Collision of the Britannic and Celtic, 1887
From the Illustrated London News, May 28, 1887.
Two Atlantic steam-ships of the White Star Line, the Celtic and the Britannic, came into
collision off New York, on Thursday week. Both were damaged; but got into New York harbour.
Six or seven passengers of the Britannic were killed, and nearly twenty injured.
Collision Of Two Atlantic Steamers
From the Illustrated London News, June 11, 1887.
A disaster which occurred at sea on the 19th ult., off the
American coast, was briefly mentioned a fortnight ago. Two mail steam-ships
of the White Star Line, the Celtic and the Britannic, came into collision
three hundred miles east of Sandy Hook. The Britannic was struck on the
port side aft. The boats were at once lowered, and were filled with the
women and children from the cabin and steerage, though several men forced
themselves into the boats. Meanwhile, an examination of the ship proved
that, though badly damaged, she was not likely to founder. Such boats
as were within hail were therefore recalled, and their occupants taken
back on board. Those in the other boats had gone on board the Celtic.
A pad was made to cover the hole in the Britannic's side, in order to
stop the leak and enable the vessel to return to New York. Accounts of
the disaster state that as soon as the collision occurred a panic commenced
on board, and an indiscriminate rush was made for the boats. The captain
of the Britannic, however, interposed with a pistol in his hand, preventing
the men preceding the women and children, and order was restored. After
the Britannic's boats had been recalled to the ship, and the passengers
again taken on board, the Celtic and Britannic agreed to keep together
during the night, showing electric lights, and firing minute-guns, so
as not to lose one another.
Early next morning, the Wilson line steamer Marengo and the Inman steamer
British Queen hove in sight, and all four vessels proceeded in company
to Sandy Hook, at the entrance to New York Harbour. A fog prevailed at
the time of the collision which occurred at about six in the evening.
A roll-call showed that four of the Britannic's steerage passengers were
killed, and thirteen injured mostly on deck. It appears that the Celtic
struck once, then rebounded and struck again. No one from either steamer
was drowned. The dead were sewn up in sacking and buried at sea. A passenger
on board the Britannic, Mr. George Allen Rudd, who is an American artist,
has arrived in England by the Arizona, going on a professional tour to
Meran, in the Tyrol. He has furnished the sketches from which our Illustrations
of the steam-ship disaster are obtained.
Cut By The Celtic's Bow
The Britannic Nearly Sunk By Collision
New York Times, May 23, 1887
Twelve Steerage Passengers Killed And Many Injured
Meeting In A Fog And Both Steamships Badly Damaged-Deaths Among The Steerage
Passengers Of The Britannic-The Vessels Now Lying Outside The Bar
A collision between the great steamers the Britannic and the Celtic, both of the White Star Line,
occurred about 350 miles east of Sandy Hook in a thick fog Thursday afternoon about 5:25
o'clock. The Celtic was coming to New-York and the Britannic was on the second day of her
journey to Liverpool. The Celtic struck the Britannic three times on the side, cutting a big hole in
her beneath the water line and inflicting other serious damage to both vessels. Probably six
steerage passengers on the Britannic were killed instantly by the falling bars and plates of iron.
Others are known to have been swept overboard and drowned. Careful investigation shows that
certainly 12 lives, perhaps more, were lost, and that 20 or more persons were injured.
The company's officers have not given accurate and full information. Purser Musgrove, of the
Britannic, the only officer of either vessel in the city last evening, made an indefinite statement.
Some of the Britannic's passengers were transferred to the Celtic after the collision, while it was
thought that the Britannic would founder. The two vessels lay to until midnight on Thursday, and
then came on to the bar, escorted by the Marengo and the British Queen. They anchored there at
1 o'clock yesterday morning. At 9 o'clock the Britannic's passengers were brought back to New-York by the Fletcher. They arrived at noon. Those of the Britannic who had been transferred to
the Celtic were brought to the city by the Fletcher late last evening. The Celtic will remain down
in the Bay until the weather will permit her to come up or her passengers to be transferred.
The Celtic had about 870 cabin and steerage passengers on board. The Britannic carried some
450 passengers. The weather was foggy at the time and the sea calm. The Britannic's fog bell had
been kept ringing all the afternoon, but her speed had been kept at a high rate. The Celtic was not
sighted until the moment before the collision, although her bell had been heard. The Britannic,
under command of Capt. Hamilton Perry, was kept straight on in her course. The Celtic appeared
on the port side of the Britannic and when she saw her, reversed her engines, but it was too late.
Approaching in an oblique direction the Celtic struck the Britannic a slanting blow, almost at
right angles, a few feet further aft. The prow of the Celtic crashed through the railing, breaking
into the cabin and cutting a hole in the Britannic below the water line. Her nose entered the
Britannic's side fully 10 feet. The steerage passengers were gathered there, and six of them were
killed outright by the crash of the Celtic's prow and by falling pieces of iron. Twelve were
The Britannic was still moving, and, as she drew off from the Celtic, the Celtic was shunted to
one side, only to advance a third time on the Britannic, a few feet further on, and ripping open
her side for a distance of 20. Then the Celtic shot behind the Britannic and stopped about 80 rods
off on her port side.
