The Night the Liner Died
“The White Star liner Republic, 15,378 tons, with 761 persons on board, and carrying a cargo of supplies for the United States battleship fleet, in the Mediterranean on its way home from Australia, collided in a dense fog, off Nantucket Island, with the Italian steamer Florida, carrying 800 immigrants to the United States. In response to ethergrams from the Republic, the White Star liner Baltic, 23,876 tons, arrived on the scene and attempted to tow the Republic to port. The Republic foundered, however, after all hands had been removed to the Baltic. A striking feature of the disaster was the bravery of John Binns, Marconi operator on the Republic, who stuck to his post and translated messages soliciting help from other steamers. His position was one of great danger, as the roof and sides of the deck-house, in which the ethergrapher was installed, threatened to fall at any moment. The Marconi operator on the Baltic also stuck to his post continuously for forty-eight hours, sending cheering messages to those on the Republic and communicating with the shore for assistance.”
The White Fleet homeward steaming — the Fleet we welcomed here ;
Wet-bowed, the White Armada plugged round the salty sphere.
The Suez Ditch behind them, they took their westward way,
What time the swift Republic nosed eastward through the spray.
With food and stores deep-laden, the White Star liner drave —
She took her way that Saturday to her deep ocean-grave !
The Nantuck light saw dimly the men who’d heard the Drum —
The great White Land that hailed them, the Drum that thundered “Come !”
The Florida from Naples, fair Naples by the sea —
She bore her living cargo to Port Prosperity !
With steerage overflowing, with decks and berths a-jam ;
From Naples Bay she took her way with Men for Uncle Sam !
With engine-rooms a-thunder, the Feeders east and west,
Their deep sea-ways steamed earnestly upon their Nation’s quest.
Up from the broad Atlantic the fog came drifting low —
Dread fogs the whaling-skippers from Martha’s Vineyard know !
Long Island’s lights were hidden, New York fog-shrouded lay
The night they struck — the night of pluck outside Manhattan Bay !
The Florida came crashing — the liner in her pride
Sent up her groan to heaven that night she bravely died :
She reeled — the great Republic, beneath the bitter blow ;
With plates a-burst, the liner went sobbing in her woe.
The White Armada waiting for needed food and stores —
She staggered slow beneath the blow by dim Manhattan’s shores !
She died — the brave Republic, but ere she went below
The swift Marconi message sped from the dynamo !
With dot-and-dash vibrating, with shoreward-racing “waves”
She brought the mighty Baltic to save them from their graves !
The patient hand of Science — it plays for keeps and wins ;
We hail him most who kept his post — the hero, Wireman Binns !
From ship to ship they whispered, thro’ fog and sleet and rain —
The man upon the Baltic and Binns, the hero plain !
Induction coils swift-flashing, “coherers” talking low —
They spoke the words of courage that night of sudden woe.
The armatures vibrating, the Morse tick-tacking through,
Each message met — from mast-head-net they caught each whisper true !
Now round the world their story goes flashing ’neath the sea —
How Science fought and conquered aye, saved humanity !
The White Fleet homeward steaming, it learnt how in the gale
The great Republic foundered, with food and stores and mail !
It cheered John Binns, the hero — the White Star blazed in pride —
Against the sky it flamed on high the Night the liner Died !
Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 199-202
ethergrams = wireless messages; also called Marconigrams, after Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor of radio
ethergrapher = a person who operates ethergram devices