From: Manager-in-Chief of Ocean Services
To: Captain Henry Kendall
Date: May 9, 1914
In handing over the command of this vessel to you, I desire to particularly call to your attention to the importance of your command and to the value of the ship. I emphasize to you the instructions of the company relative to the care of your vessel and the lives of your passengers.
It is to be distinctly understood that the safe navigation of the ship is to be in all instances your first consideration. You must run no risk which by any possibility might result in accident; you must always bear in mind that the safety of the lives and property entrusted to your care is the ruling principal by which you must be governed in the navigation of your ship. And that no saving of time on the voyage is to be purchased at the risk of accident.
I cannot sufficiently emphasize my desire that these instructions shall be carried out to the letter.
It is expected that all officers of your ship will bear this in mind, and will be specially cautioned by you, and, furthermore, that everyone on board will do their utmost to please and to gratify the company's patrons.
Twenty Days Later...
At 01:30 on Friday, May 29, Empress of Ireland dropped off her pilot near Rimouski and continued down the St. Lawrence River, enroute to Liverpool. Her course was North 50 East; speed, 17 knots. There were lookouts posted on the forecastle and in the crow's nest.
Only a short time had passed before the Empress sighted the masthead lights of a steamer, off the Empress' starboard bow at a distance of several miles. Though the officers aboard the Empress didn't know it at the time, this was the Norwegian collier Storstad, bound upriver with a cargo of coal, and under the command of Captain Thomas Andersen. Empress altered course to North 76 East; the distant masthead lights were still off her starboard bow.
Fog was slowly creeping off the distant shore towards the two vessels as the watch officers aboard the Empress noted the green starboard running light off their starboard bow. As a fog bank enveloped the Empress, Captain Henry Kendall ordered her engines stopped and put into full reverse. He then ordered three short blasts of the Empress' whistle.
Unknown to Captain Kendall, he assumes that the Empress of Ireland is stopped. But the Empress is still moving forward from its forward momentum. Without the propellers turning, Captain Kendall had lost all maneuverability of the Empress of Ireland, while the vessel is approaching a fog bank, at night with a steamer coming towards him.
By this time the advancing fog had shut out the lights of the Storstad. A prolonged blast from the Storstad's whistle could be heard off the Empress' starboard bow. Empress replied with three short blasts. Still surrounded by the fog, the Empress' deck officers failed to realize the two vessels were on a collision course.
There was another long blast from the whistle of the unknown vessel, still on Empress' starboard side, but this time closer. Empress, her engines stopped, was now dead in the water. Captain Kendall ordered two long blasts. A moment or two later, there was another long blast from Storstad, still off the starboard bow, but closer. Again, Empress sounded two long blasts.
Seconds later Storstad's masthead light and her two side lights appeared out of the fog; her bow was aimed directly at the Empress, between the two funnels. Captain Kendall, standing on the starboard bridge wing, hailed Storstad by megaphone, directing her to go full astern.
While Storstad gave three short blasts, in the hope avoiding or minimizing a collision, Captain Kendall ordered the Empress to full ahead, and her helm hard aport, hoping for a glancing blow.
Time was against the two luckless vessels. Storstad, coming on fast, struck the Empress between the funnels, and penetrated through her steel decks some fifteen to twenty feet. The engines of the Empress were immediately stopped. Captain Kendall, hoping to use the Storstad to plug the huge hole, directed Storstad by megaphone to go full ahead. Inexorably, the two ships separated. Captain Kendall attempted to beach his vessel, but by this time Empress was listing heavily to starboard, mortally wounded.
Less than fourteen minutes later, the Empress of Ireland disappeared beneath the waves, taking with her 1,012 passengers & crew to the bottom of the St. Lawrence River.
This was Canada's worst-ever maritime disaster.
1st Class Passengers, 34 Women on board 11 saved. 49 Men on board 24 saved. 4 Children on board 1 saved. For a Total 87 1st Class passengers on board 36 saved or 41%.
2nd Class Passengers,107 Women on board 13 saved. 114 Men on board 33 saved.32 Children on board 2 saved. For a Total 253 2nd Class passengers on board 48 saved or 19%.
3rd Class Passengers,169 Women on board 17 saved. 446 Men on board 115 saved. 102 Children on board 1 saved. For a Total 717 3rd Class passengers on board 133 saved or 18%.
Crew, 134 Engineers on board 95 saved. 222 Stewards on board 114 saved. 59 Deck Hands on board 36 saved. 5 Musicians on board 3 saved. For a Total 420 crew 248 saved or 60%. Grand Total 1477 on board 465 saved or 31%