Great Britain: Boer War S.S. Maine Hospital Ship

Great Britain: Boer War S.S. Maine Hospital ShipGreat Britain: Boer War S.S. Maine Hospital Ship
Great Britain: Boer War S.S. Maine Hospital ShipGreat Britain: Boer War S.S. Maine Hospital Ship
Great Britain: Boer War S.S. Maine Hospital ShipGreat Britain: Boer War S.S. Maine Hospital Ship
Form: Circular. Proof-like.
By: A. Webster & Co. (?)
Date: 1899
Ref:  AM: 23; Hern: 58; BHM: 3650; Eimer: 1831; Fearon: 350.2; Laidlaw: 0005;
44.3 mmSilver37.7 gm$400
47.1 mmSilver (Bezel Clasp)51.7 gm$400
44 mmCopper27.8gm$250
44.2 mmWhite Metal27.5 gm$100

Edge: Plain.

Obverse: The starboard broadside view of the hospital steamship S.S. Maine at sea. Above: “S. S. MAINE” and below: “BERNARD N. BAKER ESQ / 1899”. Legend on a raised pebbled band around: “LENT TO BRITISH GOVT FOR USE IN TRANSVAAL WAR BY PRES. OF ATLANTIC TRANSPORT COY” with ornament at the foot.

Reverse: Crossed standards bearing the American Stars and Stripes (left) and the British Union flag (right) with the nautical Red Cross emblem in the centre, inscribed: “S.S. MAINE” around the top of the life belt. Across above: “FOR THE (in an arc) / AMERICAN LADIES / HOSPITAL SHIP FUND”, and below: “CHAIRMAN. LADY R. CHURCHILL / HON. SEC. MRS A. BLOW / HON. TRES. MRS RONALDS (in an arc)”. Legend on a raised pebbled band: “FITTED AS HOSPITAL SHIP BY MESSRS. FLETCHER SON & FEARNALL LTD LONDON” with ornament at the foot.

Notes: This medal was struck to raise funds for the conversion of the S.S. Main into a hospital ship for use in the Boer War. The white metal medal comes in a maroon case with a label on the back: "A. WEBSTER & COMP / 60 PICCADILLY LONDON".

The S.S. Maine was an American owned transport ship lent to the British Admiralty for use as a hospital ship in the Boer War and later off China during the Boxer Rebellion.

Originally named, Swansea, the ship was built by William Gray & Company of West Hartlepool, England, and launched on 8 June 1887. She was renamed, S.S. Maine, after her purchase by the Maine Shipping Co. in 1888. This company and others were amalgamated by Bernard N. Baker into the Atlantic Transport Co. Ltd. in 1889.

Immediately following the declaration of war in South Africa Mr. Baker offered the Maine on loan to the British Government. During November and December 1899 the ship was refitted as a hospital ship by Messrs. Fletcher, Son & Fearnall Ltd. at Limehouse Reach on the Thames. The conversion cost of more than £41,000 was met by the American Ladies Hospital Ship Fund. Mr. Baker paid for the crew and other operating expenses while it remained in government service.

A group of American women living in Britain formed the committee for the American Ladies Hospital Ship Fund. The chairman was Lady Randolph Churchill, née Jennie Jerome of Brooklyn, New York, wife of Lord Randolph Churchill. The committee launched a vigorous and swift fund-raising campaign. These medals were struck and sold as part of this campaign. It is believed that the silver medals mounted as brooches were given to the members of the committee as keepsakes.

The ship now re-titled the A.H.S. (American Hospital Ship) Maine left England on 24 December 1899 arriving in Durban on 31 January 1900. Lady Churchill was on board, serving as a nursing aid. The ship remained in Durban harbour for the next two months serving as a Base Hospital Ship. One of the casualties treated was Lady Churchill’s younger son, Major John Strange Spencer Churchill, who had been wounded at Tugela Heights during the British advance towards Ladysmith. Her elder son, Winston Spencer Churchill (later Britain’s leader during the Second World War) was a war correspondent and had gained considerable fame earlier on in the war after his capture by the Boers and subsequent escape from imprisonment in Pretoria.

The A.H.S. Maine left Durban on 17 March 1900 reaching Southampton on 23 April with sick and wounded. She sailed from Southampton for a second voyage to South Africa on 5 May 1900. After a little over a week in Table Bay, Cape Town, she returned to her home port on 2 July. Her third, and last, major ocean voyage was to China where Britain and America were engaged in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion. On 12 July 1900 she sailed from Southampton for China where she performed various duties, arriving back on 13 January 1901.

Mr Baker offer the ship as a gift to the British government and on 29 June 1901 his generosity was formally accepted by the Admiralty and the ship re-titled H.M.H.S. (His Majesties Hospital Ship) Maine. In 1905 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary was formed and the ship was transferred to the new service and re-titled once more as R.F.A. Maine.

From 1901 onwards the Maine served as a hospital ship around the British Isles and in the Mediterranean Sea. She was lost on 17 June 1914 when she ran aground in thick fog in the Firth of Lorne to the south of the Scottish island of Mull and was wrecked with no loss of life.