The Viking Disaster

          On the night of Sunday, March the 15th  a serious explosion occurred on board the sealing steamer “Viking” which was then in the ice about 9 miles from Horse Islands, White Bay.  The cause of the explosion has not been definitely ascertained but there is little doubt that it was the magazine which exploded, causing a large part of the stern to be torn away and setting the ship on fire.  The men in the cabin, galley, engine-room, and on the bridge were all either killed or badly injured whilst those comprising the majority of the crew whose quarters were forward were able to get out on to the ice, and, after the first shock, to return and provide themselves with clothing and some food.  The Captain (Abram Kean, Jr.) was blown off the bridge by the explosion and sustained severe injuries but was able to collect a party of men who placed him in a dory and dragged him over very rough ice a distance of 9 miles to Horse Island.  Johnson, the only master-watch of three left alive, placed the two badly injured men in another dory and started for Horse Islands with a party of about 20 men.  These men after 19 hours became exhausted and Johnson ordered them to make their way to Horse Islands and obtain help.  Three men, however, stayed with him and injured men until the following morning when there being no sign of relief these also were ordered to make their way to Horse Islands.  Johnson and the two injured men were eventually rescued on Wednesday morning by S.S. “Beothic” after being on the ice for two days and three nights.

            Three men, two of whom were badly injured, were picked up by the relief ship “Sagona” on Tuesday afternoon, having drifted 22 miles in a S.E. direction from the scene of the accident on a piece of the stern which was embedded in a ice pan.  The remainder of the survivors, after an arduous walk over very rough ice, were able to reach Horse Islands where the few inhabitants gave them shelter and such food as they had left of their winter store.

            Immediately on receipt of the news in St. John’s, the sea-going tug “Foundation Franklin” carrying a doctor and nurse was dispatched to the scene of the disaster, followed shortly after by the S.S. “Sagona” with doctors and nurses, medical supplies and provisions.  Having picked up the three men referred to above “Sagona” proceeded in the direction of Horse Islands but was unable to approach nearer than five miles on account of the close packed ice.  On Thursday, March 19th, doctors and supplies in dories from “Sagona” and “Imogene” were transported to Horse Islands over very bad ice and the following day the uninjured survivors were able to walk over the ice to “Sagona” but it was not till Saturday 21st March that it was possible to transport the remaining eighty badly injured men from the Island to the “Sagona” and then some time elapsed before “Sagona”  could get clear of the tight-packed ice.

            Of the 153 men carried in “Viking” 26 lost their lives at the time of the disaster and one died in “Sagona” on the way back to port.

            The whole area in the vicinity of the wreck was carefully searched by sealing vessels who had come to the rescue but only one body was recovered.

            A Commission with Sir William Horwood, Chief Justice, as Chairman, has been appointed to enquire into the cause of the disaster to S.S. “Viking”. 

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