Friday, 25 October 2013

Anecdote Saturday - SS Arctic

Launched in 1852, the Arctic was the largest and grandest paddle steamer of the Collins Line. 1854 she sank after colliding with the SS Vesta in fog off Newfoundland. In the confusion, the captain of the Arctic decided it would be in their best interests to steam towards land. The Vesta had sustained bow damage, but the bulkhead was intact. Her captain decided to proceed cautiously but when they reached port learned that the Arctic had not made it.

A total of 400 souls were lost, including 92 officers and all women and children. There were stories of cowardice (crew taking over life boats) fuelled by the fact that no women and children survived. The manager of the Collins Line, Edward Knight Collins lost his wife, only daughter and youngest son in the tragedy. There were also stories of bravery, including young Stewart Holland, who stood on the sinking deck right up until she went under, firing the distress cannon. The ship's captain James C. Luce managed to survive by holding onto one of the paddlewheel boxes.  His son, however, was lost with the ship. 30 people managed to stay afloat on a piece of the deck, but only 2 survived the elements,and were rescued the following morning. One passenger even constructed his own life raft and was picked up the following day.

A notable passenger lost with the Arctic was archaeologist Frederick Catherwood. He was a pioneer in the field and toured Egypt with the Robert Hay expedition. Some of his drawings are included in the Hay collection of the British Museum. He travelled to the Levant and made some drawings of Jerusalem and joined John Lloyd Stephens on an expedition to the Maya ruins of Central America. His drawings of the Mayan architecture and monuments are still held in high regard.

Another extraordinary story of survival involved that of James Smith, founder of the Smith and Wellstood Ltd Ironfounders. He pulled himself onto a raft but started to deteriorate due to exposure.  He saw a basket used for storing plates and managed to hoist it onto the makeshift raft. He survived by squeezing himself into the basket for protection. He was rescued by the barque Cumbria. The last living survivor (by clinging to wreckage) , Thomas Baker, 16 at the time died in 1911 aged 73.

With the loss of her sister ship the SS Pacific in 1856, the Collins Line's reputation was tarnished and spelled the end of an era dominated by their (and those of the United States Merchant Marine line) fast and luxurious ships. By the end of the Crimean War, a new enterprise had emerged called the Cunard Line (English), which eventually dominated the trans Atlantic trade by the end of the decade.

1 comment:

Graham Clayton said...

One of the worst examples of a breakdown in communication, self-interest and cowardice ever seen in the sinking of a ship.