RMS Empress of Ireland
RMS Empress of Ireland was an ocean liner that sank in the Saint Lawrence River following a collision in thick fog with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad in the early hours of 29 May 1914. Of the 1,477 people on board, 1,012 died. The number of deaths is the largest of any Canadian maritime accident in peacetime.
Profile drawing of Empress of Ireland
|Name:||Empress of Ireland|
|Owner:||Canadian Pacific Steamship Company|
|Port of registry:||Liverpool|
|Builder:||Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan, Scotland|
|Laid down:||10 April 1905|
|Launched:||27 January 1906|
|Christened:||27 January 1906|
|Maiden voyage:||29 June 1906|
|In service:||27 January 1906|
|Out of service:||29 May 1914|
|Fate:||Sank after being rammed by Storstad on 29 May 1914|
|Tonnage:||14,191 gross register tons (GRT); 8,028 net register tons (NRT)|
|Length:||570 ft (170 m) oa; 550 ft (170 m) pp|
|Beam:||65 ft 7.2 in (19.995 m)|
|Depth:||40 ft (12 m)|
|Decks:||4 steel decks|
|Speed:||20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h)|
|Crew:||373 in 1906|
Empress of Ireland was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland and was launched in 1906. The liner, along with her sister ship Empress of Britain, was commissioned by Canadian Pacific Steamships (at that time part of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) conglomerate) for the North Atlantic route between Liverpool and Quebec City. (The transcontinental CPR and its fleet of ocean liners constituted CPR's self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Transportation System".) Empress of Ireland had just begun her 96th voyage when she sank.
The wreck lies in 40 metres (130 ft) of water, making it accessible to advanced divers. Many artifacts from the wreckage have been retrieved, some of which are on display in the Empress of Ireland Pavilion at the Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père in Rimouski, Quebec and at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. The Canadian government has passed legislation to protect the site.
Empress of Ireland was designed by Francis Elgar and was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. at Govan in Glasgow, Scotland. The 14,191-ton vessel was a fixed price contract of £375,000 and was to be delivered to CPR 18 months from the date the contract was signed.
The keel was laid on 10 April 1905 for hull number 443 at Fairfield's berth number 4 next to her sister ship, Empress of Britain which was under construction. Empress of Ireland had a length of 570 ft (170 m), and her beam was 66 ft (20 m). The ship had twin funnels, two masts, twin four-bladed screws and a service speed of 18 kn (21 mph; 33 km/h).
Empress of Ireland was launched on 26 January 1906, and with her original configuration, she required a modest sized crew of 373 to operate her, and provided accommodations for 1,542 passengers in four separate classes. Her First Class accommodations, located amidships on the Upper and Lower Promenade and Shelter decks, had a capacity of 310 passengers when fully booked, complete with an array of spacious two- and four-berth cabins Cafe, Music Room, Library and Smoke room and a large dining room capped by a dome two decks above. One of the more noted features of her First Class accommodations, like aboard Titanic, was her main staircase. In Second Class, located in the stern, 468 passengers were accommodated for on the Shelter, Upper and Main decks. While more spartan in design than in First Class, Second Class was also well provided for in terms of space, with numerous two- and -four berth cabins, a large dining room, a smoke room and a social hall. As for immigrants and lower-class travelers, Empress of Ireland was designed with accommodations in both the old and new types of steerage, both located at the forward end of the ship on the Upper, Main and Lower Decks. In the newer type steerage, more formally referred to as Third Class by the early 20th century, 494 passengers were provided accommodation for in an array of two-, four-, and six-berth cabins, as well as being provided with their own large dining room, smoke room, ladies room and a large open enclosed space complete with a children's sandbox. Meanwhile, accommodations were provided for another 270 passengers in three sections of open berths laid out in the old patterns of steerage more commonly seen aboard Trans-Atlantic passenger ships during the late 19th and much of the early 20th century, consisting of two-tiered berths lined against one another and long wooden tables with benches. On her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Montreal she proved herself as both reliable and fast. On 14 October 1909 she struck a sunken vessel or an unknown submerged rock at the northern end of the St. Lawrence.
Collision and sinkingEdit
Empress of Ireland departed Quebec City for Liverpool at 16:30 local time (EST) on 28 May 1914 with 1,477 passengers and crew. Henry George Kendall had just been promoted to her captain at the beginning of the month, and it was his first trip down the St. Lawrence River in command of her.
