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The collision between the Thingvalla and the Geiser - STORY OF THE SURVIVORS

2000 - The Halifax Morning Herald Mon. 20 Aug. 1888



— Captain Møller's Version.
— A Passenger says The Thingvalla Officers Are to Blame
— A Woman's Heart-rending Story.

Thousands of people visited the steamer Thingvalla at Pickford & Black's wharf. Yesterday the novel Idea of charging persons going down the wharf the sum of ten cents was carried into effect and the money handed over to the sailor's home. The baggage of the Thingvalla's passengers was forwarded to New York on the S.S. Portia. The damaged steamer will be repaired here at a total cost of about $30,000. The fishing schooner Capio was paid $600—$100 more than agreed—for accompanying the steamer to Halifax. A New York dispatch of Saturday says:

"Five of the steerage passengers of the ill fated steamer Geiser left for their European destination today. Four went by Copenhagen on the steamer Salvonia and one by Liverpool on the Steamer City of New York. A cablegram from Copenhagen to the steamship agents in this city states that the Thingvalla will receive permanent repairs in Halifax. The company has also been instructed to pay 50 per cent of all moderate claims for damages, the remaining half to be paid in Europe.

Story of Geiser's Captain

Captain Carl William Møller, the commander of the ill-fated Geiser, is a finely built man, with broad shoulders and bronzed face. He was much depressed over the loss of his vessel, but with a good natured smile consented to tell the story of the occurrence as follows:

On Monday, at noon, we were at latitude 42 17 north; longitude 63 51 west. I remained on deck until 11 p.m., when I left the bridge, Second Officer Jorgensen being in charge. I gave him orders to call me if it became hazy or foggy, or if anything should happen. I also ordered him to call at 12 o'clock, when he was relieved, and tell me how far the ship had run. I requested him to tell Chief Officer Brown, by whom he was relieved to call me at 3 a.m. I was accordingly called at 12 o'clock by the second officer, and at that time the weather was clear with light rain showers. At 3 a.m., Chief Officer Brown called me and reported the weather fine, and I told him to call me again at 4 a.m. in order to take soundings. I dozed off, and he called me in an excited tone about 3:30 a.m. that there was a vessel bearing down on us and that there was danger of a collision.


"I instantly jumped off the sofa, and taking my trousers in my hand, I ran up on the bridge. I saw the lights of a big steamer on our starboard bow. She was so near that I could see her hull. We blew two blasts of the steam whistle as a warning that we were on the starboard tack. She instantly crashed into our starboard side amidships, opposite the main rigging. On sighting her, the Chief Officer had promptly ordered the engines reversed, and by the time I reached the bridge our vessel was going full speed astern. She struck us with such force as to cut through half the breadth of our ship. I saw at once that the Geiser would go down, and I shouted to the men on deck to call all hands and get out the boats.

As near as I can tell the Thingvalla struck us about 3:40 a.m., as the men had not been called for the first dog watch, from 4 to 6 a.m. We instantly sent up rockets and burned lights. The first lifeboat on the starboard side of the bridge was launched, but the man in charge of the after lowering tackle lost his hold of the line and her stern fell into the water and she filled. The second boat was lowered but the people, when called on, were afraid to leap into her, as she was some feet away from the ships side. I shouted to the men who were amid ship to get the women and children into the boat, and my crew behaved admirably, keeping cool and collected while the wild excitement prevailed among the terrified passengers who had been aroused from their bunks.


"The passengers came rushing up the companion ladders pell mell and I shouted to them to bring up lifebelts which were stowed in racks down the centre of the storage, and could be picked up by any one with ease even in the greatest hurry. There were over 700 of these belts in the ship, all within reach of the passengers.

When I saw that they did not avail themselves of the belts I threw down on deck to them the six lifebelts kept on the bridge for the safety of the officers. The locker where the rockets and night signals were kept was by this time full of water, so no lights could be burned. The passengers shouted for help and were getting panic stricken. The steamer was beginning to settle very fast and the people who got into boat No. 8 which was aft, had to wade to her up to their waists in water. I saw that she was going down very fast and I climbed to the bridge rail and stood there. We were steering east one half south, magnetic course at the time of the collision. That was our proper course.

The ship gave a plunge and I felt her go from under me into the whirlpool created by her displacement of the water. I felt myself drawn down by the suction and I was whirled round in the eddy but did not lose consciousness. I was fully a minute under the water and when I came to the surface, there were numbers of people and a large quantity of wreckage floating on the water. I swam towards the Thingvalla and got hold of a floating oar. I swam about for thirty five minutes when I was picked up by one of the Thingvalla's boats. When all our people who were saved got on board, I mustered my men and with the passengers we helped the Thingvalla's crew to support her forward bulkhead which was in danger of being stove in by the pressure of the water.


