News from 1914: The sinking of Empress of Ireland


Mark Baber

Staff member
MAB note: The material presented here appeared in two columns below the
headline (which ran across the entire first page). The row of asterisks in
this transcription separates the two columns, each of which also included
articles naming passengers, not transcribed here.

The Gazette, Montreal, 29 May 1914
Retrieved from Google News


The latest despatch from Father Point states that the Empress of Ireland
sank immediately after the collision.

Later advices state 337 were saved and 800 perished. Survivors include

Quebec, May 29---At 5.50 it was reported that the Empress sank in two
minutes after the impact. The number of passengers being landed at Rimouski
totalled about 350, making the number of those who perished at 800. There
was a dense fog when the accident occurred.

At 5 a.m. passengers from the Empress were being landed at Rimouski.

Captain Kendall saved, is being taken on Lady Evelyn to Rimouski.

Quebec, May 29---The C. P. R. Empress of Ireland collided with another
steamer at 2.30 o'clock this morning thirty miles east of Father Point and
is reported to be sinking.

The news of the accident was received at Quebec by a Marconigram addressed
to the Acting Marine and Fisheries Agent.

The Government steamer the Lady Evelyn and also the Eureka were rushed to
the rescue.

At 3.45 the G. N. W received the following message from Father Point:

"Daylight is breaking and I see several lifeboats. The Government steamer
Eureka and coal steamer in the distance but no trace of the Empress of
Ireland or the Hanover. The Eureka seems to be in the centre of the
lifeboats. Signed J. McWilliams, Operator.

Captain Walsh, marine superintendent of the C. P. R. stated to The Gazette
at 3.30 that he had received a message half-an-hour previously, stating that
the Empress had been in a collision off Father Point, but giving no further
details either as to the circumstances of the collision or as to the
condition of the Empress.

Captain Walsh stated that the Empress would have to be damaged in two
compartments before she would sink. He did not think there was any
possibility of the vessel going down unless she was badly damaged indeed.

Quebec, May 29---At 3.40 a message was received announcing that the ship
with which she collided was the steamer Hanover, of the Red Star German

The message received was from Father Point to the signal service office and
read as follows:

"No sign of either Ireland or Hanover. Lifeboats visable [sic] in the
distance circling around the C. G. S. Eureka. The Government steamer Lady
Evelyn is also on the scene now, and a coal steamer is also in the same

Shortly after 3 a.m. Capt. Walsh, marine superintendent of the C. P. R.,
called his Quebec office by telephone and ordered a wireless call sent to
the Empress, to be replied to both at Quebec and at Montreal. Up to 4 a.m.
no response had been made by the Empress.

Quebec, May 29---A telegram from the Marconi station at Father Point shortly
before three o'clock this morning announced that the C.P.R. R.M.S. Empress
of Ireland had collided with another ship thirty miles east of Father Point
and was sinking.

The "S.O.S." signals from the Empress announced the disaster and were
immediately responded to by the C.G.S. Eureka and the mail tender Lady
Evelyn from Father Point, both of which steamed to the rescue.

Father Point kept in communication with the Empress for a short while, but
no further definite information as to the fact was received here until it
was learned that the calls from Father Point were no longer answered by the

The Empress of Ireland was in command of Lieut. Kendall, R.N.R., and left
Quebec at 4.20 p.m. yesterday for Liverpool with 77 first, 206 second, and
504 third class passengers, a large mail and general cargo. Among her
passengers was a large party of the of the [sic] Salvation Army going to the
International Conference of the Army at London.

The first news of the disaster came in the form of a telegram from the
Marconi station at Father Point to the acting agent of the Marine
Department, who immediately ordered the Lady Evelyn and the Eureka to the

The Hannover [sic] is a steamer of the North German Lloyd Line, plying from
Rotterdam to Quebec and Montreal. She was in command of Captain Troitsch,
and besides her crew she had 12 second cabin and 1,206 third class
passengers on board.

Quebec, May 29---Latest news from Father Point announces it is the collier
Storstad that collided with the Empress and not the Hannover.