The ship reached Pointe-au-Père, Quebec (or Father Point) near the town of Rimouski in the early hours of 29 May 1914, where the pilot disembarked. Empress of Ireland resumed a normal outward bound course of about N76E, and soon sighted the masthead lights of Storstad, a Norwegian collier, on her starboard bow at a distance of several miles. Likewise, Storstad, which was abreast of Métis Point and on a course W. by S., sighted Empress of Ireland's masthead lights. The first sightings were made in clear weather conditions, but fog soon enveloped the ships. The ships resorted to repeated use of their fog whistles. At about 02:00 local time Storstad crashed into Empress of Ireland's starboard side at around midships. Storstad remained afloat, but Empress of Ireland was severely damaged. A gaping hole in her side caused the lower decks to flood at an alarming rate to the crew.
Empress of Ireland listed rapidly to starboard. There was no time to shut the watertight doors. Most of the passengers and crew in the lower decks drowned quickly; water entered through open portholes, some only a few feet above the water line, and inundated passageways and cabins. Those berthed in the upper decks were awakened by the collision, and immediately boarded lifeboats on the boat deck. Within a few minutes of the collision, the list was so severe that the port lifeboats could not be launched. Some passengers attempted to do so but the lifeboats just crashed into the side of the ship, spilling their occupants into the frigid water. Five starboard lifeboats were launched successfully, while a sixth capsized during lowering.
Ten or eleven minutes after the collision, Empress of Ireland lurched violently onto her starboard side, allowing as many as 700 passengers and crew to crawl out of the portholes and decks onto her port side. The ship lay on her side for a minute or two, having seemingly run aground. A few minutes later, about 14 minutes after the collision, the stern rose briefly out of the water and the ship finally sank. Hundreds of people were thrown into the near-freezing water. The disaster resulted in the deaths of 1,012 people.
As reported in the newspapers at the time, there was much confusion as to the cause of the collision with both parties claiming the other was at fault. "If the testimony of both captains were to be believed, the collision happened as both vessels were stationary with their engines stopped," as noted at the subsequent inquiry. The witnesses from Storstad said they were approaching so as to pass red to red (port to port) while those from Empress of Ireland said they were approaching so as to pass green to green (starboard to starboard), but "the stories are irreconcilable".
Ultimately, the swift sinking and immense loss of life can be attributed to three factors: the location in which Storstad made contact, failure to close Empress of Ireland's watertight doors, and longitudinal bulkheads that exacerbated the list by inhibiting cross flooding. A contributing factor were open portholes. Surviving passengers and crew testified that some upper portholes were left open for ventilation. The maritime 'Safety of Life at Sea' regulations require openable portholes to be closed and locked before leaving port, but portholes were often left open in sheltered waters like the St. Lawrence River where heavy seas were not expected. When Empress of Ireland began to list to starboard, water poured through the open portholes further increasing flooding.
Passengers and crewEdit
Total numbers saved and lostEdit
The exact numbers of passengers and crew of the sunken ship who either died or were saved was not established until the inquiry. This was because of discrepancies in the names of the passengers shown on the manifest (particularly in regard to the continentals) and the names given by the survivors. As a consequence, initial reports in the newspapers were incomplete.
|Persons on board||Numbers on board||Percentage by total onboard||Numbers lost||Percentage lost by total onboard||Numbers saved||Percentage saved by total onboard||Percentage survival rate per group|
|Adults and Children|
Rescue operations and survivorsEdit
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Storstad, which remained afloat, lowered her own lifeboats and began the rescue of the many survivors in the water. The radio operator at Father Point who picked up the emergency signal from Empress of Ireland notified two Canadian government steamers, Eureka at Father Point Wharf and Lady Evelyn at Rimouski Wharf. Eureka was first on the scene and by 03:00 had returned to Father Point Wharf with 32 survivors and several bodies. Eureka was told to go to Rimouski Wharf where Lady Evelyn arrived around 04:00 with more survivors and bodies. Around 06:10 the survivors and bodies Storstad had on board were transferred to Eureka and transported to Rimouski Wharf, Storstad was damaged but not enough to stop her then continuing to Quebec.
There were only 465 survivors: 4 of whom were children (the other 134 children were lost), 41 of whom were women (the other 269 women were lost) and 172 men (the other 437 men were lost). The fact that most passengers were asleep at the time of the sinking (most not even awakened by the collision) also contributed to the loss of life when they were drowned in their cabins, most of them from the starboard side where the collision happened.
