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HISTORY - ss LA BOURGOGNE - Women and Children last

What had happend on sinking LA BOURGOGNE? Why had been so few women and children been rescued?
by João Martins, editing by Earl of Cruise
La Bourgogne in Le Havre in 1895 CGT French Line
ss LA BOURGOGNE - editors collection
From our viewpoint of today we see this disaster of ss LA BOURGOGNE as one of egoism and the right of the stronger, with no "heroism", or stepping back for the weak to be saved. And we blame the crew for not doing their duty ... Are we allowed to judge? Are we allowed to chide? Are we alowed to claime it as typical ... for the seamanship of France - I have heard and read so! - ?  No, we have not been on board. 
This tragedy is not the place to be chauvinistic!
And looking in todays world we see a lot of chauvinism again and egoism!
The ss LA BOURGOGNE was a 7,395 GRT French ocean liner built by the FCM in Toulon for the Transatlatic mail and passenger service of Cie. Gle. TRANSATLANTIQUE and completed in 1886.
She was an iron and steel construction, 150 metres long, had two funnels and four masts and was propelled by a single screw with a top speed of 17 knots. She could carry 390 first class, 65 second class and 600 third class passengers.
La Bourgogne CGT French Line Norway Heritage
ss LA BOURGOGNE deckplan - copy courtesy from NORWAY HERITAGE
LA BOURGOGNE was a luxurious Belle Époque palace at sea, reflecting what France could offer in art and engineering. And became chic crossing on vessels of TRANSAT as the society of those days gathered in their ships first class quarters and did enjoy the French lifestyle, cuisine and "laissez faire".
La Bourgogne CGT French Line
ss LA BOURGOGNE passenger list - courtesy from MOPPENHEIMER
Looking into the list of victims, it is read as a who-is-who of the Belle Epoque society.
LA BOURGOGNE was one of the Belle Époque forerunners to ss/te NORMANDIE ...
Similar to NORDDEUTSCHER LLOYD the COMPAGNIE GÉNÉRALE TRANSATLANTIQUE was limited by its homeports draught and locks. Therefore the British liners did outspace LA BOURGOGNE and sisters in size and unfortunately in speed. But the delivered speed was enough to serve the mail contract with the gouvernment of France.
The ship sailed on her maiden voyage between Le Havre and New York on 19 June 1886. She completed the trip in little more than 7 days, making her one of the top steamers in the North Atlantic postal service. She remained a popular ship on that route throughout her mainly uneventful career.
However, on 29 February 1896 she ran down and sank the British steamer ss ALISA, at the entrance to New York harbour. In 1897-98, she went through a refit and was equipped with quadruple expansion steam engines and her masts were reduced to two.
La Bourgogne CGT The Graphic
ss LA BOURGOGNE depicted in THE GRAPHIC - copy from editors collection
On 4 July 1898, the ss LA BOURGOGNE was travelling from New York back to Le Havre, steaming in dense fog, 60 miles off Sable Island, Nova Scotia, with 726 people on board. At 5:00 AM, she collided violently with the British sailing ship CROMARTYSHIRE.
The bow of the CROMARTYSHIRE crushed into the ss LA BOURGOGNE amidships on the starboard side. Although her bow had been ripped off, the British ship managed to stay afloat and had no fatalities on board. The fog was so thick that she quickly lost sight of the French vessel.
At the same time, the situation was very different on the ss LA BOURGOGNE. The liner's compartments adjacent to the collision point filled immediately, starboard side lifeboats were damaged and the ship took a sharp list. To make matters worse, most passengers were asleep in their cabins.
ss LA BOURGOGNE in the news - copy from THE CALL
Those who managed to come on deck were seized with panic. As the ship started to list, the crew rushed the starboard lifeboats since the portside boats could not be launched and gave no assistance to the passengers.
Horrible scenes of savagery followed, with shots being fired, knives being pulled and crew members and passengers beating each other on deck while the ship sank. The crew took on most lifeboats and refused to aid passengers in the water to the point of hitting them with oars.
Captain Deloncle and his officers were powerless to control the disorderly elements. Meanwhile, the Cromartyshire's crew mistook the ss LA BOURGOGNE whistle and rockets as an offer for assistance and did not realise what was happening until the whistle fell silent.
ss LA BOURGOGNE sinking in a news graphic - collection João Martins
The ss LA BOURGOGNE sank within 40 minutes after the collision. At 6:00 AM, as the fog thinned, the CROMARTYSHIRE spotted lifeboats in the water, filled with survivors and started rescuing them.
In total, only 173 people survived the sinking. Among them there was only one woman and all children perished. Only 13% of the passengers survived while 48% of the crew did, making the sinking immediately infamous.
At the time, LA BOURGOGNE was carrying 506 passengers and 220 crew, of whom 549 were lost. Amoung the passengers had been some famed persons - VIPs of their days. The Turkish wrestler Yusuf İsmail, the American instructor and sculptor Emil H. Wuertz, French artist Léon Pourtau, American painter De Scott Evans, an Armenian Orthodox priest, Rev. Stepan Der Stepanian, his wife and three children, wife and daughter of the American star jurist John Forrest Dillon, the wife and child of George Deslions, and three members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
La Bourgogne drama about the sinking
ss LA BOURGOGNE in the review, a drama: Le naufrage de La Bourgogne, Partition musicale, page 1
Surving crew members required police protection upon their arrival in New York. The accident was quickly white-washed by the French authorities and the suriving crew returned hastily to France on board the ss LA TOURAINE. No inquiry or trial was held.
The authorities attributed the alleged brutality to steerage passengers.

When it comes to a catastrophy, in each of us takes over the survival instinct. And the strongest is fighting for his own survival ... passengers and crew! There is noone to be balmed at least. Modern scientists did prove this human aspect.


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