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The SS Atlantic Story

Thanks to Marjorie P. Kohli of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada for the following information. 

When the Atlantic, a steamship of the White Star Line, was wrecked off the coast of Nova Scotia in March of 1873, she became the worst marine disaster for Canada of the nineteenth century. One source listed 546 out of 975 lives lost. The following information was extracted from two different sources. Here you will find a brief description of the events up to the accident followed by a list of passengers. There is also a short list of items found, presented because some give names or addresses.

(Extracts from Loss of the Steam Ship "Atlantic" published 1873 from Canadian Institute for Historical Micro reproductions (CIHM) #26654.)

The Vessel

"The Atlantic was launched at Belfast, Ireland, in 1871; was 420 feet long, 40 feet beam, and 23 feet depth of hold, and registered 3,723 tons. She was constructed of iron, and had four masts and six water-tight bulkheads. She was fitted with eleven boilers and four cylinders on the compound principle. A certain magnificence marked the adornments and upholstery of the Atlantic. The saloon was 80 feet long, and extended entirely across for a width of 40 feet. The lounges and fixed seats were upholstered in crimson velvet. The panels of the saloon were damask, white, and pink; and the pilasters, brackets, and cornices were of teak nicked out with gold. The bed hangings of the staterooms and sleeping berths, which were large and commodious, were of green reps; and the appointments were in all respects elegant and complete. The Atlantic arrived in New York on her first outward voyage from Liverpool in June 1871. She left on her first return voyage on July the first, following. This was her nineteenth trip. She was valued at $500,000."

Captain's Statement

"Sailed from Liverpool March 20th; during the first part of the passage had favorable weather and easterly winds; on the 24th, 25th, and 26th, experienced heavy south-west and westerly gales, which brought the ship down to one hundred and eighteen miles a day. On the 31st of March, the engineer's report showed only 127 tons of coal on board. We were then 460 miles east of Sandy Hook, wind S.W. and high westerly swell and falling barometer, the ship steaming only eight knots per hour. Considered the risk too great to push on, as we might find ourselves in the event of a gale short, out from any port of supply, and so decided to bear up for Halifax, at one p.m., on the 31st, Sambro Island north five degrees, east, distant 170 miles, ship's speed varying from eight [sic] knots an hour to twelve; wind south during the first part with rain; veered to the westward at eight p.m., with clear weather at midnight; judged the ship to have made 122 miles, which would place her 48 miles south of Sambro. I then left the deck and went into the chart-room leaving orders about the lookouts and to let me know if they saw anything, and call me at three a.m., intending then to put the ship's head off to the southward, and await daylight. My first intimation of the catastrophe, was the striking of the ship on Mar's Island, and remaining fast. The sea immediately swept away all the port boats. The officers went to their stations, and commenced clearing away the weather boats; rockets were fired by the second officer. Before the boats could be cleared, only ten minutes having elapsed, the ship keeled heavily to port, rendering the starboard boats useless. Seeing no help could be got from the boats, I got the passengers into the rigging, and outside the rails, and encouraged them to go forward, where the ship was highest and less exposed to the water. The third officer, Mr. Brady, and quartermasters Owens, and Speakman, having by this time established communication with the out-lying rock, about forty yards distant, by means of a line, got four other lines to the rock, along which about two hundred people passed. Between the rock, and the shore, was a passage one hundred yards wide. A rope was successfully passed across this, by which means about fifty got to the land; though many were drowned in the attempt. At five a.m. the first boat appeared from the island, but she was too small to be of any assistance. Through the exertions of Mr. Brady, third officer, the islanders were aroused, and by six a.m. three large boats came to our assistance. By their efforts, all who remained on the side of the ship and on the rock were landed in safety, and cared for by a poor fisherman named Clancy and his daughter. During the day, the survivors, to the number of 429, were drafted off to the various houses scattered about the village. The resident magistrate, Edmund Ryan, Esq., rendered valuable assistance. The chief officer having got up the mizzen rigging, the sea cut off his retreat. He stood for six hours by a woman who had been placed in the rigging. The sea was too high to attempt his rescue. At three p.m. a clergyman, Rev. Mr. Ancient, succeeded in passing him a line, and getting him off. Many of the passengers, saloon and steerage, died in the rigging from cold, amongst the number the purser of the ship. Before the boats went out, I placed two ladies in the life-boat, but finding the boat useless carried them to the main rigging, where I left them, and went aft, to encourage others to go forward on the side of the ship."

Steamers to the Aid of the Wreck

"Early this morning, the Dominion government steamer Lady Head, Captain Watson; the Cunard steamer Delta, Captain Shaw; and the steam-tug Goliah, Captain Jones, left the city for the scene of the wreck of the White Star steamer Atlantic, at Prospect, to render such assistance as they could. The Lady Head had on board a number of Custom-house officials, and the Delta's party included several newspaper reporters. The start was made about three o'clock, so that the steamers might reach the scene immediately after daylight. As the morning broke, the steamers approached Prospect, and those on board quickly learned the whereabouts of the ill-fated Atlantic, from the presence around her of a large fleet of fishing schooners and small boats. The locality is one that a mariner would be disposed to give a wide berth to, if possible, the shore being a succession of large beds of rock, with dangerous shoals running out for some distance, while the bay is studded with innumerable islands, large and small, all of solid rock, with scarcely a sign of vegetation or soil, or anything that grows ; yet frowning and dangerous as the place was, there was grandeur and beauty in the scene on this bright morning, when the angry waves were beating against the rocks, and enveloping the shore almost continually in clouds of glittering spray; but the terrible story of the shipwreck absorbed too much of the attention of those on board the relieving steamers to allow them to spend many minutes in admiring the beauties of nature. The business of the vessels was to get on board the passengers and others who had been saved from the wreck and put on shore." (p. 14)

The Passengers

"There were 700 steerage passengers in the ill-fated vessel. The passengers and crew, as she sailed from Liverpool, were classified as follows:-English, 198 men, 74 women, 28 male children [sic], 121 female children; Scotch, 7 men, 14 women; Irish, 43 men, 18 women, 3 children; other nationalities, 150 adult males, 32 women, 19 male children, and 18 female children. A large number of emigrants embarked at Queenstown, making the total number of souls upon the steamer, when she sailed from that port, 952."(p. 17)

SS Oceanic (Sister Ship of the Atlantic)

The list of passengers is taken from Carrie Clancy: the Heroine of the Atlantic, published 1873 from the CIHM #55081.)  Robert Howlett is listed on two lists. 


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