The steamer Storstad, Captain Anderson, is a vessel of 3,561 tons register,
built for the coal trade, and is capable of carrying 7,000 tons dead weight.
She has been engaged for some time carrying coal between Sydney, Quebec and
Montreal. She would have a crew of about 48 men. She was due to arrive at
Quebec about noon today.

The Storstad is reported badly damaged, but not sunk.
Early Reports That Colliding Steamer Was North German Lloyd Boat Erroneous
C. P. R. Liner Carried 90 Saloon and 250 Second, Including Many Montrealers
At 6.30 a.m. a message from Rimouski said that the collier cut down the
Empress in a thick fog.

The number saved is counted as 337, 25 of them women.

The early reports connecting the North German Lloyd steamer with the
accident proved erroneous.

Both Empress and the Stodstadt [sic] sank shortly after the impart.


Mark Baber

Staff member
MAB note: I'm not sure that the first paragraph is really a sentence, but
it is as written.

The Gazette, Montreal, 30 May 1914
Retrieved from Google News

Captain Kendall Ordered Engines To Go Astern But Too Late To Save Ship
Vessel Immediately Began to Roll on Side and in 14 Minutes Had Sunk
Confusion, but No Panic, Was Evident, the Appalling Suddenness Seeming to
Paralyze Passengers Soon to Be Struggling in Icy Waters

(Special Staff Correspondence)

Rimouski, Que. May 29---While the world stands aghast at a marine horror
exceeded only in history by the sinking of the Titanic, the community at
whose foreshore the tragedy occurred the survivors of an hour of
unforgettable, anguish, mental and physical, and the bereaved relatives of
the known dead seem as yet to comprehend but little of the appalling
magnitude of the disaster which overtook the magnificent steamer, Empress of

Until Captain Kendall, of the Empress, gives his evidence before the inquest
today, the complete story of the collision cannot be told, but from the
conflicting accounts given by survivors and others, it is possible to piece
out a cohesive story. About 1 30 a. m. Captain Kendall, after dropping off
the pilot off Father Point, ordered slow speed because of a mist which
obscured the river. Looming suddenly through the fog came the lights of
another vessel, and Capt. Kendall signalled with his whistle and ordered his
engines stopped. The oncoming vessel answered his signal and slackened
speed, but cam under the momentum of the dead weight of its cargo of coal.


Capt. Kendall rang for his engines to go astern, but the order was too late,
and the Norwegian collier Storstad punched its bows through the side of the
Empress, and then, its engines reversed, backed away, leaving a terrible
gash through which the waters poured in tons into the interior of the
wounded ship. She began to list, and in fourteen minutes, after rolling
upon her side, she plunged to the bottom in nineteen fathoms of water.

The ship's chronometer marked the hour at two o'clock. So brief was the
interval that little could be done by the officers to secure the safety of
the passengers.

Had the ship remained on an even keel, many of her boats might have been
launched, but with one rail under water within a few minutes of the
collision and the other high above the heads of the struggling passengers,
there was little chance to adopt this means of rescue.

Apparently not more than two of the lifeboats of the Empress were launched,
and these were filled to overflowing. Many of the affrighted passengers
were caught in their cabins by the rush of water and were carried down
without an opportunity to fight for their lives, while others gained the
decks to find that the only alternative was a voluntary plunge into the
chilling waters. The survivors remaining here say that there was confusion,
but no panic or terror, the numbing suddenness and surprise of the ordeal
seeming to paralyze even the elemental instinct of the victims. The
Storstad after a little delay lowered her boats and began to pick up the
living and the dead who dotted the surface of the river.

The wireless calls which were sent out from the Empress immediately
attracted the attention of the government steamers, the Lady Evelyn and the
Eureka, and both vessels hastened to the rescue. Between them over 400
persons were saved.


