arrived in this port so badly damaged. How she got here at all is a mystery. She was brought in by William White, of pilot boat No. 2.


Lieutenant Ray jumped on board with the compliments of Vice-Admiral Lyons, commander of the British fleet in North American waters, and offered any assistance in his power. Captain Laub sent his thanks to the admiral for his courtesy and the second officer gave Lieutenant Ray a report of the disaster. As soon as Captain Laub had telegraphed his arrival to the New York agents and cabled to Copenhagen, he gave the HERALD an interview, and said he would furnish all the details in his possession. "I was in bed," said the captain "on the morning of the 14th. The second officer relieved the first officer on the bridge at four o'clock. About half-past four I was awakened by hearing the second officer shout out "port helm." A moment later the telegraph bell rang to reverse engines. I jumped out of bed and rushed on deck in my night clothes. Just as I arrived on deck there was a tremendous crash. We had collided with a large steamer and struck her amidship, just below the mainmast. For a moment all was confusion, and there were loud shouts from the people on both the ships. I immediately ran aft and ordered my crew to prepare boats for launching. By the time I returned to the bridge we had disentangled ourselves from the strange ship. I found on the bridge the second officer of the vessel we had collided with. From him I learned that she was our sister ship the Geiser, Captain Moller. The Thingvalla had cut into the Geiser clean to the mate's stateroom. That officer was asleep at the time, rolled out of his bunk and grasped the chains of our anchor. My first duty was to look after my ship and quiet my passengers. This I did.


There was no fog, but it was hazy and there was a slight shower of rain. I went forward to see what damage we had sustained and get the pumps working. Very shortly after the collision the Geiser sank. I can't tell exactly how long after, but it was within ten minutes"

"How many boats had you launched by that time?" was asked.

"One or our boats was afloat when she went down."

"How long did it take you to launch that boat?"

" I can't say. It may have been 3, 4, or 5 minutes. You know in such a fearful crisis as we were passing through, minutes seem like hours."

Geiser, Thingvalla Line steamship
Geiser, Thingvalla Line steamship
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"Had the Geiser any boats out?"

"Yes. She had three, so I heard afterwards. But they were all capsized by the suction."

The Geiser seemed to break in two and went down stern first with a fearful suction. Her boats were doubtless all capsized by that suction. The scene at that moment was indescribable. I have read:


at sea, but nothing I ever read can compare for a moment with the reality. Above the gurgling noise of the suction rose the shrieks of one hundred and fifty drowning men and women, Oh, it was terrible. I can hear their dying shouts at this moment, and shall never forget the scene to my dying day. But it only lasted two minutes. The wildest cries for life began as the Geiser commenced to disappear. Her living freight were drawn down by her and the last cries died away as she disappeared from view. The final scene only lasted two minutes. Then the carnival of death was succeeded by an appalling silence."

"What were your boats doing all this time?"

"By this time three of our boats were launched and as the passengers and crew of the ill-fated ship came to the surface we picked them up until thirty-five of them were rescued, and taken on board the Thingvalla. We provided them with clothes and hot drinks. They were mostly all in their nightclothes and many of them were exhausted. Meanwhile our boats were still cruising among the wreckage in the hope of saving even one more human life. But the rest had all drowned.


Our own passengers and crew behaved well. Some of the survivors had thrilling escapes. The first, second and third engineers were altogether on a life raft. The third engineer had both of his arms broken during the collision, yet the first two men were lost and the disabled man saved. Captain Mollor had a most miraculous escape. He told me that he was on the bridge when the Geiser began to sink. He jumped overboard, but was drawn down by the suction. In his struggles to get to the surface his leg became entangled in some wreckage. But he finally came to the surface in a greatly exhausted condition, and grasped one of the capsized boats of his own ship, from which, with others of his crew, he was rescued by our boats."

"Yes, we did everything in our power under the circumstances to save the Geiser's passengers and crew. I believe many of them were killed in their bunks as we crashed into her. Others were mangled and disabled, and the rest were drawn down by the suction, became entangled in the wreckage, and never came to the surface again. When we were satisfied that every living man had been saved we began to jettison cargo so as to get at the bulkhead. We threw overboard a large quantity of wood pulp and provisions. All hands on board set to work. There was very little wind, but there was quite a swell. We were then forty miles south of the West End of Sable Island. Our whole bow had been carried away right up to the first bulkhead and we were making water fast. When we went ahead


and there was the greatest danger of all of this being smashed in by the force of the water and nothing could have saved the Thingvalla with 500 passengers and crew. So we "shored up" the bulk head as best we could, by propping planks against it with iron pillars, the ends of which were placed against the iron hatchways. As the forenoon wore away we gained confidence and at eleven o'clock


in the shape of the German steamer Wieland. We hoisted a flag of distress and she immediately bore down upon us. I explained our dangerous condition to the captain of the Wieland and he immediately agreed to take off our passengers and the survivors of the Geiser. By this time the sea was quite rough, and considerable difficulty attended the transfer of the passengers. But fortune smiled upon us and by four o'clock in the afternoon they were all safely transferred to the Wieland and she proceeded to New York. Then we set to work and completed "shoring" the bulkheads and began to steer a course for New York. But I immediately made up my mind that I could never reach New York with my ship on account of the great strain of water on the bulkhead, and so I then headed for Halifax. We could only make two to three knots an hour. At ten o'clock that night we had to lay to on account of wind and sea, and all the way to Halifax when ever there was a little sea we had to stop. On Wednesday afternoon we fell in with THE NOVA SCOTIA FISHING SCHOONER CAPIO

and engaged her to accompany us to Halifax, so as to take off or crew in case the Thingvalla went down."

"Where you in actual danger of sinking?"

"Yes a heavy sea might have smashed in the bulkhead at any moment, when the ship must have foundered. In fact, a part of my crew wanted me to abandon the ship, and for all of us to get on board the Wieland. Last night we met a heavy sea and had to resort to a novel expedient. We had a heavy head sea, against which we did not dare to expose the bulkhead, so we proceeded stern first. The schooner Capio was hitched on to our bow and served as a rudder. That's what saved us last night."

"What do you consider the cause of the collision?"

"That is for nautical men to determine."

"Were your lights all right?"

"Yes, all the lights on both steamers were all right."

"You are sure of that?"

"I am"

" How far off was the Geiser when the officer on the bridge saw her?"

"I can't say"

" How many minutes elapsed after he saw her before you struck?"

"I can't tell you that"

"Didn't your officer tell you?"

I don't think he could tell the exact time nor the exact distance."

Captain Laub at this point read the accounts of the disaster published in the morning papers, but beyond saying that there was no fog at the time, did not express an opinion as to the correctness of the reports.

A survey was held yesterday by Captain Hunter and Engineer McDonald and the whole of the cargo ordered to be discharged in order to ascertain further damage. It was rumored last night that the whole of the repairs would be made here, that the expenditure would be twenty thousand dollars or more; and that Barry & Evans would get the contract. The baggage will be forwarded on the Portia today.

Other Related Articles :

• S/S Geiser
Ship history
• The Thingvalla Line
Company history

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