Aboard the SS Westernland

In the Shadow of the Seven Stars
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Aboard the SS Westernland

Red Star Ship Line Poster
The Red Star Line’s SS Westernland

The steam ship Westernland was built for the Red Star Line by Laird Bros., of Birkenhead. The Westernland was the Red Star’s first steel-hulled ship, the line’s first ship with two funnels and the first Red Star steamer with three classes of accommodations. The Westernland was “launched” by being floated out of drydock in August 1883.

The Westernland made her maiden voyage from Antwerp to New York on November 3, 1883. The ship remained on that route through March 1901 and made its last voyage for America, porting in Philadelphia, in September 1908.

The Westernland is one of three ships associated with the ocean voyages of Jack the Ripper suspect Seweryn Klosowski, who is better known by his later alias, George Chapman. At his 1903 trial for poisoning three of his female companions, Chapman testifies that he had traveled from the United States to England aboard a ship called the “Westerland” (possibly using a colloquial version of the ship’s name) in 1893.

Ripper scholars and enthusiasts openly debate whether Seweryn Klosowski departed London in time to have murdered Carrie Brown in New York City on April 23-24, 1891. Some scholars have argued that he may have arrived in New York on April 22, 1891 aboard a ship called the SS Waesland, but there is no compelling evidence that both he and his wife were aboard that ship; however, there is some reasonably convincing evidence that Klosowski and his wife Lucie departed Antwerp, Belgium, aboard the SS Friesland and arrived in New York City on July 28, 1891.

A later date for their departure from England is supported by Lucie Klowosksi’s sister’s testimony at George Chapman’s trial in 1903. Stanislawa Rauch testifies that the couple left London for America around Whitsuntide (i.e., Pentecost). This would be later than the April 1891 dates many Ripper sleuths have theorized. In 1891, Whitsuntide would have been on May 17. This date may well have been when Seweryn and Lucie Klosowski left London for their journey to America, though they may not have departed from Antwerp until July of that year.

If the SS Friesland dates are correct, what the couple did during those intervening weeks has not been established, but the couple may well have traveled to Germany to visit Lucie’s relatives prior to departing for America. This may explain why the couple reported “Germany” as their country of origin on the SS Friesland’s passenger manifest (see below).

The SS Friesland’s passenger manifest from July 1891

Seweryn Klosowski’s name (“Severin Klasowsky” as it was transcribed by a clerk), correct age (“27”) and occupation (“Barber”) are found on the ship’s manifest along with a woman’s name (“Any”) who is identified as the man’s wife. The woman’s age is listed as 20, which would be correct for Lucie. Both passengers listed their country of origin and citizenship as “Germany,” which is indeed Lucie’s country of origin. Germany, however, would not be the correct country of origin for Klosowski, who was of Russian ancestry and born in Poland. Yet, all factors being considered, there are more matching data points for a July 1891 departure on the Friesland than for the other proposed ships that arrived in New York Harbor in March or April 1891.

The date of Seweryn Klosowski’s ocean journey is significant because a later arrival in New York (i.e., after April 24) means that he would not have been in America when Carrie Brown was murdered on April 23-24, 1891. The Carrie Brown murder is the most notable of the Jack-the-Ripper-like murders in America and Klosowski is one of the few credible suspects who may have been in a position to commit similar atrocities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Moreover, the window of departure is fairly narrow for Klosowski to have arrived in New York in time to have murdered Carrie Brown. He likely could not have left London prior to the 1891 Census, which is reported to have been taken in the first week in April. He and his family can be found in the 1891 census record living at the 2 Tewkesbury Buildings, which are located just off of Whitechapel High Street in London. There is also an extant copy of a signed death certificate showing that Klosowski was physically present at his son’s death in London on March 3, 1891.

SS Westernland on the sea. Colorized photo.
The SS Westernland, Norway Heritage Collection

But this does not preclude others who are connected to the murders from making this journey aboard either the Westernland, which arrived in New York Harbor on April 1, 1891 or the Waesland, which arrived in New York Harbor on April 22, 1891.

In his cross-continent pursuit of Jack the Ripper, the witness of Frances Coles’ murder in Swallows’ Seven Stars story travels from London to New York aboard the Westernland, arriving in New York City a few weeks before Carrie Brown’s murder.


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