News from 1873: The Wreck of Atlantic

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Mark Baber

Staff member
On 1 April 1873, White Star's Atlantic was wrecked on the Nova
Scotia coast, with over 560 fatalities. This article appeared in that
afternoon's edition of The New-York Times. Several paragraphs of
geographical minutiae, possibly inserted as filler to be replaced if
further details were learned, have been omitted for brevity's sake.

The New-York Times, 1 April 1873

Total Wreck of the White Star Steam-Ship Atlantic---Over Seven Hundred
Lives Lost
Special Dispatch to the New-York Times
HALIFAX, N.S., April 1---One of the most terrible disasters that has
ever occurred on this coast happened at an early hour this morning, when
the White Star ocean steam-ship Atlantic went ashore on Mars Head, at
Cape Prospect, during a heavy gale. It is understood that over 700 of
the unfortunate passengers were lost out of the thousand who were on

All of the women and children were drowned.

The news of the awful disaster sent a thrill of horror through the city,
and even now excited groups of people stand at street corners discussing
the details at hand.

Even at this late hour, the details of the disaster are meagre and
unsatisfactory. The first intimation we had of the wreck was a rumor
that an ocean steamer had gone ashore down the coast and that several
lives had been lost. So vague was the source from whence the report
came, that is was not credited for some time. Subsequently, however,
more detailed accounts began to arrive, when it was learned that the
ill-fated vessel was the steam-ship Atlantic, of the White Star Line,
Capt. Williams in command.

It was next ascertained that the Atlantic had attempted to make Halifax
harbor on her way from Liverpool to New-York, in consequence of a
shortness of coal. A heavy gale prevailed at the time, so that as she
neared the coast. in hopes of sighting the light on Sambro Island, the
vessel was resistlessly carried before the wind and by the strong
current that always prevails in that locality, right on to shore,
causing her to become a total wreck.

Late this evening further and fresher details were obtained. It appears
that there were about fifty cabin passengers on board, together with
over 900 steerage passengers, so that, with the crew, the total number
of souls on board was over 1,000. During her passage across, the
Atlantic encountered very heavy weather, but all was well until
yesterday, when it was ascertained that the coal was nearly all gone.

At about 10 o'clock last night Capt. Williams and his officers believed
that they were making straight for Sambro light, but two hours later the
vessel struck.

The scene at that moment was a terrible one. The steamer bumped on the
rocks two or three times as the heavy waves lifted her, showing that her
doom was sealed. Scarcely had the first shock been felt than the
passengers rushed from their berths in cabin and steerage on to the main
deck, all being terrified and awe-stricken by the perils that surrounded

An attempt was then made to cut away the boats, and one of them was soon
filled with men and women. It was too late, however, for the steamer
suddenly careened leeward, falling over on to her beam ends, and almost
immediately sinking, the boats already spoken of being swamped and going
down with her.

So close to shore was the steamer when she struck that several of the
sailors succeeded in swimming ashore with a line after they found
themselves thrown into the sea. Fortunately, the fishermen who live on
the coast were on the lookout, and they assisted the third officer and
his companions in hauling in a rope by means of the halyards they had so
bravely carried ashore. By means of this line some 250 men succeeded in
getting safe to land, though, shocking to relate, none of the women or
children escaped alive, all going down in the raging sea.


LATER---I have just ascertained that the hull of the wrecked steamer
went clear under water when she struck for the fifth and last time. So
terrific was the way the vessel struck upon the shore or beach that her
bow alone appeared above the surface of the waves. As the majority of
the passengers were in their berths or cabins at the time, they were
actually drowned between decks, many of them probably being scarcely
awake when the waves submerged the ship. We can only imagine the awful
scene, for none are here to describe it except, indeed, the third
officer, Mr. Brady, who seems wholly incapable to give any details.

Judging from his statements, the danger was scarcely discovered when all
was lost. A few brief moments of terror and dismay, and fully seven
hundred men, women, and children found a watery grave. To-morrow I may
be able to give you a fuller and more comprehensive account of the
disaster, as steamers are being dispatched to the scene from this city.

