Monday 9 June 2014

Empress of Ireland - Official Inquiry and Storstad's Defence





It is expected that the Court of Inquiry appointed by the Canadian Government to investigate the loss of the Empress of Ireland will be composed of Sir Adolph Routhier, the Hon. Ezekiel M'Leod, and Lord Mersey, the latter being the nominee of the British Board of Trade. The third class survivors have been transferred to the Allan liner Corsican, which is due in Glasgow on Tuesday of next week.

Quebec, Wednesday. -- The Canadian Pacific Railway yesterday evening issued official figures raising the number of fatalities in the Empress of Ireland disaster to 1,024, or fifty-five over the previous figures. The vessel carried 1,476 persons, of whom 452 were saved -- namely, thirty-six first cabin, forty-seven second cabin, and 136 steerage passengers, and 233 officers and crew. Only a few more than 200 bodies have been recovered, of whom 103 have been identified.


The European manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway in London has received an official cable to the effect that the entire Delamont family of five, belonging to Toronto, who were third class passengers, were saved. The only further identification of the bodies advised has been that of May M. White. In order to assist in the proper identification by relatives at a future period precaution is being taken to have the bodies photographed, each with an indication number, which will also be used for the grave.


Amazing Statements.

Montreal, Monday. -- The following statement is made by Mr. J. W. Griffin, of New York, representing the owners of the Storstad --

Conversations with several officers and members of the crew of the Storstad all bear out the story that the Storstad was going full speed astern when the collision occurred. One of the most important statements made was by the third engineer of the Storstad, who refused to give his name. He said that he was on duty in the engine-room when the collision took place. He was asked, "How long before you struck was the signal given to go astern?" He replied, "It is impossible to say definitely, but it was something like a minute; I should say a little longer than a minute."

"There is no doubt about your having got the signal to go full speed astern?" "I am certain the engines were going full speed astern when the collision took place."

The third engineer's statement was borne out by the second engineer, who was not on duty at the time of the accident. He asserted that at no time for several hours before the collision had the Storstad gone at greater speed than ten miles an hour. Thick fog was encountered at intervals. The shock of the impact was not very noticeable. I did notice, however," he said, "that the engines had been reversed. We were going full speed astern about one minute before the shock."

When asked regarding the evidence given at the inquest that had the Storstad not backed away the Empress of Ireland might have been kept afloat long enough to allow most of the lifeboats to be lowered, the second engineer stated that he did not think that would have been the case. The blow struck was a glancing one, and even had the Storstad gone ahead instead of astern she would have glanced off, and both steamers would have been separated just as quickly as they were in fact.


Captain Holtung, of the Norwegian collier Alden, has told a highly-responsible official what his second officer and pilot saw when they passed the Empress of Ireland some thirty sea miles from where the collision occurred only a short time before the disaster. According to what the official told the "Montreal Star" this is what took place --

The Alden, chartered by the Dominion Coal Company, was on her way up the St. Lawrence, only thirty miles from Father Point, when the Empress of Ireland was sighted steaming towards them. Both the pilot and second officer were on duty on the bridge of the Alden, and are said to be willing to swear to the following --

The Empress of Ireland was steaming down the St. Lawrence when they met her. She was approaching the collier in such an erratic manner that both pilot and second officer became greatly concerned. So erratic, they are said to have declared, was the course that at times her green light could be seen, at other times her red lantern would show. The course of the Empress of Ireland is described as zig-zag.

Another officer of the Storstad said he was awakened in his bunk by the clanging of the bells in the engine-room. Hastily going on deck, he noticed the ship going astern. Almost immediately came the collision. Quickly he helped to lower a boat and started to pick up passengers. There was no trouble in getting a load full. Altogether sixty were saved in the first trip, So heavily was the boat loaded that she all but sank on her return to the Storstad. As far as this officer could tell, four other lifeboats were lowered from the Storstad. Most of those saved in the first trips belonged to the crew of the Empress of Ireland. He could not account for this beyond supposing that they were better able to endure the shock and exposure. Asked if he noticed the siren of the Empress of Ireland sounding, he replied that he heard nothing, but would not say that the Empress of Ireland did not sound her horn. -- "Times" Telegram.


Mrs. Andersen, wife of the captain of the Storstad, told her story on Monday, says Reuter's Montreal correspondent. She apologised for receiving the newspaper representative in a blue cotton dress, explaining that she had, given all her other clothes to survivors. She said the captain was called from his bed on Friday morning by the mate because it was foggy. Her husband asked her to follow him on deck. While she was dressing the collision took place. She ran to the bridge, where Captain Andersen was. Everything was dark and quiet, and there was no excitement among the crew. She kept cool, and stayed on the bridge. She asked Captain Anderson whether the Storstadt was going to sink. "I think do," he replied. She could not cry, although she felt like it.

Captain Andersen told her he was trying to keep the Storstadt in the hole she had made, and if the liner had not been speeding they would have stopped altogether, for a time at least. In a few minutes she asked again whether the Storstadt was sinking. "I can't tell yet," the Captain replied.


"I think it was five minutes later," continued Mrs. Andersen. "that I heard screams and cries. I shouted to my husband, 'Oh! They are calling.' At first it seemed as if the cries ware coming from the shore. The captain gave orders to go in that direction, and proceeded, very slowly. Everywhere around I could hear screams. My husband gave orders to send out all the lifeboats. That could not have been ten minutes after the collision. The first woman to come aboard was a Salvation Army lass, clad only in her nightdress. When she was brought to the cabin she ran to me, putting her arms round my neck, and said, 'God bless you, my angel. If you had not been here, we should have gone to the bottom.'"

