Crew stories

portrait photo of a young man in naval uniform

Stanley Baker in 1917, aged 19. Reproduced with kind permission of Lynne Andrews.

Most of the crew of the Empress of Ireland were from, or had strong connections to, the Liverpool area. Some of their stories are featured here. 

A complete crew list, researched and compiled by Craig Stringer and Geoffrey E Whitfield, can be downloaded here:

If you have a relative who was connected to the Empress of Ireland disaster you can

share your story with the Merseyside Maritime Museum by emailing us as at

Stanley James and Thomas Henry Baker

Stanley James Baker was born in 1898, his older brother Thomas Henry Baker (known to the family as Harry) was born in 1895. In 1911 the family resided at 55 Banner Street in Wavertree, Liverpool.

portrait photo of a man

Stanley Baker in later years. Reproduced with kind permission of Lynne Andrews.

In 1914 both brothers were serving on the Empress of Ireland. Stanley, 16, was a bellboy in First Class and Harry, 19, was a steward. When the ship was sinking, the brothers found themselves either side of a sealed door, with Stanley on the side leading to safety. In what must have been a gut-wrenching moment, Harry told him to get out and save himself; Stanley had to leave his brother. Stanley survived the sinking; Harry tragically did not make it.  

Stanley went back to sea, and by 1922 had worked his way up to be a Ships Mate.  Stanley married Eva Lynnie Tipping in Liverpool, 1924. He died in 1987. 

Thanks to Stanley’s grand-daughter Lynne Andrews and great-niece Marilyn Cooksey for this story.       

Patrick Haran

Patrick Haran was born in Liverpool in 1871. He was a passenger cook on the Empress of Ireland. On the night of the disaster Patrick was on duty and so had not retired to bed when the collision occurred. Patrick managed to get off the ship and was in the water for seven hours before he was picked up. His friend, who went to his cabin to collect his gold watch, did not survive.  

Like most sailors who survived maritime disasters, Patrick soon went back to sea, and took trips to Shanghai and Vladivostok. He never quite recovered from the Empress of Ireland disaster, and died in 1925/6 on board his ship as it entered the Mersey. He was buried at the Ford Catholic Cemetery near Seaforth in Bootle.

Thanks to Tessa Stevens, grand-daughter of Patrick Haran, for this story.

William Sampson

William Sampson lived at 32, Gresford Avenue, Toxteth Park, in Liverpool. By 1914 he was 53 years old and was chief engineer on board the Empress of Ireland. He had been with the vessel since her fitting out and had completed 96 trips on her.

Following the collision with the Storstad, William made his way to the engine room control platform. He ordered that the watertight doors be closed, but already the Empress was beginning to list. He phoned the bridge, urging Captain Kendall to beach the ship. Kendall replied, "Do the best you can".

The men in the engine room struggled to keep the ship moving, but the machinery stopped, and the lights failed. William struggled out of the engine room with the other men. He was pulled into a life boat from the sea by the ship’s butcher. William was admitted to hospital after suffering from bruising and shock. On 5 June he was paid £20 10 8d for the voyage. 

Thanks to Craig Stringer and Geoffrey E Whitfield for this story.

portrait photo of a man standing by a seated woman

Michael McAleavey and his wife in later years, reproduced with kind permission of Claire Williams.

Michael and Patrick McAleavey

Michael McAleavey was a greaser on the Empress of Ireland. He was from the Orwell Road area of Walton, Liverpool, and was around 28 at the time of the disaster. Michael’s cousin Patrick McAleavey was also on board the Empress, serving as a scullion.

Michael and Patrick both survived the sinking, the story handed down through the family is that they were both woken up in their cabins by the same crew member, alerting them to the fact that the ship was sinking. This probably saved their lives - the crew member sadly did not survive.

Thanks to Claire Williams, great grand-daughter of Michael McAleavey, for this story.

