If you had been alive in 1915, the wreck and rescue of the Pollokshields would have been the talk of the town. In a tale of misfortune and bravery, all but one of this huge ship’s crew were saved by heroic Bermudians.
The Pollokshields was a German boat that had changed hands many times since it was built. The ship was transporting coal for the German Navy in 1914, in the midst of the first World War. However, the ship was captured off of Gibraltar as it left New York by a British vessel, and made to switch sides – now it was used to transport British ammunition for the war.
In 1915, Pollokshields was transporting 350 tonnes of ammunition to British colonies, but close to Bermuda, off of Elbow Beach, it experienced dense fog and hurricane force winds. In a frenzy, the ship struck reefs 400 yards from shore, and began taking on water.
The captain was the only life lost, and he reportedly was attempting to retrieve an extra life preserve from the ship’s hold, because the crew was one short. He was swept overboard by powerful waves and not seen again. Lifeboats could not be launched because of the angle of the vessel and the powerful surf.
This was in the days before weather forecasting, and the ship sank at a time when Bermudians now would be safely inside their homes, waiting for the hurricane to pass.
It was decided that a boat would have to be launched from the shore to make a rescue. Antone Marshall transported his whaling boat from Waterlot, on the other side of the island, to Elbow Beach. At about 8am the following morning, he tried to launch the boat, but it capsized in the surf. By 11:30 the winds calmed down enough to let Marshall row out. They had to make several trips to and from the ship to bring everyone safely to shore.
It must have been nerve-wracking for the crew of the Pollokshields to have to wait overnight, wondering if anyone would come to help them. And further, to wait for the ship to come back in subsequent trips to get them all.
The rescue was dramatic and exciting, and recently released photographs show crowds of many people watching from the shoreline. Guests staying at the South Shore Hotel at Elbow Beach would have been enthralled by the heroic rescue.
In 2010, tourists swimming off of Coral Beach discovered an ammunition box from the famous wreck. The wreck ran aground on our reefs, but luckily for the crew it stayed mostly upright, meaning that they had a safe place to wait for rescue. Until the 1960s the engine of the wreck stuck out of the water, but Teddy Tucker used explosives to sink it at the request of the Bermuda government.
You can still see some ammunitions cargo where they rest on the bottom when storms dredge them up. Most of the ammo was cleared by the Bermuda marine police and British military for historic study in 1999.
The 323 foot long ship is well preserved on the bottom. If you are a very strong swimmer, you can reach it from Elbow Beach, about 1,300 feet out over beautiful reefs. The boilers are vast enough to swim through, and the whole wreck is covered in coral.