Built at the Short Brothers Pallion yard the steell steamship Chicago was luanched for her owners W and TW Pinkney Ltd, Sunderland on 25th October 1890. Registered under the company name of the Neptune Steam Navigation Co Ltd, she measured 290.6′ x 38.6′ x 18.1′ and weighed 2381 gross tons, 1537 net tons. She was powered by a triple compound surface condensing steam engine by G. Clark of Sunderland delivering 260 hp.
The Chicago left Sunderland at 10:30 am on Tuesday 9 October 1894 on the second leg of her voyage from Rotterdam to Baltimore with a general cargo. She had stopped at Sunderland to pick up 700 tons of bunker coal for her trip. The ship was under the command of Captain Dodds with a crew of 24 men.
By midnight that day the ship had travelled around 150 miles and was east of Buchan Ness when the captain ordered a course change to north west by half west to take his ship round Rattray Head and Kinnaird Head and into the Moray Firth. There was a short discussion between the second officer, who was surprised by the significant alteration in course, and the chief mate but they concluded that the course change was similar to routes taken on previous voyages and steamed on the new course into the dark and increasingly foggy night. Shortly after this a number of lights were spotted off their port bow but these were supposed to be fishing boats and even when a brighter single light was observed almost straight ahead this too was deemed to be another fishing boat. The second mate remained concerned and called the captain, who was in his bunk below at the time, to the bridge but by the time Captain Dodds took control and ordered the helm to port and engines full astern it was too late. The Chicago crashed aground at 12:45 am on a rocky ledge beneath Slains Castle. The light they had spotted ahead of them turned out to out to be in the castle itself.
The engines were set to full astern in an attempt to pull the ship off the rocks but it was to no avail. The hull was pierced and she took on a heavy list to port. The pumps were started but couldn’t stem the flow and soon the forepeak and forehold were deep in water. Distress rockets were fired and the local coastguards arrived on the scene summoned after a coachman at Slains Castle, who heard the ship crashing ashore and the cries for help of the shipwrecked crew, passed on the message that a ship had run aground beneath the castle. They were successful in firing a line aboard and rigging up a breeches buoy which then brought twenty one of the crew ashore leaving the master, mate and two engineers aboard. Soon they too were taken off the ship and, although most of the cargo and bunker coal were removed from the Chicago, the ship itself, which rolled over onto its side in a storm on 15 October became a total wreck and was heavily salvaged in subsequent years..
The remaining wreckage of the Chicago lies broken among the rocks below Slains Castle in position 57° 24.895’N, 001° 49.873’W (WGS84) on a sloping seabed between 6 and 14 metres.. The section of the ship forward of the engine room is most visible with the ship’s twin boilers still in place. Other fittings including chains and winches lie scattered across the rocky seabed. The wreckage of the stern disappears into the deeper sandy seabed.