This coast has long been known as a dangerous one in rough weather, and
some notable wrecks have occurred in years past. The most remarkable
disaster was the total loss of the French frigate La Tribune, thirty-six
guns, which vessel went down on the morning of Nov. 16, 1797, with 300
people all told on board. On June 20, 1822, the British gun-boat Drake
was totally wrecked, when over sixty persons were drowned. On the
morning of July 13, 1843, the British troop-ship Albert was wrecked off
the coast, having on board the Sixty-fourth Regiment of Foot, a majority
of the command being miraculously saved. The last great wreck was that
of the United States mail steam-ship Hungarian, which event occurred on
the night of Feb. 20, 1860, when 205 lives, all on board, were lost.


Mark Baber

Staff member
The Times, 2 April 1873

The steamship Atlantic has been wrecked off Halifax. A rumour is current
that 700 lives have been lost by this disaster.
The loss of the Atlantic is confirmed. While putting into Halifax short of
coals she ran ashore on Meagher's Head, 20 miles off Halifax. She had on
board passengers and crew numbering 1,000 souls, and it is reported that 700
are lost, including the women and children. The Cunard Government steamers
have gone to her assistance. The third officer of the Atlantic has reached
Halifax, and says that the vessel and cargo are a total loss.


Mark Baber

Staff member
The Times, 3 April 1873

The Atlantic steamer, out 11 days, with rough passage, falling short of coal
on Monday, changed its course for Halifax for a fresh supply.

The Captain and Third Officer Brady were on deck till midnight, and then
turned in, Sambro light being judged to be north north-west, 35 miles.

Mr. Brady says the night was dark and the sea rough. The ship struck at 2
o'clock on Tuesday morning on the Meagher rook, near Prospect, west of
Sambro. She struck several times, alarming the officers and crew, who rushed
on deck. The officers endeavoured to clear away the boats with axes, but
only one had been launched when the steamer fell over on her beam ends,
sinking, and carrying down the boat, and all in it were drowned. A portion
of the rigging remained above water, in which all those who were able took
refuge. Mr. Brady with two quartermasters unrove [sic] the halliards, and,
swimming with them to the rock, contrived to get a line to the shore. Some
escaped by this means, but the rising tide made their situation perilous,
and daylight appearing, fishermen put off in boats, and rescued them as fast
as the rough sea permitted, as well as others from the rigging. These
efforts were continued until noon, when all alive had been rescued except
Chief Officer Firth, who was still in the rigging, but the sea was too
rough for boats to live.

Two hundred and fifty persons have been saved, including Captain Williams,
officers Brady and Brown, the surgeon, several engineers, but not one woman
or child.

Nearly all those lost were drowned in their berths, when the ship sank.

The wreck has caused great excitement at Halifax.

A steamer was sent down last night to bring the survivors from Prospect, and
to render assistance.
The Prospect light, west of Sambro, was mistaken for the Sambro light, which
caused the disaster, the First Officer being in charge of the vessel.

The Halifax authorities this morning sent a steamer to Lady Head.

The Cunard Company's agent sent the Delta to Prospect.

Great complaints are made about the ship leaving England with too small a
supply of coal.

The Atlantic had on board, all told, 1,038 souls, of whom 300 were saved.
Only four saloon passengers were saved. The purser was lost.
The owners of the Atlantic are altogether unable to explain the calamity
that has befallen the vessel. The information already at hand states that
she was putting into Halifax, short of coal, a fact which at first sight
would lead to the supposition that the original supply was inadequate. This,
however, we learn, was not the case. The steamer left the Mersey with a
supply of 967 tons of coal on board. The estimated average consumption is 60
tons a day, and the Atlantic having left on the 20th of March, and struck on
the 1st of April, would have burnt according to that estimate about 700
tons, leaving her still with a supply of 267. The fact is that 967 tons is
over the average supply by at least 200 tons, and it was the intention to
have sent her out upon her next voyage with only 800 tons. We may explain
that the supply of coal above the minimum is often regulated by the amount
of cargo, and if a surplus supply is taken out it simply suffices to prevent
unnecessary loading on the homeward voyage.

