Daily Event for January 19

January 19, 1883 The Hamburg America liner Cimbria was rammed by the SS Sultan of the Hull Hamburg Line. The fog that contributed to the collision helped contribute to the appalling loss of life on the Cimbria. Cimbria was heading to New York from Hamburg with about 400 emigrant's from Russia, Prussia, Austria and Hungary departing on the 18th. During the morning hours of January 19 a dense fog moved into the area slowing the ships progress.

A whistle from an approaching steamship could be heard in the distance but, her position could not be determined by the crew of the Cimbria. Suddenly the bow of the Sultan broke through the fog only 150 feet off the port bow. With no way to avoid the collision the Sultan rammed the Cimbria just forward of the foremast, causing a fatal wound. The Sultan backed away from the Cimbria with substantial damage to her bows and taking on water fast.

On the Cimbria the situation was critical. Passengers awoke to find the ship dead in the water and listing badly. In twenty minuets the Cimbria would be lost but the crew managed launch seven of the boats. One however capsized upon launching. Even with the heroic effort of the crew the fate of most of those on the Cimbria was death. Only sixty five of the estimated 522 on board survived making the death toll something over four hundred and fifty.

The Sultan which had backed off into the fog, drifted some distance form the Cimbria and did not witness the disaster. The captain of the Sultan, concerned about the fate of his ship, decided to leave the area and therefore did not aid the stricken liner. This was in part due to his belief that the Cimbria could not have been that badly damaged and part due to the situation on his ship. The Sultan was taking on water at an alarming rate and the captain believed his ship was about to founder. A later inquiry found that if the Sultan had taken on one more foot of water she would have indeed sunk.

© 2006 Michael W. Pocock

SS Cimbria