A Passenger on the Thingvalla Says there was a Lack of Discipline

John R. Dunlap, of Brooklyn, who is business manager of the Engineering and Mining Journal, was returning from Copenhagen with his wife and family. He described to a Herald reporter the collision and gave what he conceived to be the cause of ita lack of discipline on the part of the officers of the Thingvalla.

"My baby is in the habit of waking up at four o'clock in the morning," said Mr. Dunlap, "and that has given me a similar habit. I had been lying awake in my birth a half-hour before the crash came. Just before the collision I noticed there was some atmospheric disturbance outside, but did not make up my mind as to what it was. An instant before the ships came together I heard a terrible agitation of the machinery over our heads that run the rudder, and following that a blast from what I supposed our whistle. But the third officer afterward told me it was the Geyser's (sic) whistle.


"My wife screamed to me, and I sprang out of my berth at once and ran on deck to see what was the matter. Not more than a moment could have passed from the time the crash occurred till I went on deck. Our bow was lying across that of the other steamer. I saw but a small portion of the Geiser, and having passed a number of fishing smacks in the course of the day I conjectured we had simply run down one of them. The crash was not so heavy as I thought it must be between two steamers.


"It is difficult to make up one's mind definitely that such a horrible calamity can be chargeable to carelessness, especially as accidents will occur under circumstances that do not seem at all to favour them. But there is primary evidence that perhaps carelessness had something to do with it in this instance.

" For example, the deck or bridge of the Thingvalla was the deck set apart for first class passengers and, of course, it was always full during the day, except when it was raining. When it was foggy or bad weather chains were run across and forward, indicating to the passengers that the officers desired to be left to themselves. As remarked by other passengers, it really seemed that the duty of the officers on watch was that of both entertaining the passengers and sailing the ship.


"The officer on watch moved about among the passengers as one of themselves. He talked about everything at all times, except when there was a little fog, and was altogether the most courteous of gentlemen, as in fact were all the officers personally. They were all very popular. On Sunday last, I was making a kite for the little boy and desiring a piece of wood to make the sticks I asked the officer of the watch about it. He said he would go to the carpenter's shop and unlock it for me. I said it was unnecessary if he would give me the key and tell me where to go. At any rate, he insisted on coming, and not only that but used the heavy tools to rough out the sticks. We returned to the bridge, which was without any officer for four or five minutes, as I believe.


"This sort of thing occurred upon three separate occasions when there were no officers upon the bridge. When the kites were made the officer on watch assisted in flying them. It was rather a common occurrence for the officer to call up one of the quartermasters to take his place when he wanted to go below for any purpose.

"All these things occurred of course, when the weather was perfectly clear and there was not possibility of danger. But it showed there was a lack of rigid discipline. Furthermore, an hour after the accident a fog came up, rather a heavy one, when it was painfully long before we had a blast of the whistle from our steamer, though the captain of the Geiser himself was walking up and down our deck and finally blew the whistle himself.

"Then again two or three hours after that I discovered one of the stewards standing just inside the pantry in which were three people. Just by the hallway were twenty people crowded together. The steward was filling the lamp from an oil can while the lamp was burning.

"Both the captains were in their night clothes when the collision occurred. The captain of the Geiser had nothing on but his shirt when he was rescued. I believe they were both in bed and asleep just before the accident. There was no fog or danger signal previous to the accident, except the one I mentioned as occurring the instant before the crash.

"The lack of discipline I particularly observed. When a heavy rain or fog came on the officer on watch did not seem to appreciate the importance of giving signals immediately. Consequently in this case they delayed until too late. It could have been avoided had our ship given warning, as I believe.

"I think duty is above friendship and that is why I speak thus plainly, because the calamity has been so great, and it may permit others to speak truly and freely now."


Her Child Knocked from Her Arms as She Sank in the Sea

Only one cabin passenger of the Geiser was saved. She is Mrs. Hilda Lind of No. 107 East Eighty Fourth street. She was going to spend a year with her parents in Karlsham, Sweden, accompanied by her two children, Ida, age three years, and Charlie, a baby three months old. Both the children were lost. Mrs. Lind had a wonderful escape and tells a most pathetic story. She is a pretty, fair-haired woman of twenty-eight, but looks at least ten years older now, and is half crazed with grief at the loss of her little ones. Five years ago she came to America. Her husband is a carpenter, but for a year or more has not been able to get steady work.

Mrs. Lind is a fragile little woman, and has been sick for a long time. After the birth of her baby, Charlie, she was so feeble that her husband thought it best for her to return to her old home, in the hope that the change would improve her. They had a hard time to get along, and there was no prospect of Mrs. Lind being able to do her work. Sickness and dull times had eaten into the small savings of the husband, and the Lind's had not the means to pay for her passage back to Sweden. The women's condition became so bad that it was finally decided to sell their household goods to pay the expense of the journey. This was done, and Mrs. Lind parted from her husband.