The Atlantic sailed with every prospect of a satisfactory voyage. The
weather as she left the Mersey on the 20th was fair, but cloudy off the
port. She arrived at Queenstown shortly after 8 o'clock on the following
morning, and, having embarked passengers and latest despatches, went on her
way to New York, all well, at a quarter to 11. From Queenstown the captain,
engineers, and purser despatched letters home to the owners. Each of these
letters, it so happened, was more than usually satisfactory. The engines
were reported to be working well, the coals were described as proving better
than some previous supplies with which the Company had been served, and the
purser reported everything to be satisfactory in connexion with the
passengers. The news of the arrival of the vessel at New York was expected
yesterday morning, and her owners, like other people, looked into the
morning's paper for it, but only to read of the disaster. The following
messages were received by the owners yesterday by cable:

"Passengers expected at Halifax this evening. Cunards at Halifax are caring
for them. Captain Williams mistook the Sambro for Devil Light. Struck ledge
2 on Tuesday morning. Rolled into deep water almost immediately. No women or
children saved."

There is considerable doubt as to the exact position of the point at which
the steamer has gone ashore, but it is conjectured that the Sambro Lights
have been mistaken for the Devil's Lights, and that the ship, instead of
sailing up the channel towards Halifax, has kept too far westward, and
struck in the neighbourhood of Meagher's Head.

Captain Williams, who, it seems, survives his ship, was commodore of the
Guion Line, but has been in the service of the White Star Company almost
from its formation, about two years ago. He had been Second and First
Officer, and went out with the Republic on her first voyage, when, it will
be remembered, he was seriously injured in the accident which occurred to
the boats of the steamer. This was his second voyage in the Atlantic.

The cost of the Atlantic was about 120,000l., but from the advance in the
price of iron and wages it would cost 150,000l. to replace her. The cargo is
roughly valued at 50,000l. The owners are insured, but as they are to some
extent their own underwriters they will suffer a considerable loss.
The news received at Plymouth yesterday of the wreck of the steamship
Atlantic created the most painful anxiety, as five of her passengers are
from here, having booked with the local agent of the White Star line, and
others from the neighbourhood are known to have taken passage booked in
The disaster to the Atlantic has caused great excitement at Cork, as it is
believed a great number of Irish passengers were on board. The Atlantic
called at Queenstown on her voyage from Liverpool to New York on Friday
week, and embarked about 200 passengers, including many women and children.

[A passenger.crew list and an 1871 description of the ship have not been


Mark Baber

Staff member
The Times, 4 April 1873

Our Philadelphia Correspondent telegraphs to us under date April 3:

"Three hundred and thirty-six persons, saved from the Atlantic, have been
brought to Halifax, and 77 more are on board the steamer Lady Head.

"Among the cabin passengers saved are: [List omitted.]

"The above list does not contain the names of those saved on board the Lady

"Captain Williams says that on Monday he had 127 tons of coal on board, but,
a storm threatening, he determined to run for Halifax. The first intimation
of the catastrophe was the striking of the ship on Mars Island. The vessel
remaining fast, the sea swept away all the port boats. Rockets were fired at
intervals of a minute, but the ship careened to port, rendering the
starboard boats useless. The passengers were sent into the rigging, outside
the rails, and forward.

"Officer Brady got a line to the rock, 40 yards distant, and four other
lines were subsequently established, about 200 paces distance, between a
rock and the shore. Fifty persons succeeded in getting to land, but many
were drowned in the attempt.

"Mr. Brady aroused the islanders at 6 a.m. Three boats shortly afterwards
appeared, and took off all the people on the side of the ship and the rock.

"Officer Firth got in the mizen [sic] rigging, his rescue being cut off till
3 p.m., when he was saved. Many passengers were frozen to death in the
rigging. Among them was the purser.

"The boilers exploded when the slip rolled over."

Our Philadelphia Correspondent telegraphs under date yesterday, 3 45 p.m.:

"The following are the names of those saved and brought to Halifax by the
steamer Lady Head: [List omitted.]

"Some others who were saved walked inland from Prospect, and therefore have
not been brought to Halifax, and their names are as yet unascertained. It is
estimated that the total loss of lives is 546.

"Captain Williams says he can only account for the disaster by the
supposition that they had overrun their distance. He thought they were going
11 knots, but the speed must have been greater, or they could have not got
so far out of their course. The Second Officer was in charge."
The Liverpool Daily Albion publishes a private telegram received by the
White Star Company from their New York agent, dated yesterday, 2 30 a.m.,
which states that a hundred bodies had been recovered, and that the ship is
broken in two at the foremast.