Every one thought the Britannic was sinking, and Capt. Perry ordered the boats lowered. Some of
the men tried to enter the lifeboats, and a party of 15 firemen got in a launch and started for the
Celtic. The Captain drew his pistol and threatened to shoot any of the crew who would repeat the
act. Some of the women and children were then transferred to the Celtic, and when it was
discovered that there was no immediate danger, the panic was allayed and the vessels lay to. The
Captains of the two steamers consulted together, and, lying motionless about five hours, the
weather cleared a little, and in company the two disabled steamers journeyed slowly toward
Before the sun rose the next morning the solemn service fo the burial of the dead at sea was read,
and the six killed passengers were dropped overboard to their graves at the bottom of the ocean.
The steamships Marengo, of the Wilson Line, and the British Queen, both bound for this port,
overtook the Celtic and Britannic Friday, the day after the accident, and accompanied them
toward Sandy Hook. The passengers were in consternation all the time, and went about with life
preservers bound fast to their bodies.
The Etruria sighted the slow-going steamers on her way to New-York Saturday, and hurried into
port with news that the Celtic was disabled and that the Britannic was towing her into port. J.
[letter blank]ruce Ismay, agent of the White Star Line, started with a tug about midnight Saturday
to send the Britannic back on her journey to Liverpool and bring the Celtic to New-York with the
tug. When he learned the truth he hastened back to the city and sent the tug Fletcher down to the
bar, where the injured steamships arrived about 1 o'clock yesterday morning. She brought to
New-York all the passengers that had been left on the Britannic. They arrived with their baggage
at the White Star docks, at the foot of West Tenth-street, yesterday about noon. The injured were
taken to hospitals and the rest of the travelers went to various hotels. The Fletcher went down
again at 2:30 P.M. from quarantine to bring off the Celtic's passengers and those from the
Britannic who were on board of her. When she got to West Bank the fog was so dense and the
sea so heavy that it was deemed best to return to Quarantine and wait until the weather was
clearer. Another trip was made later and the remainder of the Britannic's passengers were landed
here about 9 o'clock last evening.
Deputy Health Officer Smith, who went down to the Celtic last night, examined the cabin
passengers and immigrants, and gave Capt. Irving permission to bring the vessel up to the city
without stopping at Quarantine. The Celtic will probably cross the bar at high tide this morning.
The steamships British Queen and Marengo, which stood by the disabled steamers after the
collision, both reached Quarantine last evening. The Marengo arrived in time to pass the Health
Officer, but the British Queen anchored in the Narrows.
An Official Statement.
Purser R.N. Musgrove, of the Britannic, came up on the Fletcher yesterday morning, but he did
not care to talk freely. He refused to give particulars and wrote out an official statement. Here it
"On Thursday, 19th May, 1887, at 5:25 P.M., weather calm, sea smooth, fog at intervals, the
steamship Celtic collided with the steamship Britannic, striking her on the port side aft, and
doing considerable damage. The boats were lowered and filled with women and children from
cabin and steerage in a very orderly and expeditious manner. It is to their shame that several men
forced themselves into the boats. Meanwhile an examination was made and the damage to the
ship ascertained, and finding that the ship was not likely to founder, an order was given recalling
such boats as were within hail and the occupants received back on board the Britannic. The
others had boarded the Celtic. We made a pad and covered the hole in the ship's side to stop the
leak and returned toward New-York, having arranged with the Celtic to keep company.
"The saddest and most deplorable phase is that several steerage passengers, who were lying about
aft, were killed and several others injured. Both vessels, accompanied by the steamships
Marengo and British Queen, arrived at the Bar at 1 A.M., 22d inst., Sunday."
On Board The Britannic
The Rev. Dr. William H. DePuy, who was one of the passengers on the Britannic, reached his
Summer home at Glen Head last evening, after spending 60 hours without sleep. He gave the
following account of the experience of the passengers on the two steamships:
"The Britannic left her wharf in New-York at exactly her scheduled time Wednesday, and passed
Sandy Hook at about 4 P.M. She had made at noon of the following day a distance of 280 miles.
All went well, notwithstanding the prevalence of a fog of considerable density from 11 P.M. of
Wednesday, making the use of the fog horn necessary during the whole time. The rate of speed
and this state of things generally continued until 5:45 on Thursday, when suddenly the fog lifted
a little, revealing the steamship Celtic at a distance of possibly an eighth of a mile coming from
the north-northeast toward us on her return trip from Liverpool. The danger signals were instantly
sounded by both ships.
"But on came the Celtic, bearing down upon and apparently threatening to strike us amidships
and at nearly right angles to our course like a great ship of war determined to run down and sink
her enemy. There was a screech of the steamers' whistles, a cry of horror from the witnessing
passengers, a sharp crsh, and two great iron consort ships of the White Star Line were in partial
wreck, with the screams of agony from dying and wounded and of horror from the imperiled
crowds of passengers. Words are powerless to describe the sceen. Fortunately for all concerned,
the blow, instead of being perpendicular to the line of the Britannic was at an angle of about 25,
thus not cutting the vessel in two, and instead of being amidships the crash began on a line in the
rear of the engine and wheel house. Thus the instantaneous and utter disabling and sinking of the
tow ships was avoided, as also the wholesale loss of life incident thereto. As it was the loss of
life and property were small in comparison with the alarming peril.