One of the survivors was Captain Kendall, who was on the bridge at the time, and quickly ordered the lifeboats to be launched. When Empress of Ireland lurched onto her side, he was thrown from the bridge into the water, and was taken down with her as she began to go under. Swimming to the surface, he clung to a wooden grate long enough for crew members aboard a nearby lifeboat to row over and pull him in. Immediately, he took command of the small boat, and began rescue operations. The lifeboat's crew successfully pulled in many people from the water, and when the boat was full, Kendall ordered the crew to row to the lights of the mysterious vessel that had rammed them, so that the survivors could be dropped off. Kendall and the crew made a few more trips between the nearby Storstad and the wreckage to search for more survivors. After an hour or two, Kendall gave up, since any survivors who were still in the water would have either succumbed to hypothermia or drowned by then.
The passengers included 167 members of the Salvation Army. These travelers, all but eight of whom died, were members of the Canadian Staff Band of The Salvation Army who were traveling to London for an international conference. One of the four children who survived was 7-year-old Grace Hanagan who was born in Oshawa, Ontario on 16 May 1907, and was traveling with her parents who were among the Salvation Army members who did not survive. Grace Hanagan Martyn was also the last survivor of the sinking and died in St. Catharines, Ontario on 15 May 1995 at the age of 87, one day before her 88th birthday.
As for Storstad's Chief Officer Alfred Toftenes, little is known of what became of him except that he died in New York a few years later, in 1918. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.[note 1]
Commission of InquiryEdit
The Commission of Inquiry, held in Quebec, commenced on 16 June 1914, and lasted for eleven days. Presiding over the contentious proceedings was Lord Mersey. He was notable for having presided over the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea the year before, and for having headed the official inquiries into a number of significant steamship tragedies, including that of Titanic. The following year, he would lead the inquiry into the sinking of Lusitania. Assisting Lord Mersey were two other commissioners: Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier of Quebec, and Chief Justice Ezekiel McLeod of New Brunswick. All three commissioners were officially appointed by John Douglas Hazen, the Minister of Marine and Fisheries of Canada, under Part X of the Canada Shipping Act.
At the beginning of the Inquiry twenty questions were formulated by the Canadian government. For example, was Empress of Ireland sufficiently and efficiently officered and manned? (Q.4); after the vessels had sighted each other's lights did the atmosphere between them become foggy or misty, so that lights could no longer be seen? If so, did both vessels comply with Articles 15 and 16, and did they respectively indicate on their steam whistles or sirens, the course or courses they were taking by the signals set out? (Q.11); was a good and proper lookout kept on board of both vessels? (Q.19); and, was the loss of the Empress or the loss of life, caused by the wrongful act or default of the Master and First Officer of that vessel, and the Master, First, Second and Third Officers of Storstad, or any of them? (Q.20). All of these questions were addressed by the inquiry and answered in full in its report.
The inquiry heard testimony from a total of 61 witnesses: 24 crew and officers of Empress of Ireland (including Captain Kendall); 12 crew and officers of Storstad (including Captain Andersen); 5 passengers of Empress of Ireland; and 20 other persons including 2 divers, 2 Marconi Operators at Father Point, 2 naval architects, the Harbour Master at Quebec, and crew and officers of several other ships whose involvement either directly or indirectly was deemed pertinent.
Two very different accounts of the collision were given at the Inquiry. The story of Empress of Ireland was that after the pilot had been dropped at Father Point, the ship proceeded to sea at full speed in order to obtain an offing from the shore. After a short time the masthead lights of a steamer, which subsequently proved to be Storstad, were sighted on the starboard bow, approximately 6 miles away, the weather at that time being fine and clear. After continuing for some time, Empress of Ireland altered her course with the object of proceeding down the river. When making this change, the masthead lights of Storstad were still visible, about 4 1⁄2 miles away, and according to Captain Kendall it was intended to pass Storstad starboard to starboard and there was no risk of collision. The green light of Storstad was then sighted, but a little later a fog bank was seen coming off the land that dimmed Storstad's lights. The engines of Empress of Ireland were then stopped (and put full speed astern) and her whistle blown three short blasts signifying that this had been done. About a minute later the fog shut out the lights of Storstad completely. After exchanging further whistle blasts with Storstad, her masthead and side lights were seen by Captain Kendall about 100 feet away almost at right angles to Empress of Ireland and approaching at high speed. In the hope of possibly avoiding or minimizing the effect of a collision the engines of Empress of Ireland were ordered full speed ahead, but it was too late and Storstad struck Empress of Ireland amidships. Captain Kendall placed the blame firmly on Storstad for the collision. Famously, the first words he said to Storstad's captain after the sinking were, "You have sunk my ship!". He maintained for the rest of his life that it was not his fault the collision occurred.
