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Reproduced courtesy of the Allcot Trust


Date: 1917
Overall: 485 x 640 x 55 mm, 1.9 kg
Medium: Oil, canvas, frame
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Elaine Beeham
Object Copyright: © Allcot Trust
Object Name: Painting
Object No: 00036299
Place Manufactured:London

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    An oil on canvas by John Allcot depicting the sinking of the LACONIA in February 1917.
    Painted in fine text is "LACONIA torpedoed Feb 1917".

    On 25 February 1917 LACONIA was torpedoed by the German U-50 six nautical miles (11 km) northwest by west of Fastnet while returning from New York to England with 75 passengers and 217 crew. A total of 12 people were killed, six crew and six passengers.
    SignificanceThe sinking of the LACONIA was a significant event in the narrative of WWI. Although the majority of those aboard were saved, it was a non-military vessel and the death of two American women on board drew outrage in the United States and added further pressure for the President to enter the war.
    LONDON, February 27, 1917.

    "Further particulars now to hand of the torpedoing of the Cunard liner Laconia, bound from Now York to Liverpool, by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland on Sunday night, reveal a glorious story of heroism on the part of the passengers and crew worthy of the highest British maritime traditions.
    The Cunard Company announces that three of the passengers are dead, and three others missing, while six of the crew are missing and six in hospital.
    'Survivors state that the Laconia was proceeding: without lights, but all the lights were switched on after the first torpedo was fired. This gave the submarine an advantage, and a second torpedo was then launched at short range, disabling the dynamo. Not only did perfect discipline prevail on the Laconia, but extraordinary cheerfulness was manifested, passengers singing the National Anthem and sea songs.
    The submarine drew up to the boats, and the German commander demanded to know where the Laconia's captain was, but a passenger called out: "Don't tell him. Let us sing 'Rule Britannia' and defy him!" A steward in command of a boat however, thought it better to be prudent, and replied, "I must tell you first, that if you have any intention to sink us, that I have women and children on board." The submarine commander again demanded the whereabouts of the captain, but the only reply was. ''He is doing his duty where a British captain is always found." The submarine commander, nonplussed, took his departure.
    Practically everyone in the boats was in the most splendid spirits, and joined in the singing of the choruses of popular songs until picked up. One passenger, Mr. Wood, says the first shot was fired in the dark without warning, and no one saw it. Mr. Newman, another survivor, relates a story showing the fortitude displayed by the children. Though separated from their parents, they did not complain, and set a splendid example to their elders.
    A correspondent of the "Daily Chronicle" says the latest news is that' 13 people are missing. The torpedo explosions account for most of the killed and wounded.
    The engineering staff and firemen underwent an awful ordeal, but most of them were picked up.
    Father Waring states:-"When the ship was torpedoed the passengers went to the lifeboats to .which they had been assigned during the boat drills on the voyage. There was a little confusion owing to the fact that the explosion affected the dynamo, and extinguished the electric lights. After the passengers had got into the boat in which I was, it was being lowered when the tackles jammed:"' Dr Kennedy, seeing that the boat was at a very dangerous angle, cut the rope, and it then reached the water. Similar difficulty was experienced with another lifeboat. Some of the occupants of the third lifeboat wore thrown into the sea, including two Americans named Mrs. Hoy and Miss Hoy. There is grave reason to fear that they were drowned, as they are missing. At the very moment my lifeboat was being lowed from the sinking ship, another explosion was heard, and the big vessel rolled over. Twenty minutes elapsed between the firing of the two torpedoes. Captain Irvine now decided to abandon the ship. Tho wireless operators had meanwhile been hard at work sending out wireless calls, and they got a prompt reply from a warship at Queenstown. Although the night was dark, the moon came out occasionally, and enabled us to see the grand spectacle of the noble ship disappearing beneath the waves. We were in the boat from 9.30 p.m. until 4 in the morning. There was no immediate danger, though there was a heavy Atlantic swell. The women were very ill, but behaved admirably. I think the deaths will not exceed ten.”
    Mrs. Mills, of Toronto, a saloon passenger, said:-''The experience was a terrible one. The women were in the drawing-room when tho torpedo struck the ship. We instantly knew what had happened. We had had boat drill several times on the voyage, and were able to utilise the knowledge we had gained in getting away the boats. When the submarine came to the surface to make sure of the destruction of the Laconia, a man in our boat said to the submarine commander, "Don't you know you have torpedoed a ship containing women and children?"
    The commander replied, “They are all right for a few hours. A patrol will pick them up."
    The death of Mrs. Hoy and Miss Hoy, of Chicago, is now confirmed.
    The Laconia's survivors include Mr. C. Wood and Mr. J. Newman, officials of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, who were en route for the London office. Another Australian passenger was Mr, J. F. Fotheringham, of Sydney, who states: "I was playing cards in the smoke-room when tho ship was torpedoed. I went on deck, and an officer took me to a boat, where there were 21 other passengers. The boat was let down too quickly and struck the side of the Laconia, and four or five foot of it were broken in before it reached the water. The sea came over the gunwale, and was often up to our chests. Six people died in our boat, including threw women, and a member of the crew threw himself over the side, owing to the awful tortures we were enduring. Every wave pitched us about. It was a horrible experience. After an I hour, a man died, and we throw the body overboard to lighten the boat, and did the same as the others died. The passengers included a French actress crossing to appear in a revue at a London theatre. She was a plucky little lady. Her cousin died of exposure, but the actress refused to believe he was dead, and got me to place an oar between the seats, on which v.o stretched him. I knew tho man was dead, but had not the heart to throw him over-board. During the night we saw the rescuers' light quite near. We shouted for all we were worth again and again, and finally tied a white garment on our boat. They sent up a signal that they had seen us, but we could not have lasted another half-hour."

    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Sinking of the LACONIA

    Primary title: LACONIA

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