"After personal inquiry made on both of the succeeding days in the steerage department, wehre
all the casualties occurred, I believe the list of death embraces not more than 12 persons,
including two children, and the list of wounded less than 20, and most of the wounds were not
severe. The two children and one woman were horribly mangled, and must have died instantly.
Several men were knocked into the water, one of whom was rescued, and six were said to be still
missing yesterday afternoon, and were believed by their associates in the steerage to have been
drowned. Among the few severely wounded was an old man who lost both legs, a woman who
lost a limb, and a man an eye. All the casualties were confined to the Britannic.
"The Celtic lost the main part of her bow, her anchor, and her forward compartment. On the
Britannic the wreck began on the port side, aft the engine room, making a great hole in the side,
thus freely admitting the water into the next compartment, the one containing the baggage of the
steerage passengers, and extended a distance aft of about 180 feet, embracing the side works,
boats, and other fixtures of that side above the hull, until the extreme rear end of the ship was
reached. The heavy iron plates, rails, beams, posts, bolts, and other fixtures had been bent,
broken, torn asunder, and massed in piles or scattered as the bow of the Celtic crashed into us.
Indeed the whole side of the vessel above the hull along the track of the wreck was a complete
"Although the opinion was nearly, if not quite, universal that the Britannic would soon go down,
and great excitement and panic instantly prevailed, the behavior of the passengers generally was
considerate and most commendable. The officers soon sent proper persons to investigate the
ship's condition; others to lower the seven unwrecked boats and convey the passengers as rapidly
as possible to the already loaded Celtic, which appeared to have sustained no other injuries than
those I have just mentioned, and which, since the collision, had laid by not far distant in order to
render any assistance possible. By the time five boatloads were safely transferred Capt. Perry, of
the Britannic, found there was no immediate danger to the remaining passengers, and ordered
their transfer to the other ship to stop. Conference was held with the Captain of the Celtic and the
conclusion was reached that, while both vessels were seriously injured, neither was wholly
disabled, and that, under all the circumstances, it would be best to head both for New-York,
obtaining such assistance as might be possible from such passing vessels as might be met. Both
Captains promised to keep within short hailing distance. The great opening in the hull of the
Britannic was closed by barricades of mattresses and canvas coverings let down from the ship
and held in place by immense chains and ropes, so drawn as to protect and strengthen the
portions of the vessels exposed by the collision. Temporary provision was made for the wounded
and for passengers driven from their quarters by the disaster. It was nearly midnight before the
vessels were able to start for New-York.
"Early Friday forenoon the British steamship Marengo, plying as a freight boat between Hull
and New-York, hove in sight to the southward, and was hailed by the Britannic with signals of
distress. She immediately came up, and her Captain agreed to stand by us. Soon afterward the
British Queen, of the Inman Line, came up and also consented to accompany us. These
arrangements were made because, while our ship was in no danger of sinking in a quiet sea, if a
gale were to arise the peril would be very great. The Captain informed us while we were
assembled in the saloon that there was no further danger if the sea remained quiet, and in case of
a storm he could transfer us to the other vessels in two hours, while our ship would not sink
under four hours. The four steamers, therefore, steamed along in company toward New-York at
the rate of about six or seven miles an hour, arriving off Sandy Hook a little after midnight.
When the Britannic's Captain ordered the men to lower the boats," Dr. Depuy said, "several of
the firemen left their posts and jumped into one of the boats, crowding out the ladies who wee
waiting to be lowered. They rowed hurriedly to the Celtic, but later on, when they found that the
Britannic was not going to sink at once, they returned. As they crept up the side of the Britannic,
with same showing in their faces, the Captain greeted them with the simple comment, "Shame on
your!" and they disappeared in the engine room. When the first orders to lower the boats were
given there was some confusion among the crew. This was probably caused by the loss of some
of the boats, which broke up the regular assignments of men to each boat. The disorder was,
however, speedily corrected, although the Captain had to flourish his largest revolver in the faces
of a lot of the steerage passengers, who had made a rush for the boats, and some of whom had
already got into them.
"One young steerage passenger, who was on his way to Ireland to bring back a bride, seized one
of the lines dangling over the side of the ship. Before he could reach the boat the rope was cut by
one of the petty officers, and the bridegroom-elect dropped into the sea. He was fished out by
passengers and the steerage cook."
Describing The Scene.
One of the saloon passengers of the Britannic was Isaac E. Lucas, of Clarksville, Iowa, a brown-faced, bright-eyed business man, blessed with a cool head and good powers of observation. He
was on deck during the collision and saw the whole occurrence. He was found at the White Star
dock yesterday afternoon. Here is the story he tells:
"We left New-York Wednesday about 2:30 P.M. The weather was fair up to dark, and next
morning came clear and bright. The Britannic made a good run until noon Thursday, when the
fog came down upon us. Our bell was started ringing, and well it might be kept going, because
you could not distinguish a ship at times tow furlongs off, and even some moments a single
furlong off. The fog grew thicker as the day wore on. We heard the bell of some passing steamer
on our left, but did not learn who she was. When 5 o'clock came we were about 370 miles from
New-York City and still going at what seemed full speed. I was standing on the larboard side,
midway, on the upper deck, looking forward. The other cabin passengers were grouped mostly on
the upper deck forward. The 250 steerage people were aft.
