RMS Empress of Ireland

RMS Empress of Ireland was an ocean liner that sank near the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River following a collision in thick fog with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad in the early hours of 29 May 1914. Although the ship was equipped with watertight compartments and, in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster two years earlier, carried more than enough lifeboats for all onboard, she foundered in only 14 minutes. Of the 1,477 people on board, 1,012 died, making it the worst peacetime marine disaster in Canadian history.[1][2][3][lower-alpha 1]

Colourized photo 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
Yard number: 443
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
General characteristics
Type: Ocean liner
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)
  • 1,542 passengers in 1906
  • 310 First Class
  • 468 Second Class
  • 494 Third Class
  • 270 Steerage
Crew: 373 in 1906

Empress of Ireland and her sister ship, Empress of Britain, were built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland.[1] The liners were 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.[4]

The wreck lies in 40 metres (130 ft) of water, making it accessible to advanced divers.[5] 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.[6]

Numerous books have been written about the sinking of Empress of Ireland and several films and documentaries have been made.[7][8][9][10]


Empress of Ireland was the second of a set of twin ocean liners ordered by Canadian Pacific Steamships during their early years in operation on the North Atlantic. In 1903, Canadian Pacific officially entered the market for trans-Atlantic passenger travel between Great Britain and Canada. In February of that year, they had purchased Elder Dempster & Co, through which they obtained three ships from Elder's subsidiary, the Beaver Line. These ships were Lake Champlain, Lake Erie and Lake Manitoba, with Lake Champlain being the first to sail on the company's established route between Liverpool, England and Montreal, Quebec the following April. The line proved to be successful on the North Atlantic trade, as in that first year, 33 westbound crossings were completed by those three ships, on which a combined total of 23,400 passengers traveled in third class, most of them immigrants bound for Canada.[11][12]

As successful as the former Beaver Line ships were under Canadian Pacific, their relatively slow sailing speeds of 12–13 knots (22–24 km/h; 14–15 mph) kept them a step behind many other ships on the North Atlantic.[11] In an attempt to continue the momentum in their success, Canadian Pacific ordered a set of twin liners which would greatly increase the standards of passenger travel on the St. Lawrence run. These ships were designed to each be roughly 14,000 tons, and were identical in design and specifications.

Description and construction

In early 1904 work commenced at Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering in Glasgow, Scotland. The liners were designed by Francis Elgar, and were specified to be twin screw liners with service speeds of up to 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). Both were of identical appearance, with two funnels and two masts, with equal passenger capacity of just over 1,500. In the early planning stages, their intended names were to have been Empress of Germany and Empress of Austria, but were later changed respectively to Empress of Britain and Empress of Ireland, following the implementation of a policy that any future Canadian Pacific ship named in the Empress format would be respectively named after a dependency or colony of the British Empire.[13]

The vessel's keel was laid down 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 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph).[14]

The Empress's safety features included ten watertight bulkheads which divided the hull into eleven compartments which could be sealed off through the means of closing 24 watertight doors. All eleven bulkheads extended from the double bottom up to directly beneath the Shelter Deck, equivalent to three decks above the waterline. By design theory, the vessels could remain afloat with up to two adjacent compartments open to the sea. However, what would prove to be the fatal flaw in her design in 1914 was that unlike aboard Titanic, where the watertight doors could be closed by the means of a switch on the ship's bridge, the watertight doors aboard Empress of Ireland were required to be closed manually.[15]

Also, in the wake of the Titanic disaster, Empress of Ireland, like many other liners, had her lifesaving equipment updated. When she first entered service in 1906, she had been equipped with standard wooden lifeboats, which in 1912 were replaced with 16 steel lifeboats mounted in traditional radial davits, under which were stored an additional 26 wooden collapsible lifeboats, all of which combined had a capacity of 1,686 persons, 280 more than the ship was licensed to carry.

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 on seven decks.


Her First Class accommodations, located amidships on the Upper and Lower Promenade and Shelter decks, could accommodate 310 passengers when fully booked. Their accommodations included access to the open boat deck and two enclosed promenade decks which wrapped the full exterior of the Upper and Lower promenade decks. Located on the Upper Promenade deck was the Music Room, with built-in sofas and a grand piano encircling one of the ships most notable features, being the glass dome over the First Class dining room. Also on this deck was the top landing of the First Class main staircase, which as similarly seen aboard Titanic, faced aft and extended down two decks to the entrance of the First Class dining room. Located on the Lower Promenade deck was the First Class library, situated at the forward end of the deck with windows overlooking the ship's bow. Amidships was the First Class cafe, which was pierced by the two-story well above the First Class dining room, while at the after end of the deck was the First Class smoke room. One deck below on the Shelter Deck was the elegant First Class dining room, which could seat 224 passengers in one sitting. In addition, a separate dining room for up to 30 First Class children was located at the forward end of the deck. Finally, scattered across all three decks were arrays of two- and four-berth cabins.

