This medallion, 44mm diameter, in silver, was struck to help finance the fitting out of the vessel that was otherwise financed by the American Ladies Hospital Ship Fund.
The Maine was originally the Atlantic Transport Line steamer Swansea, renamed in 1899 and lent to the British Government as a hospital ship for use in the Boer War and later off China during the Boxer Rebellion. She was fitted out as a hospital ship in London by Messrs Fletcher & Son and Fearnall Ltd.
In October 1899 the Boer War broke out in South Africa and Bernard N. Baker offered the British Admiralty a ship for use as a floating hospital. This offer was soon transferred to the American Ladies Hospital Ship Society, led by Winston Churchill's mother Jennie. In just 60 days the American ladies raised the money needed to adapt and equip the ship, completed the conversion, and had her sailing for South Africa. Baker paid for her crew and operating expenses. She sailed on her initial voyage with American medical staff including several female nurses, but on subsequent voyages carried British medical personnel, all of them male.
This ship was described by The Nursing Record and Hospital World as “the most complete and comfortable hospital ship that has ever been constructed.” The four wards were named Whitelaw Reid (after the chairman of the committee on Nurses of the Trained Nurses Maintenance Society, who organized the American nurses), Bernard Baker, Columbia and Britannia. She was outfitted for 170 patients and carried a small isolation ward, an elaborately equipped operating theatre, and an X-ray installation.
The Maine left for South Africa on December 23, 1899, with Jennie Churchill aboard, and arrived at Durban on January 23, 1900. The authorities in South Africa wanted to use her as a transport to ship wounded men home for long-term treatment, but the indomitable Jennie Churchill insisted on her staying on station as originally intended to treat men as close to the fighting as possible. When the siege of Ladysmith was raised however and thousands of casualties suddenly needed access to medical facilities Jennie agreed to use the Maine as a transport. After several voyages between South Africa and England she was transferred to the China station to support the campaign against the "boxers."
After a total of 15 months in commission the Maine was laid up in Southampton from January 1901. Bernard N. Baker gave her to the Admiralty in July 1901 and her medical fittings were given at the same time by the ladies of the Maine Committee. Marking the gift, Earl Shelbourne read a statement from Bernard N. Baker in the House of Lords:
In offering the Maine, I should like, as a citizen of the United States, to express appreciation of the long protection afforded my interests under the British flag. I am also influenced by the noble work achieved by Americans in equipping and maintaining the Maine while in service in South Africa and China. I trust she will long be an emblem of the cordial relations existing between the citizens of the United States and those of the mother country.
The Maine was not laid up for long, for she was soon recommissioned and attached experimentally for a year to the Mediterranean squadron. She was designated as a Royal Fleet Auxiliary when that class of vessel was established in 1905 and participated in the Coronation Fleet Review off Torbay in June 1911.
Unfortunately, the Maine ran aground in thick fog in the Firth of Lorne to the south of the Scottish island of Mull on June 19, 1914. Her loss left the British without a single hospital ship at the outbreak of World War One.
I hope I am not taking this off topic, but a few years ago I acquired an item relating to the S.S. Maine. I am not sure what you would call it, the general idea so far seems to suggest it was worn by the nurses on the ship. Possibly a cape badge?
When I received it, the clasp on the back was broken, and my local jeweler advised me that the clasp could not be fixed as it would not stand the heat needed, without damaging the enamel on the front. I left it with him to see what he could come up with, and he put it in a coin mount and added a silver ring so that it could be put on a ribbon.
I suppose being that the ship came from America I should have used a red, white, and blue ribbon, but I liked the look of the QSA ribbon, and as the ship was originally intended for South Africa I thought it not inappropriate.
Any comments are welcome, or information as to what it actually is would be even better.
As for the Maine commemorative medallion, it is my understanding that only the VIP's or committee members received the medallion in silver. The fund raising issue was base metal.