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USS Merrimac on 23 April 1898
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Design: Cargo, 1894
Displacement (tons): 3,380 gross, 5,500 dwt.
Dimensions (feet): 341' oa, 330.1' pp x 44.0'
Original Armament: None
Later armaments: --
Speed (kts.): --
Propulsion (HP): --
Machinery: Triple expansion, 1 screw
||12 Apr 98
||Swan & Hunter
||29 Sep 94
||11 Apr 98
||3 Jul 99
||3 Jun 98
In September 1894 the East Yard of Messrs. C. S. Swan & Hunter, Wallsend-on-Tyne, England, launched the large steel screw steamer SOLVEIG to the order of Messrs. Christian Michelsen & Co. of Bergen, Norway. Her 5,500 deadweight tons made her the largest ship then under the Norwegian flag. In her design special attention was given to the expeditious manipulation of cargo, and 'tween decks of unusual height (8.5 feet) were provided to make the ship suitable for emigrant requirements of for carrying horses, cattle, or troops. Her engines were built by the North-Eastern Marine Engineering Co. of Wallsend.
In 1896, while lying at a wharf at Newport News, SOLVEIG caught fire from a nearby burning elevator. Tugs hauled her out into mid-stream and she was scuttled. The wreck was sold at auction for $48,000 to T. Hogan & Sons, managers of the Lone Star Steamship Line (Miami S.S. Co.). Hogan renamed her MERRIMAC and took her to the John N. Robbins Co., Erie Basin, Brooklyn, where she was rebuilt. Her new owners, in rebuilding her for their Lone Star Line, to comply with the law in order to get an American register, made improvements which they valued at three times what they had paid for her, making the total cost to them $192,000. She was transferred to American registry on 9 Dec 97 but did not enter service before the Lone Star Line shut down its New York-Galveston service in April 1898. (See IRIS, ex MENEMSHA, for the history of this line.)
On 12 Mar 98 the Secretary of the Navy appointed a Naval Board on Auxiliary Cruisers to select and purchase civilian vessels for Navy use in the impending war with Spain. The Board initially focused on potential auxiliary cruisers and on tugs and yachts, but by the end of March it also had orders to find six colliers, two repair ships, and two distilling ships. By mid-April the Navy had acquired the six colliers, SATURN, LEBANON, NIAGARA, STERLING, SOUTHERY, and MERRIMAC. However the New York Sun reported on 12 Apr 98 that "the Naval Board on Auxiliary Cruisers wishes the statement to be made that it had nothing to do with the purchase of the steamship MERRIMAC for a collier. The purchase was made by another board, and the board here knew nothing of it until it was announced in the newspapers." The reason for this disclaimer was that Hogan had sold her to the Government for $342,000, far more than her cost to him even including the allegedly inflated reconstruction costs.
The elaborate repairs went for naught when Commodore Schley in late May 1898 selected MERRIMAC, which was steaming in company with his squadron off Cienfuegos, Cuba, to carry out a daring attempt under Lieutenant R. P. Hobson to block the channel into Santiago de Cuba and trap Admiral Cervera's Spanish squadron inside. The attempt, made early in the morning of 3 Jun 98, was frustrated when a shot disabled her steering gear and she sank without obstructing navigation, although Hobson and his volunteer crew became national heroes. The wreck was eventually raised and scrapped.
||Ex merc. MERRIMAC, ex SOLVEIG (completed Nov 94). Scuttled in an unsuccessful effort to block the channel at Santiago de Cuba.
Compiled: 01 Jan 2013
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2013