The Viking

Built in Arendal, Norway in 1881 she was 154 feet long, 31 feet wide and 18 feet deep with a displacement of 310 tons. From 1904 to 1930 she had made her annual voyage to the seal fishery, for the greater part of the time to the Golf.

Years               Captains                                   Voyages                                   Seals

 1904-26           W. Bartlett                               23                                            234,997
1927                G. Whitley                                1                                              10,379
1928-29           I. Barbour                                2                                              11,652
1930                R. Badcock                              1                                              13,313
Total                                                                                                                270,341


The Viking had a couple of close encounters before according to stories in the Daily News

Daily News, March 26, 1910

A message reached town from St. Pierre to the effect that the S.S. Viking had gone ashore near there and that her chances of getting off were slight without assistance…

Daily News, March 28, 1910

The S. S. Viking, Captain William Bartlett, reached port at 6:30 p.m. Saturday with 24,000 prime young harps. The Viking was on shore at the north-east corner of Miquelon…but came off without damage and without assistance…

The Evening Telegram, April 5, 1930

S.S. Viking, Captain Badcock, returned from the northern ice-fields at 6:15 Saturday evening hailing for a catch of 12,000 seals. The Viking left the ice on Friday last, 30 miles south-east of the Funks and after making open water a storm from the north-east was encountered. Seas swept the deck of the Viking almost continuously and carried away several barrels of flippers which belonged to members of the crew. The captain and men were delighted when port was reached…

This was the last item in a local paper with respect to an arrival of the Viking from the ice fields.

In 1930, Varick Frissell came to Newfoundland to make the first sound film shot in Canada titled The Viking. He began his shooting on board the Ungava but was not satisfied with the results and later that spring chartered the Viking. Still not satisfied he returned in 1931 to join the Viking on its regular trip to the Front.

She sailed on March 9 with Captain Abram Kean Jr. in command. By March 15 she was caught in the ice near Horse Islands and that night the ship’s powder magazine exploded. Twenty seven men were killed including Varick Frissell and his cameraman, A. E. Penrod.

The event made for high drama like no other event before because of the news flash by wireless from an isolated island off Newfoundland’s northeast coast – that an unidentified sealing vessel had blown up during the night and was still burning – carried with it an element of mystery. The periodic messages from the wireless operator, Otis Bartlett, describing the journey of the survivors over the ice to Horse Islands had all the elements of a great story.  The rescue by the Sagona – sent from St. John’s with supplies and medical help – of three half dying men from a pan of ice 23 miles from where the disaster occurred. Plus there was the international interest as there was a three man film team from New York on the ship.

The Beothic, one of the sealing ships, played a prominent role in the rescue of two of the injured, who had spent nearly three days on the ice being looked after by a master watch who had refused to leave them.

One body of the 28 missing was found, in spite of an intensive search by ship and plane. The Sagona arrived in St. John’s on March 24 with the survivors, the injured and the dead.

During the summer of 1931 the Government of Newfoundland set up a commission to inquire into the cause of the disaster. The only definite conclusion of this commission was that the Viking was destroyed when its magazine exploded. The report indicated that blasting powder stored in the magazine had been handled carelessly.

Excerpts from the book Sealing Steamers by John Feltham published by Harry Cuff Publications Ltd. St. John’s 1995

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