"It was just a little before dinner time and presently, as we were all lounging easily about, we
heard the sound of an approaching vessel. I heard its horn or bell and hurried over to the port
side, where it appeared to come from. I leaned over the rail but saw nothing. A minute passed
and then, looming up in the fog, rose the prow of a big ship. It was the Celtic, and it seemed as if
she would strike us right on the engine rooms and break the steamer in two. But I think she
reversed her engines, for she did not seem to be coming on as fast as we were going ahead. Her
course was such that, if she had been going faster, she might have crossed our prow and we
would have just scraped her stern. If she had been six seconds slower or faster the collision might
have been escaped. If she had been going just a second faster she would have hit us in the engine
rooms and that would have been destruction.
"When the Celtic came right up to us she seemed to swerve a little and the first blow was
received right behind the engine rooms. There was a severe shock felt and a scene of tremendous
excitement followed. The women shrieked and some fainted. The children clung to their mothers
with blanched faces and the men trembled with fear. I think the Celtic hit us just two feet behind
the engine rooms, and immediately after the blow the Celtic recoiled and instantly came on us
again. We passed on, and as the Celtic came upon the Britannic the second time she advanced
more bluntly, and, indeed, almost so as to make a very obtuse angle. Her prow ran into the
Britannic fully 10 feet it seemed, breaking the railing into bits and reaching over into the cabin.
Besides, a big hole was stove into our vessel below her water line and immediately the sea rushed
in and then the ship sank, so that she was two feet lower in her after portion than she was before.
"A panic seized the passengers. The noise of the collision, the snapping of iron bars and bolts
and the crushing of woodwork was appalling, and then above the sounds of wreck and out of the
fearful mist rose hoarse commands and curses, and far worse than all the piercing shrieks of the
dying and the moans of the injured. It was an awful thing to see and a terrible thing to hear. There
was confusing and dismay.
"A moment passed and again we were struck. Not a soul on board at that minute could seem to
dare to hope for life. The Celtic seemed worse than a ship simply running into us. Twice her
immense weight had been launched on us, and now a third time, like a fighting torpedo ram, she
pushed her iron nose right on to our stern. There was a sound of ripping and the Britannic's side
far back to the stern was stripped of its plates for fully 20 feet. It was a time to think of one's past
and to count the moments before eternity. Soon the Britannic seemed still once more, and off to
our larboard we could distinguish the dim outline of the Celtic, who had gone around by our
stern and passed off to the other side. She seemed to stop there, and we too lay quite a little
"Capt. Perry, I understand, gave orders to leave the Britannic. At any rate, the boats that hadn't
been damaged-for three of the life launches had been smashed in the second collision-were
lowered. The passengers watched them eagerly. All had fastened life preservers around their
waists and some of the men pushed themselves forward madly to the front. Some of the
men-though they are not worthy of the name-piled down into the first boats launched. A lot of
firemen, (I think there were 20, though perhaps there were not more than 15,) jumped into a boat
and pulled off to the Celtic. The Captain saw them and was angry. He whipped out his pistol and,
pointing it in a menacing way, declared that the women and the children must have the first
chance and that he would shoot the first man who would be brutal enough to get in a boat ahead
of the women.
"Five boat loads of passengers wee shipped to the Celtic. Another, the last that reached the
Celtic, was seen to turn back. Then we wee frightened again, for we at once imagined that the
Celtic had begin to sink and that they were going to send the people over to us. But our fear
turned into slight rejoicing when we learned that an examination had been made that there were
good grounds to believe that the Britannic would not sink. But we could not be sure really of
anything, because the pumps wee going and we knew that one compartment was all filled. Still
the engines wee not injured, and the Captain and the crew seemed to know what they were about
and appeared extremely anxious to look out for the people in their care. In all the helter skelter
they behaved remarkably well, so far as I was able to see. The cowardly firemen, I learned
afterward, who crowded into one boat and went to the Celtic did not belong to the Britannic's
"Well, after the heat of the confusion had passed-and it was a pretty hot time for an hour I can
assure you-we had some chance to learn about still further horrors. It was not a comforting thing
to learn that some of the steerage passengers who had been lounging about the deck abaft
midships had been killed by the second crash. We did not get then, or at any subsequent time, any
official statement about the loss of life, but it was pretty well understood all around that at least
six persons were knocked out of life and that 12 were injured. I believe that three men, one
woman, and one little girl were killed almost instantly. Besides these the leg of a child was
found, and no one of the injured has been discovered to whom the leg belongs and no body has
been picked up yet which the leg will fit. So thee are six dead at least. The injured included one
man who had two legs broken, a woman with her hip smashed, and some children who were hurt
in various ways. They and the dead all had passage in the steerage. The deaths and injuries were
caused by the falling pieces of iron and the flying bolts and splinters of wood.
"We lay still after the collision. What was taking place on the Celtic, and what had occurred
there, and how the Celtic had fared were things that we knew nothing about. Outside of mere
curiosity and suspense, our feelings, of course, were intensely painful, and in addition, some of
the passengers taken to the Celtic-some 60 in all-had friends or relatives aboard the Britannic.
