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USS Iris circa 1909
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Design: Cargo, 1885
Displacement (tons): 2,723 gross, 6,100 displ.
Dimensions (feet): 321.0' oa, 310.5' pp x 39.0' x 24.0' mn
Original Armament: none (1898)
Later armaments: 2-6pdr (1899);
Speed (kts.): 10
Propulsion (HP): 1,320
Machinery: Vert. compound, 1 screw
||25 May 98
||22 Oct 85
||1 Aug 98
||2 May 16
||3 May 17
||31 May 17
In October 1885 the shipyard of A. Leslie & Co. (soon to become Hawthorn Leslie & Co.) at Hebburn, England, launched the iron-hulled cargo ship DRYDEN for the Liverpool, Brazil & River Plate Steam Navigation Co. of Liverpool, a subsidiary of the Lamport and Holt Line that operated out of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. In 1895 she was renamed MENEMSHA by new owners, the Mendota S.S. Co. of Liverpool, for whom she was managed by T. Hogan & Sons of New York. In 1897 she came under American registry as the property of the Miami S.S. Co. of New York (better known as the Lone Star Line), still managed by Hogan.
On 10 Jul 97 Hogan formed the Lone Star Line using the steamers MIAMI, MENEMSHA, and MATTEAWAN to contest the monopoly of the Mallory Steamship Co. over the freight trade to Galveston, Texas. The Morgan Line, which also shipped to Galveston, climaxed the rate war on 9 Aug 97 by cutting its rate on all freight between New York and Galveston to two cents per hundredweight, down from the usual 45 to 80 cents. Shippers rushed to take advantage of the nearly free shipping, and all three lines maintained busy schedules through the winter and following spring. Broadening the competition, MENEMSHA arrived in New York on 24 Jan 98 with the first consignment of live cattle that had ever come there from the Southwest or elsewhere by water. The livestock arrived in better condition than the shipments that came by rail, having been watered and fed three times a day by the cattlemen who had charge of them. Hogan had often taken cattle to Europe on the ships in the British branch of their service. Ultimately, however, the competition and the imminent clouds of war caused Hogan to shut down his service to Galveston, MIAMI concluding the final voyage of the service at New York on 16 Apr 98.
According to the New York Times on 26 Mar 1898, the Naval Board of Auxiliary Cruisers was to select that day two steamships for use as distilling ships, with distilling plants of enormous capacity, capable of supplying the drinking water for an entire fleet. Several vessels had already been considered for this work but no definite selection had been made. The Times elaborated on this requirement on 30 Mar 98. Reminding its readers that the Government was determined to secure two large vessels for exclusive use as distiller ships, it explained that such vessels would be practically new departures in naval warfare. No other navy had heretofore found it necessary to make use of them. Every U.S. warship was equipped with distilling apparatus capable of supplying water for drinking purposes, with a small surplus for use in the boilers. In operations conducted around Cuba, however, it would be necessary to distil drinking water for the crews of all the small craft, such as tugs, colliers, lighters, etc. Besides this, a supply of fresh water to the boilers of all the big battleships and cruisers would enable them to remain at sea from one to three weeks longer than was possible under the present system of feed water supply. The Government therefore planned to fit out two vessels of about 3,000 tons register with enormous distilling plants run on the Baird system, which would have a combined capacity of about 40,000 gallons an hour of pure distilled water. This would be tanked, and from the sides of the supply vessel would be extended a huge hose, capable of connecting with and transferring a full supply of water to any other vessel of the fleet within a few minutes.
On 28 Mar 98 two Board members made an extended inspection of the Lone Star Line's MIAMI with the thought of purchasing her for use as a distiller ship or as a collier. An effort to re-inspect her on 5 Apr 98, this time for use as a distiller ship, was thwarted when it was found that she was not in port. On 6 Apr 98 Board members inspected the British steamship CATANIA (1881) and the MATTEAWAN (1893) of the Lone Star Line, the first for use as a distiller ship and the second as either a collier or a distiller ship, but both were found unsuitable and the requirement for two distiller ships remained unfilled. After the Ward Line suspended its sailings to Cuba on 8 Apr 98 the Board on 9 Apr bought one of its older ships, NIAGARA, which would probably be used as a water distilling ship but might be needed as a collier. She was later referred to as a collier and as of 13 Apr 98 the Navy still had an unfilled requirement for two distiller ships. On 16 Apr 98 the MIAMI returned to New York, having made the final trip of the Lone Star Line service to Galveston. Finally on 28 Apr 98 the press reported that the steamer MENEMSHA, also a Lone Star Line vessel, which was to be used as a water distilling boat, had just been renamed the IRIS. She had been sold to the Navy by the Miami Steamship Co.
IRIS was to have a storage capacity for fresh water (in tanks and double bottoms) of about 1,000 tons and would also carry about 2,500 tons of coal, allowing her to serve also as a collier. The distilling plant was to have a capacity of 60,000 gallons per diem as a multiple triple-effect apparatus when all the evaporators were in use, and the same capacity with the evaporators used singly, in case about one third should have to be laid off for repair. When working triple effect, it was expected to get about 20 pounds of water for each pound of coal burned in the boilers. The plant consisted of four triple effect units, each of which includes three evaporators and a condenser, with the necessary pumps. The plant was built by M. T. Davidson, the well-known builder of pumping and evaporating machinery, who was the lowest bidder in the competition. He was to deliver it ready for erection at the Norfolk Navy Yard.
Due to the length of time needed to produce the distilling plant the war closed before the IRIS was completed, but she was used to supply fresh water to the army at Camp Wikoff on Montauk Point in September 1898 and was then detailed to accompany the battleships IOWA and OREGON to the Pacific in October 1898. Upon the recommendation of Engineer in Chief Melville of the Bureau of Steam Engineering a second ship, the RAINBOW, was selected as a distilling ship, with a duplicate plant to that of the IRIS. Melville recommend these two ships be kept in good order at all times and ready to be sent with a fleet.
IRIS departed New York on 14 Oct 98 for the Philippines with the battleships, arriving at Manila on 18 Mar 99. She supported the Asiatic Squadron during the occupation of the Philippines and during the subsequent insurrection. On 24 Mar 99 at Manila she received 2-6pdr guns from USS BUFFALO, which were removed at Cavite in January 1900. Decommissioning for repairs at Hong Kong on 31 Jan 00, she resumed duty in May. IRIS sailed for home in the fall of 1903 arriving at San Francisco on 13 Nov 03 and decommissioning at Mare Island Navy Yard on 18 Dec 03. After an overhaul she was placed in service with a merchant crew as a collier for the Asiatic Squadron, and for the next 5 years she fueled United States vessels in the Orient. She departed Manila on 20 May 09 for San Francisco.
IRIS was then assigned to duty as a parent and supply ship for the Pacific Torpedo Fleet replacing the gunboat YORKTOWN. She was placed out of service at the Mare Island Navy Yard on 15 Oct 09 and immediately placed in commission, exchanging her merchant crew for a Naval complement. During the following years she served as tender for the Pacific Torpedo Fleet operating off the West Coast of the United States. Decommissioned in May 1916, she was transferred to the Shipping Board in May 1917 for use as a merchant marine training ship. As such she probably carried an armament of 3-3"/50 and 2 machine guns during World War I. Retaining the name IRIS she continued in merchant service until 1928.
||Ex merc. MENEMSHA, ex-DRYDEN 1895. Merc. IRIS 1916, scrapped in 1928.
Compiled: 01 Jan 2013
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2013