Sisters: Surrey, Sussex
Builder: R. & H. Green, Blackwall
Launched December 23, 1881; maiden voyage 1882; wrecked September 26, 1886
Hull: length 330'; beam 40' 2"; 1,924 tons; wood/steel construction; schooner-rigged, 6 bulkheads, 2 of which were watertight, 194' double bottom.
Power: single screw; engine by J. Jack & Company of Liverpool
Registered in Harwich; official number 84027
The Suffolk was described in some detail in the Marine Engineer when it covered her launch:
Suffolk.—On December 23rd, the Suffolk (s) of 2,900 tons gross register, was launched from Messrs. Green's dockyard, on the Thames at Blackwall. The steamer has been built to the order of Messrs. Hooper & Co., of Lombard Street, and is, we believe, the first vessel of her class which has been constructed on the Thames. Her principal dimensions are ;—Length between perpendiculars, 300 ft. ; breadth moulded, 40 ft. ; and depth moulded, 31 ft. She has a bridge-house amidships 72 ft. long, covering the engine room and stoke-hole, and this house has been arranged for the accommodation of the captain, officers, and engineers, the crew and firemen being berthed in between decks forward. She is divided into seven watertight compartments and has a longitudinal bulkhead running fore and aft to prevent cargoes from shifting at sea. She will carry about 4,000 tons of dead weight in the hold, or 5,000 tons measurement. The double bottom is capable of holding 400 tons of water ballast. The upper deck and main deck are of iron, the upper-deck being planked with 3-inch pitch pine, and a tier of beams in hold. The cargo hatches are worked by four large diagonal steam winches, and the anchor by a powerful revolving crane, and a Davis steam windlass. The engines are by Messrs. Jack & Co., of Liverpool, to indicate 1,600-horse power, which will give the vessel a speed of almost 11 knots at sea. The Suffolk will class 100 A at Lloyd's. The ceremony of christening and launching was performed by Mrs. Hooper, wife of Mr. W. Hooper, one of the owners. Among the numerous company present were several members of Lloyd's Committee, with Mr. Martell, the chief surveyor, Captain Murrell, who has throughout superintended the building of the vessel, and many others.
On April 1, 1883, Marine Engineering noted this ship's trials. This article described her as beinf "designed to have a very large cargo carrying capacity, having nearly 206,000 cubic feet space between decks." It records that her cylinders were of 40 and 75 inches diameter with an 18-inch stroke, and that her boilers worked at a pressure of 80 pounds per square inch. Her two condensers were capable of providing 8,000 gallons of fresh water daily. "The scantlings and arrangement of iron work," noted the artice, "are to Lloyd's highest class, with extra strength on the topsides above the rules." "The following result was obtained on her trial," continues the writer, "viz, a mean speed of 11.8 knots on a draught of 13 ft. 4 in. The vessel was under the command of Captain Williams, and the trial was pronounced to be thoroughly satisfactory."
The Suffolk entered service in 1882 and for a year was chartered by the Royal Netherlands Steamship Company to augment its new Amsterdam to New York passenger/cargo service. She then spent most of her career sailing on the London to Baltimore line under the command of Captain William Henry Williams.
London-bound "on one of her regular runs" the Suffolk ran aground in fog right under the lighthouse on the Old Lizard Head on September 28, 1886. In addition to her cargo she was carrying two passengers, who were not regular fare paying travelers but "young gentlemen, friends of the owners." The crew of 38 and both of the passengers took to the lifeboats but they were unable to find a landing place and returned to the ship. Fortunately the local lifeboats had put to sea and were able to lead them safely to shore.
The ship and her cargo were abandoned. The Suffolk was carrying a general cargo consisting mostly of tobacco, wheat, and flour. In addition her decks were stacked with walnut logs, and 161 steers were penned on the foredeck. A salvage operation designed to recover the cargo began almost immediately but much of it was washed ashore and very few of the cattle survived. The stranded hulk of the Suffolk broke up, capsized, and sank in October 1886. The formal investigation into the incident determined that responsibility lay entirely with the master, Captain Williams, whose certificate was suspended for six months.
Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; www.divernet.com; http://archiver.rootsweb.com; The Ships List; Wreck of the SS Suffolk: Salvage, The Law and Inhumanity; Merchant Fleets in Profile 2; the Ships of the Cunard, American, Red Star, Inman, Leyland, Dominion, Atlantic Transport and White Star Lines, Duncan Haws, 1979