"I was asleep when the collision came," said Mrs. Lind to the reporter. "I was on the other side of the Steamer from where she was struck. The shock woke me up, but I did not think anything out of the way had happened. It sounded like a man falling, and there was a jar but I was not much frightened till people began talking. Another women slept in the berth with me, and she said we had better get up and find out what the trouble was. I went out of the stateroom and asked a man to go up on deck and tell us what had happened. I don't know what his name was, but he was going to some place in Norway with his family. He came running back right away and took his child and cried to his wife to hurry up. He never told me anything, but he was so excited I got frightened. I begged somebody to take my children up for me, but no one would do it. My children were sleeping and I could not carry them both, but when no one would help me I took them in my arms and started to run up on deck.


"An old women took my baby from me and said she would take care of him. Poor little dear, I hated to let him go out of my arms, but the old lady was so good and kind that I thought that she would not let anything happen to him. She took him from me and I blessed her. He was sleeping so sweetly and I was thankful to know he was in safe hands. Poor dear, I never saw his face again."

Here the little women buried her face in her hands and her frame shook. Kind hearted Chief Steward Stark of the Wieland did his best settle her and sent for the stewardess to help to calm the grief stricken childless woman. It was some minutes before she was able to speak so that her words were intelligible, and then she said:

"I hugged my little girl to my breast and went on as fast as I could. I am very weak, but got to the stairs very quick. I forgot all about being sick and was standing at the doorway and just going to step down when something struck me an awful blow. My little girl was knocked out of my arms and all I can remember was that there was water all around and it rushed with a roar. I felt myself going down, and I thought I should never stop. It seemed as though I went down very far and then the next thing I remember I struck something with my hand. I caught it just as I was going to sink again and clung to it. It was a big wide board, with some other pieces nailed to it that must have been torn off something on the steamer.


I know my strength was nearly gone, but I clung to that plank as hard as I could, because I wanted to find my children. The next I remember I was on a steamer, but I don't know how I got there, and I can't remember anything more about that terrible time. I never would have let my baby Charlie go from me, but I thought that good woman could take care of him better than I could, she just took him from me, and I was not able to hold him, for if I did I would have to drop my little girl. I think when I stepped off that step I went into the water, but something knocked me over and just dragged Ida out of my arms.

"My poor babies! My darling little ones!" sobbed the unhappy woman, and it seemed as though she would go into hysterics. When she had somewhat calmed herself, big, stalwart First Mate Petersen came along and spoke to her in her native tongue. He told her she was to go with him and the other survivors of the Geiser, who were to be cared for by the officers of the company. Something was said about her going home whereat the poor woman moaned:

"Oh, my home! How can I go there!"

Mrs. Lind's face brightened up when the reporter spoke of her husband, and she muttered something in Swedish and then started up affrighted. The recital of her story, although she had been permitted to relate it without any interruption, had affected the woman so deeply that muscular Nate Petersen had to almost carry her up the companionway to the deck. She complained of her head, and it is feared that her mind may be affected by the terrible experience she has undergone. The officers of the Wieland say she has exhibited remarkable fortitude under the circumstances. She was the object of the greatest sympathy of all on shipboard, but seemed oblivious to all that was going on around her. She answered all the queries of the officers but they considerately refrained from questioning her after they discovered that this only served to intensify her grief by reminding her of her great loss.


Mrs. Lind herself was the first to bear the tidings of her sad loss to her husband Oscar. She was sent home in a cab by the Steamship Company to No. 417 East One Hundred and Nineteenth Street. She arrived 8.30 o'clock, clad in a dress lent by a passenger. Her ring was answered by her little five-year old niece, who was so surprised to see her aunt that without even greeting her she ran back into the house crying at the top of her voice: "Aunty has come back! Aunty has come back!"

The next moment the husband ran out and the woman fell in his arms crying: "You have no children, Oscar! They are all drowned!"

The husband could not speak, and Mrs. Lind lost consciousness. Little by little the frightful tale was learned when she recovered, and the husband began to realize the awful truth. Mrs. Lind is completely prostrated, and it is feared she may not recover.


Mrs. Thomas Mullaly was in company with her husband on the central wharf last evening looking at the disabled steamer Thingvalla. While her husband's back was turned, she in some way fell into the water. A man named Philip Gundry jumped into the dock and rescued her.



On Saturday evening Norwegian consul I. H. Mathers, received a despatch announcing the total wreck on White Island, near Marie Joseph, of the Norwegian steamer Liberto, Captain Donaldson, from New [York] for Stettin with general cargo. The crew were saved. The steamer was breaking up and the cargo floating out. No further details were received.

Geiser, Thingvalla Line steamship
Geiser, Thingvalla Line steamship
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• S/S Geiser
Ship history
• The Thingvalla Line
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