Samson (1888-1945)

The steam tug was built by the Earle’s Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Yorkshire in Victoria Dock, Hull.  The Earle Brothers had started out as manufacturers of cement, before becoming millrights, general founders and general smiths who moved into shipbuilding with the advent of iron ships.  To begin with they kept hold of the Samson for their own use, but when the company went bust in 1900 she was sold off with all their other assets.

Samson was bought by the Falkland Islands Company and steamed into Stanley for the first time on the 21st July, 1900, by way of Montevideo.  Her crew of 11 were under the command of Captain D. Rees.  She had a 3-cylinder 60 horsepower steam engine driving a single screw propellor and a registered tonnage of almost 32 tons. Her principal job was to aid ships that were either in distress or needed towing into harbour for repairs.  During her 45 years in the islands, she took part in many notable maritime incidents and rescues. 

Key Facts:

Steam-powered tug

Built: Victoria Dock, Hull, England
Size: 95 feet long, 18 feet wide
Launched:  April 1888
Fate: Blown ashore by a gale

Her most famous rescue mission came in 1912 when the Mail ship, the SS Oravia, struck Billy Rock on the evening of November 12th with 411 passengers and crew on board.  Together with her fellow steam tug, the Plym, Samson and her crew of 10, now under the command of Henry Thomas, rushed to the scene to find the Oravia firmly grounded and lying with her port side clear of Billy Rock.  A South-South_West gale was blowing and there was a snowstorm too.

At around 11:15pm, Captain Thomas bravely put his tug alongside the stricken vessel’s starboard side. A gangway was lowered and  the entire rescue took just 45 minutes and Samson was steaming back towards Stanley by midnight.

Oravia passengers who had taken to lifeboats were picked up by a whale catcher and one lucky soul was rescued by the manager of the Falkland Islands Company, William Alfred Harding, who was on board the Plym.  He had joined the second tug to help with the evacuation and had jumped aboard the Oravia to see what paperwork and mail could be saved.  Whilst collecting the ship’s registered papers, he came across a young male passenger, who he found “asleep”.

Having dropped the people they had saved in Stanley, Thomas and Samson quickly made a second trip to the wrecked Oravia, towing the lighter Nimrod and a jetty gang behind her to collect passengers’ baggage and anything else of value that could be salvaged.  With daybreak came an attempt to haul the Oravia from the rocks and beach her in nearby Sparrow Cove.  Samson and two whale catchers fastened hawsers to the Oravia but even at full power they could not shift her.

Later, whilst making a third trip to the wreck, to collect yet more goods and cargo, Samson almost came a cropper herself, when her anchor became firmly stuck on something below.  Fortunately, the storm had abated sufficiently for a diver to be sent down and he discovered that the anchor was fouled in the rigging of at least two sunken wrecks lying below the Billy Rock.   The anchor chain had to be severed to free the Samson.  Conditions on the Samson during this rescue mission must have been horrendous, as she only had six cabin berths.  Most survivors had to huddle on her freezing deck.

The running aground of the Oravia was a disaster, albeit one without human casualties, and an official board of inquiry, held in Stanley, blamed the vessel’s Master, Walter Croker Poole, for making ‘mistakes’ and ‘errors of judgment’ that led to the grounding and he was ‘severely’ censured and ordered to pay “one half” of the costs of the investigation and inquiry.  It would have been much worse had the crews of the Samson and Plym not acted so quickly and decisively.

The tug’s crucial involvement in the Oravia rescue was recognised by the Falkland Post Service when it issued a £1.20 stamp showing the wrecked vessel on the night of November 12th with the Samson in the foreground.  The Service also issued an 8p stamp showing the Oravia as a Mail Ship before she ran aground.

During the First World War, between 1914 and 1918, Samson was used as a patrol ship whenever the Royal Navy were in or around Stanley.  She would also be used to ferry the warships’ crews to and from the Public Jetty in the harbour.  Post war the tug’s activities were far more mundane and in February 1921 a decision was made to replace the Samson, and the Plym, with a smaller but more powerful tug, the Kelp.

In her Falklands’ ‘career’ of 23 years as a tug boat, Samson took part in more than 40 major shipping incidents and major towing jobs involving some of the most illustrious and famous ships in the world.  Including three vessels that have become Falklands’ legends: SS Great Britain, Garland and Lady Elizabeth.

In 1905, Samson steamed to the Stanley Public Jetty to raise the alarm in the town after Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship caught fire in the harbour.  In 1910 she towed the former three-masted 600 ton Barque, the Garland, by then a hulk, from Stanley to Darwin and, in 1913, she recovered the three-masted, 1,200 ton Barque, Lady Elizabeth, from the Volunteer Rocks after she had been holed after running aground.

In 1924, the Samson’s days as a tug were finally ended when she was officially converted into a lighter, to helpload and unload bigger ships at anchor.  When a huge gale struck Stanley on Easter Monday, 2nd April 1945, Samson was one of a number of vessels that broke free from their moorings and ran aground.

The storm is sometimes referred to as the ’40 chimney pot gale’, after the wind roared through the town as well.  Samson along with the Plym and Afterglow were blown down the harbour as their lines were severed.  Afterglow grounded opposite the entrance to the Narrows, the Plym beached at the north end corner of Whalebone Cove and the Samson fetched up on the northeast side of Stanley Harbour, within sight of the Lady Elizabeth, the ship she had towed off the rocks 32 years previously.

135 years after she was launched in Yorkshire, Mark Spicer’s aerial drone footage shows us all that is left of the once powerful tug.

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