Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Last Voyage of Castor

One hundred and seventeen years ago, little known steamship S.S. Castor vanished with her entire crew and passengers on her second journey from Greenland to Copenhagen. She was never heard from again and was never found.

Screw steamer Castor was built in 1886 by O. M. Olsens in Arendal, Norway. She was 145’3 ft long, with a beam of 30’8 ft and 17’6 ft in depth. Her hull was built from Oak and Pine. 

S.S. Castor

Because her shipyard had been bankrupt, Castor remained uncompleted until 1889 when O. B. Sørensen bought her. In 1893 the ship was purchased by A/S Oceana in Sandefjord and for the following year partook in Norwegian explorer Carl Anton Larsen’s [07.08.1860-08.12.1924] first expedition to the Antarctic Ocean alongside barques Jason and Hertha. Larsen discovered uncharted land and islands during this voyage, including Foyn Coast, Robertson Island and Oscar II Coast.

Hvidbjørnen in Julianehaab
In Februar 1896 Castor was purchased and transferred to Denmark by the Royal Greenlandic Trading Company (Den Kongelige Grønlandske Handel). She was intended to serve as a replacement for screw steamer Hvidbjørnen that had been lost a year earlier. Hvidbjørnen was trapped in cliffs off Nunarsuit, Greenland, on April 12, 1895 and was crushed by icebergs. She sank in waters no deeper than 8 fathoms, and was evacuated with no loss of life. Some of her former crew was rehired for Castor.

Castor sailed from Copenhagen to Julianehaab for the first time on March 15, 1896. She safely returned two months later, and prepared for her second journey.  On August 21, 1896, she set sail to Greenland once again. On board were twenty crewmen, lead by the experienced Captain Sartor. The steamer arrived at Julianehaab [Qaqortoq] on September 28, and for the coming week her cargo was unloaded and loaded with Greenlandic goods. Five passengers boarded Castor in Julianehaab, including one woman and two children. 

Captain Sartor
The steamer set sail on October 7, at 6 o’clock, and was reported to have safely exited the bay. She was headed towards the Danish colony of Ammasalik in the eastern coast, her last stop in Greenland. Several weeks later, when she had not yet arrived in Copenhagen, it was calmly assumed that Castor had been forced to winter in this remote town, and she was listed accordingly in the protocols. Consequently, she was expected to arrive at Copenhagen in Spring. When she failed to show up, an order was given out to ships Ceres and Thorvaldsen heading for Greenland to collect information about Castor's whereabouts. Only in October 1897 did word arrive from Ammasalik - Castor had docked there, but she left shortly after. This confirmed what had long been feared: Castor had been lost at sea. The twenty five crewmen and passengers were announced dead, and the ship was heavy-heartedly crossed out from the protocol.

But the death toll did not end at that. According to stories, grief stricken Georg Valdemar Rassow committed suicide in 1898 by casting himself overboard where he believed his wife and two young children had drowned. He had sent them to Denmark for schooling. Tragically, many of the crewmen on board the steamer were married and had children. To this day, no one knows the exact fate of the Castor. It is believed that she sank somewhere in Baffin Bay after colliding with an iceberg. 

Known crew members:

Captain Claus Bonde Sartor [08.09.1845 Åstrup - 10.1896]

1st Officer Jens O. P. C. Berentz [ - 10.1896]

1st Mechanic I. O. A. Jørgensen [ - 10.1896]

Sailor Sophus Petersen [ - 10.1896]

Known passengers:

Carl Ringsted [15.05.1863 København - 10.1896]

Agnes Kirstine Johanne Rassow née Hansen [ - 10.1896]

Rassow (child) [ - 10.1896]

Rassow (child) [ - 10.1896]

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