SS Arctic

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USM steamship Arctic (1850).jpg
Arctic in 1850.
Career (United States) USAUnited States
Name: Arctic
Owner: Collins Line
Operator: Captain James C. Luce
Builder: William H Brown Shipyards - New York
Completed: 1850
In service: Maiden voyage October 26th 1850
Out of service: 1854
Fate: Sank in 1854 after collision with SS Vesta.
General characteristics
Displacement: 3000 tons
Length: 284 feet
Draught: 19 feet
Crew: 153

The SS Arctic was a 2,856-ton Paddle steamer in the Collins Line steamships. A sister-ship to the SS Pacific that went into service in 1852, the ship was at the time the largest and most splendid of the line and was in operation in the Liverpool packet. She sank 27 September 1854, off Cape Race, Newfoundland, after colliding with the 250 ton French iron screw steamer SS Vesta in the fog.


Arctic sinking by the stern after colliding with Vesta.

After the collision, the captain of the Arctic left the scene, thinking it would be safer to steam toward land. The bows of Vesta were heavily damaged but her forward bulkhead was not breached, and after her crew had shored it up she was able to proceed cautiously. When the French vessel reached land, the captain was told that Arctic did not make it back.

Casualties included 92 of her 153 officers and men, and all her women and children passengers, including the wife, the only daughter, and the youngest son of Collins Line manager Edward Knight Collins. Of the 534 passengers and crew aboard between 350 to 400 were lost, including all 109 women and children. The tragedy hit the public quite hard in 1854 due to stories of cowardice by crew members, who took over some of the life boats. The fact that no women or children survived did not sit well with the American public. In a search for heroes in the disaster the Americans noted the bravery of one young crewman, Stewart Holland, who stood on the sinking ship's deck firing (at intervals) the distress cannon, until the ship went under water. Holland did not survive. The ship's Captain, James C. Luce, survived the disaster with another crewman clinging to one of the ship's paddlewheel boxes, but Luce's son died in the wreck. At one point nearly 30 people escaped by floating on a makeshift raft made from wooden boards from the ship's deck, but due to waves and exhaustion only two were alive the following morning to be rescued. Yet one gentleman, from Mississippi, managed to make his own small raft, and was rescued the next day.[1]

Notable Passengers[edit]

  • George Allen, wife Grace and infant Herbert (1 year old) travelling with a nurse. George Allen was the only survivor of the four.
  • Maria Miller Brown.
  • William Benedict Brown (29 years old), wife Clara Moulton and two year old daughter Grace Alice Jane.
  • The noteworthy British artist and archaeologist, Frederick Catherwood (age 55).
  • Mary Ann Collins, daughter Mary Ann (19) and 15 year old son Henry Coit Collins.
  • Henry Hope Reed – Professor of rhetoric and English literature of the University of Pennsylvania, also travelling with him was his sister-in-law Miss Bronson. Both were lost.
  • The Norwegian physician Herman W. Major, his wife and two daughters. Major was the leading Norwegian alienist of his time, he made the plans for the first mental asylum of the country but declined the post as its director and joined the Arctic to start a new career in America.
  • In The History of Smith & Wellstood Ltd Ironfounders it is recorded that James Smith the company's founder was on board Arctic. James found a raft shortly after entering the water and managed to drag himself on it. The raft was tiny and with every wave James felt his chances of survival diminish. It was at this time he saw a basket that had been used for storing plate. He paddled over towards it and managed to hoist the basket onto the raft. He squeezed inside the basket for protection against the elements. Eventually he was rescued by the barque Cambria, outward bound from Greenock. James had a cooking stoves and ranges tinware factory on State Street, Jackson, Mississippi and was on his way back to America to hand this business over to his brother.[2]
  • The last living survivor, Thomas Baker (born 5 March 1838) was 16 at the time of the sinking and survived by clinging to wreckage. He died on February 7, 1911 at the age of 73 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Impact on Atlantic Trade[edit]

At the time of the disaster the United States Merchant Marine, with its fleets of clipper ships and the Collins' Liners (then the fastest and most luxurious afloat) controlled the Atlantic trade. But Edward Collins depended on U.S. government subsidies based on carrying the mails to and from Europe. Arctic was one of a fleet of ships, and had been one of the prides of the line, but its destruction was the first serious blow to Collins' reputation. It would be followed in two years by the disappearance of the SS Pacific in 1856. The ending of the Crimean War released the energies of Collins' English rival, Samuel Cunard, to fight for English predominance in the Atlantic Trade. Cunard won this by the end of the decade.[3]


There is a large monument in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York, dedicated to all who lost their lives. It is dedicated to the Brown Family who lost several family members in the tragedy. A photo of it appears in Women and Children Last showing it is in a church steeple style monument, and has a stone model inside of the steamer foundering in the sea.


  1. ^ Shaw, David W. (2002). The Sea Shall Embrace Them: The Tragic Story of the Steamship Arctic. Simon & Schuster, Free Press, ISBN 978-0-7432-2217-4
  2. ^ Borthwick, Alastair (1954). The History of Smith & Wellstood Ltd Ironfounders. Phillans and Wilson
  3. ^ Brown, Alexander Crosby (1954). Women and Children Last. The Anthoenson Press, ASIN B0007HG5DM
Preceded by
Atlantic Eastbound Record
1852 - 1856
Succeeded by