This intensified the anguish of those on the Britannic, and it is not strange that emotion overcame
many of the women, and that the men felt queer. But there were some who went about calming
the fears of the faint hearted, and a slight feeling of confidence came to those on board as the
night came on. Still the slightest noise would startle the nervous, and on the whole it was exciting
"About 7 o'clock the Captain of the Celtic came on board and conferred with Capt. Perry. They
talked the whole thing over and concluded that there was no immediate danger, and that the best
thing to do would be to remain near one another and, if possible, return later to New-York. About
12 o'clock Thursday night, some seven hours after the accident, we put our engines going slowly,
with our prows turned toward Sandy Hook. Our speed was not greater than six or seven knots an
hour. We kept well together, and though the fact that the vessels could move relieved the
passengers a little, still there were not many who slept well on the Britannic that night.
"After most of the people had gone to their cabins and before morning came the officers decided
to bury the dead. It was a grim and solemn ceremony. Few of the passengers were on deck.
Something of a service was held, but it was not long, and one by one the five bodies and the
unknown leg were lifted over the rail and dropped with a solemn splash into the ocean. A burial
at sea is impressive at all times, but this burial, after what had taken place and under the
circumstances, was deeply and intensely impressive.
"About 7 o'clock Friday morning the Marengo, of the Wilson Line, overtook us. The day had
dawned almost gloriously it seemed, and we who had 12 hours before felt that we had seen the
sun for the last time, thanked heaven that once more our eyes looked upon the sky. The Marengo
was sighted by our ship perhaps before she saw us, and by flag signals our condition was
explained to her. When she came up and said that she was bound for New-York and would go
along with us a great load was lifted from the hearts of all on board. It inspired confidence, and
as the ship's watches were rung it seemed after all as if we could call our lives our own and that
we had much to be thankful for. That afternoon we saw what we thought was a German vessel,
but she refused to help us or answer our signals satisfactorily. In the evening-Friday-about 6
o'clock, we hailed another passing ship. It was the British Queen, and she, too, was bound for
New-York. She slowed up and came on with us. All this made us feel better, and that night we
got some sleep. Still there were few who did not have life preservers about them. Several other
vessels passed us, but we did not need their services. A pilot in a sailboat came up, too, to take us
in the harbor.
"The Eturia passed us, too, Saturday and brought on in advance to New-York the story of the
mishap, or, at any rate, a part of it. I wasn't up at the time the White Star agent came on board
from New-York, but I imagine he got here some time early Sunday morning before daylight. At
any rate he went away and ordered a tug sent down to take off the Britannic's people. We were
informed of her coming and there were many who felt mighty glad when they knew there was
going to be a chance to leave the injured ship. We reached the bar about 1 o'clock Sunday
morning and remained there. The Fletcher came alongside about 8 o'clock, and it took about an
hour to fill her up with our baggage and then get on board. At 9 o'clock we started, and about
noon we got to the White Star dock. Of course the 60 or so of our passengers who were
transferred to the Celtic did not come up with us on the Fletcher. There was a great deal of
grumbling among the passengers on account of the accident and the delay it will cause them. So
far no arrangement has been made with us as to any compensation for our damages or as to how
we shall get passage to Liverpool. But I suppose the company will do what is proper.
"The Britannic is rather badly damaged, on the whole. The débris, when it was cleared off,
showed that the shocks were indeed terrific. The big hole that was made in the Britannic's side
would have let in enough water to sink us if the ship had not been built in compartments. When it
was possible to get at it, they stuffed mattresses and sails into it and tried to pad it so as to stop
the leaking, but it didn't seem to do much good. Some of the passengers carried off broken nuts
and twisted pieces of bolts that had been broken like reeds. They took them as mementoes of the
In The Steerage.
The scene among the steerage passengers of the Britannic is thus described by a gentleman who
was in the portion of the vessel set apart for them:
"As the Celtic closely approached the Britannic the passengers began to cheer and wave
handkerchiefs. Suddenly the cry was heard that she would strike us, and men, women, and
children, mostly steerage passengers, made a rush to get away and many were thrown down. A
terrible crash followed, the Celtic scooping away boats and bulwarks from the quarter deck right
up to the stern, iron two inches thick being torn as if of paper, and even one of the wrought iron
davits, four inches in diameter, was riven in twain as if of wood. Many of the passengers had not
time to get away, and when the mischief was done several bodies, some of them terribly
mutilated, lay among the wreckage. Several passengers were seen with bleeding heads, and
others were limping about. Women and children were screeching, and one woman was crying out
to be released from the weight of iron framework which held her down. I assisted to get her out.
She was badly bruised, but no bones were broken.
"The Captain of the Britannic immediately gave orders for the boast to be lowered, and the
Celtic, with part of her prow carried away, was standing by and was also sending off boats to our
assistance. The boast at the stern of the Brittannic[sic] were difficult to launch, some woodwork
upon which one of them rested having to be knocked away before she could be released. One of
the life rafts had been injured in the collision, but an attempt was made to get the other free. An
axe had to be used in this case also to cut away obstructions. Meanwhile, and after about 150
passengers had been transferred to the Celtic, it was considered by the officers of the Britannic
that there was in immediate danger, the doors of the water-tight compartments having been
"A hole, however, about three feet in diameter had been made in the side of the Britannic a few
feet aft the engine room and partly below the water line. This hole allowed the water to get into
the compartment occupied by the steerage passengers, and which also contained their baggage.
