SS La Bourgogne

SS La Bourgogne was a French ocean liner, which sank in a collision July 1898, with the loss of 549 lives. At the time this sinking was infamous, because only 13% of the passengers survived, while 48% of the crew did.[1] In 1886 she set a new record for the fastest Atlantic crossing by a postal steamer.

La Bourgogne, ca. 1895.jpg
SS La Bourgogne, circa 1895
NameSS La Bourgogne
OwnerCompagnie Generale Transatlantique
BuilderSociété Nouvelle des Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée, La Seyne-sur-Mer
Launched8 October 1885
Maiden voyage19 June 1886
FateSunk in a collision on 4 July 1898
General characteristics
Class and typeOcean liner
Tonnage7,395 GRT
Length494.4 feet (150.7 m)
Beam52.2 feet (15.9 m)
PropulsionSingle screw
Speed17 knots (20 mph)
  • 390 first class passengers
  • 65 second class passengers
  • 600 third class passengers


She was built in 1885 by Société Nouvelle des Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée, La Seyne-sur-Mer for the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique (French Line).[2] She was a 7,395 gross ton vessel, 494.4 feet (150.7 m) long and with a beam of 52.2 feet (15.9 m). She had two funnels and four masts, was of iron and steel construction, and propelled by a single screw giving a speed of 17 knots (20 mph). There was accommodation for 390 first class passengers, 65 second class and 600 third class passengers.


Launched on 8 October 1885, she sailed on her maiden voyage from Le Havre to New York City on 19 June 1886. In 1886, SS La Bourgogne traveled the Le Havre – New York transit in a little more than seven days. This gave the company first place in the New York postal service and ignited a competition for the record in the trans-Atlantic run. On 29 February 1896 she ran down and sank the anchored British steamer Ailsa, of the Atlas Steamship Company, at the entrance to New York harbour.[3] In 1897-1898 she was fitted with quadruple expansion engines and her masts reduced to two. She was also involved in a collision with the SS Toreador which suffered stern damage .[4]


Cromartyshire (ship).
Musical score from Le naufrage de La Bourgogne.

On 4 July 1898 shortly before five in the morning La Bourgogne collided with the British sailing ship Cromartyshire about 60 nautical miles (69 mi; 110 km) south of Sable Island near Nova Scotia during a dense fog.[5][6] The ship was apparently traveling at full speed despite visibility later estimated at approximately 20 yards.[7]

Captain Oscar Henderson of Cromartyshire was sailing sounding his fog horn and heard a ship's whistle but was unable to determine its direction. His ship collided with La Bourgogne about midships on the starboard side while most passengers were asleep in their compartments.[5] The liner's compartments adjacent to the collision point filled immediately, starboard side lifeboats were damaged and the ship took a sharp list to starboard making launching of port side lifeboats difficult.[5] As the ship started to list and the stern went under, an undisciplined rush for lifeboats began.[8] La Bourgogne sank just over half an hour after the collision. The Cromartyshire survived the collision minus the bowspirit,[9] but her crew mistook the La Bourgogne's whistle and signal rockets for an offer of assistance, and they did not realize what was happening until the whistle fell silent.

Around 5:30 am, the fog thinned out, and the crew of the Cromartyshire spotted and began rescuing survivors from La Bourgogne.[8]

At the time, La Bourgogne was carrying a total of 726 people (506 passengers and 220 crew), of whom 549 were lost, including Turkish wrestler Yusuf İsmail, the American instructor/sculptor Emil H. Wuertz, French artist Léon Pourtau, American painter De Scott Evans, an Armenian Orthodox priest, Rev. Stepan Der Stepanian, his wife and three children,[10] wife and daughter of John Forrest Dillon, the wife and child of George Deslions, and three members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Of the 173 survivors, fewer than 70 were passengers, with only one woman rescued out of approximately 300 on board.[7] All children perished. Almost all first class passengers died in the disaster, with survivors largely limited to steerage passengers and sailors.[7] According to survivor accounts, the ship's officers remained at their posts after the collision, with all officers except for the purser failing to survive.[7]

Following the disaster sensational reports circulated that the crew had refused to aid passengers in the water, to the point of stabbing them or hitting them with oars.[8] Surviving crew members required police protection upon their arrival in New York and the French government covered up the tragedy.[1]


  1. ^ a b Looker, Janet (2000). "Disgrace". Disaster Canada. Lynx Images. pp. 38–39. ISBN 1-894073-13-4.
  2. ^ Eugene Waldo Smith (1978). Passenger ships of the world, past and present (2nd ed.). G. H. Dean. p. 139.
  3. ^ "An Atlantic Liner Sunk". The Standard. No. 22361. London. 2 March 1896. p. 3.
  4. ^ Damage to the "Toreador" drawing
  5. ^ a b c Marine Engineering: August 1898, p. 24.
  6. ^ 210 US 95 Deslions v. La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique,
  7. ^ a b c d "Six Hundred Lives Were Lost at Sea on July Fourth," Terre Haute Express, July 6, 1898, pg. 1.
  8. ^ a b c "550 Perish". Kansas City Journal-Post. 7 July 1898. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 22 March 2016 – via 2
  9. ^ Damage to Cromartyshire
  10. ^ Ashjian, Arten (1999). 19th Century Pioneer Armenian Churchmen in America: Profiles of the First Ten (1889-1899). Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. p. 30.


  • Frank Charles Bowen (1930). A century of Atlantic travel, 1830-1930. Little, Brown and Company. p. 189.
  • Marine Engineering (1898). "Loss of the French Liner La Bourgogne With 550 Lives". Marine Engineering. New York: Marine Publishing Company. 2 (August): 24–25. Retrieved 2 May 2015.

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Coordinates: 43°00′00″N 65°36′00″W / 43.0000°N 65.6000°W / 43.0000; -65.6000