Empress of Ireland

Article Featured Image

Liverpool remembers one of the worst disasters at sea

A service will take place in Liverpool to remember the Empress of Ireland which sunk with huge loss of life a century ago.
In the early hours of 29 May 1914, the Canadian Pacific liner left Quebec to make its homeward journey to Liverpool.

But in thick fog the liner collided with Norwegian ship SS Storstad and went down in less than 15 minutes. Most of the 1,057 passengers and 420 crew were asleep when tragedy struck.

The death toll makes horrendous reading. More than 1,000 people were lost. Of the 138 children aboard, only four survived. The ship had a large Liverpool crew – of which 172 perished.

Liverpool will remember those lost on the centenary of the sinking. A memorial service will take place at Liverpool Parish Church of Our Lady and St Nicholas, Chapel Street, Liverpool at 2.30pm on Thursday 29 May 2014.

Pat Moran from Liverpool Retired Merchant Seafarers organised the service, along with the Parish Church. Pat is encouraging as many people as possible to attend and remember those lost.

Representatives from Merseyside Maritime Museum will provide a red and white Canadian Pacific ensign at the service.
Seven-year-old schoolgirl Charlotte Mulvaney, a relative of lost crewman William Mulvaney, will lay a wreath at the beginning of the service. The wreath is being supplied by the Canadian High Commission.

Other relatives will also attend. They include the family of Harold Jones (photograph attached). Father-of-four Harold, 33, was bedroom steward and returned below decks to try to help passengers. He died trying to save others.

Harold’s story and that of other crewmen is told in a new section on the Merseyside Maritime Museum website:


Linda Downey, grand-daughter of Harold said: “My family are so pleased that the centenary of the loss of the Empress of Ireland will be marked by a service of remembrance in Liverpool. It will be an emotional day for us but we will be proud to honour the memory of our grandfather Harold and those who lost their lives in the tragedy 100 years ago".

The disaster is overshadowed by the sinkings of the Titanic (1912) and Lusitania (1915) yet more passengers lost their lives aboard the Empress of Ireland.

The Museum has items relating to the Empress of Ireland on display including a blanket given to a survivor and a written report on the sinking for the Canadian enquiry in 1914.

Ian Murphy, Deputy Director, Merseyside Maritime Museum, said: “The Empress of Ireland and sister ship Empress of Britain were the first passenger liners to be built especially for the Canadian Pacific Line’s growing emigrant trade from Liverpool to Canada.

“The two Empresses provided a weekly service from Liverpool and soon became the most popular ships on this route.

“In some ways the Empress of Ireland tragedy was overshadowed by the loss of Titanic and Lusitania and the fact that First World War was about to start. In the Museum we refer to the liner as the “forgotten Empress” yet her loss had a major impact on hundreds of Liverpool families who lost fathers, brothers and sons.”

The disaster is being marked on both sides of the Atlantic. In Canada national TV will broadcast from the Empress of Ireland Museum in Quebec. Services will take place and people can pay their respects with sailings to the wreck site. More details here:


Harold Jones:

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 4 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. Along with other relatives, she will attend the service.

About National Museums Liverpool

National Museums Liverpool comprises eight venues. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic.

We attract more than 2.7m visitors every year. Our venues are the International Slavery Museum, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum,  Museum of Liverpool, Sudley House, Border Force National Museum, Walker Art Gallery and World Museum.     

Merseyside Maritime Museum is situated at the Albert Dock. It contains a variety of objects associated with the social and commercial history of the port of Liverpool. Highlights include ship models, maritime paintings, colourful posters from the golden age of liners and even some full sized vessels. There is also the major current exhibition Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story. This tells the story of Liverpool's links to the ill-fated liner.