Shipwrecks: SS Atlantic: No April Fool’s Joke

ss atlanticThough arguably Titanic is the major White Star Line disaster that still captivates people around the globe, it wasn’t the only catastrophe to befall the infamous shipping company. Almost four decades before Titanic‘s demise, the SS Atlantic, another trans-atlantic ocean liner met her end near Nova Scotia on Canada’s eastern coast.

Atlantic was considered the most luxurious liner of her time. Like Titanic, Atlantic‘s route had her travelling between the United Kingdom and the United States. But unlike Titanic, she made it long past her maiden voyage, yet she holds the unenviable distinction of having been one of the worst civilian maritime tragedies up until April 15, 1912 when Titanic sank.


Atlantic, was a four-masted, iron-hulled steamer and was an extremely fast ship able to run at a top speed of 14 knots, though she still had sails affixed for auxiliary power. She left Liverpool on March 20, 1873 with 931 people on board — mostly immigrants — for her 19th crossing to New York. However, as a storm brewed, the crew decided to make an unscheduled stop at Halifax, Nova Scotia for more coal.

Due to several crew errors navigating the unfamiliar waterway, Atlantic ended up hitting Golden Rule Rock near Lower Prospect in the area of the fishing community of Terence Bay during the early morning hours of April 1, 1973.  She had actually been over 12 miles off course, and although lifeboats had been lowered, many of them wrecked as the ship broke apart in heavy seas. With the exception of one boy, all women, children and married men perished. In total, 560 people lost their lives.

As the storm raged, Third Officer Mr. Bradley and two seamen heroically swam to shore with a line to help haul passengers through the high surf. By daylight, a few local boats had joined in the rescue efforts, saving 371 people.

The Atlantic was only the second vessel built for the White Star Line, a new company back in 1870 whose reputation would subsequently become tainted with several ships sinking over time. Atlantic‘s scattered remains, which include boilers and propeller shafts, still draw divers to the site of the wreck. Tourists can visit the the SS Atlantic Heritage Park in Terence Bay to view photographs and artifacts and take a step back in history to the heyday of 18th century ocean liners. The book SS Atlantic: The White Star Line’s First Disaster at Sea, written in 2009, is also worth checking out.


Text source: Wikipedia under Creative Commons licence.
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Photo credit: Vince Capone

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