The last of the Mohegan

In The National Archives’ BT27 passenger lists there is only one voyage for the Atlantic Transport Line’s Mohegan, on 12th October 1898, even though that voyage was actually the ship’s second. The reason for this is that the Mohegan was called the Cleopatra at the time of its first voyage on 29th July 1898. The Cleopatra proved less than shipshape on its maiden voyage, passengers complained and it had to undergo temporary repairs when it reached its destination in New York, followed by a full re-fit on Tyneside upon its return to Britain. When the ship was re-launched, the Atlantic Transport Line quietly changed the name to Mohegan to distance itself from the bad publicity surrounding the maiden voyage. Unfortunately, the second voyage from London to New York ended in catastrophe: the ship ran into the Manacles near St Keverne in Cornwall and sank within a quarter of an hour.

The sinking of the Mohegan is notable for several reasons. Among the more than 100 passengers and crew who were drowned was Joseph Charles Duncan, the father of avant-garde dancer and scarf-wearer Isadora Duncan. All bar one of the passengers on board appears to have been American, the sole exception being the sadly anonymous “Mrs King’s maid”, against whose entry on the list is the annotation “This girl was a native of Elstree” (in Hertfordshire). William McGonagall, possibly the worst poet in the English language ever to be published, penned the bathetic “The Wreck of the Steamer Mohegan” in tribute – see here: only the brave of heart will make it to the end. More recently, the wreck of the Mohegan has become popular with divers and was featured on BBC TV’s Coast series.

Read more about the Mohegan story.

Ancestors on Board will introduce new “ship search” functionality later this year, enabling researchers to look for voyages of vessels without needing to know the names of passengers. In the meantime, if you are interested in the passenger list of the Cleopatra, you can find it by searching for Last name: Babcock and Ship name: Cleopatra. Similarly, if you are interested in the Mohegan, you can find it by searching for Last name: Duncan and Ship name: Mohegan.

Click on the image below, which is taken from the top right-hand corner of the first page of the Mohegan passenger list. It reads “The SS Mohegan was lost off the Cornish coast and forty of her passengers perished. The eleven who were saved have been taken out of this list”. In fact, “taken out” merely means that the names of the 11 passengers in question have been struck through in pencil on the list: all names remain legible.



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