Year
1854

Ships collide off Newfoundland

Sudden and heavy fog causes two ships to collide, killing 322 people off the coast of Newfoundland on this day in 1854.

The Arctic was a luxury ship, built in 1850 to carry passengers across the Atlantic Ocean. It had a wooden hull and could reach speeds of up to 13 knots per hour, an impressive clip at that point in history. On September 20, the Arctic left Liverpool, England, for North America. Seven days later, just off of the Newfoundland coast, it came into a heavy fog. Unfortunately, the ship’s captain, James Luce, did not take the usual safety measures for dealing with fog—he did not slow the Arctic, he did not sound the ship’s horn and he did not add extra watchmen.

At 12:15, the Arctic slammed into the steamer Vesta, an iron-hulled ship piloted by Captain Alphonse Puchesne. Since it was the Arctic that hit the Vesta, the crew of the Arctic initially directed their energy at helping the Vesta. They had not realized that the iron hull of the Vesta had actually done much more damage to the Arctic than vice versa.

Soon, the Arctic released lifeboats, but many capsized in the choppy waters. As the crew of the Arctic discovered that their ship was seriously damaged, Captain Luce decided to try to beach the ship. In doing so, he ran over several of the lifeboats, causing even more people to drown. The Arctic was too far from shore for the attempt to be successful and the action only increased the rate of flooding inside the ship.

General panic then ensued. Desperate Arctic crew members took lifeboats from women and children attempting to escape. When one of the ship’s high-ranking officers tried to stop this, the crew killed him. The final 70 people left on board crowded onto a makeshift raft as the Arctic sank. Reportedly only one member of this group survived.

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