Some years ago WAGS Library was given an original Passenger List for the TSS Belgic, one of those been given to all passengers travelling on board the ship. The ship sailed from Liverpool on September 23, 1911 and arrived at Fremantle on November 11, 1911. There were 925 passengers on board for Fremantle and others bound for Adelaide (252), Melbourne (203) and Sydney (168) giving a total of 1,548 which included some new immigrants.
The person who donated the document to WAGS is unrecorded, but they had obviously had some connection with the ship as there are some pencil markings on the document which may indicate their interest.
The Belgic passenger list (opens in new tab) spent a lonely time on the WAGS library bookshelf attracting little if any attention, until now...
... or at least until our ever inquisitive past Librarian Julie decided to take a peek. Julie mentioned it was gathering dust with a view of perhaps providing a copy on our website. This, it was felt, would compliment the existing list of passengers for this vessel which is in our 1898-1926 passengers index in the members only area of the WAGS website. At this point there was agreement that we should scan the original passenger list and put the images on the website - now available here.
So, being under instructions from the Boss, and in fear for his life, the WAGS webmaster dutifully agreed to the scanned images being put on show. But as is the way with webmasters, he also decided to do a little research, just to see whether there was anything that might be added in the way of images, and if there was anything of particular interest about the ship or the voyage.
A story or two unfolded....
A Tale of Two Ships - Confusion around the ship Belgic
In searching for images of the ship, it was found that there were several ships with the same name and there was at least two passenger voyages of the Belgic to Australia, one of these was in November 1911 (the passenger list we have), and another in November 1912.
There is some confusion amongst researchers and conflicting information about the Belgic that performed the voyage that arrived in Fremantle in November 1911 and the Belgic which arrived at Fremantle in November 1912. At first glance they appeared to be the same ship, but looking a bit deeper there was two different vessels with the same name.
The ship which performed the voyage to Australiain during November 1911 has been depicted by other researchers as the Belgic (III), being the ex Mississippi (Image 1 on left - note two main cargo masts/derrick posts).
This is shown in both narrative and image references for the Belgic.
According to Great Passenger Ships of the World by Arnold Kludas, Vol.1 the Belgic (III) ...
"... started life as the SS Mississippi, built by the New York Shipbuilding Co, Camden, NJ in 1902 for the Atlantic Transport Line's North Atlantic Service.
10,151 gross tons, length 510ft x beam 58.2ft (155.40m x 17.70m), one funnel, two masts, twin screw and a speed of 14 knots. Accommodation for 1,000-steerage class passengers. [The gross tonnage ties in with what is shown on the original passenger list in WAGS possession (excerpt shown above)].
In 1906 she went to Red Star Line for their Antwerp to New York service and was renamed Samland.
Sold to the White Star Line in 1911 and renamed Belgic, she was used from August 1911 on the Liverpool to Wellington NZ service, some researchers also say Australia. She was returned to the Red Star Line in December 1913 and resumed service with the name of Samland, again on North Atlantic voyages until she was scrapped in 1931..."
However, looking at the images of the ship it is not the same vessel as the Belgic ex Samland ex Mississippi in the above description.
Images of the Red Star Line Samland (ex Belgic - Image 2, right) depict her as being four masted, 9,710 tonnes and length 149m x beam of 18.2m (10,313 tons, 488.8ft x 59.7ft).
The Samland does appear to be the correct vessel for the 1912 Belgic Fremantle voyage. However, just to confuse things further there was also more than one Samland.
Images for the Belgic in both the Western Mail (Perth, Western Australia) (Image 3 - left) of 6 December 1912 (1912 voyage) and the Chronicle of 25 November 1911 (Adelaide, South Australia), (Image 4 - right) both show a four masted vessel with a single tall funnell aproximately amidship.
These two images, for the both the 1911 and the 1912 voyages, appear to be the same vessel.
Both of these images are consistent with image of the Belgic ex Samland (Image 2 - above right), but not the Belgic ex Mississippi (Image 1, above left).