A telegram received yesterday forenoon from Captain Williams, by Messrs.
Ismay, Imrie, and Co, of the White Star Company, gives the following

"Ship total loss. Broke abaft foremast. Crew washed out. Wreckers at work
until New York Wreckage Company arrives. Shall leave third officer and four
men at wreck attending to bodies. Forward passengers to New York via
Portland. Two hundred go to-morrow; balance next day. Cause of coming to
Halifax, short of coal Wind rising south. Wreck exposed to sea. Passengers
supplied with all necessaries. Saloon saved."

Messrs. Ismay, Imrie, and Co. write to us under date, Liverpool, April 3:

"Sir, Although much and painfully depressed by the grievous loss of life
which has attended the shipwreck of the steamship Atlantic, and disinclined,
therefore, to obtrude ourselves upon public attention, we feel that it is
our duty, as managers of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (Limited), to
which she belongs, to take notice of a statement in your columns, to the
effect that she was insufficiently supplied with coals.

"We submit that the facts are quite otherwise, for we are in a position to
prove that the quantity put on board this vessel before leaving Liverpool
was 967 tons, and that her consumption for the outward passage to New
York, upon an average taken from 18 voyages which she had successfully
accomplished, was only 744 tons, while the largest quantity ever consumed in
the worst winter passage, say in December and January, never exceeded 896
tons. We have three distinct and independent checks upon these figures,
recorded in writing at the time of the vessel's departure, all of which
agree within a few tons, 967 being the minimum which they establish as
having been taken on board.

"We feel sure that you will consider that these figures are a complete
answer to any charge of inadequate equipment, and we would add that it has
been throughout our object and most anxious desire to provide all the
vessels comprising this company's fleet with every possible requirement,
without regard to cost.

"We have also endeavoured, and with much solicitude, to provide for their
careful and safe navigation, as you will see by extracts from general
instructions and by special manuscript letter to the commander, which for
the satisfaction of the public we beg permission to subjoin.

"We feel confident that a judicial inquiry into the loss of this fine ship,
for which we are most desirous, will establish beyond a doubt her excellent
sea-going qualities, and the completeness of her outfit in every department.

"We are, Sir, your obedient servants,


"Rule 2. Responsibility of Commanders.---The commanders must distinctly
understand that the issue of the following instructions does not, in any
way, relieve them from entire responsibility for the safe and efficient
navigation of their respective vessels; and they are also enjoined to
remember that while they are expected to use every diligence to secure a
speedy voyage, they must run no risk which might by any possibility result
in accident to their ships. It is to be hoped that they will ever bear in
mind that the safety of the lives and property intrusted to their care is
the ruling principle that should govern them in the navigation of their
ships, and no supposed gain of expedition, or saving of time on the voyage,
is to be purchased at the risk of accident. The company desires to establish
and maintain for its vessels a reputation for safety, and only looks for
such speed on the various voyages as is consistent with safe and prudent

"Rule 14. Nearing the Land and Heaving the Lead---A wide berth to be given
to all headlands, islands, shoals, and the coast generally; and the
commanders are particularly enjoined, on all occasions when nearing the land
or in places of intricate navigation, to take frequent cross-bearings of any
well-marked objects that may be visible and suitable for verifying the
position of the ships."


"February 5, 1873

"Captain James Agnew Williams, screw steamer Atlantic.

"Dear Sir,---In the book of instructions handed you some time ago, and with
the contents of which we do not doubt you have made yourself familiar, we
dwelt with particular emphasis upon the supreme importance which we attach
to the exercise of extreme and unvarying caution and prudence in the
navigation of the company's vessels. This subject has so constantly
impressed itself upon us that we have determined to address you specially
upon this most vital matter, and we shall be glad to know whether, in your
opinion, and suggested by your experience of the steamers and their trade,
there is any matter connected with their outfit, appointments, or discipline
which you conceive might be supplemented or improved upon, in which case we
shall gladly receive and consider any suggestions which you may make.

"The consideration of the subject generally has impressed us with a deep
sense of the injury which the interests of the company would sustain in the
event of any misfortune attending the navigation of its vessels.

"First, from the blow which such would give to the reputation of the line.

"Second, from the pecuniary loss which would accrue---the company being
their own insurers to a very large extent; and

"Third, from the interruption of a weekly line, upon which much of the
success of the present organization must depend.

