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One thousand sink with Empress of Ireland in Gulf of St. Lawrence

Sailors are pictured removing coffins from the Lady Gray at port in Quebec following the sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland ocean liner on May 28, 1914. More than 1,000 people perished in the tragedy. File Photo by Library of Congress/UPI
Sailors are pictured removing coffins from the Lady Gray at port in Quebec following the sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland ocean liner on May 28, 1914. More than 1,000 people perished in the tragedy. File Photo by Library of Congress/UPI

QUEBEC, May 29, 1914 (UP) - The big Canadian Pacific Transatlantic liner Empress of Ireland was sunk early today in collision with the liner Storstadt, a much smaller vessel, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The number of victims of the disaster was guessed this afternoon at about 1,000.

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There were some who believed the collier Storstadt, which sank the Empress, had survivors on board. Indeed, there were reports that it was bringing 350 to port. These reports, however were unconfirmed and not generally credited.

Of the 1,367 persons on board the Empress of Ireland when it was rammed, only 337, landed by the government boats Lady Evelyn and Eureka at Rimouski, were definitely accounted for as saved.

Small hope was entertained that many of the 1,030 still missing survived.

Of the saved, a large proportion were said to be members of the crew and steerage passengers. The first and second cabins lost heavily. According to the best available information, only 12 women were rescued.

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For the disproportionate number of sailors and steerage passengers who survived, the hour and nature of the disaster were thought the cause.

The Storstadt rammed the Empress about 2:30 a.m. when the passengers were in their bunks. The collier was said to have struck the liner amidships and torn its way aft through the staterooms. Thus, many passengers were crushed to death as they slept. Others could not escape on deck and must have gone down imprisoned in their sleeping quarters.

The members of the crew were, to a great extent, up and about the ship. The steerage quarters were so situated that they were not raked by the Storstadt's bow as it crunched its way through the liner's side.

The collier, now making its way slowly on account of its injuries, up river, put in at Father Point for a pilot. Captain Anderson stated at the time that he had on board the corpses of some of those who lost their lives in the collision.

From this remark the report gained currency that there were survivors also on the Storstadt. So far as could be learned here this afternoon, however, no reference was made to any but the dead.

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The Lady Evelyn and Eureka, according to earlier accounts, picked up 299 survivors. The actual number, as shown by dispatches from Rimouski, was 359, but of these 22 died before the ships reached land or soon afterward.

The temperature of the water after the wreck was only 36 degrees, and the survivors' sufferings were pitiful. Of those who succumbed, a part died from exposure; part from injuries suffered in the crash between the two boats.

The Lady Evelyn was back at the scene of the disaster this afternoon and it was stated it would remain all night in the hope of picking up bodies which might otherwise float out to sea.

"The catastrophe," said Sir Thomas O'Shaughnessy, president of the Canadian Pacific, in a statement issued this afternoon, "because of the great loss of life, was the most serious in the history of the St. Lawrence route.

"Owing to the distance from the nearest telegraph or telephone station, there has been unavoidable delay in securing details of the wreck, but we expect Captain Kendall to report late today.

"From the information we have it is apparent that about 2 o'clock this morning the Empress of Ireland when off Rimouski, and stopped because of the dense fog, was rammed on the port side by the Norwegian collier Storstadt in such a manner as to tear the ship open from the center to the screw, thus making the watertight bulkheads useless.

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"The vessel settled down in 14 minutes.

"The accident occurred at a time when the passengers were in bed and the interval before the ship went down was not sufficient to enable the officers to arouse the passengers or get them into the boats, of which there were enough to have accommodated a much larger number of persons than those on board, including passengers and crew.

"That such an accident should have occurred on the river St. Lawrence to a vessel of the Empress' class, with every possible precaution taken to insure the safety of the passengers and vessel, is deplorable."

The disaster occurred in a dense fog off Father Point. As nearly as could be learned, Captain Kendall, hearing the Storstadt's siren, but unable to locate the collier, hove the Empress to. The liner was bound from Montreal for Liverpool. Soon afterward, the Storstadt, heavy laden and so low in the water as to serve as a frightfully effective ram, crashed into the liner head-on.

The Empress heeled over heavily, and according to a message from Captain Anderson of the Storstadt, went down in 19 minutes.

Captain Kendall flashed a "S.O.S" call by wireless and was giving a few hurried details of the accident when his message was suddenly interrupted with the two tragic words "Ship gone," and the wireless was silent.

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The Storstadt, badly damaged, got its boats over the side promptly. The Empress, too, had succeeded in launching a few of its small craft and life rafts. All these were heavily loaded. Captain Kendall was rescued from his own bridge as his ship was going down under him.

In the meantime the Canadian government boats Lady Evelyn and Eureka were speeding to the scene of the wreck from Father Point under full steam. The gulf is 40 miles wide at the point where the disaster occurred, however, and by the time the government vessels arrived the Empress was at the bottom.

The Empress sailed from here yesterday for Liverpool and was on its way to sea when the collision occurred. Directly after the crash its wireless flashed a distress call and the Lady Evelyn and Eureka steamed at full speed for the scene.

The liner, however, had gone down before they arrived. In the meantime the Storstadt had launched lifeboats and it was by these boats that it was thought the 70 first rescues were made. The two government craft gathered up the survivors in the Empress' lifeboats and on its life rafts and hurried them to Rimouski.

The Storstadt, with its bow badly smashed, passed Father Point at dawn, bound up river. It was taking survivors and corpses to port, its wireless stated.

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"We are compelled to proceed slowly," it was added, "on account of damage we sustained in the collision. The Empress was so badly rammed that it sank in about 19 minutes. A big hole was cut under its water line."

The saved included Captain Kendall, the Empress' commander, who was picked up by a lifeboat just as his vessel was going down beneath his feet. Kendall is a lieutenant in the royal naval reserve, and attained considerable celebrity a few years ago, when captain of the liner Montrose, by discovering Dr. Crippen among his passengers, notifying the authorities by wireless, and turning the fugitive over to the police at Father Point, whence, after the necessary formalities, he was returned to London and hanged for murdering his wife.

The Empress sailed at 4:20 yesterday afternoon with 77 first and 206 second cabin passengers and 504 in the steerage. The number included in the crew was not positively known.

Among the passengers were a number of high Salvation Army officers on their way to a conference to be held in England.

In the first cabin, among others, were: J.R. Abercrombie, C.B. Lyon, R.B. Bulpitt and Mrs. D.T. Hailey of Vancouver; C. Malloch of Lardo, B.C.; Miss C.P. Gay of Golden, B.C.; Mrs. E. Chignell of Victoria, B.C.; Mrs. A. Cole of Princeton, B.C.; James Gregg and wife of Chilliwack, B.C.; Costa Bubler and A.S. Deats of Regina, Sask.; Miss B. Farr of Moose Jaw and Alex Bunthorne of Santa Barbara, Cal.

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Most of the saloon passengers were Canadian, or English. Many of them were from eastern Canada.

The Empress was a vessel of 14,500 tons register or 20,000 tons displacement. It was 548 feet long, had twin screws, a thoroughly modern equipment, wireless and a submarine signaling apparatus. It was built in Glasgow in 1906.

The Storstadt, commanded by Captain Anderson, is of 3,561 tons register and runs between Sydney and Quebec and Montreal.

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