A Story of A Ship

Feb 24, 2012

Postcard from S.S. Vandyck

Postcard from S.S. Vandyck, October 14, 1913. From Sagamore Hill National Historic Site.          

Theodore Roosevelt set out from New York on what would develop into the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition on October 4, 1913, aboard the SS Vandyck. He was accompanied by his wife, Edith, and a young relative, Margaret Roosevelt, who was the daughter of Roosevelt’s cousin, William Emlen Roosevelt. The voyage was rather uneventful but with the usual entertainments: fine dining, concerts, and a “programme of sports” that included sack races and tug-of-war. Stops were made in Barbados, then a British colony; Bahia, Brazil; and the journey ended in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From there, Roosevelt toured several South American countries and ultimately descended an unknown river that almost killed him but which now bears his name, the Rio Roosevelt. After reaching Chile, Edith and Margaret would have their own journey when they separated from the main party and traveled up the west coast of South America to Panama. Sadly, Margaret came down with typhoid fever and passed away in early 1914.

The SS Vandyck would also meet an unfortunate fate. Built in 1911, the 10,000 ton passenger ship was owned by Lamport & Holt and was still performing a regular service between New York and the Atlantic coast of South America. Vandyck was spotted on October 26, 1914, by the SMS Karlsruhe, a 4,800 ton light cruiser of the Imperial German Navy. Karlsruhe had been stationed in the Caribbean at the outbreak of the First World War, and with the commencement of hostilities had been ordered to engage in commerce raiding off the coast of Brazil. Unarmed and considerably slower, Vandyck surrendered and became the German warship’s sixteenth prize. Luckily for the crew and civilian passengers, naval chivalry could still be found on the high seas and all were transferred to a supply ship. The passengers were sent to Brazil and Vandyck was sunk the next day.

However, Vandyck would be Karlsruhe’s final prize. On November 4, off the coast of Barbados, an internal explosion of unknown origin crippled the ship which sunk rapidly. Supply ships rescued a number of survivors but 261 officers and men were lost. The ship’s fate was a mystery until survivors made their way back to Germany. The Royal Navy remained unaware of these developments and only ended their search for Karlsruhe in March 1915 when wreckage washed ashore.



Millard, Candice. 2005. River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey. New York: Doubleday.

Massie, Robert K., and Robert K. Massie. 2003. Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea. New York: Random House.


Posted by Grant Carlson on Feb 24, 2012 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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