Augustus William Gaade

Augustus William Gaade was 48 years old, and was born in Birkenhead on 5 March 1865. He was chief steward on the Empress of Ireland.

After the collision Augustus instructed crew to wake the passengers, get them into lifebelts, and then send them to the deck. Augustus and Purser McDonald then made their way to the bridge. There the men found Captain Kendall, and Augustus asked if he thought the Empress could be beached. "No", Kendall replied, "The steam is shut off".

Augustus observed "Well, this looks to be about the finish". Kendall agreed, adding, "Yes, and a terrible finish it is too". When the Empress gave a final lurch, Augustus, Kendall and McDonald were thrown into the water. Augustus, a non-swimmer, struggled to stay afloat, until he came across a body wearing a lifebelt. He managed to hang onto this for a time. Finally he reached a collapsible lifeboat and was eventually picked up by the steamer Eureka.

Augustus survived the disaster and was paid £10 12s 8d for the voyage. He continued to work at sea, later serving on the Melita, and Empress of Scotland, on the New York to Liverpool run. When he left the sea Augustus became Canadian Pacific’s shore steward at Liverpool. He died on 27 March 1931.

Thanks to Craig Stringer and Geoffrey E Whitfield for this story.

Harold Jones

portrait photo of a young man

Harold Jones aged 20 in 1900. Reproduced with kind permission of Linda Downey.

Harold Jones was born in Liverpool in 1880 and joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 16. By 1914 he was 33 and married to Sarah, with four children.  

Harold was a bedroom steward on the Empress of Ireland, looking after first class passengers.  He was on duty the night of the disaster and along with the rest of the crew was ordered to bring up passengers to the lifeboats on the boat deck. Harold told fellow steward Matt Murtagh he was going below to help passengers. It was the last time he was seen alive.

Harold's body was recovered from the passageway of the promenade deck in June by the salvage team and was identified by the wallet in his jacket pocket. The wallet was returned to Sarah. Matt Murtagh survived and visited Sarah to tell her of her husband’s bravery. Harold was buried in a mass grave alongside the St Lawrence River and is listed on the memorial there.

Sarah was offered places in the Seaman's Orphanage for her four daughters, but she refused and said she wished to keep her family together. With little money she worked hard to bring up her family on her own. Sarah died in 1947.

Thanks to Linda Downey, grand-daughter of Harold Jones, for this story.

Henry George Kendall, ships captain

Captain Henry George Kendall was born in London in 1874. After his birth the family moved to Liverpool. Kendall joined the Empress of Ireland in 1907 as chief officer. After serving as Captain on several other vessels, Kendall took charge of the Empress in 1914. By this time he was living at 3 Harlech Road, Blundellsands, the neighbour of other ship’s captains including Daniel Dow of the Lusitania.

Kendall was on the bridge when the collision occurred.  He was watching the Storstad when the heavy fog came down. Unable to see, Kendall ordered the engines astern, and sounded the ship’s whistles, indicating the Empress was backing. In the fog it was hard to judge where the other vessel was. Kendall ordered the Empress to be stopped, and gave a warning whistle. It was then that the Storstad emerged from the fog.The ships collided, but quickly began to part, and the Empress began to rapidly sink.

Kendall ordered all hands to be alerted, the lifeboats to be prepared, and an SOS call to be sent. Kendall was joined on the bridge by Chief Steward Gaade and Purser McDonald. When the Empress gave her final, sudden lurch, Kendall was thrown from the bridge wing into the river as the ship sank. He was eventually rescued by lifeboat number 3.  Once in the boat, Kendall took charge, and in time over sixty people were taken from the water, while even more clung to the lifelines. 

Kendall attended the inquiry into the loss of the Empress of Ireland.  When he returned to work it was in the capacity of Marine Superintendent at Antwerp, a shore based position. He died in London on 28 November 1965.

Thanks to Craig Stringer and Geoffrey E Whitfield for this story.