Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

First Day








OF LIVERPOOL* (O. No. 123972)






Quebec, Tuesday, June 16, 1914.


The Commissioners appointed by the Honourable John Douglas Hazen, the Minister of Marine and Fisheries of Canada, under Part X of the Canada Shipping Act as amended, to enquire into a casualty to the British Steamship Empress of Ireland, in which the said steamship belonging to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company was sunk in collision with the Norwegian Steamship Storstad, in the River St. Lawrence on the morning of Friday the 29th day of May, 1914, met at Quebec this morning, the sixteenth day of June, 1914.







The Right Honourable JOHN CHARLES, BARON MERSEY, President;

The Honourable EZEKIEL MCLEOD, Chief Justice of New Brunswick, local Judge in Admiralty for the Exchequer Court of Canada for the New Brunswick Admiralty District;

The Honourable SIR ADOLPH BASILE ROUTHIER, Ex-Chief Justice of Quebec, local Judge in Admiralty of the Exchequer Court of Canada for the Quebec Admiralty District.



Commander W. F. CABORNE, C.B., R.N.R.
Engineer Commander P. C. W. HOWE, R.N.
Capt. L. A. DEMERS, F.R.A.S., Dominion Wreck Commissioner.
Professor JOHN JOSEPH WELCH, M. Sc. Inst. C.E.
ALLEYN TASCHEREAU, Secretary of the Commission.

At the opening of the Court, the Secretary read the Commission:




To the Right Honourable John Charles, Baron Mersey, The Honourable Ezekiel McLeod, Chief Justice of New Brunswick and Local Judge in Admiralty of the Exchequer Court of Canada for the New Brunswick Admiralty District, and the Honourable Sir Adolphe Basile Routhier, Local Judge in Admiralty of the Exchequer Court of Canada for the Quebec Admiralty District.



KNOW YOU that under and by virtue of the provisions of Part X of the Canada Shipping Act as amended, and in virtue of all other powers in that behalf in me vested, I, the Honourable John Douglas Hazen, The Minister of Marine and Fisheries of Canada, do hereby nominate, constitute and appoint you, the said John Charles, Baron Mersey, Ezekiel McLeod and Sir Adolphe Basile Routhier to be Commissioners to hold a formal investigation, under and subject to the requirements of the said Part X of the Canada Shipping Act as amended, into and concerning a shipping casualty which I, the said Minister, consider to be of extreme gravity and special importance, and with respect to which I have ordered a formal investigation under the authority of the said statute, whereby the British steamship Empress of Ireland of about 8,028 tons, registered tonnage, official number 123972, of which the Canadian Pacific Bailway Company was the registered owner and H. G. Kendall was the Master, was sunk in collision with the Norwegian steamship Storstad, in the River St. Lawrence on the morning of Friday the twenty-ninth day of May, 1914, and many lives of the passengers and crew of the said steamship Empress of Ireland were lost.

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD exercise,and enjoy the office of Commissioners as aforesaid unto you the said John Charles, Baron Mersey, Ezekiel McLeod, and Adolphe Basile Routhier, together with all and every the powers, rights, authority and privileges, and subject to the obligations and requirements, under and by virtue of the said Part X of the Canada Shipping Act to or in respect of the said office of right or by law appertaining or enacted.

And I do moreover designate you, the said John Charles, Baron Mersey, to be the President of the said Commission or court hereby constituted.

Given under my hand at Ottawa this 13th day of June, in the year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and fourteen.

Minister of Marine and Fisheries, of Canada.


At the request of Lord Mersey the following appearances were announced:—

For the Crown

E. L. Newcombe, K.C., Deputy Minister of Justice.
Eusèbe Belleau, K.C.,
Assisted by Alexander Johnston, Deputy Minister of Marine and Fisheries of Canada, and George C. Vaux, for the British Board of Trade.

For Canadian Pacific Railway Company

Butler Aspinall, K.C.
E. W. Beatty, General Counsel, C.P.B.
Fred. E. Meredith, K.C.
A. R. Holden, K.C.

For Master, Engineers and Officers of the "Empress of Ireland"

Aimé Geoffrion, K.C.
Cecil Thompson.  

For "Storstad"

C. A. Duclos, K.C.
Charles S. Haight.
John W. Griffin.
Norman B. Beecher. 
Arthur Fitzpatrick.

For Dominion Coal Company, Charterers of the "Storstad"

Hector Maclnnes, K.C.

For the Shipping Federation of Canada

Thomas Bobb, Manager and Secretary.

For National Sailors' and Firemens Union of Great Britain and Ireland

George F. Gibsone, K.C.


