The RMS Empress of Ireland, a Forgotten Titanic, Sank 100 Years ago Today


This is my 100th post for DIYPhotography, and I wanted it to be something different. In the same vein as my cinematography posts, I decided to introduce a new weekly column that’ll take us back in time and feature significant events in history, and what those events looked like through the lenses they were captured with. This is my first one for you guys, and it revolves around a tragedy that happened on this very day, exactly 100 years ago. On May 29, 1914, on its 96th voyage into the sea, the RMS Empress of Ireland collided with a Norwegian collier. 14 minutes was all it took for the ship to sink, taking the lives of 1,012 people along with it.



June 29, 1906 was the Empress of Ireland took on its maiden voyage, sailing from Liverpool to Montreal. Weighing in at 14,000 tons, the 570 foot ocean vessel was built as a system of transport for a route across the Atlantic Ocean, between Quebec and England. Alongside her sister, the Empress of Britain, the ship proved to be fast and reliable, making 95 successful trips across the Atlantic in her 9 years of service.






When it took on its last voyage, the Empress of Ireland carried 1,477 people. As it left the docks, loved ones shouted their good-byes; members of the Salvation Army were singing the hymn, “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” At 1:38 A.M on May, 29 was when the ship was struck by Storstad, a Norwegian Collier that abruptly appeared out of the fog engulfing the area. The 350 square-foot tear into the Empress’s side left passengers unable to comprehend what was happening because of how quick the ship was sinking. Within 14 minutes, the entirety of the Empress was underwater. in the end, only 465 people were rescued; 1,012 people were killed.

The Storstad, damaged after the collision.

The Storstad, damaged after the collision.

The last captain of the Empress was 39 year-old Henry George Kendall. Not too long before he led the ship on its fateful voyage, Captain Kendall was already making headlines due to his recent involvement in fighting crime aboard a ship. When a man named Hawley Crippen, who killed and dismembered his own wife, was attempting to flee the country with his mistress, he got on board the Montrose; Henry Kendall happened to be captaining the ship at the time. Immediately when he realized who was on board, Captain Kendall contacted Liverpool and had Crippen arrested.

Captain Henry Kendall.

Captain Henry Kendall.

Looking past the lives it affected, the most tragic thing about the Empress of Ireland is just how forgotten it is. Because it sank right at the eve of the first World War, the story of the Empress was barely covered by newspapers at all. And even though the deaths numbered at just around 500 shy of the count from the Titanic, the people of the Empress weren’t given as much attention. Where the Titanic was a luxury line, with many prominent people passing away in its sinking, the Empress mainly held middle-class citizens. The stories of people like Captain Henry Kendall, along with the pictures and wreckage of the ship itself, are all we have left today of its legacy.

Emmy was the name of the ship’s cat. It’s been told that she was there on board the Empress of Ireland for every single one of its voyages. On May, 28, when Emmy wouldn’t stop struggling to get out of the ship, the Empress of Ireland left the docks without her.


Further Reading:

  • Amaryllis

    I know about the Empress of Ireland because of my history teacher and a song I really like. That, and I live in Montreal, so it’s not as forgotten around here.

  • Pinhole Printed

    I very nearly signed up for an expedition to dive the Empress, but backed out – too expensive and too dangerous.