As expeditiously as possible the survivors were brought to the Rimouski
wharf, nearly a mile and a half from the centre of town and given the aid of
which they were so much in need. Some were clad only in night attire, other
[sic] had been immersed in the icy waters untill they were chilled to the
bone, while the five physicians of the town tended the injured and, with
good hands, the gruesome harvest of the dead was begun in earnest.

The two steamers and a fleet of small boats patrolled the river until dusk,
coming in at intervals to discharge their pathetic freight. Not one body in
twenty was encircled by a lifebelt, showing the frightful suddenness of the
call which came to most of the victims.


Capt. Kendall had remained on the bridge from the moment of the collision
until the Empress plunged into the depths. He swam until he was picked up
by a boat from the Lady Evelyn. When he gained the deck of the Government
steamer, the commander broke down and, sobbing bitterly, he cried: "I wish I
had gone down with her."

The ship's physician, Dr. Grant, was unconscious from exposure when taken on
board the rescuing steamer. As soon as he rallied, he exclaimed: "There's
better work for me that staying here. Lend me a pair of trousers. His
request was quickly granted and the brave doctor, still shaking from his
experience, busied himself in attending to those who so greatly needed his


Coroner Pineault was apprised of the disaster at 4 a.m. and hurried to the
wharf in time to see the Lady Evelyn and the Eureka land the first of the
survivors and bodies. Four or five of the rescued had broken limbs or other
serious injuries, and these were cared for at the Aged People's Home.

Dr. Pineault saw Capt. Kendall come ashore, but the commander was too
unnerved to give a coherent account of the events leading to the disaster.
Later in the day the captain was approached, but he would not talk of the
collision, reserving his story for the inquest called for tomorrow morning,
by Dr. Pineault.


From a seaman the coroner secured an account which, while unofficial,
appears to explain the happening. The Empress, seaming eastward, changed
her course to the southeast so asto bring her nearer to the shore at Father
Point, where she dropped the pilot. She then steered out again in order to
regain the deeper water and before straightening away on her regular course
the Storstad, swinging in southwesterly from the channel to pick up her
pilot, struck the Empress amidships on her starboard or night [sic] side and
crushed the rougher plates into the very veals of the ship. The stricken
Empress as the instant began to fill and list and with horrifying
deliberation turned over on her wounded side until the decks were
perpendicular and the port or left horizontal; then she plunged, carrying
down a thousand souls to death.
Storstad at Quebec

Quebec, May 30---Storstad anchored off Quebec at 2.45 this morning. She
leaves for Montreal at 4 o'clock. She has no survivors on board.


Mark Baber

Staff member
The Gazette, Montreal, 1 June 1914
Retrieved from Google News

Also Declares Collier Failed to Render Effective Aid to People in Water
Then Fogbank Came From Land and They Could Not See Each Other
Empress's Commander Says Both Passengers and Crew Behaved Splendidly---Time
was Short and Only a Few Lifeboats Could Be Released Before the Vessel Went

(Special Staff Correspondence)

Rimouski, Que., May 31---Captain Kendall's official story of the Empress of
Ireland disaster, told on oath before the coroner's inquest on Saturday
morning, laid the entire blame upon the captain of the Norwegian collier
Storstad for not only the collision, but, after the rapid sinking of the
ship, for neglect to carry out the work of rescue effectively. The inquest
was held in the schoolhouse near the wharf, over a mile from the town. The
attendance was practically confined to the jurymen, witnesses and reporters.
During the four hours of the proceedings there were only half a dozen
outsiders present.

The coroner, Dr. J. Pineault, and the clerk, who transcribed the evidence,
were neither of them fluent speakers of English, and this made the taking of
testimony tedious. The jury was composed of six French-Canadian citizens,
and Mr. P. H. A. Caron, district magistrate, filled the dual capacity of
interpreter and foreman of the jury, bringing out some important points by
his questions. Captain Kendall, singularly youthful looking for one holding
so important a command, limped into the room while the first witness was
being examined, and took an arm chair near the coroner's desk. He sat
sideways, leaning over to his left side as if in pain, while his face bore
traces of the ordeal of physical and mental anguish through which he had
passed. This condition was also evident in the nervous manner in which he
spoke when questions were put which had already been answered.

