1931 Hamilton Waterfront Luxury Liner Inferno

December 7, 2011

Hamilton’s waterfront narrowly avoided being consumed in a raging inferno 80 years ago when a luxury liner caught fire while moored alongside Front Street.

To prevent the ship’s oil tanks igniting, the captain of the SS “Bermuda” sank her at her berth as the bridge and superstructure were burnt away .

Operated by the Furness Withy Line for its New York-Bermuda run, the SS “Bermuda” caught fire on June 17, 1931 when a blaze broke out in one of the ship’s elevator shafts.

Within an hour the flames had spread and three of the 20,000-ton vessel’s decks were ablaze.

“There was an explosion just before British sailors and marines [stationed on the island] arrived to assist the Hamilton fire brigade but it was quickly established that the blast was the sound of exploding distress rockets ignited by the flames which had eaten into the chart rooms,” said a contemporary newspaper account of the disaster.

“Bermuda” Captain Harry Davis helped to direct the firemen and flooded the oil storage tanks astern, causing the ship’s rear to settle on the harbour bottom.

It took three-and-a-half hours to get the fire extinguished.

“Tourists crowded the waterfront, watching the partial destruction of the handsome vessel which brought them here,” said an Associated Press report. “When they came too close, police and marines with fixed bayonets pressed them back from the danger zone for there was still a possibility that the oil tanks might explode from the blistering heat.

“Tugs played streams of water from the outboard side while firemen ashore turned their hoses into the flames. Four men were badly burned and taken to hospital but there was no loss of life and no passengers were aboard.”

Stranded passengers were taken to a Bermuda hotel until Furness Withy could detour another one of its liners to the island to collect them.

SS “Bermuda” was eventually salvaged and returned to her Belfast shipyard for repair where she caught fire again and was completely gutted. Furness Withy replaced her with “The Queen of Bermuda’” in 1933.

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Category: Accidents and fires, All, History

Comments (4)

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  1. For real says:

    Wow, thank you Bernews for this interesting piece of history.

  2. Allen Soares says:

    An amendment for your story on the MS Bermuda fire:, one person was killed, it was the assistant barber. There was one passenger on board a friend of Captain Davis, they had returned late from a night out at the Belmont Hotel. She was do to join the ship the next day, it was late so the Captain arranged for her to spend the night in a B Deck suite. The fire was first noticed by a policeman at 3:30AM on his beat on front street and noticed smoke comming from the stern of the ship, he went to the gangway and informed sailor on duty. Their were two fires discovered, one in the stern and one just forward of midship. When lady friend of the Captain awoke from the noise, she could not get out of her cabin, she managed jump from her port whole and swam to the ferry dock. The inquirery report suggested that it was arson but it was never proven. The inquirery report does not mention any exploding at all. Another small note the MS Bermuda was a motor ship and not a steam ship (SS Bermuda).

    Regards, Allen Soares

  3. nigel vickers says:

    Hi im the great grandson of the Barber his name was percy helm …his son cyril was also aboard and survived the fire. ..percy was buried in a unmarked grave until about 1995 when my grandmother returned to put a name on her fathers grave in bermuda

  4. David Woolley says:

    My father, a leading stoker at the time, Aubrey Bevil Woolley was serving on HMS Dehli which must have been nearby at the time as he was awarded a naval prize of £14.17.8 for his part in the rescue.
    This was recorded on his ships papers by the Captain, Bernard Warburton Lee who was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross when he died leading the attack at the first Battle of Narvik.
    David Woolley