Her Second Class accommodations, in the stern on the Lower Promenade, Shelter, Upper and Main Decks, could accommodate 150 more passengers than in First Class, with a designed capacity for 468 in Second Class when fully booked. They were allotted open deck space at the after end of the Lower Promenade deck, extending from the after end of the superstructure to beneath the docking bridge at the end of the stern, while one deck below on the Shelter deck was located additional deck space sheltered by the deck above. Also on the Shelter Deck were the Second Class Smoke Room, located at the aft end of the deck and designed in a similar but simpler fashion as what was seen in First Class, with built-in sofas lining the outer walls and an adjacent bar. At the forward end of the deck, beneath the aft mast was the Second Class entrance, with a staircase running down two decks to the Main Deck. Aft of the main landing was the Second Class social hall, laid out in a fashion similar to the smoke room and provided with a piano, while forward of the entrance was the Second Class dining room, large enough to seat 256 passengers at one serving. On the starboard side of the Upper Deck and in the three compartments aft of the Engine Room casing on the Main Deck were an array of two and four berth cabins, designed to be interchangeable to both First Class and Third Class. According to the ship's deck plans, cabins for 134 passengers on the Upper Deck were designed to be converted to First Class cabins if needed, while the cabins for 234 passengers on the Main Deck could simultaneously be converted to be used for Third Class passengers if needed.

As for immigrants and lower-class travelers, Empress of Ireland was designed with accommodations which symbolized the dramatic shift in immigrant travel on the North Atlantic commonly seen between the turn of the 20th Century and the outbreak of the First World War, that being a general layout which included both the 'old' and 'new' steerage, which combined provided accommodations for 764 passengers at the forward end of the vessel. Passengers travelling in these two classes had some shared public areas, including access to the forward well deck on the Shelter Deck, as well as a large open space on the Upper Deck very similar to the open space later seen aboard Titanic. This open space, which spanned the full width of the ship and the length of two watertight compartments, included wooden benches lining the outer walls, and a large children's sandbox enclosed by a wooden fence. At the after end of this space were two smaller public rooms, side by side against the adjacent bulkhead. On the port side was the 3rd Class Ladies' room, which included a piano, while across on the starboard side was the 3rd Class Smoke Room, complete with an adjacent bar. On the Main and Lower Decks, the accommodations separated, with the 'new' steerage, more commonly referred to as Third Class, providing for 494 passengers, and the 'old' steerage providing for 270 passengers. Accommodations for Third Class consisted of four sections of two, four and six berth cabins, three on the Main Deck and one on the Lower Deck, and defined by watertight bulkheads. Directly aft of the section on the Main Deck was the Third Class Dining Room, which was large enough to seat 300 passengers in one sitting. The old steerage consisted of three sections of open berths, one on the Main Deck and two on the Lower Deck, all forward of the Third Class sections. Each section consisted of two-tiered bunks, individual pantries and long wooden tables with benches.


Two months after Empress of Britain entered service, Empress of Ireland departed Liverpool for Quebec City on her maiden voyage on Thursday, 29 June, 1906. The following morning she made port at Moville, a coastal town on the north coast of Ireland, to pick up a number of Irish immigrants before making for the open Atlantic. On her first trip across the Atlantic she carried 1,257 passengers, with 119 in First Class and 342 in Second Class, Third Class being booked well past capacity with 796, a large number of small children and infants among them.[16]

On the afternoon of 6 July, the Empress of Ireland arrived at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, calling at Pointe-au-Pere to pick up a river pilot who would assist in guiding the ship down the final 300-kilometer stretch of the voyage to Quebec City. While off Rimouski, another small boat met the Empress to collect all Canadian-bound mail and drop off a group of people working to aid in preparing for the liner's arrival. They consisted of Canadian Pacific Railway ticketing agents who would meet with all the passengers to arrange for their transportation by rail to their final destinations all across Canada, Canadian immigration and customs officials who would inspect luggage and check passenger documents, and doctors to examine all passengers to check for any illnesses which would warrant quarantine at Grosse Ile, a process all but one of the ship's passengers passed through successfully. The Empress of Ireland arrived in Quebec City early the following morning, where passengers disembarked and cargo was offloaded, and after a six-day turnaround she sailed on her first eastbound crossing back to Liverpool on 12 July. [17]