The story of Storstad was that the masthead lights of Empress of Ireland were first seen on the port bow about 6 or 7 nm away; the lights were at that time open to starboard. A few minutes later, the green side light of Empress of Ireland was seen apparently from 3 to 5 miles away. The green light remained for an interval, and then Empress of Ireland was seen to make a change in her course. Her masthead lights came into a (vertical) line, and she showed both the green and the red side lights. She then continued to swing to starboard, shutting out the green and showing only the red light. This light was observed for a few minutes before being obscured by the fog. At this moment, Empress of Ireland was about two miles away and Storstad's Chief Officer (Mr. Toftenes) assumed that it was Empress of Ireland's intention to pass him port to port (red to red), which the vessels would do with ample room if their relative positions were maintained. After an exchange of whistle blasts with Empress of Ireland, Storstad was slowed and Captain Andersen (who was asleep in his cabin at the time) was called to the bridge. When he arrived Captain Andersen saw a masthead light moving quickly across Storstad's course from port to starboard whereupon he ordered the engines full speed astern. Immediately after Andersen saw the masthead light, he saw the green light, and a few moments later saw Empress of Ireland and the vessels then collided.
(As part of a Norwegian radio documentary about the accident, a multimedia animation of the two versions of the collision events was developed.)
After all the evidence that had been heard, the Commissioners stated that the question as to who was to blame resolved itself into a simple issue, namely which of the two ships changed her course during the fog. They could come to "no other conclusion" than that it was Storstad that ported her helm and changed her course, and so brought about the collision. Storstad's Chief Officer Mr. Toftenes was specifically blamed for wrongly and negligently altering his course in the fog and, in addition, failing to call the captain when he saw the fog coming on.
After the official inquiry was completed, Captain Andersen was quoted as saying that Lord Mersey was a "fool" for holding him responsible for the collision. He also announced that he intended to start a suit against the CPR.
An inquiry launched by Norwegians disagreed with the official report and cleared Storstad′s crew of all responsibility. Instead, they blamed Kendall, Empress of Ireland's captain, for violating the protocol by not passing port to port.
Canadian Pacific Railway won a court case against A. F. Klaveness & Co, the owners of Storstad, for $2,000,000, which is the valuation of silver bullion stored on Empress of Ireland when she sank. The owners of Storstad entered an unsuccessful counter claim against the Canadian Pacific Railway for $50,000 damages, contending that Empress of Ireland was at fault and alleging negligent navigation on her part. Storstad was seized at the request of CPR, and sold for $175,000 to Prudential Trust, an insurance company acting on behalf of A. F. Klaveness & Co.
The Last Voyage of the EmpressEdit
In 2005 a Canadian TV film, The Last Voyage of the Empress, investigated the sinking with historical reference, model re-enactment, and underwater investigation. The program's opinion was that the cause of the incident appeared to be the fog, exacerbated by the actions of Kendall. Both captains were in their own way telling the truth, but with Kendall omitting the expediency of manipulating Empress of Ireland in such a way as to keep his company's advertised speed of Atlantic crossing. In order to pass Storstad (off Empress’s starboard bow) to quickly expedite this maintenance of speed, Kendall, in the fog, turned to starboard (towards Storstad) as part of a manoeuvre to spin back to his previous heading to pass Storstad as originally intended on his starboard side, thereby avoiding what he saw as a time-wasting diversion from his preferred and fast route through the channel. When Captain Anderson of Storstad saw Empress of Ireland through the fog he thought, by seeing both Empress of Ireland’s port and starboard lights during its manoeuvre, that Empress of Ireland was attempting to pass on the opposite side of Storstad than previously apparent, and turned his ship to starboard to avoid a collision. However, Empress turned to port to continue on its original time-saving heading; thus the bow to side collision. The conclusion of the programme was that both captains failed to abide by the condition that, on encountering fog, ships should maintain their heading, although the captain of Storstad deviated only after seeing the deviation of Empress of Ireland. In the film, water tank replication of the incident indicated that Empress of Ireland could not have been stationary at the point of the collision. It also indicated—through underwater observations of the ship's telegraph—that Kendall's assertion that he gave the order to close watertight doors was probably not true.
Although the loss of Empress of Ireland did not attract the same level of attention as that of the sinking of Titanic two years earlier, the disaster did lead to a change in the design of ships' bows. The sinking of Empress of Ireland proved that the reverse slanting, inverted or "tumblehome" prow, so common at the time, was deadly in the event of a ship-to-ship collision because it caused massive damage below the waterline, effectively acting as a ram which would smash through an unarmoured hull without difficulty (especially if the vessel was steaming at some speed). The bow of Storstad struck Empress of Ireland like a "chisel into tin". As a result of the disaster, naval designers began to employ the raked bow with the top of the prow forward. This ensured that the energy of any collision would be minimised beneath the surface and only the parts of the bow above the waterline would be affected.
