The S.S. Southern Cross Disaster
Source: Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador
My family's connection to the Southern Cross is through my grandfather, Peter Cluney Bussey. His father, Joseph, and two of his uncles, Thomas and Alfred, were all lost on March 31, 1914 when she went down. Peter was an infant when the accident occurred so he never really knew his father. Thomas, at the very young age 18 years, had just married, and widowed, Esther Butler. Photos of Joseph and Thomas can be viewed via the Bussey Family photograph link on the Genealogy page of this site.
Built in Arendal, Norway in 1886, the Southern Cross served as a Norwegian whaler for eleven years under the name Pollux. In 1898 it was bought by explorer Carstens Borchgrevink. With engines and a new name it sailed on its first Antarctic expedition on December 19, 1898, and the next year made marine history by going through the Great Ice barrier to, the hitherto unexplored, Ross Sea. Sold to Daniel Murray and Thomas Crawford of Glasgow, Scotland, outfitted by Baine, Johnston and commanded by Darius Blandford, it was sent to the Newfoundland seal hunt in 1901 and was the first ship to arrive back in port with a full load (26,563 pelts). It went to the ice each spring for the next 14 years.
In 1914, with George Clarke of Brigus in command, the Southern Cross sailed to the Gulf of St. Lawrence with a crew of 173, mostly young and inexperienced sealers from Conception Bay. As it was not equipped with wireless its course, and ultimate fate, can be reconstructed only from other wireless messages and visual sightings. A March 29 report noted that the Southern Cross had passed Channel at 6:30 PM with all flags flying. At 11:00AM on March 31 it was sighted by the S.S. Portia (Captain Thomas J. Connors qv) about five miles west-southwest of Cape Pine. High winds and heavy snow had reduced visibility to nearly zero, and the Southern Cross, low in the water with pelts, could be seen only dimly. It answered the Portia's whistle, but was never heard from again. The S.S. Kyle qv, joined later by other vessels, was dispatched on April 3 to search for the missing sealer, but 20 days after the storm the Southern Cross was officially declared lost.
The Southern Cross disaster, with the loss of 173 crew, resulted in the greatest loss of life in any Newfoundland sealing disaster. A Sealing Commission, appointed to investigate the disappearance of the Southern Cross, could attribute it only to "An Act of God''. The intensity of the storm, the high bulwarks, the heavy load of pelts and a low-mounted engine were all thought by some experienced mariners to have contributed to the disaster.
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