(Lord Mersey - to Mr. Gibsone). — You may appear and put any questions you wish to put through the Bench. Now, Mr. Newcombe, will you be kind enough to state your case?

Mr. Newcombe:
My Lord, the commission has been read and the purpose of the inquiry has been made known. It is a commission constituted under statutory powers to investigate the causes of a shipping casualty which most deplorably reaches the dimensions of an appalling disaster. The steamship Empress of Ireland left Quebec at about twenty-seven minutes past four on the afternoon of the 28th of May in charge of the Quebec pilot Camille Bernier with a crew of 420 hands and 1,057 passengers of whom 87 were first class, 253 second class and 717 third class, and carrying some general cargo bound for Liverpool. She put down her pilot at Father Point at about half past one in the morning of the 29th of May and proceeded to sea. She arrived off Cock Point buoy, which is the next point marked upon the chart shortly below Father Point on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, at, or about, two o’clock, and at that time, apparently, as far as I understand the case, she was still on her course to make the offing usual or necessary before directing her course down the river to the sea. At that place she came into collision with the Norwegian steamer Storstad, which was bound from Sydney, Nova Scotia, up the river to Montreal with a full cargo of coal. On board the Empress there were 1,477 persons; 463 were saved and 1,014 lost their lives. The catastrophe was very sudden; the Empress of Ireland received a very severe blow on her starboard side struck by the starboard bow of the Storstad. She began to fill, turned over on her beam ends and sank almost immediately; according to the estimate she remained afloat not more than fifteen or twenty minutes at the outside from the time of the contact.

As to the classification and rating of the passengers and crew, there were 87 first class passengers of whom 36 were saved and 51 lost; of the 253 second class passengers, 48 were saved and 205 lost; of the 717 third class passengers, 133 were saved and 584 lost. Of the crew of 420 hands, 246 were saved and 174 lost. These figures have been supplied by the owners of the ship and are subject to correction in the inquiry. I am informed that they have experienced very great difficulty in getting out an exact list owing to the discrepancies in the names of the passengers, particularly in regard to the continentals, shown on the manifest, and the names given by the survivors. The figures, therefore, must be accepted subject to such further information as may be obtained in the inquiry.

This dreadful catastrophe was the subject of very earnest consideration by His Majesty’s Government and by the Government of this country, and the sympathy of both Governments, no doubt, goes out in the largest measure to the survivors and to the relatives and friends of those who so unfortunately perished. It was felt that the case invited the most searching inquiry, not only to ascertain the immediate cause of such an extraordinary and disastrous occurrence, but also that the investigation might extend to the more remote causes, if any, connected with the structure, equipment or mechanism of the ship so that it might be known whether any lesson could be learned for future guidance in the projecting, preparation and outfitting of passenger ships in order to see to their preservation in case of similar accidents.

Communications were exchanged between the two Governments. It was considered that the case should properly be investigated in Canada where the accident occurred and that the best talent, skill and experience should be made available upon the Commission of Inquiry. Special legislation was obtained at the Session of Parliament which has just closed. Your Lordship yielded to an invitation to preside at the inquiry, two distinguished Canadian Judges have loaned their services, technical officers and assessors in various branches of the sciences, arts and crafts involved, architecture, structure and navigation, have been named; and so, as this has been the most dreadful shipping disaster in the history of the country, the most important board ever constituted here to consider a shipping casualty has been named to investigate and inquire.

The causes, present and remote, contributing to the accident will doubtless be ascertained. I am not quite, at the moment, in a position, unfortunately, to outline or indicate to the Court the rival contentions of the two ships. They had apparently sighted each other and come into such relations as would require their navigating officers to determine the application of the rules for safe crossing at a time and under conditions which not only made possible but should have facilitated the execution of any proper manoeuvre and it would seem to be impossible to suppose that such an accident could have occurred without fault on the part of one or perhaps both of the ships concerned. It will be realized that the force of the collision was very great and that immense damage must have been done to the hull of the Empress of Ireland considering that she remained afloat for only a few minutes. This is a very great shock to the confidence which people were beginning to feel in the floating capacity of these large passenger ships and to their belief that no collision, no matter how severe, could have the effect of sinking a ship of the size and equipment of the Empress in such a short space of time. The nature of the damage which the Empress received cannot be proved. She disappeared immediately. Divers have been there but I am informed that it is impossible for divers, owing to the fact that she is lying on her wounded side in the mud, to ascertain what the condition of the starboard side of the ship is unless the ship can be raised which, I anticipate, is impossible. Plans and details of the ship will be produced and witnesses will be called to explain and comment on these phases of the case. Explanations will be called for as to the boats, life preservers and such life-saving furniture as were provided. Moreover, it is intended to afford the fullest opportunity, and an invitation is extended to all persons who can give any useful information or make any material inquiries or statements, to come forward and assist the Tribunal with testimony or suggestions.

