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Empress of Ireland (The Millionaire's Special)

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RMS Empress of Ireland
C3 Empress of Ireland
NAME: RMS Empress of Ireland
OWNER: Canadian-Pacific Line
OPERATOR: Canadian-Pacific Line
REGISTRY: Liverpool
BUILDER: Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., Govan, Scotland
YARD NO. 443
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The RMS Empress of Ireland was an ocean liner that sank in the Saint Lawrence River following a collision with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad in the early hours of May 29, 1914. Of the 1,477 people on board, 1,012 died. The number of deaths is the largest of any maritime accident in peacetime.

The Empress of Ireland was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland and was launched in 1906. The liner, along with her sister ship Empress of Britain, was commissioned by Canadian Pacific Steamships (at that time part of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) conglomerate) for the North Atlantic route between Quebec and Liverpool in England. (The transcontinental CPR and its fleet of ocean liners constituted CPR's self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Transportation System".) The Empress of Ireland had just begun her 96th voyage when she sank.


The Empress of Ireland was designed by Francis Elgar and was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. at Govan in Glasgow, Scotland. The 14,191-ton vessel was a fixed price contract of £375,000 and was to be delivered to CPR 18 months from the date the contract was signed.

The keel was laid on April 10, 1905 for hull number 443 at Fairfield's berth number 4 next to her sister ship, Empress of Britain which was under construction.Empress of Ireland had a length of 570 feet, and her beam was 66 feet. The ship had twin funnels, two masts, twin four-bladed screws and a service speed of 18 knots.


The Empress of Ireland was launched on January 27, 1906 and with her original configuration, she required a modest sized crew of 373 to operate her, and provided accommodations for 1,542 passengers in four separate classes. Her First Class accommodations, located amidships on the Upper and Lower Promenade and Shelter decks, had a capacity of 310 passengers when fully booked, complete with an array of spacious two- and four-berth cabins Cafe, Music Room, Library and Smoke room and a large dining room capped by a dome two decks above. One of the more noted features of her First Class accommodations, like aboard the Titanic, was her main staircase. In Second Class, located in the stern, 468 passengers were accommodated for on the Shelter, Upper and Main decks. While more spartan in design than in First Class, Second Class was also well provided for in terms of space, with numerous two- and -four berth cabins, a large dining room, a smoke room and a social hall. As for immigrants and lower-class travelers, Empress of Ireland was designed with accommodations in both the old and new types of steerage, both located at the forward end of the ship on the Upper, Main and Lower Decks. In the newer type steerage, more formally referred to as Third Class by the early 20th century, 494 passengers were provided accommodation for in an array of two-, four-, and six-berth cabins, as well as being provided with their own large dining room, smoke room, ladies room and a large open enclosed space complete with a children's sandbox. Meanwhile, accommodations were provided for another 270 passengers in three sections of open berths laid out in the old patterns of steerage more commonly seen aboard Trans-Atlantic passenger ships during the late 19th and much of the early 20th century, consisting of two-tiered berths lined against one another and long wooden tables with benches. On her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Montreal she proved herself as both reliable and fast. On October 14, 1909 she struck a sunken vessel or an unknown submerged rock at the northern end of the St. Lawrence.




The sinking of the Empress of Ireland, as depicted in Collier's magazine.

On May 29, 1914, at 2:00 AM, the Empress of Ireland, bound from Quebec City for Liverpool, reached the waters east of Rimouski; it was a foggy night. On her bridge, Captain Henry Kendall caught sight of a ship he'd estimated to be eight miles away. When he felt he was outside of the other ship's path, he attempted a starboard-to-starboard pass with a good deal of space in between.

Concerned about the fog, he blasted three whistles to the oncoming ship, the Norweigan collier Storstad, that he was setting his engines to full astern. The liner slowed to a crawl, but was kept on the chosen course. The next thing he saw was the lights of the Storstad's masts emerging from the fog. Nothing could be done in time and the smaller Norweigan ship holed the liner below the waterline on the starboard side.

Passengers on the starboard side of the ship were quickly drowned and only five or six lifeboats were successfully launched before the list got too extreme. By the time all was said and done, 1,012 out of the 1,477 people aboard had died. The ship took only fourteen minutes to sink.


The Storstad which remained afloat lowered her own lifeboats and began the rescue of the many survivors in the water. Kendall immediately blamed the sinking on her captain.

The radio operator at Father Point who picked up the emergency signal from the Empress of Ireland notified two Canadian government steamers, the Eureka at Father Point Wharf and the Lady Evelyn at Rimouski Wharf. The Eureka was first on the scene and by 3:00 AM had returned to Father Point Wharf with 32 survivors and several bodies. The Eureka was told to go to Rimouski Wharf where the Lady Evelyn arrived around 4:00 AM with more survivors and bodies. Around 6:10 AM, the survivors and bodies the Storstad had on board were transferred to the Eureka and transported to Rimouski Wharf, the Storstad was damaged but not enough to stop her then continuing to Quebec.

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