The Bible was handed to Captain Kendall, and the coroner motioned to him to
stand up.

"I'll sit here if you don't mind," said the captain, and took the oath,
seated. He had only given the formal statements that he was Henry George
Kendall, age 39, commander of the Empress of Ireland, and that he had sailed
from Quebec on May 28 at 4 20 p.m., a resident of Liverpool when his
testimony was interrupted to take the brief and unimportant evidence of
Captain Pouliot, of the Lady Evelyn. Then Captain Walsh, marine
superintendent of the C.P.R., caused a further delay by securing from the
coroner an order to permit the removal of all the bodies to Quebec.

"I told you that before," said the captain in answer to the coroner's
question as to when he left Quebec. The coroner then asked the captain to
give the details of the collision, and the captain proceeded, speaking very
deliberately, but without hesitation. His every statement was repeated by
the coroner, and then by the recording clerk, while portions of it were
translated to the jury by Magistrate Caron, so that the process was slow.
Captain Kendall even spelled a number of words for the benefit of the clerk.

After the nautical fashion, he mostly used the personal pronoun in referring
to either his ship as a whole or to its parts.


"At 1.25 a.m." he began, "after dropping my pilot at Rimouski and passing
Father Point, the weather being clear, I ordered full speed ahead. After
passing Cock Point gas buoy I sighted the Storstad about one point on my
starboard bow, the weather being still clear. Then I saw a slight fogbank
coming from the land, and knowing that it would come between the fogbank and
me, I reduced speed. The Storstad was then two miles away. The fog then
came down and the steamer's light disappeared from view.

"I rang for full speed astern, in order to take the way off her and stop her
quick. At the same time I blew three prolonged blasts on my whistle,
meaning 'I am going full astern.' He (the Storstad's captain) answered with
one prolonged blast. I looked over the side into the water, and saw that my
ship was stopped, so I stopped my engines and blew two long blasts, meaning
'My ship is under way but stopped, and has no way upon her.'"

The coroner and his assistants seemed to have difficulty in catching the
full sense of this statement, but the captain said: "It is perfectly correct
as I have given it; it is one of the rules at sea."

Continuing his narrative Captain Kendall said: "I have answered again with
one prolonged blast, the sound being then about four points on my starboard
bow. It was then still foggy. Then I looked out to where the sound came
from. About two minutes after, I saw his red and green lights about one
ship's length from me. I shouted to him through the megaphone to go full
speed astern, as I saw that the danger of collision was inevitable. Then at
the same time I put my engines full speed ahead, with my helm half port,
with the object of avoiding a collision if possible. Almost at the time,
just a matter of moments, he came and cut me right down between my
funnels----in a line between the funnels.


"I then shouted to the Storstad to keep the ship full speed ahead, as I
wanted him to fill in the hole he had made. He backed away, however, and my
ship began to fill, I rushed along the starboard side of the boat deck and
listed over rapidly. When he struck I had stopped my engines, but I then
rang for full speed ahead, to try when I saw the danger was so great, to run
my ship ashore, and save the passengers. Almost immediately the engines
stopped, the ship filling and going over all the time to starboard, I had in
the meantime given orders through the megaphone to get all lifeboats out
and, leaving the bridge, I rushed along the starboard side of the boat deck
and threw the grips of Nos. 1, 5 and 7 boats. Then I went back to the
bridge, where I saw the chief officer rushing to me. I told him to send
along [?] at once and tell the wireless operator to send out the distress
signals. He told me this was done. I then said 'Get all the boats out as
quick as possible.' That was the last I saw of the chief officer. In three
to five minutes after that the ship turned over and foundered.

"How you come to say," began the coroner.

Divining the question before it was completed, Captain Kendall
replied:---"It was fifteen minutes from the the time I was struck until she
foundered. I was then shot into the sea from the bridge and taken down with
the suction.