By reference to the chart it will be seen that the accident happened 700 miles or more from the point where the St. Lawrence expands into the gulf, and yet the Empress was only at the beginning of the great waterway which forms such a magnificent entrance to this country. The St. Lawrence route is, of course, not free from those perils which are incident to all navigation in touch with the land, but the Government has taken care to provide an adequate system of lights and the channel has been well buoyed and marked where requisite in order to make safe, as far as may be artificially possible, the unequalled natural advantages which have been provided by this magnificent system of river and lake navigation. It is anticipated with confidence that those who desire to disparage the St. Lawrence route cannot propound or suggest a reason for attributing this disaster to any peril especially incidental to the St. Lawrence route or even to the river navigation. The question of pilotage is not involved. The ship had passed the pilotage district. She was in sea-way of upwards of 30 miles in breadth. She lies upwards of two miles from the south shore from which she was making her offing, so that the difficulties of navigation, whatever they may have been, were not due to the proximity of the land or to the lack of sea room. The pilotage district extends from Quebec to Father Point. That was the place where the pilot was put down, and the Empress was at that time opposite that point. The vessels were practically in such a position that they were at sea and the regulations for preventing collisions at sea applied to the case.

In accordance with the requirements of the general rules for formal investigations into shipping casualties under the Merchant Shipping Act, and having regard to the provisions of The Canada Shipping Act, part 10, sections 788 and 795, the surviving officers of the Empress of Ireland, and the officers of the Norwegian vessel, have been served with notice and questions. Section 788 of The Canada Shipping Act, and there is a similar section in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, provides that:


“ Whenever a formal investigation is likely to involve a question as to can­celling or suspending of the certificate of competency or service of any master, mate, pilot, or engineer, he shall be furnished with a copy of the report or statement of the case upon which the investigation has been ordered.”


And 795:


“ Every formal investigation shall be conducted in such manner that, if a charge is made against any person, such person shall have an opportunity of making a defence.”


A report of the case was made by the Deputy Minister of Marine and Fisheries on the 10th of June to the Minister in these terms: —


Department of Marine and Fisheries,
Ottawa, June 10, 1914.




Sir, — I have the honour to report that on Thursday, the 28th ultimo, the British steamship Empress of Ireland, official No. 123972, of 8,208 tons register, owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and in charge of Captain H. G. Kendall as master, sailed from Quebec on a regular voyage to Liverpool, carrying, in addition to her officers and crew, a large number of passengers. She called at Rimouski, in the ordinary course of her voyage, and left there in the early morning of the 29th ultimo, putting down her pilot at Father Point, and proceeding to sea. Very shortly afterwards, and within a few miles of Father Point, for some most unfortunate reason, of which I am not informed, the Empress of Ireland came into collision with the Norwegian steamship Storstad, which was proceeding up river on a voyage from Sydney to Montreal, "with the result that the former sank within a few minutes after the collision and a great number of her passengers and crew were drowned. The loss of life is approximately estimated at 1,000 souls. It is, of course, obvious that the collision could not have occurred without fault in the navigation of one or other or both of the vessels concerned, and it is, I submit most important in the public interest that a formal investigation should be held under the provisions of the Canada Shipping Act to ascertain the. facts of the case and the causes which led to the disaster.

I, therefore, recommend that a formal investigation be ordered pursuant to the provisions of the law in that behalf.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,

Deputy Minister of Marine and Fisheries.


The Honourable
The Minister of Marine and Fisheries.


The recommendation is approved by the endorsation of Mr. Hazen, the Minister, upon the letter as follows: ‘Recommendation hold formal investigation approved. J. D. H.'

This has been served, as well as the questions which have been formulated and which are as follows: —


1. When the SS. Empress of Ireland left Quebec on or about the 28th of May last —

(a) What was the total number of persons employed in any capacity on board her, and what were their respective ratings?

(b) What was the total number of her passengers, distinguishing sexes and classes and discriminating between adults and children?

2. On leaving Quebec, on or about the 28th day of May last, did the SS. Empress of Ireland comply with the requirements of the M. S. Acts, 1894 to 1906, and the rules and regulations made thereunder, with regard to the safety and otherwise of 'passenger steamers' and 'emigrant ships'?

