Wednesday, February 27, 2013

SS Atlantic

The White Star Line's
First Disaster at Sea


This odd-looking ship with four masts and a single funnel was one of the first modern ocean liners.

It was launched in 1870 and wrecked three years later outside Halifax. Of the approximately 950 passengers and crew, more than half perished. No women and only a single child were among the survivors.

The story is told in this handsome and authoritative book, loaded with illustrations. A quick overview:

Immigration. It was the “torrent of emigrants” coming to America in steerage, not travellers in luxurious first class, that generated enormous profits for the shipping lines.

Shipboard Life. "It was not uncommon to see a whole squadron of kites trailing an emigrant ship" to entertain the children on board.

Final Moments. Told in wrenching and sometimes gruesome detail.

Local Assistance. The amazing generosity of local people and the bravery of one man in particular, a reverend with the unlikely name of Ancient.

Pillaging. People went through the pockets of the dead, while others snipped locks of their hair as souvenirs.

The Dead. Recovery, identification, and burial.

Halifax Inquiry. The captain was found to be ultimately responsible, being asleep in his bunk when the ship grounded.

Salvage. Hard-hat divers had to blast open the ship to get at the cargo.

The Wreck Site Today. Description and photos.

Ghastly Connection. The Atlantic's sinking was only the first of three disasters connecting Halifax with the White Star line. The second occurred in 1912 when the Titanic went down, the recovered bodies being brought to Halifax where the majority remain buried. The third occurred in 1917 when a former White Star ship, the Runic, renamed the Imo, collided with a French munitions ship in the harbour, killing approximately 2000 people.

SS Atlantic Memorial

Images and relics

SS Atlantic Heritage Park Society