Empress of Ireland 29th May 1914
Launched: 27th January 1906
Builders: Fairfields, Govan
Port of Registry: Liverpool
Passengers Lost: 840 (79%)
Crew Lost: 172 (41%)
Total Lost: 1,012 (69%)
Henry George Kendall (1874-1965)
Captain of the Empress of Ireland
As captain of the Canadian Pacific liner Montrose, Henry Kendall became world-famous in 1910 for his role in the capture of Dr. Crippen. The observant captain noticed that two of his passengers, "Mr. Robinson" and his "son" were behaving in an over-familiar manner. After befriending the odd couple, so as to observe them more closely, Kendall decided to wireless Scotland Yard his suspicion that the pair were non other than the American Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen and his mistress Ethel le Neve! On the 23rd July 1910 Inspector Dew boarded the fast White Star liner Laurentic at Liverpool, and so began a desperate chase that enthralled the world for over a week.
Dew and the Laurentic overhauled the Montrose, and the policeman was waiting for his quarry at Father Point in the St. Lawrence River, Canada. Posing as the pilot, the Inspector boarded the Montrose and arrested Dr. Crippen, who was returned to England and hanged on 23rd November 1910 for the murder of his wife Belle Elmore. The Montreal Daily Star noted that as Crippen was led from the Montrose he turned and spat out a curse to Captain Kendall: "You shall pay for this treachery, sir!" On the 29th May 1914, the "curse of Crippen" would extract its terrible price........
Captain Kendall was now master of the CPR liner Empress of Ireland, and he lived at 3 Harlech Rd, Crosby. Out of Quebec bound for Liverpool with 1,477 souls on board, at 1.38 am on that fateful Friday morning Kendall was on the bridge when the lookout shouted "Object on the right!". Through the darkness the captain could clearly make out the lights of another steamer, about 6 miles away. It would later be identified as the Norwegian collier, Storstad, loaded with 10,400 tons of coal. To Captain Kendall it seemed the two vessels would safely pass each other starboard to starboard. The Empress had just passed Father Point, the scene of Crippen's capture 4 years earlier........
Then incredibly, as if dispatched by Crippen's ghost, a bank of fog rolled out from the shore and quickly enveloped the two ships, reducing visibility to zero. Captain Kendall then did two highly questionable things. He failed to order the precautionary closure of the Empress's watertight doors and he ordered "Full Astern" followed by "Stop". The Empress was soon dead in the water. Kendall craned out of the wheelhouse to listen for any sound........
A prolonged blast from the other ship's whistle could be heard off the Empress' starboard bow. Empress replied with three short blasts. There was another long blast from the whistle of the unknown vessel, still on Empress' starboard side, but this time closer. Captain Kendall ordered two long blasts. A moment or two later, there was another long blast from the mystery vessel, still off the starboard bow, but closer. Again, Empress sounded two long blasts. The time was 1.55 am........
Seconds later Storstad's masthead light and her two side lights appeared out of the fog; her bow was aimed directly at the Empress, between the two funnels. Captain Kendall, standing on the starboard bridge wing, hailed Storstad by megaphone, directing her to go full astern.
While Storstad gave three short blasts, in the hope avoiding or minimizing a collision, Captain Kendall ordered the Empress to full ahead, and her helm hard aport, hoping for a glancing blow........
Time was against them. Storstad, coming on fast, struck the Empress between the funnels, and penetrated through her steel decks some fifteen to twenty feet. The engines of the Empress were immediately stopped. Captain Kendall, hoping to use the Storstad to plug the huge hole, directed Storstad by megaphone to go full ahead. Inexorably, the two ships separated. Kendall attempted to beach his vessel, but by this time Empress was listing heavily to starboard, mortally wounded.
Within 14 minutes the mighty Empress had, in the words of a survivor, "rolled over like a hog in a ditch" and disappeared beneath the St. Lawrence, taking with her over 1000 people........
In some ways it was a more horrifying disaster than either the Titanic or Lusitania, because it happened at 2 am when most passengers were asleep, with little or no time to escape. Only 4 out of the 138 children on board survived. The Empress of Ireland still holds the record for the largest number of passengers lost on a liner in peacetime(840), and more than either Titanic or Lusitania. Captain Kendall survived and lived to be 91.
Shortly after the disaster Captain Kendall retired from the sea and moved to 40 Brooke Rd, Crosby, where he lived for many years. He died in a London nursing home on 29th November 1965. His obituary in The Times made no mention of the Empress of Ireland.