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The sinking of the White Star Liner SS Atlantic, April 1, 1873, off the village of Prospect, Nova Scotia, is Canada's second worst marine disaster of all time with the loss of some 562 people.
It is, we believe, the only Canadian disaster - they produced many US ones - that Currier & Ives ever memorialized.
But they outdid themselves with this one, wonderfully blending in the true horror of how hundreds of people lost their lives: floundering in the heavy seas, falling off the rescue rope, vainly scrambling up the masts, massing on the sinking decks, as the pounding sea reduces one of the finest ships in the world at the time, to kindling in mere minutes.
With CNN immediacy - for the age - this very print is also wonderfully contemporary, actually hand coloured within only weeks of the disaster.
|The Wreck of the Atlantic, Currier & Ives - 1873|
|Orig. hand painted lithograph - Image Size - 23 x 32 cm
Found - Toronto, ON
The George Harlan Estate Coll
Relics of SS Atlantic
Contemporary views of the wreck site as it appeared when daylight arrived, drawn by people who had been there.
Relics recovered by divers from the site of the sinking, or flotsam picked up off the beach afterwards by local families, include, clockwise from top left: small statuette of the Virgin Mary, life ring, window frame, deadeye for holding the shrouds that supported the masts, silver teapot engraved SS Atlantic, hot food covers, with White Star logo, ship's clock showing the opulent gilding found throughout one of the finest ships afloat at the time, and a copper kettle. All can be seen at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996-1999-2005
The Wreck of the Atlantic 1873
It happened at night, when the ship drove at full speed on to the exposed rocks just off shore of a remote village some 20 kilometres south of the entrance to Halifax harbour.
The passengers were going to New York, but, as the ship neared her destination, the Captain became worried that he didn't have enough coal to get there. He decided to turn towards Halifax to replenish his bunkers.
At midnight he set the course for Halifax, ordering the ship at full speed to make for that port, before going to bed. He asked to be awakened at 2:40 am but was not. The ship struck rocks at 3:14 am.
Within 15 minutes the ship fell sideways making it impossible to lower boats. A rope was lined to shore but only the strongest men could manage it. Some 562 drowned; some 400 were rescued.
The court of enquiry blamed the captain for negligence: not taking soundings as he approached shore, going full tilt for hours towards shore, in the dark; not manning the bridge personally during this critical time; not keeping a sharp lookout for light houses that he should have been able to see on a clear night, and didn't; focusing entirely on trying to reach port when there was no point getting there before daylight, especially when it meant ordinary precautions were being ignored, with 1000 souls aboard ship.
The direct cause of the grounding was that the captain failed to take into account a well known local phenomenon, especially in March and April, of a strong westerly current off the Halifax coast. This meant the ship was actually drifting some 14 miles south of the course he had set, making running ashore inevitable.
The Atlantic sinking was one of the worst sea disasters of the 19th century. The true terror of the scene is not really captured in this print because all this horror took place during the pitch blackness of the night at 3:15 am. The screams of hundreds of terrified women clutching babes in arms, of men losing touch with wives and children, must have pitched many beyond the bounds of sanity....
A mother who faced this horrific end for her family, at another time, is buried in Halifax, in the SS Titanic plot below.
Top right is the headland at Chebucto Head, the entrance to Halifax harbour, where Atlantic should have appeared over the horizon, to see Chebucto Head light above.
Right the dangerous shore just a few kilometres from where - in the distance - SS Atlantic ran ashore...
Land of Hope and Glory, for hundreds near the wreck site...
Asleep at the Wheel
A captain, sleeping while his ship hurtles, in the dark, at full speed, for a nearing shoreline, astronauts and airline pilots, who drink before boarding, car drivers in the passing lane, who speed and dial their cell phone at the same time, and small aircraft pilots, like Steve Fossett, who are too smart to file a flight plan, take emergency gear (beyond one bottle of water) or have a functioning ELT... and is still missing a week after leaving for a couple of hours flight over the mountainous desert wilderness...
All are leading high risk lifestyles that will put someone, somewhere, quite predictably to an early grave. Don't let it be you...
Make sure that you'll be Coming Back Alive...
|Go to Coming Back Alive|
The George Harlan Currier & Ives Collection
A longtime Canadian journalist, George Harlan, spent over 40 years scouring print shops, in the eastern United States and Canada, for the finest Currier & Ives prints he could find on all the subject areas that the firm pictorialized. It produced some 8,000 views from 1834-1907.
The vast majority of the 175 prints George gathered were American but he came up with a few famous Canadian scenes. They include:
- the Death of Tecumseh
- the Magnificent Steamship Britannic of the White Star Line
- the Mammoth Iron Steamship the Great Eastern
- View of the St. Lawrence - Indian Encampment
- Canadian Voyageurs - Walking a Canoe up a Rapid
- the Wreck of the Atlantic