The passenger ship Abyssinia was built by J&G Thompson Glasgow, Scotland in 1870 for the Cunard Line, ten
years later Cunard used the ship as a partial payment for the construction of two new ships (Servia and Catalonia) and Thompson sold her to the Guion Line the same year. She was built of iron, three masts (rigged
for sail) with a single screw, 363' long and 3,376 GRT.
Guion used her on the Liverpool-Queenstown-New York route until 1887 when she was chartered by the
Canadian Pacific Line, who operated her until 1891. Guion put her back on the North Atlantic starting her first
voyage to New York on Nov. 28, 1891.
She departed New York for her return to Liverpool on Dec. 13, 1891 with fifty-seven passengers and eighty-
eight crewmen under the command of captain George S. Murray. She carried a cargo valued at about
$200,000 which included cotton, wheat, hops, leather, cheese, bacon and other general commodities. Being Christmas time there were also a number of shipments of packages being sent to Europe for the coming holiday. Many of the passengers as well were traveling home for Christmas including a number of Norwegians and Swedes who were in steerage.
On Dec. 18, 1891 at 12:40 pm a fire was discovered in the cargo hold of the Abyssinia which grew beyond the
control of the crew. There seems to have been little panic on board and the crew for the most part acted with
the utmost professionalism. They continued to fight the fire, but there was no hope of saving the ship. For
those on board rescue would be swift for soon after the fire was reported a ship was spotted on the horizon.
The SS Spree of the North German Lloyd Line under captain W. Willigerod saw the smoke and made all
possible haste to the Abyssinia to render assistance. After Spree arrived Willigerod was signaled by Murray that he intended to transfer his passengers and crew to the Spree as his ship could not be saved. Willigerod had three boats lowered and sent to the Abyssinia.
All passengers and crew were safely removed and on board the Spree by 4:15 pm. When they left the area
the Abyssinia was burning from stem to stern, she sank soon after. While en route to Southampton the Spree
was involved in another rescue, on Dec. 20 two men in a lifeboat from the SS Iona approached the Spree,
Iona had a broken shaft and was in distress, however the lifeboat smashed against the side of the Spree tossing the two men into the water, one sadly drowned. An attempt was made to tow the Iona, but the line parted the next day the Wildflower also attempted to tow her with the same result. She sailed with only her fore trisail and the fore staysail until she reached the Scilly's and was towed to Falmouth by the SS Memphis of the Elder Dempster Line.
Spree arrived at Southampton late on Dec. 21 and disembarked the survivors. The passengers and crew were
grateful for their rescue and very impressed with the kindness shown to them by the captain, crew and
passengers of the Spree, in Southampton they gave the following address to them;
"Dear Sir,-We, the passengers and crew of the ill-fated S.S. Abyssinia, hereby beg to tender to you our heartfelt thanks and gratitude-flrstly, for your prompt and timely assistance in rescuing us from our burning ship on the afternoon of December 18; and, secondly, for your unbounded liberality and generosity in your treatment of us while on board your vessel. We would ask you to express to your efficient and kindly staff our appreciation of their labours on our behalf, whose evident care and forethought has resulted so much to our comfort. We would also wish through you to express our thanks to your passengers by whose liberality and kindness our crew have been relieved from the necessity of landing in a destitute condition. Assuring you that the large hearted humanity which you have shown us will ever remain green in our memories, we wish you and your noble ship's company a long and prosperous career.
Geo. S. Murray, Maser
Thomas Lamb, Chief Officer
Jno. R. Williams, Chief Engineer
Richard D. Freeman, Surgeon.
Albert Brandt, Purser
Charles Massey, On behalf of the Second Class Cabin Passengers
John R. Craig, On behalf of the Steerage Passengers"
The passengers of the Spree also raised a good sum of money for the crew of the Abyssinia as they had lost
everything. On Feb. 10, 1892 when the Spree arrived at Southampton on a voyage from Bremen to New York
she was boarded by an agent of the Guion Line who presented Capt. Willigerod a gold watch and £200 to be
divided amongst the officers and crew in recognition of the assistance given to the Abyssinia.
The Spree was built by A.G. Vulcan in Stettin, Germany in 1890, during her career she broke her shaft twice
and had to be towed to port. In 1899 she was lengthened and renamed Kaiserin Maria Theresia. She was sold
again in 1904 to Russia and renamed Ural and converted into an auxiliary cruiser. On May 27, 1905 she was
sunk in the Battle of Tsushima by the Japanese.
© 2008 Michael W. Pocock
2006 Daily Event
2007 Daily Event