Over the next eight years, the Empress completed the same process of transporting passengers and cargo between Britain and Canada, with alternating Canadian ports by season, terminating at Quebec City May through October and at Halifax and Saint John November through April when the river was frozen over. Her final successful crossing concluded when she arrived at Quebec City from Liverpool on 22 May 1914, by which time she'd transported 119,262 passengers westbound to Canada[18] and another 67,838 eastbound to Britain[19].

Final crossing

Sinking site
Sinking site (Quebec)

Empress of Ireland departed Quebec City for Liverpool at 16:30 local time (EST) on 28 May 1914, manned by a crew of 420 and carrying 1,057 passengers, roughly two-thirds of her total capacity. In First Class, the list of passengers was relatively small, with only 87 booked passages. This small number did not however spare the inclusion of some rather notable figures from both sides of the Atlantic.

  • Col. Robert Bloomfield of New Zealand's 3rd Mounted Regiment, his wife Isabella and their daughter Hilda.[20]
  • Laurence Irving, son of famous Victorian stage actor Sir Henry Irving, who since 1912 had been on an extended stage tour of Australia and North America, together with his wife and stage partner, Mabel Hackney.[21]
  • Sir Henry Seton-Karr, a former member of the British House of Commons returning home from a hunting trip to British Columbia.[22]
  • Henry Lyman, head of the firm Lyman, Sons & Co, which in 1914 was the largest pharmaceutical company in Canada, who was bound for Europe for a belated honeymoon with his young wife, Florence.[23]
  • Wallace Palmer, associate Editor for The London Financial Times and his wife Ethel.[24]
  • George Smart, Inspector of British Immigrant Children and Receiving Homes.[25]
  • Lt. Col. Charles Tylee of the Canadian Army and his wife Martha.[26]

Second Class saw a considerably larger booking at just over half capacity with 253 passengers, owed greatly to a large party of Salvation Army members and their families, numbering 170 in all, who were travelling to attend the 3rd International Salvation Army Congress in London.

Third Class saw the largest booking, which with 717 passengers was nearly filled to capacity. This compliment reflected greatly the typical mix of steerage travellers seen on eastbound crossings aboard the Empress and her running mates on the North Atlantic which paralleled that seen on westbound crossings from Liverpool. While on westbound crossings Third Class passengers were predominantly diverse mixes of immigrants, eastbound crossings saw equally diverse blends of former immigrants from both Canada and the United States returning to their native countries in Europe. Many were returning to visit relatives, while others were in the process of remigrating and resettling.

Henry George Kendall had just been promoted to her captain at the beginning of the month, and it was his first trip down the Saint Lawrence River in command of her.

Collision and sinking

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 a rate alarming 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.[27]

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.[28] As was noted at the subsequent inquiry "If the testimony of both captains were to be believed, the collision happened as both vessels were stationary with their engines stopped". 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".[29]

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.[30] The maritime 'Safety of Life at Sea' regulations require that any openable portholes be closed and locked before leaving port,[31] but portholes were often left open in sheltered waters like the Saint 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 crew

Total numbers saved and lost

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.[2] As a consequence, initial reports in the newspapers were incomplete.[32]

Number of people on board and death toll [2][33]
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
1st Class875.9%513.4%362.4%41.4%
2nd Class25317.1%20513.9%483.2%19.0%
3rd Class71748.5%58439.5%1339.0%18.5%
Adults and children

Rescue operations and survivors

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, the pilot boat Eureka at Father Point Wharf who left the wharf at full steam at 02:30, followed by the mail ship Lady Evelyn at Rimouski Wharf who left at 0245.[34][35] Eureka was first on the scene at 0310 and rescued about 150 survivors from the water. Eureka brought the survivors first to Father Point, but was redirected Rimouski Wharf where doctors and relief supplies were waiting. Lady Evelyn arrived at the site of sinking at 0345. No survivors were left in the water but Lady Evelyn collected the 200 survivors rescued by Storstad, as well as 133 bodies, and arrived to join Eureka at the Rimouski Wharf about 0515.[36] Storstad was damaged but not severely, so her captain continued on to Quebec.[35]

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.

