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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Empress Of Ireland


The RMS Empress of Ireland was commissioned by CP Steamships to undertake the cross Atlantic voyage, moving passengers between Great Britain (Liverpool, England) and Quebec City in Canada.  The Empress of Ireland was built in Glasgow by the Fairfield Shipbuilding Company (Govan) and was first launched in 1906. Information about The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company archives can be found on the National Archives website: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/searches/subjectView.asp?ID=B6299

The Empress of Ireland was one of several ships of its time moving immigrants from the British Isles to their newly anticipated lives in Canada. They also took many of those same immigrants back home to conduct business or visit family left behind. These large ocean liners allowed the less affluent to travel abroad at reasonable cost.  

Between the time of its launch in 1906 and the fateful sinking on May 29th 1914, The Empress of Ireland had completed 95 round trips crossing from Liverpool to Quebec City (or on occasion Halifax).  On May 29th, 1914, her first run of the season, and her 96th voyage overall, The Empress of Ireland left the port of Old Quebec and sailed along the St. Lawrence on her way out to sea. It was 2 a.m. on a calm, somewhat foggy night. The pilot ship had just left the larger vessel, which was still fairly close to shore. Captain Henry Kendall was aware of another ship plying the same river, but in his estimation, the other ship was several miles away. What happened next is up for speculation, depending on whether the information is relayed by CP Steamships or the Norwegian Company, but in fairly short order, the two vessels collided, with the SS Storstad, a coal-bearing cargo ship ramming the Empress of Ireland mid-ship and causing the passenger ship to break apart, take on water and within 14 minutes, sink to the bottom of the river. 1,012 lives were lost that fateful night: 840 passengers and 172 crew members. This makes the sinking of the Empress of Ireland the worst marine disaster in Canada 

The wreck of the passenger ship lies in 40 metres of water. The artefacts that were recovered by the dive team hired by CP Steamships are now to be brought back to Canada and housed at the Museum of Civilization in Hull. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/ottawa/Museum+Civilization+finally+acquires+Empress+Ireland/7461001/story.html

There was a Marine Court of Inquiry launched into the accident and some of the transcripts from that inquiry can be found at: http://ied.dippam.ac.uk/records/38706 

There were 64 witnesses called at this inquiry. The blame was placed with the Storstad. The results of the inquiry, presided over by British Admiralty Judge, Lord Mersey were that the Court ordered the Norwegian Company to pay Canadian Pacific's damage claims.  

Memorials for lost lives have been erected in Rimouski where many of the victims were buried, as well as in Toronto. http://torontocemeteries.blogspot.ca/2012/05/today-in-history-empress-of-ireland.html 

If your ancestor was one of the passengers who lost their life that fateful night, the following websites may be of interest to you: 


Crew List for Empress of Ireland




 

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