This large space was soon filled with water up level with the second deck, and the poor
passengers, not having time to secure anything, suffered great inconvenience. A large quantity of
water appeared also to have penetrated hold No. 5, causing the ship's stern to sink six or eight
feet. The assurance that there was no danger put the passengers in better spirits. Still the
unfortunate male steerage passengers, who had been 'drowned out,' had literally no where to lay
their heads. Some of them at last went into the married men's quarters and slept on seats or on
the floor, and others, with life belts for pillows, stretched themselves on the deck, and thus spent
three nights. I should mention here that there was great difficulty in getting the life belts at the
time of the collision, none of the passengers appearing to know where they were kept. Eventually
they were directed to the steerage, and here, behind the single women's berths, and right at the
stern the life belts were stowed away.
"The passengers on board the Britannic wee remarkably self-possessed. The men not only
assisted in lowering the boats, but attended to the wounded. Among the wounded was a man
named Fowler, who was going to Ireland, and he begged not to be left on board to be drowned.
He had a broken thigh. A man named Burke, a miner from Scranton, Penn., received serious
injuries to his side and had his body badly bruised. Another man had his head badly cut, and
many had contusions or cuts. One of those most seriously hurt was young Robinson, whose little
sister was killed. The mother was taking these two children from their home at Fall River to
Stockport, England, for a couple of months, and she had a return ticket. Just before the collision
the little girl went on deck to look for her brother, and there was caught in the wreckage. The
mother was horrified at seeing the mutilated remains of the child, but had the presence of mind to
drag from under a mass of wreckage her little boy. He was dreadfully cut about the face, and his
body was much bruised. One of the men who was killed was called Tremberth. His wife could
not realize that he was dead. She moaned and cried continually. She had no money, and a
steerage passenger made a collection for her among the saloon passengers, getting about $26.
"While we were being transferred to the city on the William Fletcher one incident almost caused
a panic. Her engines were suddenly stopped and the fog whistle sounded vigorously and
prolonged. The cause of this was the appearance of a big steamer, which appeared to be steering
directly down upon us. With great promptitude and coolness the wheelman of the Fletcher
avoided a disaster, and the passengers, who were rushing to one side of the boat, were soon
assured of their safety."
Coolness Of The Officers.
Mr. Collis P. Huntington and members of his family were passengers on the Britannic. Mr.
Huntington was seen at the Fifth-Avenue Hotel last night by a TIMES reporter. When asked if he
would give his story of the disaster Mr. Huntington said:
"I am afraid that I can only give you a very tame account of it. Yet it is an experience that I will
not forget. I think it was about 5 o'clock last Thursday. My wife and I were in our stateroom-the
Captain's room on the hurricane deck-when I noticed several of the passengers rush past our
door, talking in an excited manner. I told my wife that something unusual was going on, and
went out on deck. In the meantime, and, indeed, for some time past, our whistles had been
blowing-no, not blowing, but shrieking, and making to my ears a terrific noise. I noticed off our
bows a big steamer coming toward and at right angles to us. I warned my wife that there might be
a collision and went aft. The Captain gave (as I afterward learned) orders to put on all steam.
"I was standing about amidships. The Celtic came swiftly on and, swerving a little toward our
bows, struck us with fearful force a short distance back from the engine room. That was a terrible
moment. A big hole was made in the side. Our rail was torn and sliced as neatly as could be. It
curled up forward, and in its path killed four men and wounded others. One of our water
compartments immediately filled. For a while there was great excitement. Then the order was
given to lower the boats. Some men lost their heads and started to crowd the boats. Then came
the stern order to let the women and children first get in. All the officers of the Britannic were
remarkably cool and at their posts."
"Yes," added Mrs. Huntington, "and all the women on board acted bravely, and not one of them
"Well," continued Mr. Huntington, "after a while something like quiet was restored. The débris
was cleared away and the dead and wounded were looked after. Many passengers were
transferred to the Celtic. The next day we met and signaled an outgoing Hamburg Line steamer,
but she passed on. We signaled a Wilson Line steamer, which came to our assistance, and later
the British Queen joined us. On Saturday the Etruria was sighted. I could see her with the
naked eye. We showed distress signals, but they were either not seen or else disregarded, for she,
too, passed on. At last we reached home and were landed.
"I must not finish, however, without complimenting the officers of the Britannic for their
coolness and excellent behavior. I think that when I return to Europe I will go on the Britannic.
As to which ship was responsible for the accident I cannot say. Both had been blowing their
whistles for some time before the collision. The ship that deserves the blame, however, it is safe
to say, is the one that was out of her course."
The Story From The Celtic.
The Celtic, Capt. Irving, left Queenstown May 12, with 104 cabin and 765 steerage passengers.
The afternoon of Thursday, May 19, she was 350 miles east of Sandy Hook and was picking her
way through a dense fog. The fog whistle was kept sounding constantly, and the steamer was
going at half speed. Through the mist came the blasts of another steamer's whistle, and at 5:20
P.M., as the Celtic shot out of a bank of fog, the Britannic loomed up, pursuing a course that
would take her across the bows of the west bound steamer.
