SOUNDER JUNE 2011 Page 48

Sno-Isle Genealogical Society

The Sounder
Volume 25, Issue 2
Second Quarter, 2011

Serving Snohomish and Island County Genealogists
for over Twenty Years

Sounder Banner Graphic by David Raney

*** The Sinking of the Admiral Sampson ***

by Betty Lou Gaeng

          Outbound from Seattle with Alaska her destination,  Pacific Alaska Navigation Company’s 296 ft. luxury steamship Admiral Sampson was slowly underway at a reduced speed of three knots as she made her way through a thick bank of fog shrouding the waters of Puget Sound.  At the same time, a cloud of smoke from forest fires was adding to the near-zero visibility.  A few minutes past six o’clock on a calm Wednesday morning, August 26, 1914, as the Sampson was approaching Point No Point, about seven miles northwest and across the Sound from Edmonds, Captain Zimro S. MOORE was at the helm of his ship.  As a precautionary measure, members of the crew kept a sharp lookout.  In addition, the ship’s whistle sounded at frequent intervals.  

          At 6:15 a.m., suddenly looming out of the fog, Canadian Pacific Railway Company’s 300 ft. steamship Princess Victoria bore down on the Sampson.  Inbound to Seattle, also traveling at the speed of three knots, the Victoria rammed the Sampson broadside just aft of amidships.  The Victoria with her knifelike steel bow sliced through the Sampson almost cutting her in half.  Within four minutes the Sampson sank.  The only reason she stayed afloat that long was because she was supported by the bow of the Victoria which was caught in the gaping hole where the Sampson’s aft hatch had been located.  This position allowed some of the Sampson’s passengers to climb to safety over the railing onto the deck of the Victoria.

          Immediately following the collision, the Victoria’s lifeboats were lowered.  The passengers still left on the deck of the Sampson, most of whom had been asleep in their berths, either jumped or were thrown into the water and then taken aboard the Victoria’s lifeboats.  The rescue efforts faced more difficulties as flames were spreading from a fire which started when several large fuel oil containers were crushed. 

          Meanwhile, the Sampson was able to lower only one lifeboat.  Captain MOORE ordered that the passengers be dropped overboard and they were then picked up by the crew.  Captain MOORE remained at his post and refused to leave, even though there was time to do so.  He shouted to the crew to pull away, that he would stay with his ship.

          After the completion of rescue efforts, the Victoria pulled back from the wreckage.  Without the support of the other ship, the Sampson broke in half.  The forward section of the ship immediately sank.  Another disaster then appeared imminent as the aft section of the Sampson remained in the water before she sank and, with terrific force swung toward the Victoria, barely missing her.  One of the Victoria’s rescue boats was almost swamped as the hulk of the Sampson then plunged under the waters of Puget Sound.

          On board the Princess Victoria at the time of the collision most of the passengers were still in their berths.  Feeling a slight bump, they began to get up and dress.  By the time they arrived on deck, the Sampson had already disappeared beneath the water.  On deck some of the early arrivals had put on life vests and the late-comers laughed at their concern over what seemed to be a minor accident.  When told what had actually happened, their smiles soon disappeared.

          When the SOS call was received at Port Townsend, the revenue cutter Unalga left immediately for the collision site.  By the time she arrived at the scene, there was nothing to be done.   

          The captain and crew of the Victoria made sure all those in the lifeboats or still in the water were taken aboard his ship.  With a 14-foot rip in her bow about a yard above the waterline, the Victoria slowly made her way to Seattle.  Arriving in Seattle about 10 a.m., she pulled into Pier One where a welcoming crowd greeted her.  It was soon discovered that inside the hole in the Victoria’s bow was a piece of the hatch combing from the Sampson, evidently torn off as the other vessel sank. 

          During questioning later in the day, the survivors all reported that the crew and officers remained calm and efficient throughout the entire ordeal.

          The first report by the United States Shipping Commissioners was that the Admiral Sampson was carrying 55 passengers and 65 crew members and that eight of the crew and three passengers went down with her.  Later, more accurate reports showed the Sampson was fully loaded, with 160 passengers on board.  Seven of those passengers went down with the ship.  A total of 16 deaths resulted from this maritime accident, not 11 as first reported. 