Amongst the dead were the English dramatist and novelist Laurence Irving, the explorer Henry Seton Karr, William Hart-Bennett's wife Ella, Suva's mayor Gabriel J. Marks, and Lieutenant Charles Lindsay Claude Bowes-Lyon, a first cousin of the future Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

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.[37][38] 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.[32][39] 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.[lower-alpha 2]

Robert Crellin saved over twenty people and became famous for his heroics during the disaster.[40]


Commission of Inquiry


The Commission of Inquiry, held in Quebec, commenced on 16 June 1914, and lasted for eleven days.[41] 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.

Twenty questions

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 stories

Two very different accounts of the collision were given at the Inquiry.[42][28] 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 12 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!".[43] 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 nmi 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.)[44]


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.[45]

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.


The Canadian Pacific Railway won a court case against A. F. Klaveness & Co, the owners of Storstad, for $2,000,000,[46] which is the valuation of silver bullion stored on Empress of Ireland when she sank.[47] 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.[47] 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.[48]


On 5 June 1914, Canadian Pacific announced it had chartered the Allan Line's Virginian to fill in the void in service in the Canadian Pacific fleet left by the loss of the Empress of Ireland, joining the Empress of Britain and other previously acquired CP ships on the St. Lawrence Run. The Virginian embarked from her first voyage from Liverpool under Canadian Pacific service on 12 June, which was to have been the next departure date from Liverpool of the Empress of Ireland.[49] Canadian Pacific later acquired the Victorian, sister ship of the Virginian in 1917.[50]

Following the outbreak of the First World War, the Empress of Britain was converted into an armed merchant cruiser, and was later used as a troop transport. She returned to civilian service in March 1919, before being withdrawn from service the following August for a major overhaul. Her engines were converted to fuel oil, and she resumed service in September 1920. Canadian Pacific renamed her Montroyal in 1924 and she remained in service on the North Atlantic until being laid up in September 1929. She was scrapped at Stavanger the following summer.[51]

The Last Voyage of the Empress

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.[7]


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".[52] 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 and dragging of the main deck down 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.[53][54]

Wreck site

Salvage operation

Shortly after the disaster, a salvage operation began on Empress of Ireland to recover the purser's safe and the mail. This was deemed a plausible effort due to the wreck's relatively shallow depth at 130 feet, shallow enough so that in the aftermath of the sinking, the mainmast and funnels of the Empress were still visible just beneath the surface. 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 lifeline, and all attempts to revive him after he was brought to the surface failed.[55] 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."[56]

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).

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".[57]

Protecting the site

In the province of Quebec, shipwrecks are not afforded explicit protection.[58] 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.[6][59] 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.[60] By 2009 six people had lost their lives on the dive.[5]


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 in Quebec, e.g., Mount Hermon Cemetery and St. Patrick's Cemetery, both of which are located on the Sillery Heritage Site, at the formerly independent city of Sillery.

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.[61]


The hundredth anniversary of the sinking of Empress of Ireland was commemorated in May 2014, by numerous events,[62] including an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History entitled Empress of Ireland: Canada's Titanic [63] which moved to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in 2015.[64]

Canada Post issued two stamps to commemorate the event.[65] 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[66] using the oil on canvas illustration she commissioned from marine artist Aristides Balanos,[67] 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.[65]

The Royal Canadian Mint has also issued a 2014 coin commemorating the disaster.[68][69]

See also


  1. The Halifax Explosion, which claimed more lives than the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, was not caused by military action. However, it cannot be considered a "peacetime maritime disaster" because it took place during World War I and involved munitions destined for the Western Front.
  2. Alfred C. Toftenas (sic) buried 22 April 1918, Green-Wood Cemetery, Lot 34969, Section 131.