After the rescued had been taken on board Mrs. Anderson went among them with stimulants. All the cabins were packed with shivering survivors scantily clad. Many sought the engine-room for heat, and were so number by the icy water that they leaned against the cylinders of the engine till the flesh blistered.


The Canadian Pacific Railway Company's London office is informed by cablegram from Montreal that sixty-one rescued third class passengers were transferred to the steamship Corsican, which sailed on Monday for Glasgow together with seventy-four members of the crew of the Empress of Ireland. An official of the company will meet the survivors on their arrival in Glasgow, and provide them with necessary clothing and sufficient funds to carry them to their destinations.

Among the sixty-one rescued passengers referred to are Mrs. E. Kirtley, of West Hartlepool; S. C. Furness, W. G. Bevan, and George Dransfield, of Liverpool; Martin Gill, of Belfast; and C. Bristow and C. H. Bristow, of Leeds. The names of the crew coming by the Corsican have not yet been received.


Mr. Murtagh, teacher, Trim School, received the following telegram on Monday -- "Matthew Murtagh, steward, saved. Deeply regret no report W. Murtagh, bellboy. -- Canadian Pacific." William Murtagh was a lad aged 17, who was with the company about two years. His uncle, Matthew, a saloon steward, took him with him a few years ago, with the view of giving him an opening in life, the lad's father, who was teacher in Meath, having died.


One od the most pathetic stories arising out of the Empress of Ireland disaster is that associated with the loss of the four young girls names Farr -- Kathleen, aged eight; Nancy, six; Dorothy, five; and Bessie, three. They belonged to a family of eight -- all girls. Their father was a farmer in the neighbourhood of Bostin, Lincolnshire, and he went out to Canada, where he was joined by his wife and children two years ago. He died soon after, and the mother succumbed to typhoid fever last November. The four girs were being brought to England by their uncle, Mr. Harold Farr, at Henley-on-Thames.


It has been decided, says a Central News message, that the bodies of the unidentified victims will be embalmed and placed in vaults at the Quebec cemeteries, with a view to possible future identification and removal for burial elsewhere. The funerals, of nine members of the crew, whose bodies have been identified, will take place to-day.

Acting on instructions from a relative in England, says Reuter, the C.P.R. Company will bury tho body of Sir Henry Seton-Karr in Quebec.


The passengers and crew of the White Star liner Megantic, which arrived at Montreal yesterday morning, joined on Sunday evening in an impressive service held on the spot where Empress of Ireland sank. Captain David stopped his ship near the buoy which marks the site of the wreck, and mustered the crew and the passengers on the deck, where with bared heads they sang this hymn, "Abide with me," the ship's orchestra accompanying the singing. Many of those who took part in the touching tribute to the dead were visibly affected.



The Lord Mayor of London has received the following Royal messages:--

Privy Purse Office,
Buckingham Palace, June 1st, 1914.
My Lord, -- I have it in command from the King to inform your lordship that his Majesty subscribes the sum of £500 to the fund your lordship is raising for the help of those stricken by the loss of the Empress of Ireland. For them in their overwhelming sorrow the King feels most deeply. -- I remain, &c.,

Buckingham Palace, June 1st, 1914.
My Lord Mayor, -- I have received the Queen's commands to transmit to your lordship a cheque for £250 as a contribution from her Majesty to the Mansion House Fund which is being raised for the widows, orphans, and dependent relatives of the crew and passengers who lost their lives in the recent appalling disaster to the Empress of Ireland. The Queen deeply sympathises with the poor bereaved relates in their overwhelming sorrow.

Marlborough House, June 1st, 1914.
Dear Lord Mayor, -- I am desired by Queen Alexandra to send you a cheque for £200 as a donation towards the fund which her Majesty is glad to see you have opened at the Mansion House for the relief of the poor sufferers from the most appalling disaster to the Empiress of Ireland. -- I remain, &c.,

The Prince of Wales has sent a donation of £250.

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company have subscribed £5,000 to the Mansion House Empress of Ireland Fund, and Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, president of the company, £500. The company and Sir Thomas have sent similar sums to the Lord Mayor of Liverpool's Fund.


At Tuesday's meeting of the Belfast Corporation, the Lord Mayor (Councillor Crawford M'Cullagh, J.P.) said that before commencing the regular business of the Council he thought it right that the Corporation should pass a resolution of sympathy with all those who had been so tragically bereft of friends and loved ones by the loss of the Canadian Pacific Company's steamship Empress of Ireland, in the estuary of the St. Lawrence, on Friday, 29th May. They were not in a position to know the exact details, all of which would, no doubt, be forthcoming at the investigation which must be held, and if they were it was not for them as a Corporation to criticise. They only knew that, unfortunately, many valuable lives had been lost, and no matter what rank, those people belonged to, high or low, their friends and relatives had been suddenly and unexpectedly bereaved, and they deeply and sincerely sympathised with them one and all. That the tragic circumstances called forth many examples of all that was best in human nature was only what they expected when a catastrophe occurred to a British ship with British crew and passengers; nevertheless, it made them glow with pride to hear again hear how Britons die. He begged to move -- "That the deep and heartfelt sympathy of the Council be and is hereby tendered to all who have lost their loved ones by the disaster that befell the Empress of Ireland on the 29th May, 1914."

The resolution was passed in silence.


Mr. G. M'L. Brown, European manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, states that the company has completed arrangements by which the Allan Line triple-screw turbine steamer Virginian will take the sailings which had been arranged for the Empress of Ireland during the summer season. The Virginian will make her first sailing from Liverpool to Quebec and Montreal on Friday, June 12, and regularly thereafter.

This article originally appeared in The Witness 5 June 1914.

image: The Empress of Ireland

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