The rapid sinking of Empress of Ireland has also been cited by 20th century naval architects, John Reid and William Hovgaard, as an example for making the case of discontinuation of longitudinal bulkheads which provide forward and aft separation between the outer coal bunkers and the inner compartments on ships. Though not entirely watertight, these longitudinal bulkheads trapped water between them. When the spaces flooded, this quickly forced a ship to list, pushing the port holes underwater. As flooding continued entering accommodation spaces, this only exacerbated the listing of the ship dragging the main deck into the water. This would lead to the flooding of the upper compartments and finally the capsize and sinking of the ship. Reid and Hovgaard both cited the Empress of Ireland disaster as evidence which supported their conclusions that longitudinal subdivision were very hazardous in ship collisions.
Shortly after the disaster, a salvage operation began on Empress of Ireland. The salvers recovered bodies and valuables inside the ship. They were faced with limited visibility and strong currents from the St. Lawrence River. One of the hard-hat divers, Edward Cossaboom, was killed when, it is assumed, he slipped from the hull of the wreck plummeting another 20 m (65 ft) to the riverbed below, closing or rupturing his air hose as he fell. He was found lying unconscious on his life line, and all attempts to revive him after he was brought to the surface failed. It was later reported, implausibly, that the sudden increase in water pressure had so compressed the diver's body that all that remained was a "jellyfish with a copper mantle and dangling canvas tentacles."
The salvage crew resumed their operations and recovered 318 bags of mail and 212 bars of silver (silver bullion) worth about $150,000 ($1,099,000 in 2013 when adjusted for inflation). A hole had to be made in the hull of Empress of Ireland so the salvers could easily retrieve a large safe.
In 1964, the wreck was revisited by a group of Canadian divers who recovered a brass bell. In the 1970s, another group of divers recovered a stern telemeter, pieces of Marconi radio equipment, a brass porthole and a compass. Robert Ballard, the oceanographer and maritime archaeologist who discovered the wreck of Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck, visited the wreck of Empress of Ireland and found that she was being covered by silt. He also discovered that certain artefacts from fixtures to human remains continued to be taken out by "treasure hunters".
Protecting the siteEdit
In the province of Quebec, shipwrecks are not afforded explicit protection. However, in 1999 the wreck was declared a site of historical and archaeological importance and thus became protected under the Cultural Property Act and was listed in the register of Historic Sites of Canada. This was the first time that an underwater site had received this status in Quebec.
This protection was important because, unlike Titanic, Empress of Ireland rests at the relatively shallow depth of 40 m (130 ft). While accessible to highly skilled scuba divers, the site is dangerous due to the cold water, strong currents and restricted visibility. By 2009 six people had lost their lives on the dive.
A number of monuments were erected, particularly by the CPR, to mark the burial places of those passengers and crew whose bodies were recovered in the days that followed the tragic sinking. For example, there are two monuments at Rimouski. One monument is located on the coastal road between Rimouski and Pointe-au-Père and is dedicated to the memory of eighty-eight persons; it is inscribed with twenty names, but the sixty-eight other persons are unidentified. A second monument is located at the cemetery in Rimouski (Les Jardins commémoratifs Saint-Germain) and is dedicated to the memory of a further seven persons, four of whom are named.
The CPR also erected several monuments at Quebec, e.g. Mount Hermon Cemetery (at Sillery) and St. Patrick's cemetery.
The Salvation Army erected its own monument at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto. The inscription reads, "In Sacred Memory of 167 Officers and Soldiers of the Salvation Army Promoted to Glory From the Empress of Ireland at Daybreak, Friday May 29, 1914". A memorial service is held there every year on the anniversary of the accident.
The hundredth anniversary of the sinking of Empress of Ireland was commemorated in May 2014, by numerous events, including an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History entitled Empress of Ireland: Canada's Titanic  which moved to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in 2015.
Canada Post issued two stamps to commemorate the event. The Empress of Ireland domestic Permanent stamp was designed by Isabelle Toussaint, and is lithographed in seven colours. The Official First Day Cover was cancelled in Rimouski where survivors and victims were initially brought following the tragedy.
The international denomination stamp was designed by Susan Scott using the oil on canvas illustration she commissioned from marine artist Aristides Balanos, and printed using lithography in six colours. The Official First Day Cover was cancelled at Pointe-au-Père, Quebec, the town closest to the site of the sinking.
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