  1. "Investigating the Empress of Ireland". Shipwreck Investigations at Library and Archives Canada. Library and Archives Canada. 14 February 2006. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  2. Cd. 7609, p. 25.
  3. "The Empress of Ireland". Lost Ship Recovered Voyages. Royal Alberta Museum. Archived from the original on 13 March 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  4. "The Empress of Ireland: Survivors". Lost Ship Recovered Voyages. Royal Alberta Museum. Archived from the original on 13 March 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  5. "The Empress of Ireland: Respecting the Wreck". Lost Ship Recovered Voyages. Royal Alberta Museum. 6 February 2009. Archived from the original on 12 March 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  6. "The Empress of Ireland: Protecting the Empress". Lost Ship Recovered Voyages. Royal Alberta Museum. 6 February 2009. Archived from the original on 12 March 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  7. The Last Voyage of the Empress, 2005 IMDb; retrieved 16 April 2011
  8. Journey to oblivion (videorecording) : the Empress of Ireland story Montréal : National Film Board of Canada, 2001. (Released in French under the title Sombré dans l'oubli TagTélé.)
  9. Tragedie med norske syndebukker. Radiodokumentaren, NRK. 5 January 2012.
  10. Andersen, M.N. (2012) Forgotten Empress. In, The Human Element. Beacon, Skuld Magazine Archived 10 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Issue 201, March, 22–24.
  11. "Travel by Ship Across the Atlantic". british-immigrants-in-montreal.com. British Immigrants in Montreal. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  12. "Canadian Pacific Line / Canadian Pacific Railway Co. (CPR) / Canadian Pacific Ocean Services (CPOS)". theshipslist.com. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  13. "An Empress Line". The Vancouver Daily World. 12 August 1905.
  14. "New Atlantic Steamer.-The twin-screw". The Times. London. 6 June 1906. p. 9.
  15. Renaud, Anne. "Into the Mist: The Story of the Empress of Ireland", p. 77
  16. Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935
  17. Renaud, Anne. "Into the Mist: The Story of the Empress of Ireland. p. 21, 24.
  18. Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935
  19. UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960
  20. https://empressofireland.wordpress.com/2017/01/24/bloomfield-colonel-robert-w-r/
  21. https://empressofireland.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/irving-laurence-sydney-brodribb/
  22. https://empressofireland.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/seton-karr-sir-henry/
  23. https://empressofireland.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/lyman-henry-herbert/
  24. https://empressofireland.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/palmer-wallace-leonard/
  25. https://empressofireland.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/smart-george-bogue/
  26. https://empressofireland.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/tylee-lt-col-charles-david/
  27. Cd. 7609, p. 19.
  28. "Hear Two Theories of Empress Wreck" (PDF). The New York Times. 17 June 1914. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  29. Cd. 7609, p. 11.
  30. Cd. 7609, p. 16.
  31. "International Conference on Safety of Life at Sea. "Text of the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. Signed at London, January 20, 1914"" (PDF). International Maritime Organization. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  32. Death Toll of the Empress of Ireland New York Times, 30 May 1914.
  33. Detailed Empress figures. Archived 27 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine Royal Alberta Museum.
  34. John Willis, Empress of Ireland:Canada's Titanic, Canadian Museum of Hisotry (2014), p. 86
  35. "Great Shipping Disaster." Times [London, England] 30 May 1914: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 14 October 2013.
  36. John Willis, Empress of Ireland:Canada's Titanic, Canadian Museum of History (2014), p. 87
  37. Empress of Ireland – The Salvation Army Connection Archived 25 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre.
  38. Great Tragedy of the Sea Archived 29 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine The War Cry, 13 June 1914.
  39. 1914: Empress of Ireland sinks in the St. Lawrence and interview with Grace Martyn (née Hanagan). The Fifth Estate, Broadcast 23 September 1986. CBC Digital Archives.
  40. Nesteroff, Greg (29 May 2014). "1914 Silverton shipwreck survivors surfacel". Nelson Star. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  41. Cd. 7609, p.3
  42. Cd. 7609, Part II.
  43. Sess 21b–1915, p.35 Q.351
  44. Hvem hadde skylden for ulykken? Animasjon av ulykken. Radiodokumentaren NRK. 5 January 2012.
  45. Thinks him a fool. Storstad Captain's view of Mersey. Unlimited litigation pending. Northern Advocate, 14 July 1914 (p.7).
  46. "Defense of the Collier's Captain." The Independent [New York] 8 June 1914, 78th ed.: 443. Print.
  47. "Storstad Claims $50,000 Damages." New York Times 4 June 1914, 63rd ed.: 3. Print.
  48. "Storstad Bought at Montreal Sale." Toronto Sunday World 8 July 1914, 34th ed.: 6. Print.
  49. http://anextractofreflection.blogspot.com/2014/06/empress-of-ireland-official-inquiry-and.html
  50. http://www.norwayheritage.com/p_ship.asp?sh=victp
  51. http://www.norwayheritage.com/p_ship.asp?sh=empbr
  52. Croall, J. (1980) Fourteen minutes: The last voyage of the Empress of Ireland. Sphere, London.
  53. Hovgaard, William. (1919). "Buoyancy and Stability of Troop Transports." Transactions, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers 27. Pp. 137–61. Empress of Ireland is discussed in pp. 147–56, passim.
  54. Empress Diver Lost New York Times, 22 June 1914.
  55. McMurray, K.F. (2004) Dark Descent. Diving and the Deadly Allure of the Empress of Ireland. International Marine / McGraw-Hill.
  56. Ballard, R.D., Archbold, R. and Marschall, K. (1998) Ghost Liners: Exploring the World's Greatest Lost Ships. Little, Brown and Company.
  57. A Summary of Legislation Effecting Underwater Cultural Heritage. Quebec Archived 22 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine Nova Scotia Museum.
  58. Communiqués – Bas-Saint-Laurent, 1999-04-21. L'épave de l'Empress of Ireland est classée bien historique et archéologique. Gouvernement du Québec.
  59. Empress of Ireland Expedition. CBC News.
  60. 94th Anniversary of the Empress of Ireland Tragedy. Archived 5 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine The Salvation Army in Canada.
  61. "Commémoration Empress of Ireland 2014". empress2014.ca. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  62. "Canada's Titanic – The Empress of Ireland – Canadian Museum of History". historymuseum.ca. Archived from the original on 26 October 2015. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  63. "Empress of Ireland Ship Sinking Exhibit Opens at Pier 21", CBC News, Nov. 24, 2015
  64. "News Releases". canadapost.ca. Archived from the original on 20 March 2015. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  65. Susan Scott
  66. Aristides Balanos
  67. "Commémoration Empress of Ireland 2014". empress2014.ca. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  68. "Artifacts and eyewitness accounts tell the story of the Empress – Inside History: Canadian Museum of History". historymuseum.ca. Retrieved 2 November 2015.


