The Hartlepool family devastated by a shipping disaster

Mary Ellen O'Connor, pictured with her eldest child George when he was aged six months.
Mary Ellen O'Connor, pictured with her eldest child George when he was aged six months.

Billy O’Connor had particular reason to be interested in our story on SS Millpool - the Hartlepool-built ship which sank when hurricane conditions hit the North Atlantic.

The 26 members of the crew were lost that day in October 1934, including Billy’s grandfather and uncle James O’Connor and Thomas O’Connor.

Billy's grandfather James O'Connor.

Billy's grandfather James O'Connor.

It could have been an even worse family tragedy if fate had not played its hand.

Chris Cordner explains more.

Mary Ellen O’Connor’s life was devastated by an incident at sea.

Her husband was James O’Connor. He was one of two members of the O’Connor family to die when the SS Millpool sank on a journey between Danzig and Montreal in the North Atlantic.

They had eight children which you can imagine was hard work for Mary Ellen.

Billy O’Connor

The other was Thomas O’Connor yet a third member of the family, George O’Connor, had a lucky escape.

He was 15 at the time and wanted to go to sea with his kin.

His dad James had other ideas, as Billy O’Connor explained.

He was told he couldn’t by his father who thought the ship was not safe enough,” said Billy.

Mary Ellen O'Connor, pictured with her eldest child George when he was aged six months.

Mary Ellen O'Connor, pictured with her eldest child George when he was aged six months.

He added: “And the rest is history as you know. She sank off the coast of Labrador in October 1934.”

The heartbreak it caused was still horrendous for James’s widow Mary Ellen.

She was left behind in Hartlepool with eight children to raise.

Billy said: “Mary Ellen lived in an area of Hartlepool named Wagga which was situated near Huckelhoven Way. It has since been pulled down.

“When they married, they moved to Heathfield Drive,which was a council house. They had eight children which you can imagine was hard work for Mary Ellen.”

The children she was left to bring up were George the eldest son, James, Stanley, Harold, Ronald (Billy’s father), Rose, Vera, and Sheila, who is the only one surviving sibling today, and who lives in the Rossmere area of Hartlepool.

Billy provided us with more details on the reasons for his grandfather James deciding to go to sea.

It was to “put food on the table” for his family.

“My grandfather became a merchant seaman along with his brother Thomas, my uncle. I don’t know the year.

“In this time, he sailed on the SS Millpool a couple of times. The last time he was aboard the Millpool was September 17, 1934. His brother Thomas also joined him on this fateful journey.”

We are indebted to Billy for sharing his family’s story.

Eighteen local men were among the crew that perished that day, including Captain Arthur Newton.

Then there was first mate R Sargant, third mate C Lowe, first engineer TG Nesbitt, TM Bell, third engineer; E Braithwaite, fourth engineer; J Moor, boatswain; JR Eke, W Walters, H Cooke, E Horst, F Sparrow, A Robson (all seamen).

The local contingent was completed by J Kelly, James and Thomas O’Connor (all firemen), R Lake (cook) and his son (galley boy).