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What Remains Of The Famous Arctic Explorer, The SS Thetis

Freshwater Bay, St. John's

Date Last Modified: November 15, 2015

On the East Coast Trail between Fort Amherst and Blackhead is the beautiful inlet known as Freshwater Bay. At the far end of the narrow bay is a small rocky beach and a small pond. Located on the beach are several large pieces of rusted metal. These are the remains of the famous arctic explorer ship, the SS Thetis. Today very little remains of this ship, just a few large pieces of rusted metal and several saved artifacts located in The Rooms Museum. 

But during its years of service, the Thetis became a very important vessel. It was built as a whaler in 1881 by Alexander Stephen and Sons in Scotland. The ship was 1250 tons, 57.5 m (188.5 ft) long, 8.8 m (29 ft) wide, and had a draught of 5.2 m (18 ft).  It was purchased in 1884 by the United States Navy to be used on a rescue mission to the Canadian Arctic. An international Arctic expedition team known as the Greely Expedition were two years into their exploration of the Arctic when their much-needed supply ship, the Proteus, was crushed in ice and sank before being able to offload supplies to the 26 explorers. In June of 1884, the Thetis reached the surviving 7 men and brought them back to safety. 

After this, the shipped was treated as a hero and continued service with the US Navy and US Coast Guard until being decommissioned in 1916. It was then sold to Job Brothers and Company Ltd. from New York for $24,800. The company operated a dock in St. Johns Harbour and the ship was fitted as a sealing vessel. 

 

In 1950 (some sources say in 1936) the ship was decommissioned for a final time and much of its equipment transferred to other sealing vessels. It was then towed to Freshwater Bay and ran aground where it rusted and fell apart. 

The figurehead was obtained by the Rooms and is on exhibit their today. The remaining bits of the boilers and internal structure now rust away on the beach and surrounding water of Freshwater Bay. 

Some of the debris on the beach is also believed to be pieces of the Portuguese fishing trawler, the Vasco D'orey which after catching on fire in St. John's Harbour was towed into the bay to sink. Freshwater Bay can be accessed by hiking trails via Fort Amherst, Blackhead, or off the Cape Spear Highway. See the East Coast Trail website for more.  

Sources

The Arctic Adventures of the Thetis by: Dennis L. Noble and Truman R. Strobridge

NavSource Online: Section Patrol Craft Photo Archive

Naval History: Thetis