Further reading

  • Autio, K. Second Watch. Sono Nis Press ISBN 1550391518
  • The Golden Age of Liners. BBC Four. Timeshift, Series 9, Episode 2.
  • Conrad, J. (1919) The Lesson of the Collision. A monograph upon the loss of the "Empress of Ireland." London: Richard Clay and Sons, Ltd.
  • Croall, J. (1980) Fourteen minutes: The last voyage of the Empress of Ireland. Sphere, London. ISBN 0-7221-2548-8 / 0-7221-2548-8; ISBN 978-0-7221-2548-9
  • Filey, M. (2000) Toronto Sketches 6 "The Way We Were". Dundurn Press. (Google eBook)
  • Flayhart, William H. (2005). Disaster at Sea: Shipwrecks, Storms, and Collisions on the Atlantic. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-32651-9
  • Grout, D. (2001) Empress of Ireland: An Edwardian Liner. Gloucestershire: Tempus Press.
  • Grout, D. (2014) RMS Empress of Ireland. Pride of the Canadian Pacific's Atlantic Fleet. Gloucestershire: The History Press.
  • Logan, Marshall. (1914) The Tragic Story of the Empress of Ireland: an Authentic Account of the Most Horrible Disaster in Canadian History, Constructed From the Real Facts Obtained From Those on Board Who Survived and Other Great Sea Disasters. Philadelphia: John C. Winston. [OCLC 2576287]
  • Marshall, Logan. (1972). The Tragic Story of the EMPRESS of IRELAND. London. Patrick Stephens. ISBN 0-911962-03-4.
  • McMurray, K.F. (2004) Dark Descent. Diving and the Deadly Allure of the Empress of Ireland. International Marine / McGraw-Hill.
  • Renaud, A. Into The Mist: The Story Of The Empress Of Ireland. Dundurn Press ISBN 978-1-55488-759-0
  • Roy, K. (1993) Le drame de l'Empress of Ireland : Pointe-au-Père, 29 mai 1914. Vanier : Les Editions du Plongeur.
  • Saward, J (2010) "The Man who Caught Crippen". Morienval Press. ISBN 978-0-9554868-1-4
  • Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père (2007) Les trésors de l'Empress of Ireland. Rimouski, Québec : Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père. ISBN 978-2980452727.
  • Willis, John (2014) Empress of Ireland:Canada's Titanic, Gatineau: Canadian Museum of History ISSN 2291-6385
  • Wood, H.P. (1982) Till We Meet Again: The Sinking of the Empress of Ireland. Toronto : Image Pub. ISBN 9780919357143.
  • Zeni, D. (1998) Forgotten Empress. The Empress of Ireland Story. Halsgrove; 1st Canadian edition

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