The wreck of the SS Hermoine

There was plenty of drama along the Irish coast in the First World War, some of which was directly played out in the harbour, whilst others eventually washed up, or in this case was towed into, the harbour.  One such story is of the SS Hermione, a saga that continued to create problems long after the savagery of war had passed
The S.S. Hermione, originally called the Yarrawonga was almost 360 feet long, 4,011 tons and was  launched in 1891 by J.L. Thompson and Sons, Sunderland. She was purchased from the Blue Anchor Line by R.P. Houston & Company, (The British & South American Steam Navigation Co) Liverpool in 1903, renamed and used for transatlantic trade between Liverpool and the Argentine carrying frozen meat.
SS Hermione in better days.  Brendan Grogan collection
The Hermione was requisitioned by the British Admiralty in WW1. Whilst sailing from Liverpool to Buenos Aries in April of 1917, carrying general cargo including 57 horses, she became another statistic of the war.  She was badly damaged approx. 1½ miles south of the Coningbeg rocks, off Co. Wexford, by a mine which was laid by the German submarine, UC33.  Three sailors lost their lives, but I’m not clear as yet whether it was because of the mine, or her foundering (presumably the former).
She was towed into Waterford Harbour by an escort ship, HMS Daffodil and was anchored off Ardnamult Head (Ard na Moilt) above Dunmore East.  Whilst there she sank on 14th April 1917. But this was not before in a very capable act of seamanship, Captain Spillane of the Clyde ship SS Arklow (previously SS Dunbrody of the Waterford Steamship Co) managed to come alongside in hazardous sea conditions and remove the horses.*
HMS Daffodil © IWM (FL 9965)
It would appear the wreck caused immediate problems for shipping and navigation (and was probably not a great help to fishermen either). An article in the local papers of July 1917 stated that Mr Watt of the Clyde Shipping Co had complaints from the masters of their steamers about the position of the wreck and claimed it was a hazard to shipping.  The Harbour Commissioners obviously agreed, as they were in the process of placing a whistling and lighted buoy over the wreck, having secured it from the Commissioners for Irish Lights.  In November that same year ads appear in several papers looking for a salvage operator to remove the impediment to shipping.(1)
SS Hermione at her final resting place.  Brendan Grogan collection
It turned into a long running saga however. A follow up court case of 1935 taken by the Harbour Commissioners against the British & South American Steam Navigation Co seeks a settlement of almost £6000 for marking the wreck and salvage costs.(2)  We learn of a number of failed efforts to get a salvor for the wreck including a contract in 1925 which ended when the contractor died. A follow up contract secured in 1928(3) we read was successful.  However, payment was outstanding to Waterford Harbour Commissioners, and from what I have read thus far, it appears it may have remained so.
An advert from 1917 (4)
As an interesting aside the Munster Express carried a report of the opening of a new maritime Museum in Waterford in December 1978.  One of the exhibits at Central Hall on Parade Quay was described as “2 wooden spoked wheels six feet in diameter from the SS Hermione salvaged in 1932 and donated by the Waterford Harbour Commissioners”(5) What I wouldn’t give to still have a Maritime Museum with us here in our area!
Update 20/11/2023:  Found this interesting piece on the claim for salvage by HMS Daffodil
(1) Waterford News & Star Friday 20th July 1917 page 2
(2) The Waterford Standard Saturday 3rd August 1935 page 11
(3) I did find advertisements in the papers of 1928, however Brendan Grogan has his grandfather’s diaries which show a date 1932 for the break up and removal.
(4) The Belfast Newsletter 24th Nov 1917 page 1
(5) Munster Express 29th December 1978 page 15
* added following publication 20/9/2018 from The Clyde Shipping Company. Frank P Murphy. Decises #38 Summer 1988 p29
I got the initial information about the SS Hermione from a post by Brendan Grogan on the Waterford Maritime History facebook page which sent me off looking for more background to the story.  I’m indebted to Brendan for the ship photos and his ongoing support.
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4 Replies to “The wreck of the SS Hermoine”

  1. As ever, very interesting. Your mention of a Maritime Museum came as a surprise to me, as I had never heard of it. As you say, it is a pity there is no longer such a museum. With such a long history of maritime matters, surely Waterford should have a thriving maritime museum?

    1. I'd agree. I suppose you could well argue that there are elements of a maritime museum in all the current offerings but there is certainly enough content to have a stand alone museum. The previous museum lasted two years but failed due to lack of visitors and ability to raise funds from elsewhere to keep it going. I would think the former might be assured these days, but the latter might be challenging

  2. This morning I came across a remarkable set of documents that highlight part of the Royal Navy’s role in the salvaging of the SS Hermione. The following was written in September 1917 by the commanding officer of the Daffodil in support of a commission for the ship’s Chief Engine Room Artificer Thomas Alexander Reay:
    “SS “Hermione” was mined off Coningbeg. Her crew abandoned her and refused to remain on board as they said their ship was sinking and could not be towed in.
    “C.E.R.A. Reay went on board in charge of a party of volunteer stokers.
    “Raised steam on main engines, kept pumps going and steam steering gear and enabled Hermione to be towed safely to Dunmore Bay where she was anchored at 8.00pm, sinking during the night.
    “This duty was performed in a strange ship, in a minefield, and when the engineers of the Hermione refused to go on board their own ship.”

    Although CERA Reay did get his commission, the ship’s owners only offered the salvage team £100, on a cargo valued by customs at £60,000. This then went through solicitors until at least 1920 as CERA Reay and the stokers tried to get fair recompense, Sadly the trail runs cold at that point as this is the end of the correspondence in the letters I purchased…

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