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1,000 drown as Empress of Ireland sinks
The Empress of Ireland sank on the morning of the 29 May, taking with her the lives of over 1,000 people Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie, EST EI-13 (358)

1,000 drown as Empress of Ireland sinks

Inquest hears how liner sank within minutes

Published: 31 May 1914

The number of lives lost following the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in the Saint Lawrence River is now officially put at 1,021, with 446 passengers having been rescued from the ship.

The ship sank in just 17 minutes, having collided at night with a Norwegian coal freighter, the Storstad, which had an ice-breaking bow.

A diagram showing the location of the disaster in relation to the Canadian coast. Click to enlarge. (Image: Illustrated London News [London, England], 6 Jun 1914)

The inquest on the victims of the disaster opened yesterday at Rimouski in Canada and heard evidence from Henry Kendall, captain of the Empress of Ireland. Captain Kendall stated that the Empress had been leaving Quebec, when he spotted the Storstad two miles away before fog obliterated the view.

The two ships signaled to each other, but according to Captain Kendall’s evidence, the next time he saw was the Storstad, it was a mere ship-length away.

Desperate attempts at evasion failed and the prow of the Storstad plunged into the starboard side of the Empress of Ireland.

A hole was immediately ripped through the plates of the ship and when the Storstad backed out, water rushed immediately through. Following the collision the ship’s boilers exploded and people were catapulted into the water.

Such was the speed at which the liner sank that there was no time to wake those passengers who were sleeping in their cabins.

(Left) Laurence Iriving, with his wife (Centre) Members of the Salvation Army band, many of whom lost their lives in the disaster (Right) Sir Henry Seton Karr. (Image: Illustrated London News [London, England], 6 June 1914)

Just a few lifeboats were launched and the majority of those who were saved had been tossed from their beds when the collision took place. Boats in the area searched for survivors but were left mostly with the task of pulling bodies from the water.

One of the survivors was Captain Kendall who was thrown from bridge of the ship before being pulled into a lifeboat.

Most of the passengers on board were Canadian and were bound for Liverpool. Amongst the dead are the English dramatist and novelist Laurence Irving and the explorer Henry Seton Karr, while 159 members of the Salvation Army who were travelling to London were also lost.

The Canadian government has launched an inquiry into the disaster.


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.