The Celtic's engines were reversed, but the vessels were too close together before they saw one
another to avoid the collision. The Celtic, with her speed somewhat diminished, struck her sister
ship just aft of the mizzenmast, on the port side, and ground and bumped her way along the
Britannic's side. It was a glancing blow, but it tore away the Celtic's stem. No one was upon her
forward whale back at the time and no one on board of the vessel was injured. The shock was not
very great, but for a few minutes the scene on board the big steamer was such as would naturally
follow any accident at sea. Men and women had but one thought-to save their lives. A panic was
ready to break out, but it did not, for the efforts of Capt. Irving and his officers, who worked
nobly, and the fact that the steamer seemed in no likelihood of sinking, were effective. It was a
very pale crowd of passengers on the decks, but it was not one that seemed likely to lose its head
and make a mad dash for the boats. The forward bulkhead seemed to be in no danger of yielding
and everybody's spirits rose as the minutes passed. At all events, the Celtic was in no immediate
peril of going to the bottom. They were recovering from their alarm when the transfer of the
passengers from the Britannic began. The first and most important question for those on the
Celtic was, Would the forward bulkhead withstand the strain put upon it! But it held, and the
Celtic soon forged ahead in safety.
"I found," said one of the Britannic's passengers who trusted his fate to the Celtic and reached
the city late last night, "that the collision had produced a good deal of havoc forward on the
Celtic. The blow had knocked in 10 or 12 feet of the plates to the water line. Some of the plates
had been bent short across-that is, into a right angle by the force of the collision. They formed a
sort of fence across the hole in the bow, and for some reason or other the fact was a consolation
to us, for it seemed as though even the broken plates were doing their best to keep us from
Mrs. B.B. Reath, of Philadelphia, was another of the transferred passengers. She said last night
that she had found the people on the Celtic pretty well out of their panic by the time she reached
their ship. Mr. Worth, another passenger, said that the shock of the collision was not very great
on board the Celtic. For a time there was something of a panic, but it was quickly stopped.
Nobody being injured the people were more easily reassured.
Of the Britannic's representatives on the Celtic more than 40 were steerage passengers. The
cabin passengers were taken care of as well as could be expected under the circumstances, but
the steerage contingent had to get along as best it could. There was nothing to do but take what
was given them, however, and that by no means came up to their ideas of what was necessary.
They complain that they were not given a sufficiency of food and that they had to sleep on beds
which were mere planks. But they all lived through it.
The Celtic reached the Bar at 12:45 A.M. yesterday. A tug visited her and took off her mails
early in the day. The Fletcher went down the bay in the afternoon to take off her passengers, but
it was not until 6 o'clock that she got alongside. There was a fog at the time and enough sea on to
render the work of disembarking the passengers difficult. As a result, the Celtic's people elected
to stay by her for the night.
The cabin passengers of the Celtic are the following: A.E. Alderson, G.B. Bernard, E.S. Barker,
Mr. and Mrs. W.L. Bishop, Miss J.C. Chapman, the Rev. W.E. Clarke and family, William A.
Cadbury, R.M. Clark, James Chapman, W.A. Deakin, Hugh England, Henry Goodman, Dr.
Guerin, A.D. Hill, Mrs. A.S. Hill, T. Harwood, L. Iveson, F.B.S. Jarvis, William Jones, Mr. and
Mrs. G.J. Jones, Miss M. Marriage, J.T. McCollam, J.B. Manby, R.S. McPhail, William
McLaren, Mr. and Mrs. W.N. Potter, Norman Rayner, C.E. Reay, J.A. Richardson, John Smith,
Miss V.F. Sands, H. Altman, Mr. Shearman, Mrs. Spring, Miss G. Spring, John Temple and
family, Miss S. Tumley, A.W. Turner, Miss Waterbury, Wallace Whitlock, the Rev. J. Williams,
and I. Hamilton.
The Killed And Injured.
How many lives were lost cannot be accurately stated until the roster is called for both ships. The
Rev. Dr. Depuy, on careful investigation, is certain that 12 were killed and that 20 were injured.
Purser Musgrove, in his official statement, covers the number with the word "several." A
physician who made a close search thinks that seven bodies wee buried, and feels sure that others
were drowned and lost int eh confusion.
Those of the steerage passengers who could be seen last night could give no names of those
killed or even of the number. The company officers could give no statement of the number on
board. The names of the following only could be obtained:
ROBINSON, _____, a girl, aged 13, of Fall River, Mass., bound for Stockport, England.
TRENHIRTH, John G., a miner, from Morris County, N.J., bound for Ireland, with his wife.
Of the wounded two men were taken to St. Vincent's Hospital from the White Star Dock when
the Fletcher made her first trip. Others were found at various emigrant boarding houses. The
names ascertained are:
LAWLER, William, aged 65, single, from St. Louis, dislocated hip.
BURKE, Patrick, aged 47, married, from Wilkesbarre, Penn., fracture of one rib and right leg.
ROBINSON, George, boy, 14 years old, and brother of the girl who was killed, was sitting near
her when the collision occurred. Both were at work cleaning some vegetables. Young Robinson
suffered a compound fracture of the right arm and a scalp would. He was with his mother at a
West-street hotel last night.
HOLLAND, Mark, of Youngstown, Ohio, had a finger cut off by a broken plate. He was thrown
down and bruised and his clothes torn.
