The White Star Liner Adriatic: A Ship with a Curse, or just Numerous Cases of Negligence?

White Star Line Adriatic (1st) 1872-1899

Most people have heard of the "Curse of Tutankhamen." The legend began almost from the day tomb discoverer Howard Carter entered King "Tut's" burial chamber in March of 1923. The press of the day made note of a hieroglyph warning on a statue of Anabas at the entrance of "Tut's" tomb that read: "It is I who hinder the sand from choking the secret chamber. I am for the protection of the deceased."

Supposedly, at the same moment Carter entered the tomb, his pet canary was swallowed whole by a cobra in the tomb. Then expedition financier Lord Carnarvon dies from pneumonia, attributed to be secondary to an infection from a mosquito bite he received 7 days after Carter's entry into the burial chamber. The press failed to mention that Lord Carnarvon had been in poor heath for years prior to his death and prior to the discovery of Tutankhamen. It makes sense that if he had been previously ill and presumably immuno-supressed, that he would be susceptible to infection and die from pneumonia which had a high mortality rate in the 1920's. (Years before key antibiotics were developed.)

So, as the years went by, 26 additional people connected in some way to the Tutankhamen expedition that died (some of old age) were linked by the press to the "Curse of Tutankhamen." One must bear in mind that in this post "Victorian" era people were extremely superstitious.

Photo (left) of smoke stack man is a re-creation

There is a story of a woman preparing to board Titanic on the day of the maiden voyage sailing. (April 10, 1912) As she was crossing the gangway she looked up and noticed a coal stoker that had climbed up from inside the ships' dummy funnel (the 4th stack) and was sitting at the top watching passengers board. The woman immediately took this as a "bad omen" of the voyage yet to come, and refused to board the ship. After Titanic's sinking this woman must have become a sold-out firm believer in her predictions of the future and warnings of "bad omens."

Now we come to White Star Line's Adriatic. If there were ever a ship thought to be "cursed," this particular vessel would certainly fit the bill. It's interesting that there is no mention in newspapers or historical documents of anyone considering Adriatic to be a cursed ship and refusing to sail on her.

She was built in 1872 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast. The first of a pair, the usual habit of White Star when ordering ships, and was launched on October 17, 1871. During her fitting out by Aveling, Porter & Co., she was equipped with gas lamps in place of candles and oil lamps. This was brand new technology for the time. The gas was manufactured on board from coal but it proved to be a failure in heavy seas due to gas leaks and pipe fractures so the company quickly reverted to the use of oil lamps. Adriatic was the first ship to be equipped with this new gas-lighting system.

Adriatic was similar in configuration to the earlier Oceanic-class ships. She had a single funnel and four masts (highest of which was 150 feet) The hull was painted black, in typical White Star fashion, and she was built to accommodate, first class passengers and third class (or steerage) passengers  She was the largest of the current six White Star Line ships, and designated as the flagship; a title which she held until the Britannic came on board in 1874.

The Adriatic departed on its Liverpool to New York maiden voyage on April 11, 1872, under Captain Sir Digby Murray. Murray had commanded the maiden voyage of the White Star's first ship, Oceanic the year before.



Cunard vessel RMS Parthia





Adriatic peacefully worked her routes for two years without incident, then trouble began.


In October of 1874 while passing the Cunard Liner RMS Parthia leaving New York Harbor, Adriatic side swiped her. The damage was minimal to the Parthia, but when contact between the two vessels was made, one of the flukes on Adriatic's hanging anchors was pushed all the way through her hull. Being a bit close too the the waterline, Adriatic had to turn around and go back to New York for repairs.


In March of 1875, Adriatic was entering the New York Harbor and rammed the American Schooner Columbus ultimately sinking her.


In December of 1875, the Adriatic was passing through St. Georges Channel off the coast of Wales when she ran up on the Sailing vessel Harvest Queen and rammed her from behind. The accident resulted in the loss of the entire crew aboard the Harvest Queen. The Harvest Queen sank so quickly that the crew of the Adriatic couldn't even identify what boat they had run in to, and only a records search later showed who the victim had been.


On July 19, 1878, while near Tuscar Rock in South Wales the Adriatic collided with the brigantine vessel G. A. Pike, killing five of the Pikes crew. Blame was fixed on the Adriatic for excessive speed making her unable to avoid a collision.

In 1884, the Adriatic underwent a refit, and added accommodations for 50 Second Class passengers. Three year later, in 1897, she was considered too old for regular trans-Atlantic service, and was then laid up as a reserve ship. When the second Oceanic entered service in 1899, the Adriatic was sold for scrap.

It's interesting to note that of the four collisions Adriatic was involved in, she only had the same skipper in two of the events. The other two events involved different captains. Just bad luck? You decide.


Return to Home