Daily Event for March 11

In 1840 the British & American Steam Navigation Co. (Smith Line) had a new ship built. The President was 275' long and was 2,100 gross tons. A sidewheel steamer on which the future of the company depended. Even though the dreams of her owners had produced a beautiful ship, the ship was underpowered and proved to be a huge disappointment.

Her captain, Richard Roberts, who had been the master on the Sirius when it made the first ever scheduled trans-Atlantic crossing by a steamship from Britain to the USA, beating the Great Western into New York by only a few hours, was not impressed with his new charge. He called it a coffin ship. Her maiden voyage took 16 days in each direction and on her second she caused quite a commotion. She left New York and encountered less than favorable weather. In three days. she had made only 300 miles and would not have enough coal to make Liverpool. So she was turned around and put back into New York for additional coal.

This fact of course was not known in Liverpool since communication was made by way of ships. On Nov. 28 she arrived in Liverpool, ten days late but safe, much to the delight of her owners. She was laid up for two months for the winter and refit at Plymouth.

In February the President made her third crossing taking three weeks to reach New York. On March 11, 1841 she departed New York for the return leg back to Liverpool. She was carrying 136 passengers and crew and a heavy load of cargo and extra coal. Low in the water the President sailed head long into a fierce storm. On March 13 she was sighted by the Orpheus between Nantucket Shoals and George's Bank. The captain of the Orpheus reported that the President was fighting mountainous seas and appeared to be struggling against the waves. The ship disappeared from his view shortly after this.

The crew on the Orpheus were the last to ever see the President. Because of her late arrival the last time worries about her fate did not cause panic at the outset. But as time went on concern grew. Even the Queen ordered that she be alerted the moment news of the President was known. As late as May Junius Smith was still hoping against hope that his ship would return. Finally even he had to admit the President was lost.

For Smith this was the end of his company. His ship never lived up to his expectations and now with her loss the company went bankrupt. The only other ship he owned, the British Queen was sold.
© 2006 Michael W. Pocock

Portrait of President, artist unknown.


May 27, 2013

I'm trying to trace information with respect to my great great uncle John Roberts who was believed to have gone down on the steam ship 'President' on the journey from New York in March 1841. John Roberts originated from the village of LLanuwchllyn in the old county of Meirionethshire (now Gwynedd) in North Wales. He was believed to be a business man and would travel to and from Europe to America. Would appreciate any information or direction as to source.

Many thanks,
Hywel Roberts