Laurentic bell purchase being considered by Council

Des and Ray Cossum pictured with the Laurentic bell during a salvage operation in 1979.
Des and Ray Cossum pictured with the Laurentic bell during a salvage operation in 1979.

Derry & Strabane Council is considering purchasing the bell salvaged from the historic Laurentic shipwreck for the city’s planned new Maritime Museum.

Council officers made the recommendation at the Council’s Business & Culture meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

The council was told that a recent exhibition and series of projects to mark the 100th anniversary of the Laurentic tragedy had generated major interest and resulted in a surge in visitor numbers to the Tower Museum.

The Laurentic exhibition tells the story of the famous White Star Line ship, commandeered by the Royal Navy to transport gold to Canada to buy ammunition for the war effort in 1917.

The ship sank off Lough Swilly on January 25, 1917 after striking two German mines, with 354 sailors perishing in the disaster. The 121 survivors were cared for in Inishowen and eventually brought to the Guildhall in Derry for a meal by the then mayor, Alderman R.N. Anderson and donations collected for them from across Derry and Donegal.

For the 100th anniversary, The Laurentic Bell, a prized artefact was loaned from the shipwreck centre in the Isle of Wight.

Then and now: (top) The survivors of the Laurentic pictured in the Guildhall in January 1917 and (below) their descendants and members of the public recreating the scene 100 years later.

Then and now: (top) The survivors of the Laurentic pictured in the Guildhall in January 1917 and (below) their descendants and members of the public recreating the scene 100 years later.

The Council Committee was told that the bell will be auctioned for sale in the coming months. Officers proposed that they “consider the purchase of the Laurentic Bell as a key permanent display in the new maritime museum,” with a fuller report on this expected at a later date.

It was also proposed at the meeting that the Laurentic exhibition “be expanded upon for the Maritime Museum and that the Museum Service continue to engage with the diving community to collect artefacts relating the vessel over the coming years.”

Many objects originally designated as short term loan now being offered on long term for the Maritime Museum, while others have been permanently donated to the Council’s Museum Service.

Prior to the 100th anniversary, the Museum Service had been approached by the wreck owner, local man Mr. Ray Cossum, who has a significant collection of records detailing his life’s work on the ship. Mr Cossum indicated that there would be numerous objects available from the local diving community for an exhibition.

The majestic Laurentic in operation during its heyday.

The majestic Laurentic in operation during its heyday.

The Museum Service agreed to create an exhibition as part of its Decade of Centenaries programme, and with the view to how the content could relate to the Maritime Museum project in the form of a permanent exhibition.

Ray Cossum pictured with the map of Donegal, off which lies the Laurentic shipwreck.

Ray Cossum pictured with the map of Donegal, off which lies the Laurentic shipwreck.