"Under all these circumstances of paramount and engrossing interest to the
company whose property is under your charge, we invite you to dismiss from
your mind all idea of competitive passage with other vessels, the advantage
or success in which is merely transient, concentrating your whole attention
upon a cautious, prudent, and ever-watchful system of navigation, which
shall lose time or suffer any other temporary inconvenience rather than run
the slightest risk which can be avoided.'"

The Western Morning News says:

"Yesterday our columns contained the brief telegraphed statement that the
screw steamer Atlantic had stranded near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Early in the
morning we had, however, to announce that this so-called stranding was
really the most terrible wreck that the world, with one exception, has ever
known; and for that exception we have to go back nearly two centuries. The
loss of the Atlantic, with some 700 lives, dwarfs into comparative
insignificance most of the disasters that have hitherto been regarded as the
most awful sacrifices of human beings to unforeseen casualty. The Northfleet
was the doom of 315. Not quite 500 went down with the Captain. Those who
perished in the London numbered but 220. The Royal Charter carried 446 to
their last account. With the Birkenhead sank 454. These great calamities are
all of recent date, and to parallel them we have to go back to the time
when Admiral Reynolds's squadron was lost on the coast of Jutland in 1811,
or to the memorable wreck of the Royal George. But even in the last-named
catastrophe, which has filled so large a space in the public mind, fewer
lives were sacrificed than now in the Atlantic; and it is not until we reach
1707, the date of the loss of the Association, Sir Cloudesley Shovel's
flagship, at Scilly, with 800 men, that we find a wreck which exceeds in
horror that which we have now to record.

"There are two Atlantics in the list of steamers of the merchant navy, and
when the telegram first reached Plymouth considerable doubt was felt as to
which of the two was the subject of the disaster. One belongs to Mr.Thomas
Moss, of Liverpool; the other to the Ocean Steam Navigation Company, forming
one of the White Star Line, for which Mr. H. J. Waring is the Plymouth
agent. In the latter it was known that several former residents in Plymouth
had embarked, and our readers can, therefore, imagine the anxiety which the
receipt of the telegram caused. Unhappily, the worst fears were realized and
it soon became known that it was, indeed, the White Star liner which had
gone down on the coast of Nova Scotia, with 700 men, women, and children."


Mark Baber

Staff member
The Times, 5 April 1873

The following are further additions to the list of persons saved from the
wreck of the Atlantic William Logan, Robert Thomas, Charles Raylance, James
Bateman, Edward Mills, and John Linley, aged 12.
The New York underwriters have despatched a wrecker, with divers, to take
charge of' and save as much as possible of the vessel and cargo, and also to
make provision for recovering and burying the bodies of the drowned. The
office of the White Star Line is besieged with anxious and excited crowds of
The captain of the Atlantic explains that the disaster to that vessel
occurred through a miscalculation of the current and the vessel's speed. He
asserts that 460 miles off Sandy Hook he had only 127 tons of coals. He
denies the mutilation of bodies by the crew. The reported robberies are
exaggerated. The crew are accused of insubordination. The ship is still
intact, but the swell prevents the divers from working. If the weather is
fine most of the cargo will be saved; 164 bodies have been found, among them
the second officer and the cabin passengers Hewitt, Price, Merritt, and
Sumner. The surviving officers have been ordered to make a report.

The entire New York Press condemn the behaviour, incompetency, and neglect
of the captain, and what they allege to be the criminal parsimony of the
Company. The emigrants saved are expected in Boston this evening, and the
Company have made every preparation to provide for their wants.
A discussion has been held in the Canadian Parliament relative to the loss
of the Atlantic, and the Government has ordered a searching investigation to
be made.

Mr. Brindley, previously reported saved, was lost.

The New York Wrecking Company are sending apparatus; in the meantime
provisional arrangements have been made with Halifax Divers, but the weather
so far is too rough to work. All abaft the foremast is sunk in eight


Mark Baber

Staff member
The Times, 7 April 1873

The Customs' Collector here will begin to-day an official investigation on
the subject of the wreck of the Atlantic.

