Friday 30 May 2014

Empress of Ireland Disaster - Captain Kendall's Story





Captain Henry Kendall
Rimouski, Saturday. -- Captain Kendall, giving evidence at the inquest on the victims of the disaster to-day, said he saw the Storstad two miles away before the fog obliterated her from view. He immediately stopped the ship, rang full steam astern, and at the same time blew three short blasts with his whistle, meaning, "I am going full speed astern."

The captain added that the Storstad's whistle answered one long blast.

Soon after he blew two long blasts on his whistle, meaning that his ship was underway, but had stopped and had no way upon her. This also was answered by the Storstad. Two minutes later the Storstad's starboard and port light loomed up in the fog. The Storstad was a ship's length away.

Captain Kendall said that he shouted through a megaphone at the Storstad to back water, and at the same time had his own vessel go full speed astern, in order to try to avoid a collision.

After the Storstad's bows had cut into the Empress between her funnels, Captain Kendall asked her to keep full speed ahead and fill up the hole she had made, but the Storstad backed away, and the water rushed in.

Captain Kendall then tried to beach his vessel, but the water put the engines out of commission three minutes after the collision.


Captain Kendall, continuing his evidence at the inquest, said, that almost immediately after the engines had stopped the ship filled. She was going over all the time to starboard.

"I had in the meantime," he continued, "given orders to get the lifeboats launched. I rushed along the starboard side of the boat deck and threw all the gripes out for Nos. 1, 3, 5, and 7 boats. I then went back to the bridge and ordered the chief officer to send someone to tell the wireless operators, to send out signals of distress. He told me this had been done. I then said, "Get the boats out quick." It is possible that this was the last I saw of the chief officer.

"In about three or five more minutes the ship overturned and foundered.

"I was shot into the sea from the bridge and taken down in the suction.

"The next thing I remember was seizing piece of grating. How long I was on it I do not know. I heard some men shout from a lifeboat, 'There's the captain; let's save him.' They got me into the, boat. There were already about thirty people 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. We also carried about ten in the water around the sides of the boat with ropes around the sides of the boat with ropes around their wrists, hanging on.

"Seeing that we could not possibly save any more, we pulled for the Storstad, which was then about a mile and a half away.

"I got all these people on the Storstad, and left her, with six of the crew, and went back to try and save more. When I got there everybody was gone. I searched around, and could not find anybody alive, so returned to the Storstad."


"What was the cause of the collision?" asked the Coroner.

"The Storstad running into the Empress, which was stopped," answered Captain Kendall.

A juror asked whether he received any answer when he told the captain of the Storstad to stand fast.

Captain Kendall replied in the negative. He maintained that it would have been impossible for them not to hear. "I shouted five times," he said, "and later also I shouted to keep ahead. If he did not hear that, he should have done that. As a seaman should have known that."

Was there a wind? It was quite still. When he backed away I shouted to him to stand by.

The captain further testified that he heard no explosion. He thought the so-called explosion was the rush of air from the hull as it filled. There were boats enough for all, and there was no panic. He had full control of the crew to the end. About four boats got away. These boats, whose gripes witness loosed, as the water rose floated away. The people were saved by the Empress's boats and the wreckage.

The Norwegian collier, Storstad, after colliding with the Empress of Ireland


Chief-Engineer Sampson was too ill to appear at the inquest, and his testimony was taken at his bedside. He said -- I was in the engine-room until the lights went out and there was no more steam. I had great difficulty in reaching the decks owing to the list, and I had no sooner got on deck than the life-boats which broke loose swept down on me, carrying me under. When I came to the surface I was under a lifeboat, entangled among wreckage. There was no explosion of any kind. I believe that if the Storstad had stuck to us we should have reached the shore.

The inquest was adjourned for a week, and Mr. Coroner Pinault in the meanwhile will take steps to determine what can be done to obtain the evidence of the captain and crew of the Storstad.


Statement by Sir Thomas Shaughnessy.

Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, President of Canadian Pacific Railway Company, has issued the following statement --

"The catastrophe, because of the loss of life, is the most serious in the history of the St. Lawrence route. Owing to the distance of the nearest telegraph or telephone stations from the scene of the wreck, there is unavoidable delay in securing official details, but we expect a report from Captain Kendall in the course of the afternoon. From the facts as we them, it is apparent that about two o'clock this morning the Empress of Ireland, when off Rimouski had stopped in a dense fog, was rammed in the port side by the Norwegian collier Storstadt in such a manner as to tear, the ship from the middle to the screw, thus making the watertight bulkheads with which she was provided useless. The vessel settled down in fourteen minutes. The accident occurred at a time when the passengers were in bed, and the interval before the steamship went down was not sufficient to enable the officer's to rouse the passengers and get them into the boats, of which there were sufficient to accommodate a very much larger number of people than those on board, including the passengers and crew. That such an accident should be possible in the river St. Lawrence, to a vessel of the class of the Empress of Ireland, with every possible precautions taken by the owners to ensure the safety of the passengers and the vessel, is deplorable. The saddest feature of the disaster is of course the great loss of life and the heartfelt sympathy of everyone concerned with the company goes out to the relations and friends of all those who met their death in the ill-fated steamship."

This article originally appeared in The Witness 2 June 1914.


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