VAUGN, Annie, New-York, suffering from shock and exposure.
WILLAMS, Jane, of Fall River, arm bruised and sprained badly.
NOONEY, Rose, of New-York, hurt about the face and back.
At all the lodging houses were people more or less bruised, but they did not count their hurts as
serious in the joy of getting back on land.
There were three Sisters of the Order of St. John the Baptist on board the Britannic. When the
collision was imminent they remained on deck cool and collected. As soon as the crashes came
they moved about among the frightened people, and, by assuring word and smiling countenance,
kept them from plunging overboard in their paroxysm of fear. When the trembling steerage
passengers saw the dismembered bodies of some of their own number staining the deck with
blood they descended into the steerage, and while others of the cabin people were scurrying to
and fro to gather portable baggage and embark in the boats, these women of the church, forgetful
of their own safety, heroically addressed the inmates of the steerage and calmed their excitement.
An Englishman who stood about 20 feet from the point where the Celtic cut into the Britannic
was very cool. He looked at the prow of the attacking steamer and calmly said: "She will
evidently give us a deuce of a dig, but I cannot say just where." His face was as unruffled as if he
were telling some one the time of day.
There were some amusing incidents among the many scenes of terror and despair. A young man
approached Capt. Perry, of the Britannic, as the Captain was about to send word to the Celtic to
have some of his passengers returned to the Britannic. He said: "Captain, my wife's over there,
and we haven't been married a week, either." The Captain arranged for their reunion.
An emigrant weighing about 250 pounds, who had been refused admission to one of the boats,
made a jump for it just as it was shoving off. He struck the water a few feet from the stern of the
launch, and a line was thrown him there and he was drawn alongside. Two brawny sailors
reached for him and tried to life him into the boat, but his garments weren't strong, and they
parted, and in his struggles they were almost all torn off. All efforts to get him on board failed
until a rope was fastened around a belt the fellow had around his waist under his clothes, and
with a rope tied to that the Britannic's sailors towed him around the stern to one side.
Among the cabin passengers of the Britannic wee José M. Miyares and his wife, of Cuba. The
Señor tried his utmost to induce his wife to take the last place in one of the boats. She stubbornly
refused and threw herself into her husband's arms exclaiming: "No, I will die here with you, if
Resolutions Of Confidence.
At a meeting of the passengers of the Celtic and those from the Britannic who went on board the
Celtic after the collisions the following resotions[sic] were unanimously adopted, and it was
arranged that they should be engrossed and presented to Capt. Irving:
Whereas, On the evening of May 19, 1887, in a dense fog, a collision occurred between the
steamships Britannic and Celtic, which threatened to end in fearful loss of life and the destruction
of one or both steamers,
Resolved, That we would record our deep sense of gratitude to Almighty God for the merciful
deliverance vouchsafed to us in our late circumstances of extreme peril. We are pleased to have
this opportunity of testifying our entire confidence in Capt. Irving, the commander of the Celtic,
believing that he did all that was possible to prevent the collision, and, after this had occurred, by
his able seamanship and presence of mind he saved his steamer and the lives of all on board.
Captain Irving's courage and coolness in time of danger had the effect of at once allaying fears
and stopping any panic which might have arisen among the thousand people on the ship.
We would therefore ask Capt. Irving to accept this expression of our appreciation of his noble
conduct and of his unvarying courtesy and attention to both his own passengers and those from
To the chief engineer, Mr. Hugh Currie, and his staff our tanks are especially due for their skillful
and successful efforts to protect the broken stem of the Celtic, to erect a temporary bulkhead, and
also to secure the watertight compartments; to Mr. Clarke and the other officers of the ship for so
ably seconding Capt. Irving, and to the purser, Mr. Durbridge; Dr. Fenwick, and Chief Steward
May for their unremitting attention and care of the large accession to the passengers.
We feel greater confidence in the White Star Line when we know that after such a terrific
collision both the Celtic and Britannic are able to steam to New-York, as, unless the vessels had
been of enormous strength and their compartments and watertight doors thoroughly efficient, the
consequences might have been much more serious. The commodore of the line, Capt. Perry, also
deserves our thanks for keeping the steamers British Queen and Marengo, and thus doing
everything possible to secure safety and inspire the passengers with confidence.
The paper was signed by 48 passengers of the Celtic and 30 of the Britannic.[names not given in the paper]
The Ocean Disaster.
(From New York Times of May 26, 1887.)
It was stated at the White Star office yesterday that the official list of those killed in the Celtic-Britannic collision contained only three names-Jane Robinson, James Timbury, and James Greenalch. It had been understood that Adam Johnson, a Swedish immigrant, was among the killed, but he turned up yesterday morning at the White Star offices and most emphatically asserted that he was not dead. He secured a passage on the Arabic, which sails on Saturday.
An official inquiry into the disaster will be made at the British Consulate
in a few days. The findings of this court, together with the sworn statements
of the two Captains, will be forwarded to the British Board of Trade.
The work of repairing the bows of the injured steamship Celtic was continued
yesterday, and the agents think that she will not be delayed more than
one trip. The Britannic is being unloaded and will probably be ready to
go on the dry dock to-morrow. A number of her passengers and many persons
who were to have gone on the Celtic sailed yesterday on the Anchor steamship
City of Rome.
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