The City Council have resolved to provide for the burial of the recovered

The inquiry ordered by the Dominion Parliament into the disaster has

Captain Williams detailed the rules and regulations observed by the White
Star Line steamships, and explained the miscalculations made with regard to
the position of the ship. Her estimated speed was 11 knots, but it had
increased from seven to 12 knots on bearing up to Halifax. He stated that he
was not anxious to economize coal. He considered that he should pass five
miles east of the Sambro lights. He was satisfied now that when he went to
his cabin he was mistaken as to the locality of the ship. He knew the coast
was ironbound and dangerous. If the officers on board had been energetic,
had seen something ahead, and reversed the engines, the calamity would have
been averted. The captain, in his statement to-day, corroborates that made
yesterday, adding that in consequence of the shortness of coals, stores, and
provisions, and the ship making only seven knots, with a westerly swell, it
was decided to put into Halifax. The distance to Sambro Island, which was
then to the north, was 170 miles. The captain added, "My intentions were to
run the ship until 3 o'clock in the morning, and then heave to and wait for
daylight. The night was cloudy but clear. I was asleep when the ship struck,
but the officers and quartermasters were quickly at their stations. The
first sea swept away the port boats. On the ship heeling over the terror
which arose defeated all efforts to send the people forward. After placing
two ladies in the rigging I found the ship was going over further, and
called to the second officer to heave the lifeboat, which rolled over,
carrying away the officer and 30 or 40 men into the sea. On returning to the
rigging I found that the ladies were gone. The Chief Officer, Frith, was in
the mizen rigging helpless; the Third Officer had established communication
by rope with a small outlying rock 40 yards off. A large number of persons,
including several saloon passengers, lay there and died. Five ropes were
brought into requisition, and 200 men were got over nearly exhausted; 50
others reached a larger island by means of a line; but many were drowned in
the attempt to get there, among them the chief steward. I and the Fourth
Officer encouraged the 450 remaining people to keep moving in order to avoid
falling asleep. Many, however, gave in and died an apparently painless
death. Twelve men despite all efforts to rouse them died in this manner, and
slipped into the sea. At 5 30 a.m. the first boat was tried, and found
useless; 20 minutes later the first large boat was launched."

Two or three hundred vessels are cruising round the wreck of the Atlantic to
pick up wreckage and cargo. The crew are considered innocent of plundering,
but eight stowaways on reaching the shore systematically plundered every
corpse. The crew are using the garments and boots found on the bodies, at
the suggestion of the magistrates.

Three hundred and twelve steerage passengers of the steamship Atlantic have
arrived here. They were conducted by the citizens and an escort of police to
the Faneuil-hall, where a bountiful breakfast was provided for them.


Mark Baber

Staff member
The Times, 7 April 1873


(From the Liverpool Daily Albion)
The agents of the Oceanic Company have addressed a letter to The Times
newspaper, published also in our columns, with the natural desire of
exculpating themselves from any share in the cause of this calamity. We
cannot help feeling a deep compassion for them under their present
circumstances, for they must needs suffer severely in purse, and, as humane
men, still more deeply in the thought of being concerned, however
innocently, in the destruction of so many of their fellow-creatures. Nothing
could be more judicious than the letter which they addressed to Captain
Williams on his appointment to the command of the Atlantic, and, read by the
light of the catastrophe, it almost seems as if they had felt a sort of
presentiment of some possible future evil. Nothing can he stronger than the
caution they administer against competition in speed, and this letter, be it
observed, is only two months old. The Company's Rules of Instruction are
also most definite and commendable, particularly those which enjoin the
desirableness of giving a wide berth to the coast generally, of taking
frequent cross-bearings, and of using the deep-sea lead. But, having given
them so much credit, we regret to say that we cannot view in the same
favourable light their explanation about the supply of coal. What is it they
tell us on this point? They say that this vessel on leaving Liverpool had
967 tons of coal on board of her; that her average consumption during 18
voyages was only 774 tons; "while the largest quantity ever consumed in the
worst winter passage " did not exceed 896 tons. The Atlantic, therefore, was
despatched with 193 tons more than the average burnt in 18 successful
voyages, or any three days' supply of coals at 60 tons per day, and with
only 71 tons more than she had on one occasion absolutely used---that is to
say, with one additional day's supply. At 60 tons diurnal consumption her
worst voyage must have lasted 15 days---a long passage, but nothing very
extraordinary, after all. On the present occasion she had been steaming for
11 days, and if she had really burnt only 60 tons per day she would have
consumed only 660 out of 967, and would, consequently, still have had 300
tons on board, or five days' supply of fuel. Is it conceivable that a
captain, at a distance of 48 hours from his destination, and with five days'
supply, would have put into Halifax for coals? The conclusion seems to be
either that more than 60 tons per day must have been consumed, or that there
was a mistake about the quantity first put on board in the Mersey. To put
this still more clearly, the Atlantic, had she burnt the same quantity as on
the average of 18 voyages, would have arrived in New York with 193 tons on
board; when she actually reached the neighbourhood of Halifax she must, by
the same calculation, have had 300, and she would properly in two days more
have come to New York with 180. The captain, however, states that on the
Monday he had only 127 tons on board; so that he had already used 840, or
equal to the calculated consumption of exactly 14 days. Eight hundred and
forty tons in 11 days gives a consumption of 76 tons per day, and at that
rate, as they were still about two days from their destination, the quantity
on board showed an absolute deficit of 25 tons. We cannot see how the
captain could do otherwise than make for the nearest coaling port. There has
been a miscalculation somewhere, and we cannot think the margin of coals
supposed to be carried was in accordance with a prudent provision for events
not at all unlikely to happen. As passengers, we should be considerably
startled to find the margin against possible accidents so very small. It is
the more remarkable, too, since we believe we are correct in stating that
the quantity of coals daily consumed by steamers of the White Star Line is
less than what is used by vessels of the Cunard and Inman. We cannot,
therefore, help thinking that the primary cause of the disaster was a
mistake on the subject of fuel, for had the captain believed that his ship
had an ample supply to carry him on to New York, clearly he would never have
taken her to the neighbourhood of the spot where she was lost. Of course we
are excluding the notion of any breakdown of machinery, of which nothing is

