Historical Steamship Aberdeen


By James Donahue


She was a modest steamship by today’s standards. The Aberdeen was 3,616 gross tons and measuring 362 feet in length. But it went down in history as the first steamship of Scotland’s Aberdeen Line, later coming under control of the great White Star Steamship Line.


Actually the Aberdeen Line was in existence long before the Aberdeen was constructed in 1881. The company, founded by George Thompson in 1825, operated a fleet of sailing ships that specialized in passenger and freight service across the North Atlantic into Canadian ports along the St. Lawrence River.


Like her sister ships, the Aberdeen was constructed on a clipper hull. She was even rigged for sail with three masts, but also had a single funnel and single screw. The steamer offered accommodation for 45 first class and 650 third class passengers and was put into service between Europe and Australian ports. She began her maiden voyage to Capt Town, Melbourne and Sydney on March 30, 1882.


According to the publication Clippers for the Record, by Marny Matheson, the Aberdeen’s first captain was Charles Matheson, possibly a relative. Captain Matheson was killed in an explosion of the ship’s magazine room in 1884 during preparation for the ship’s fifth voyage to Australia. He was succeeded by Captain James Bradley.


The ship participated in what is remembered as a major migration of Europeans to Australia, and the arrival of passengers appears to have been major news to the people of that part of the world. One story in the Sydney Daily Telegraph reported the arrival of the Aberdeen in 1884. It noted that the single women on board were “mostly domestic servants, and are principally Scotch or Irish. There are very few English. The majority of the single men are laborers, and most of them hail from the Emerald Isle.


“The following is the classification: Assisted: 26 married couples and children; 26 single men, 107 single women.” Obviously there was a great deal of interest in the area in the arrival of single, unmarried passengers.


Another resource book, Ancestor Treasure Hunt by R. V. Pockley, describes one particular voyage from hell aboard the Aberdeen in the spring of 1885. Pockley writes that a relative, Frank Pockley, a surgeon, was the medical doctor aboard the vessel for the trip.:


“On the voyage of the Aberdeen there were over 1000 souls on board, including 230 children under 12 and 30 under one year. He (Frank Pockley) encountered measles, scarletina, diphtheria, typhoid, varicella, mumps, bronchi-pneumonia, whooping cough and infantile diarrhea. There were six births, including one weighing under three pounds by a woman in her third week of enteric, while she was unconscious and the nurse asleep. Frank found her in the morning in a pool of blood.”


Also on that voyage there occurred “a mutiny of single men, and an attempted murder. The ringleaders were put in irons for the rest of the voyage.”


The Aberdeen was a long-enduring ship. She was “modernized” with a complete refitting in 1892. Her foremast was the only mast left on the ship and she was equipped with electric lights and refrigeration. The Aberdeen Line was taken over by the White Star Line and Shaw Savill & Albion in 1905, although the line retained its own identity. That year the Aberdeen made her final trip to Sydney.


The steamer was sold in 1906 to the Turkish Government, was renamed Halep, and converted into a troop ship. It was used for both carrying troops and a ferry on the Black Sea. The Halep was destroyed by a British submarine in 1915 during World War I in the Sea of Marmora. The wreck was beached and later broken up.



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