The RMS Empress of Ireland Disaster

Our meeting on 17 March 2015 gave us an interesting talk by Janet Tall about the sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland following a collision on the St Lawrence River around 2am on 29 May 1914. The Canadian Pacific passenger liner in transit from Quebec City to Liverpool collided with a Norwegian collier named SS Storstad, causing the former to sink in 130 feet of water in around 14 minutes. There was a great loss of life totalling 1,012, including 134 children, making this the worst Canadian maritime accident in peacetime. By comparison RMS Titanic had sunk two years earlier with a loss of 1,503 lives.

RMS Empress of Ireland

RMS Empress of Ireland

Independent enquiries in Canada and Norway reached different conclusions as to which ship was to blame, the Canadians finding for the liner while the Norwegians found against it. There were complex issues raised in regard to changing course in foggy conditions, and separately concerning the closing of watertight doors and portholes. Empress of Ireland had adequate lifeboats but not all of them could be launched due to the ship listing.

This disaster led to an improvement in the design of ships’ bows, bringing on the raked bow.

We learned that the sinking of RMS Empress of Ireland is not as well known as RMS Titanic because Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated on 28 June 1914 and WW1 was set in motion. Lord Mersey’s Commission of Inquiry on the liner sinking began on 16 June 1914 and lasted for eleven days.

The captain of RMS Empress of Ireland was Captain Henry Kendall, well known in those times as the person instrumental in the arrest of Dr Hawley Crippen in 1910 after recognising the murderer as a passenger aboard RMS Montrose and setting in train his arrest.

Captain Henry Kendall

Captain Henry Kendall

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