The first cause, however, does not exonerate the captain, and without
prejudging his case we feel at liberty to remark that no commander of such a
vessel ought to go to bed when he knows himself to be within 30 miles of a
dangerous and rockbound coast. The first account stated that he had
mistaken Sambro Light for another, but it now appears that he did not
even wait to see a light, but retired to bed at midnight. In three hours, as
might have been expected, the coast was reached, for the Atlantic struck at
3 a.m. The vessel, it is stated, had overrun her reckoning, and this
may possibly be attributable to a current, the existence of which has lost
many a fine ship; but we contend that, in such proximity to land,the
captain's place was on the bridge. If there is ever a time for watchfulness and
redoubled care, it is surely when a vessel is approaching rocky headlands;
and if a first officer is to take charge in cases of emergency, the captain
might as well be dispensed with. What adds to the terrors of this
misfortune in a passenger's point of view is the fact that the boats, of
which we believe there was an ample provision, were utterly and entirely
useless---might as well have been left behind. It does not appear that they
saved a single soul, though the upset of the only one launched caused the
death of several. Apart from the loss of life, the more we consider the
question the more unsatisfactory does it seem.


Mark Baber

Staff member
The Times, 8 April 1873


Three hundred and five survivors of the Atlantic arrived this morning at the
Castle Garden, where thousands of persons of all nationalities had gathered.
The excitement was indescribable, and it was difficult to keep the crowd
from forcing the gates. The emigrants looked starved and care-worn. The
scenes which occurred at the recognition by their relatives were
heartrending. After a liberal breakfast and dinner, however, the emigrants
became calmer. The majority speak disparagingly of the captain and the crew.
They state that they were three days at sea short of food.


Forty additional bodies have been recovered from the Atlantic, including
those of Mrs. Davidson and her daughter. According to indications on some of
them it would seem that several died of suffocation and were not drowned.