          Reported passengers lost on the Admiral Sampson were: 
    G. W. BRYANT, a painter, 42237 Rainier Avenue, Seattle.  He was on his way to Seward, Alaska.

    Mrs. George BANBERRY, 118 John Street, Seattle.  She was the wife of a clerk in the offices of the Grand Trunk Pacific Telegraph Company of Canada.

    William KLOVITCH
    J. H. CLINE
    Unknown second class passenger
          The captain and six crew members from the Sampson lost when she sank were:
    Captain Zimro S. MOORE of Port Townsend.  Husband of Josephine (JACKSON) MOORE, married 12 years.

    A. J. NOON, age 36, chief engineer.
    L. CABARANAS, third cook.
    J. G. WILLIAMS, mess boy.
    Miss M. CAMPBELL, stewardess.
    C. M. MARQUIST, quartermaster.
    A. SATER, night watchman.
    Walter E. REKER, age 20, first wireless operator.  He lived with his sister Mrs. Clayton (Emma) SEAR at 712 Spring Street in Seattle.

          Another member of the crew, Ezra BYRNE, age, 38, assistant engineer, was badly burned and died in the hospital later that same day.  Caught in the wreckage, Captain Phil OBERT, pilot of the Sampson, was badly injured.

          Several years after the sinking of the Admiral Sampson, Popular Mechanics Magazine in a 1929 issue published an article entitled Signing Off – Heroes of the SOS.   One of the heroes included was the wireless operator on the ill-fated Sampson, Walter E. REKER.  The story told of how REKER stayed at his post until his calls were finished, even though the wireless operator on the less damaged Princess Victoria assured him that he would handle the calls for assistance. After completing his own SOS calls, REKER then assisted passengers into the lifeboats.  As the last loaded boat left, he reported to Captain MOORE on the bridge.  Standing side by side, they went down with the ship.  Walter REKER was only 20 years old.

          In the shadow of the Barge Office (Castle Garden) in New York Harbor, where from the lower end you can look out to sea, a memorial fountain has been erected.  This memorial is dedicated to 25 early-day wireless operators who refused to leave their posts and lost their lives at sea.  One of those names chiseled into the memorial is that of Walter E. REKER.

          The steam-powered luxury liner Admiral Sampson was built in 1898 by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  She was twin screw, 296 feet in length, with a beam of 36 feet, and 2,104 gross tons.  She had a single stack, a steel hull, and two upper decks constructed of wood.  The Sampson began her career as a passenger, fruit and mail carrier for the United Fruit Company.  After a few years of different mergers and ownerships, in 1906, she became part of the Alaska Pacific Steamship Company, which merged with Alaska Coast Company in 1912 to form the Pacific Alaska Navigation Company, the Admiral Sampson’s final owner.

          Canadian Pacific Railway Company’s luxury steamship Princess Victoria had a long useful life.  She was built at the Wallsend, Newcastle on Tyne shipyards of C. S. Swan and Hunter Company, England.  The ship was 300 feet in length, with a beam of 40.5 feet, 1,943 gross tons, with three stacks. Christened November 18, 1902, she arrived in Victoria on March 28, 1903.  At this time she was a coal burner.  She was later converted and began her run as an oil burner on April 4, 1912.  The Princess Victoria continued her Victoria/Vancouver/Seattle run until she was laid up in 1950.  In November of 1951, the one-time elegant passenger ship, now an old lady, was sold to Tahsis & Co. of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  She was then converted for use as a hog (bulk oil) carrier and renamed Tahsis No. 3.  She struck a rock and was lost March 10, 1953 in Welcome Pass, a narrow passageway located north of Vancouver along the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

          As shown from images taken during a May 2000 exploration dive, the Admiral Sampson lies in 320 feet of water off Point No Point; her hull in two pieces.  The wreckage is located in the southbound vessel traffic lane of Admiralty Inlet.  The bow, the larger section of the vessel, sits upright on the bottom, with the wooden top structure collapsed onto the steel hull.  The smaller stern section is twisted off to one side, with the deck at a 45-degree angle. 

          During the last two decades, the wreckage of the Admiral Sampson has attracted numerous divers and several artifacts from the ship have been recovered.


Tribune-Review, Edmonds, Snohomish County, WA, Friday, August 28, 1914.
“Signing Off—Heroes of the SOS,” Popular Mechanics, April 1929, vol. 1, no. 4, p. 649.
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