The Wreck of the SS Ville du Havre and the Death of Thomas Hammond

A member of the influential iron industrialist Hammond family, Thomas Hammond, the son of Charles F. Hammond, lost his life in a product of the iron industry. The SS Ville du Havre (originally called Napoléon III) was a French iron steamship. It was completed in 1865 by Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company, Limited of London. This same company had the distinction of building the world’s first all-iron warship, the HMS Warrior.

In 1871, the ship underwent renovations in England. It was made 60 feet longer, was converted from steam-powered paddle wheel to steam engine propulsion, and received a third mast.  In 1873, the steamship resumed her familiar Le Havre to New York route under her new name Ville du Havre.

In November of that year, the ship sailed from New York with 313 passengers on board.  Among them were Thomas Hammond, his wife, and their three children. At 2 am on Saturday 22, 1873, after a week at sea, the Ville du Havre collided with the iron clipper Loch Earn sailing out of Glasgow, Scotland. The captain of the Loch Earn could see the Ville du Havre approaching, raised an alarm, and attempted to navigate hard to starboard to avoid collision, but it was too late. The Loch Earn’s bow collided with the Ville du Havre and nearly split the ship in half. The passengers of the Ville du Havre were awakened, but reassured by the captain that the situation was not dire. He was wrong. Loch Earn seemed not to be in immediate danger, but Ville du Havre was sinking fast. Life preservers were easily accessible, but the lifeboats were mostly stuck in place by the drying of a recent coat of paint.  Some were loosened, but not enough. Two of the masts collapsed and smashed into lifeboats in the water, killing several passengers who thought they were safe. It only took 12 minutes for the Ville du Havre to sink, splitting in two as it went down, taking 226 souls down with her, among them, Thomas Hammond and his family.

Family members recalled Charles Hammond’s reaction to the death of his son, dying three weeks later in December 1873, from a suspected broken heart.


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