The investigation into the loss of the Atlantic was continued to-day. Mr.
Brady, the Third Officer, corroborated the evidence previously given
respecting the state of the weather, the position and speed of the ship
before bearing up for Halifax, and the increase in her speed afterwards. He
did not look at the chart to ascertain the new position of the ship. He used
the common log-line every two hours. He had been twice to Halifax, but was
unacquainted with the coast. The course shaped was taken to counteract the
current. He was ordered to call the Captain when any change occurred in the
weather or position of the vessel, and gave the Captain's order to the
Fourth Officer. When the ship struck he hurried to clear the Captain's
lifeboat. The ship fell over six minutes after striking. The witness
described his carrying the rope to the rock. He communicated with the
island, and encouraged the people on board. Nothing prevented the steerage
passengers from reaching the deck. He was positive no orders were given to
keep the passengers below. He bore witness to the Captain's exertions to
save life. In cross-examination the witness stated that no observations were
obtained for two days, during the first watch, while going north. The
ship's speed was 12 knots. According to the Admiralty direction the Sambro
Light should be visible 21 miles off. He had been twice to the wreck, and
saw the Sambro Light, but from a quarter of a mile further south it was
hidden by Hennan Point. In spite of all modern appliances, landing in boats
was impossible. The. Captain, whom he described as a most efficient officer,
could not hold out any longer, and had to be supported in climbing the
rocks. The crew were above the average. He did not know the deviation in the
course or the force of the current. He swore that the reported robbing of
the dead was true.
Official intimation was received in Liverpool yesterday that a Board of
Trade inquiry into the loss of the Atlantic will be opened without delay. To
this the owners have given their cheerful assent. We are informed by the
owners of the lost steamer that she left Liverpool with provisions on board
for 32 days. The company state that their experience has gone to show that
with a similar supply on board their steamers have gone the out and homeward
voyages without additional stores at New York, save fresh meat. The
steamer's passenger list was full on the Tuesday before the Thursday of her


Mark Baber

Staff member
The Times, 9 April 1873

The investigation into the loss of the Atlantic was continued to-day. The
Fourth Officer was examined and said that at 1 o'clock a.m. the Captain
altered the course to N.N.E., when they were running seven knots an hour. At
4 a.m. the speed had increased 11 knots.

The Third Officer stated that at 12 o'clock the Sambro Light was distant 48
miles. At midnight the weather was cloudy, the stars being occasionally
visible, and the light could not be discerned--- only open sea. He did not
call the Captain, believing that the ship had not run the distance to make
the Sambro Light, and for the same reason prevented the Quartermaster from
going aloft to look out. He saw no breakers, nor heard any sounds denoting
that they were nearing the land. He did not look at the chart. None of the
officers suggested heaving the lead or stopping the ship, because the night
was clear. In cross-examination he said the Captain was in the chart room,
within six feet of the wheel. The Captain and officers were in his opinion
efficient and temperate. He was ignorant of the quantity of coals on board
when the vessel left Liverpool.

Mr. Hogar, a steerage passenger, said that at 3 a.m. he saw nothing
indicating the close proximity of the land, and went to bed. A few minutes
afterwards there was a fearful crash, and in the confusion that immediately
ensued the passengers in their hurry to escape missed the doors. He
considered that had the means of exit been more ample, a greater number
would have been saved.

Carrol, a seaman, who was on the look-out until the disaster, said the night
was calm, though hazy. He saw but did not hear breakers nine minutes before
the vessel struck. He was sure his cry of "Breakers!" reached the Second
Officer, but he did not believe that reversing the engines would have
prevented the vessel striking. He never before gave warnings to officers.
He had no special orders for the look-out.

Patrick Keeley, a seaman, said he was ordered to be on the look-out for a
light on the starboard side. He had had 30 years' experience. He called out,
"Breakers, Joe, ahead!" and telegraphed, "Full power astern." The breakers
were a quarter of a mile off.

Quartermaster Thomas said that half an hour before striking he told the
Second Officer that the course ought to be changed, as the ship had run the
distance necessary to make Sambro Light. The officer replied that he was not
the Captain or the Mate. Thomas next asked the Fourth Officer if he should
go aloft and look for land, and the reply he received was that it was no
use. Ten minutes before striking the Captain was called, but could not be
roused. Thomas was at the wheel when he heard a cry of "Ice ahead." He went
forward and saw the foam. He then returned and put the helm hard to
starboard, and ran to telegraph to the Engineer, when the ship struck.

In cross examination he said that when the Second Officer sent to call the
Captain it was getting thick, and the Sambro Light was still unsighted. When
the ship struck the Captain and the Second Officer were in the chart-room,
the Fourth Officer was below, and nobody was on the bridge.

John Foxley, the chief engineer, testified that he sailed with 887 tons of
coal, and that the average daily consumption was 60 tons. On the previous
voyage he had 1,200 tons.

The total number of bodies recovered up to the present is 216.


The investigation into the loss of the Atlantic was resumed to-day. The
evidence given brought to light no new facts of any importance.

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