Ships 2


Ships 3


The Great Norge Disaster Of 1904


By James Donahue


The sinking of the Danish steamship Norge in the North Atlantic and the loss of 635 passengers and crew members has held the distinction of being among the worst peacetime disasters in Denmark’s naval history.


It happened on June 28, 1904, as the 24-year-old vessel, carrying over 700 emigrants making their way from Scandinavia to New York, got in fog and collided with Rockall, a massive rock formation in mid-ocean.


The collision happened in the early morning hours when most of the passengers were still in their beds, or were just beginning to stir.


One survivor, Peter Nelson said he was awake and lying in his bunk, waiting for breakfast, when he heard “a slight bump followed directly by another bump. I rushed on deck and saw at once that something serious had happened.”


Nelson survived because he wasted no time getting in a lifeboat that was successfully lowered before the steamer sank. Other attempts at lowering boats ended in disaster, however, with the boats smashing against the side of the leaning hull.


It was said that the Norge came to an abrupt stop, its crushed hull embedded for a time in the rocks. If the lifeboats had been lowered then there would probably have been more survivors. But the master, Captain Valdemar Joh Gundel, ordered the engines in reverse, backed the vessel out into the open sea, where it quickly sank. Gundel did not realize that the rocky reef had literally ripped open the bottom of the steamer.


Nelson said that after the steamer backed off the rock, “she filled so fast that in ten minutes . . . the deck of the ship was level with the sea. In another ten minutes the stem was completely under water. It was a terrible sight to see the struggling passengers and to hear their distressing cries. The sea at that time was one mass of struggling folk, men, women and children gasping and choking in the water.”


Out of 795 passengers and crew members, only 160 survived. Some of them were picked up by the Cerwona, a British merchant ship, while the occupants of another boat were rescued by the Silvia, a fishing boat.


Other lifeboats reached the Outer Hebrides. The survivors were cared for in Stornoway. They said nine of these died after reaching land and are buried in Sandwick Cemetery, on the island.


Rockall, which is charted, remains to this day a dreaded obstacle to vessels on the North Atlantic. It is a rock formation that is too small to be classified as an island. It measures 100 by 83 feet, and juts about 65 feet in the air. The Norge is not the only vessel claimed by Rockall, but it was the deadliest incident of them all.


Captain Gundel survived the disaster. A board of inquiry later acquitted him of any wrongdoing that either caused the disaster, or the extensive loss of life.


The steamer was built in Glasgow in 1881 for Theodore C. Engels & Co. of Antwerp, Belgium. It was christened as Pieter de Coninck. It had a capacity for carrying up to 800 passengers.


The ship was sold to the Scandinavian-American Line in 1889 and renamed Norge.