"The next thing I remember was being on a piece of wooden grating. How long
I was on it I do not know but I heard some men shout: 'There is the captain,
let us save him.' They go to me and pulled me into the boat, which contained
about thirty in it. I did my best with the people in the boat to assist in
saving others. We pulled around and picked up twenty or twenty-five more.
The boat was then full, so we put about. Then more got around the sides in
the water, hanging on to them with ropes around their waists.

"Seeing we could not possibly save any more, we pulled to the Storstad, who
was then about a mile and a half away. I then got all these people put on
board the Storstad and then left the Storstad in the lifeboat with six of my
crew and went back to the wreckage to save more. When we arrived on the
scene everybody was gone. We searched around, but could not see anybody
alive, so we the returned to the Storstad."


"What was the cause of the accident?" asked Magistrate Caron.

"The cause of the accident was a collision," answered Captain Kendall.

"Then, what was the cause of the collision?" he was asked.

"The cause was the Storstad running into a ship which was stopped," said t
he commander. "My ship was absolutely stationary."

Various queries were the put to Captain Kendall by the coroner and the
jurymen, which brought out some interesting details.

"The Storstad did not answer when I shouted to him to keep full speed ahead
after he struck me. He must have heard me, for I shouted five times, 'Don't
stop, keep full speed ahead.'"

"And if he did not hear me," went on the captain in bitter and angry tones,,
"as a seaman he should have done that without being told. He must have
heard me, for there was no wind and it was quite still."

"When he backed away, I again shouted, 'Come alongside, but he moved away.

Asked regarding the explosion to which many of the survivors had referred,
the Captain said he had heard no explosion, but that when a ship sank there
was always a great pressure of imprisoned air which was violently exploded.
The next questions concerned the lifeboats, which were between thirty and
forty, said the captain, or more than enough for every soul on board, enough
for two thousand persons, in fact. There was no panic, and he had dull
control of his crew. Both passengers and crew behaved splendidly, and the
crew went down trying to get the lifeboats out with the passengers standing
beside them. The starboard side sinking so quickly carried the boats on
that side down and it was impossible to launch any boats from the port side,
as it was high above the sloping deck, with the gradually rising side
between the boats and the water. Captain Kendall believes that the only
ones which got away safely and upright were the four which he had releases
from the grips on the starboard side, but others had broken away from the
port side as it swung high, slid across the decks into the water which
covered the starboard rail, and floated away, and some of the survivors
found refuge on these till picked up. The whole thing was over so quickly
that there was no time to launch more boats.

"To your knowledge, were any of the survivors saved by the collier?" the
captain was asked by Mr. Caron.

"Nearly all were saved by the boats of the Empress," replied the commander,
"after clinging to the wreckage or swimming. The Storstad had three or four
boats out after a time, pulling among the wreckage, and taking off a few
persons who were left. When I came away from the Storstad after landing our
first load, I passed two of his boats, but they had only two or three
survivors in each." This concluded Captain Kendall's examination, and as
the clerk began to read over his deposition, the captain said, "Read it
loud, so I can hear."


On being asked to make more plain the exact meaning of the somewhat puzzling
phrase, "My ship is under way but stopped, and has no way on her," he
explained that "under way" meant that the anchor was not down, and that the
whole statement meant that the ship was in a position to proceed, but that
she was stationary at the moment.

Six witnesses in all were examined, the other four being James Rankin, a
marine engineer, who was a passenger on the Empress; W. J. Whiteside,
wireless operator at Father Point; Chief Engineer Sampson, of the Empress,
and Captain Belanger, of the rescue steamer Eureka. [The reporting of their
testimony is not transcribed here; my fingers are too tired to deal with
almost another full column of type.]

This concluded the taking of evidence and the sittings were adjourned until
Saturday next at Rimouski. Dr. Pineault had meantime consulted Mr. Charles
Lanetot, attorney general of Quebec, who has instructed a member of the
department to watch the case and decide what action will be taken in order
to secure the evidence of the Storstad's captain and crew. If necessary,
the inquest will be called to resume in the course of the week.