Thursday, November 8, 2012

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 64

Six members of the crew, SS Elsa, Norwegian cargo ship

This postcard is slightly different than most of the ones posted previously in that it shows a group picture of people.  It should also be noted that the original card has been cropped to fit into an album so we are not able to see the entire setting.  It was very popular during the early 1900s to have a portrait or group picture like this taken in a studio or by a professional photographer and then have the studio print postcards so that the photo could be shared with a number of friends and acquaintances, even mailed to them.  It is hard to say exactly when this card was printed but the SS Elsa was built in 1904 and sunk in 1918 so it has to be within that time frame.  The card was found in one of Dick Thompson’s scrapbooks and unfortunately the people pictured are not identified but he did note the name of the ship.  I have not heard of Dick sailing but perhaps he knew one or two of the people in the picture as there are inked “X” marks by two of the individuals.

The Norwegian cargo ship, SS Elsa, 1904
[photo source: ]

The SS Elsa was a Norwegian cargo steam ship built in 1904 for the Norwegian African Australian Line of Oslo by the Tyne Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. Of Newcastle, England.  It sailed the world carrying cargo such as coffee, tea, rice, coal & coke.  The full crew would have been 28 members plus the captain. 

Here is a paraphrased account of what happened.  The ship was 335 feet long and had five holds.  On the last voyage she was carrying 2000 tons of coal, 200 tons of coke, and 600 tons of general cargo.  She left Calcutta, India in August 1917 bound first for a safety inspection in Sierra Leone.  This was during WWI so she then joined a convoy at Dakar and arrived safely at Falmouth, England in January 1918.  The captain, Johannes Woxholt, was told to divert to Plymouth and the ship remained there for three days.  For some reason he left the safety of Plymouth and headed out again up the Channel.  On 24 January 1918 a German U Boat torpedoed the Elsa.  The torpedo hit just behind the engine-room and the resulting explosion destroyed number 5 hold blowing the hatch covers sky-high.  One drawing I saw made it look as if the ship was almost split in half.  The captain ordered the crew into lifeboats and the ship went down stern first taking only 20 minutes to sink.  All crewmen were picked up by patrol launches and landed safely at Dartmouth.  The captain received a drubbing for disobeying orders to stay at Plymouth.  The entire incident resulted in suspended shipping between Plymouth and Portsmouth and created chaos along a big stretch of the channel. 

Reports from divers who have visited the underwater wreckage and additional information can be found at:

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