American steamship SS Arctic collided with the French steamer SS Vesta just off the coast of Newfoundland today in 1854 and sank, taking down with her nearly 400 souls including a 22 year old crewman who stood firing the ship’s distress cannon until the ship fell below the surface of the Atlantic ocean. Now WE know em

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The SS Arctic was a 2,856-ton sidewheel Paddle steamer built for the Collins Line steamships.

Edward Knight Collins, owner of Collins Line, had naval architect George Steers (later famous for designing the racing yacht America, the first winner and namesake of the America’s cup) design SS Arctic to compete with the Cunard Line for control of the Atlantic trade.

Edward Collins depended on U.S. government subsidies based on carrying mail to and from Europe.

As a result, George Steers designed SS Arctic to be larger, faster, and more luxuriously appointed than their British Cunard counterparts.

SS Arctic was constructed in the shipyards of W. H. Brown of New York and built primarily of oak, with pitch-pine planking. The design of Arctic’s machinery was considered of paramount importance by the company’s government backers and a careful study was made of the designs used by Cunard.

The engines were subsequently designed by a government engineer named Faron, and they were built by the the Novelty Iron Works and Allaire Works.

Three masts, with square-rigged sails on the fore and main-masts, were also fitted.

The resultant ship had straight bows and rounded sterns, and was considered to be “by far the handsomest vessel that had yet been built for the Transatlantic service.”

The final touch for SS Arctic was to fit her out with more luxurious fittings and furnishings than her British rivals.

Collins Line ships were the first to have straight sterns, and to be fitted up with smoking-rooms, specially set apart for the purpose. They were also fitted with spacious bath-rooms and barbers’ shops.

SS Arctic eventually ended up costing $700,000. This high cost was considered acceptable, so long as the ship performed better than the Cunarders.

Then on January 28, 1850, SS Arctic was launched to great public acclaim.

Edward Collins sent out invitations to the press, and even docked the Arctic’s sister ship SS Atlantic nearby in order to sell tickets to spectators watching the launch from Atlantic’s decks.

It was later estimated that over 20,000 people viewed the launching.

On entering service that day, the SS Arctic was considered the the finest ship of the Collins Line.

Soon, the SS Arctic began sailing between Liverpool and New York.

Then in February of 1852, SS Arctic won the Blue Riband for setting the new speed record for the fastest eastbound passage across the Atlantic of nine days, 17 hours and 15 minutes.

In May of 1854, the SS Arctic had a minor incident when her captain accidentally ran her onto Tuscar Rock off the south coast of Ireland.

Then on September 27, 1854, blinded by fog while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the SS Arctic collided with the 250 ton French iron screw steamer SS Vesta just off Cape Race, Newfoundland, Canada.

Captain James C. Luce, the captain of the SS Arctic, after the collision decided to leave the scene, thinking it would be safer to steam toward land.

The bows of the Vesta were heavily damaged but her forward bulkhead was not breached, and after her crew had shored it up she was able to proceed cautiously.

When the French vessel Vesta reached land, the captain was told that the Arctic did not make it back.

After the SS Arctic sank, there were nearly 30 people floating on a raft from the ship’s deck, but due to waves and exhaustion only two were alive the following morning to be rescued. Another gentleman, from Mississippi, managed to make his own small raft, and was rescued the next day.

Survivors told of a 22 year-old crew-member named Stewart Holland who stood on the sinking ship’s deck firing (at intervals) the distress cannon, until the ship went under water.

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Last Gun of the Arctic, Stewart Holland, by Currier & Ives, 1855

Casualties included 92 of Arctic’s 153 officers and men, and all her women and children passengers, including the wife, the only daughter, and the youngest son of Collins Line owner Edward Knight Collins.

The ship’s Captain, James C. Luce, survived the disaster with another man clinging to one of the ship’s paddlewheel boxes, but Luce’s son went down with the ship.

The total lost at sea was near 400.

News of Arctic’s sinking did not reach New York until two weeks after the accident.

The tragedy hit the public quite hard in 1854 due to stories of cowardice by crew members, who took over some of the life boats. The fact that no women or children survived did not sit well with the American public.

Casualties included 92 of her 153 officers and men, and all her women and children passengers, including the wife, the only daughter, and the youngest son of Collins Line manager Edward Knight Collins. Mary Ann Collins, daughter Mary Ann (19) and 15 year old son Henry Coit Collins.

The last living survivor, Thomas Baker (born March 5, 1838) was 16 at the time of the sinking and survived by clinging to wreckage. He died on February 7, 1911 at the age of 73 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Monument

There is a large Cenotaph church steeple style monument in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York, dedicated to all who lost their lives aboard the SS Arctic.

It is dedicated to the Brown Family who lost several family members in the tragedy, Maria Miller Brown, William Benedict Brown (29 years old), wife Clara Moulton and two year old daughter Grace Alice Jane.

The monument also has a stone model inside of the SS Arctic foundering at sea.

Now WE know em

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