It is possible of course that the ex Mississippi underwent major structural changes, extra masts were added and the funnell extended, but that would be pretty unlikely in the time frame, and the gross tonnage of the ship would not change.
Another image of the Belgic (III) (Image 5 - left), is very similar to those shown in the newspapers and that of the Samland above.
The accompanying description of the ship from this source (here) and her consequent movements confirms her ownership with White Star Line from August 1911 through to 1913 as the Belgic III.
There seems to be reasonable confirming evidence that the Belgic III and the Samland are one and the same vessel and that she was the ship that sailed to Australia in 1911 and 1912 as the Belgic III, under the White Star Line flag.
SLWA images for the Belgic
The State Library of Western Australia (SLWA) holds two photographic images of the Belgic tagged as 1912 showing the vessel coming alongside in Fremantle in 1912. The SLWA also has a postcard issued by the Immigration & General Information Bureau in 1912 entitled 'The Arrival of the Immigrant', the ship on the postcard is described as being the Belgic.
The two SLWA 1912 berthing images show the same small line boat carrying the lines from the ship to the wharf, and is consistent with those shown above from the Western Mail (image 3), the Chronicle (image 4). The above Samland photo (image 5) is also consistent with this vessel.
However, the November 1912 postcard held by the SLWA (642B) shows a vessel which is consistent with the above image of the Mississippi. i.e. two derrick posts/masts, and not four.
It appears that the ship as depicted in the SLWA postcard as the 1912 arrival is not in fact the 1912 Belgic vessel, but it is evidence confirming that the ex Belgic ex 'Mississippi' was not the vessel that made the 1912 voyage.
This however contradicts the previous evidence of the 1912 ship being the Samland. Either the vessel had undergone considerable structural work, or they are not the same ship.
It is likely that while the postcard may have been made in 1912, it has been incorrectly identified in the SLWA records as the Belgic 1912 voyage and is possibly an image of the vessel that made the 1911 voyage. Or conversely the image was not taken in Australia on the arrival of the ship but obtained from elsewhere and used in the immigration postcard and mistakeny identified as the Belgic that performed the voyage from Liverpool in September 1911, arriving in Fremantle in November 1911.
Evidence from the newspapers of the day (shown above) and that held by the State Library of Western Australia (sighted but not shown here), it is clear that there were two different vessels with the name Belgic which supposedly performed voyages to Australia, both stopping at Fremantle as well as other ports.
Even though there is some conflicting evidence surrounding the vessels GRT and dimensions and whilst the ex Mississippi is supposed to be the same vessel (Belgic 1911 voyage), based on the photographic evidence shown here it is not the Belgic that landed passengers in Australia in 1912 as the Belgic. This vessel was the Belgic III, ex Samland, and there is some other explanation for the postcard image held in the SLWA collection.
There were two other Belgics', Belgic I was built in 1873 and wrecked in 1884; Belgic IV was built later than our period of interest and was a two funnel vessel originally built as the Bergenland for Red Star Line in 1914; she became the Belgic IV in 1917. She served as a troop ship in World War One and later as a passenger liner on the Antwerp - Southampton - New York service and was broken up in 1936 in Scotland.
The Belgic arrived in Fremantle on 11 November 1911 and our passenger list gives us the detail of who was on board. A ship with the same name also arrived in Fremantle in November 1912.
Then there is the story of the 1911 voyage which was not without its drama, but that's for another time...
References and Sources
Kludas, Arnold - Great Passenger Ships of the World, Vol.1
Photoship UK - A vast collection of Ships images
Red Star Line - Ships of the Red Star Line
State Library of Western Australia - Photo collection
Trove - Digital archive of the Australian National Library [An Australian Treasure] - Various articles on the Belgic 1911 & 1912
White Star Line - A history of the White Star Line
TSS Belgic Passenger List - Sailing Liverpool, September 23 1911 to Australia, first port Fremantle