The R.M.S. Empress of Ireland Community

Captain Spooner Hand Written Letter


May 31st, 1914

304 Parliament St.

Toronto Ont.

To My Dear Mother and Father Greetings;


To My Dear Mother & Father,


I am sending you at this first opportunity a few lines to reassure and comfort you regarding myself. I feel that I must say first thanks be to God for his wonderful preservation of myself and although I am deeply disappointed at not being able to drop in and see you yet I know that He works always for our good and will arrange all things for our welfare. It has been a terrible experience but that must always remain with me and as I think of it I wonder why I should be spared while so many young ones should be taken.  I am thinking of the difference in the scene as only a few hours before.


Past four on Thursday afternoon, when we stood on the deck in a circle a band of men in our band uniforms and played as we left Quebec, “Oh Canada” then “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot” and lastly “God Be with You Till We Meet Again”. It seems now like a great finale to the Canadian Staff Band.


I went to bed about 12 o’clock and was awakened at 10 past 2 by the shock of the collision.

First I want to say a big thank you to Gloria for sharing Captain Rufus Thompson Spooner who was in the Salvation Army band. Captain Spooner had just written this letter two days after the Empress of Ireland sunk in the St. Lawrence River, the poor man must have still been in shock after he survived the sinking. At the end of his letter Rufus signed off by mentioning "his Love".  He married Margaret and they had 2 children - Stanley and Margaret.

It was very slight and I thought it was nothing much in fact I was going to sleep again when I felt the boat listing over to the right. So I got out of bed, pulled on my pants  and made my way to the deck, passing by port holes  through which big streams of water was rushing.  It was terrible work.  I managed to get to the deck. It was very foggy and was not able to see much.  Only men and women struggling to get to the ships side.  I here met one of the Bandsmen’s wives (Mrs. Greenaway).  They were only married a few days.  She said, “Captain Spooner I so glad I found you.” So I took hold of her and told her not to be afraid we would be alright and we were in the hands of God.  I then told her not to move from where she was but stay right still and I would go down to the cabins and get some life preservers.


It was easier said than done.  However after a search I found four, I hurried back and gave away two of them to two women standing near then fastened one on Mrs. Greenaway, then one on myself.  Putting my arm around her, I took her to the side of the ship where we clung on with all our But somehow I could not hold her so had to ask my band chum, Jones to hold her which he did but not for long as he could not poor fellow “He was drowned.”  She got through the railing started down a six inch girder joining the two decks where she slipped and went down below.  I was following but could not help her.


However, God saved both her and her husband.  He was the first man I met on the rescue ship.  I crawled down onto the ships side which was now on top of the water instead of in the water and sat on the steel plates not knowing what to do and waited things to work out for themselves when all of a sudden there was an explosion and the water shot out of the port holes in a great stream into the air and the boat went down simultaneously.  I was taken down about 10 feet when a great wave wash over.  Something caught me and hundreds more seeming to rush me on with great speed turning me head over heels about 5 times then threw up & down till I wondered what would happen next.  I was taken to the top where I clung to some wreckage it would not support another. One poor fellow on a table or something was shouting people not to come near his place or he would be drowned.  He got over turned and seized me around the neck took me under and I had not the heart to knock him away.

Although I reasoned him to cling to wood then we might both be saved before he took me under.  I gave up hope and in fact tried to hasten myself when he let go of me. Having grabbed some wreckage I came to the surface but again had to go under. Having my foot caught in some ropes attached to something. I worked to free myself and eventually did so.  I got onto some more wreckage and tried to get sufficient to float me but it was not much use to me.  Then I saw in the distance a boat turned bottom up on pieces of wreckage I saw it was my chance so I got into the water again and swam to it and laid down exhausted and numbed.  I thought every moment would be the last in fact I suffered terribly. There were about 10 or 15 people on it; we were taken off by a lifeboat about 20 minutes after.  It seemed an age.  I then helped to row back to the Steamer Eureka where we were shown to the cabin. There is a lot more I might tell you but I will tell you in my next letter sufficient to say God has wonderfully preserved me.  I am His for service anywhere for anything.  I am uninjured say for bruises and pieces of skin knocked off.  So please thank God with me do not worry but smile a little. One of my friends is calling to see you Kenneth McIntyre of the staff band.  Well Mother and Father it was well with my soul and death has no fear for me and it is now well with my soul.  He has said “When thou pass through the waters, I will be with thee.”  I know of a certainty this is true.


May God Bless You Much.

I am lovingly yours

Rufus T. Spooner


My lady love sends you her love.  Have you received bibles safe?


Source: Gloria Cook, thank you for sharing.

Captain Rufus Spooner

Gloria Cook,