Wreck of the Week No.29: The Supposed Svodohy

It’s All Greek to Me

Welcome back to WOTW following a little summer sabbatical. I trust you are all enjoying the weather!

Profiling a group of wrecks recently, I spotted one called the Svodohy, said to be a Greek brig lost off Lundy in 1883. The name didn’t seem at all Greek to me, but was reported as such in the Board of Trade Casualty Returns (the Victorian annual statistics for shipwrecks). I smelt a rat and called up 19th Century British Newspapers Online (most local libraries subscribe, a hugely useful resource).

Contemporary newspapers revealed various versions of her name, together with equally various versions of her home port, and likewise the master’s name varied from the BOT report. The one thing that they all said, however, was that she was Greek. Usually when this sort of thing happens, it’s a sure sign that foreign lettering, whether on the ship’s side, or as entered by the master in official records, hasn’t been read properly, in this case the Greek alphabet. The most convincing version came from her departure port at Cardiff where they would surely have had access to the port records: hence this report called her Zoodochos (Pigi). I realised that in Greek letters it must have read, probably all in lower case, ζωoδοχος; most likely probably if painted cursively it bore an even closer resemblance to Svodohy, with, for example, the unfamiliar final letter ‘s’ looking like a loose ‘y’. Zoodochos Pigi is one of the epithets of the Theotokos (Mother of God) in Greek Orthodoxy, so this seems on the right track, as, of course, saints’ names have historically always been very popular for ships.

There is a similar case with a 1946 Greek vessel charted as the OHPA, and mysteriously untraced, which, of course, was easily traced once Greek ΘΗΡΑ was transliterated as Thira, unlocking access to further references in the contemporary press..

I find both errors slightly odd during a period when far more people learnt Greek at school than they do now, even if they promptly forgot it as soon as they left . . . !

Such access to a Classical education had its effects on ship names at an earlier date in England. An 1808 wreck rejoiced in the pseudo-learned Greek name of Chrononhotonthologos. 

In fact, it is a name from the English-speaking world, inspired by ‘the most tragical tragedy that ever was tragediz’d’ by Henry Carey in 1734, republished as one of ‘the most esteemed farces on the English stage’ in 1786. It was performed as far afield as Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1818, so the ship operated during the currency of the play. Why the owner named his ship thus is anyone’s guess, and there’s probably a very good story here we know nothing about.

At least it was certainly more distinctive than your average Betsey and probably jumped off the page in arrivals and departures lists, which was always good news for people looking for ‘when their ship came in’.

7. Water, Water, Everywhere

[Written in 2012/updated 2020]

Things are a little bit different this week (November 2012) with severe flooding having affected my railway line, preventing me from reaching my office, so trains under water naturally sprang to mind.

Today’s wreck contained five locos. The St. Chamond was torpedoed in 1918 while moving locos as deck cargo, consigned to France for the war effort. Wrecks such as these form part of a landscape of war, destined for another landscape of war, where British industrial output directly affected the French landscape. The British required coordinated transport between the ports and the Western Front for men and munitions, and of course, a rapid reverse flow as casualties were cleared and sent back home for recuperation, my own grandfather among them. Some of these ambulance trains were actually built at the Swindon Works, part of which is now the EH Swindon office. (Follow this link for history on the Swindon army base; Chiseldon Camp)

Here are some fabulous Futurist images by Gino Severini of trains speeding into or out of Paris during WWI:

Suburban Train Arriving in Paris, 1915

Armored Train in Action, 1915

Train de Blessés, 1915

Such wrecks, containing rolling stock and other items, such as railway sleepers, are fairly common, and illustrate the export of British railway engineering worldwide from the early days of the industry. The latest wreck containing rolling stock, as far as I know, may be that of the Fort Massac on 1 February 1946.

I came across a reference to a Darlington loco consigned for South Africa lost in the Thames Estuary in 1946 in the latest issue of my husband’s Railway Magazine. It just goes to show that you can find wreck information in the unlikeliest of places, buried deep among accounts of terrestrial infrastructure! The unnamed wreck in the article fits the profile of the Fort Massac in date and place of loss, and the fact that the vessel was outward-bound from Middlesborough.

To date, however, I have found no reference to a loco in either the UKHO record for the wreck site or in the contemporary press. There were certainly references to her ‘vital’ export cargo: the vessel was ‘loaded with the products of Britain’s export drive – silverware, bicycles, blankets, silks, steel manufactures and chemicals. It had taken nearly a month to load her.’ (1) Elsewhere her cargo was described as ‘a shop-window cargo of silks, taffetas, worsteds and silverware for the South African market.’ (2) These loads suggest that Yorkshire products were being specifically showcased, for example from the textile mills of West Yorkshire and the steel mills of Teesside.

So if there was indeed a loco on board, where did it come from and why wasn’t it newsworthy enough to be mentioned among what was admittedly a cargo that would have been accurately described as ‘general’? Both Hunslet of Leeds and Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns of Darlington built locos for the South African market and were sited in the ‘catchment area’ for the cargo: the former had a history of building smaller locos for the sugar trade such as at Gledhow in 1942, the latter supplied Class 19D locos for South African Railways after World War II.

Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns lost engine 2734, works no. 7247 consigned for South Africa off the east coast of England, but this is noted as 1947 (3); however, we can tell from profiling our other wreck records that there are no other vessels which fulfil the criteria of being lost off the east coast during the period 1946-1948, while bound to South Africa, other than the Fort Massac. Can anyone tell us more about her cargo?

(1) Hull Daily Mail, No.18,789, 02 February 1946, p1

(2) Shields Daily News, 02 February 1946, p8

(3) Holland, D F (1972) Steam Locomotives of the South African Railways. 2: 1910-1955 (1st ed.). Newton Abbott: David & Charles. pp. 93–96