3. In the actual design and construction of the SS. Empress of Ireland what special provisions, if any, were made for the safety of the vessel and the lives of those on board, in the event of collisions and other casualties?

4. Was the SS. Empress of Ireland sufficiently and efficiently officered and manned?

5. Were the arrangements for manning and launching the boats on board the SS. Empress of Ireland in case of emergency proper and sufficient? Had a boat drill and bulkhead door drill been held on board, and if so when? What was the carrying capacity of the respective boats? What number and description of life buoys and life jackets were on board the vessel? Where were they carried? Were they in good condition and adequate for the purpose intended?

6. What installations for receiving and transmitting messages by wireless telegraph were on board the SS. Empress of Ireland? How many operators were employed in working such installations? Were the installations in good and effective working order? Were the number of operators sufficient to enable messages to be received and transmitted continuously by day and night?

7. At or prior to the sailing of the SS. Empress of Ireland from Quebec on the 28th May last, what, if any, instructions as to navigation were given to the master, or known by him to apply to her voyage? Were such instructions, if any, safe, proper and adequate, having regard to the time of the year and dangers likely to be encountered during a voyage?

8. When leaving Quebec on or about the 28th of May last, was the vessel in charge of a Quebec pilot? If so, when and where was the pilot discharged, and what was the condition of the weather at that time?

9. After the pilot left the SS. Empress of Ireland was a double watch on deck?

10. At what time on the morning of the 29th May last —

(a) did the Empress of Ireland first sight the light or lights of the Norwegian steamer Storstad, and in what position was the Empress then?

(b) did the Norwegian steamer Storstad first sight the light or lights of the SS. Empress of Ireland and in what position was the Storstad then?

At this time were the vessels crossing so as to involve risk of collision within the meaning of Art. 19 of the regulations for preventing collision at sea? If so, did the Empress of Ireland comply with the provisions of the said article and of articles 22 and 23, and did the SS. Storstad comply with article 21 of said regulations?

11. After the vessels had sighted each other’s lights did the atmosphere between them become foggy or misty, so that lights could no longer be seen? If so, did both vessels comply with article 15 and did they respectively indicate on their steam whistles or sirens the course or courses they were taking by the signals sent out iu article 28 of the said regulations?

12. Were the circumstances of this case such as to bring into operation the provisions of articles 27 and (or) 29 of the said regulations? If so, did the masters of both vessels take prompt and proper means or measures to comply with the requirements of the said articles?

13. In what position in the River St. Lawrence and at what time on the morning of the 29th of May last, did the collision occur between the SS. Empress of Ireland and the SS. Storstad? At what time did the SS. Empress of Ireland founder, and how was it that she sank so quickly after the collision had occurred?

14. Was proper discipline maintained on board the SS. Empress of Ireland after the casualty occurred?

15. What messages for assistance were sent by the Empress of Ireland after the casualty, and at what times respectively? Were the messages sent out received at the wireless station at Father Point? Were prompt measures taken by those on shore to render assistance? What assistance was rendered by the Government steamers Eureka and Lady Evelyn?

16. Was the apparatus for lowering the boats on the SS. Empress of Ireland at the time of the casualty in good working order? How many boats were got away before the vessel sank?
Did the boats, whether those under davits or otherwise, prove to be serviceable for the purpose of saving life? If not, why not? What steps were taken immediately on the happening of the casualty? How long after the casualty was its seriousness realized by those in charge of the vessel? What steps were then taken? Were all water-tight doors in bulkheads immediately closed? What endeavours were made to save the lives of those on board and to prevent the vessel from sinking?

17. How many persons on board of the SS. Empress of Ireland at the time of the casualty lost their lives by (1) being killed by the collision, or injuries from the collision, (2) accidents on board?
What was the number of (a) passengers; (b) crew, taken away in each boat on leaving the vessel? How was this number made up, having regard to 1, sex; 2, class; 3, ratings?
How many were children and how many were adults? Did each boat carry its full load, and if not, why not?
How many persons were ultimately rescued, and by what means? What was the number of passengers, distinguishing between men and women, and adults and children, of the first, second and third classes respectively, who were saved? What was the number of the crew, discriminating their ratings and sex, who were saved?

18. Did the Master of the SS. Storstad comply with Article 422 of the M.S.A., 1894?

19. Was a good and proper lookout kept on board of both vessels?

20. Was the loss of the Empress of Ireland and (or) the loss of life caused by the wrongful act or default of the Master and First Officer of that vessel, and the Master, First, Second and Third Officers of the SS. Storstad, or of any of them?


These are the questions and the order for the inquiry which have been served.

Continued >