1850 - 1854
first purpose-built ocean liner had been the Cunard pioneer steamer Britannia.
She entered service in 1840 and proved to be somewhat of a success. She
was one of the ships that helped prove that there were considerable amounts
of money to fetch in passenger traffic across the North Atlantic. Previously,
a shipping line’s profits had basically come from government contract and
money gained from the cargo.
the same year as Isambard Brunel’s fabulous Great Britain entered
service, an American shipping company entered the business. It was the
Collins Line, which had been founded by the American Edward Knight Collins.
Before entering the risky North
Atlantic passenger business,
Collins had operated a successful sailing packet company. Many thought
him a daredevil to enter this kind of business.
|The Arctic - the
third ship of Collins' popular quartet.
realised it was a dangerous game he had entered. To secure profit, he applied
for a mail subsidy to the United States Congress. He mentioned the fact
that the British were by far the dominant factor on the Atlantic, and it
would be more than appropriate for an American company to challenge them.
The Congress agreed with Collins and gave his line the subsidy. One of
the conditions was that United States should be able to use the Collins
Line ships in the event of war.
of the Collins Line’s Atlantic steamers entered service in early 1850.
She was the Atlantic and would within short be followed by three
running mates being the Pacific, Arctic and Baltic.
When introduced on the high seas, these vessels were immediately recognised
as the best liners available. They were faster, larger and more luxurious
that their closest competitors – the Cunard liners. The Britannia
was a mere 1,139 gross tons large and had a service speed of 9 knots, while
the Collins Line ships were all in the vicinity of 2,800 tons and could
maintain a service speed of 12 knots for an entire Atlantic crossing.
entered service shortly after the Atlantic, and then the turn came
to the third of the sisters. The Arctic had been launched on January
21, 1850 and her maiden voyage was on October 27, the same year. The exterior
of the ship was of the classic style for the time – a wooden hull, single
funnel, three masts and paddle wheels. However, she sported the novelty
of a straight stem, which was quite unusual in the mid-19th
century. The Arctic only had accommodation for 200 first class passengers.
However, berths for additional eighty second class passengers were added
Collins had invested in powerful machinery had certainly paid off, at least
in prestige. Between 1850 and 1851, the Pacific had taken the Blue
Riband in both directions from the Cunard Line’s Asia and Canada.
But as Collins drove his ships at sometimes too high speeds, the company
often had to pay large reparation costs for broken boilers and other machinery.
Still, the Collins Line had established a brand on the North Atlantic and
Cunard lost all too many passengers to the rival shipping line. The British
company realised that in order for them to survive, they had to create
even better ships than the Collins steamers. However, as the Collins Line
seemed to be haunted with bad luck, Cunard could sit back within short
and watch the income increase again.
the rotten luck struck the Collins Line, they had their sweet share of
glory in February 1852 when the Arctic took the eastbound speed
record with an average speed of 13.06 knots. She would keep that honour
until long after she was gone.
major stroke for the Collins Line occurred on a chilly September day in
1854. On the 21st, the Arctic had left New York for another
crossing to Europe. She carried 147 first class passengers, a full second
class compliment and a crew of 135, ending up with 368 souls on board.
Among the first class passengers were Collin’s wife and two of his children
accompanied by members of
Collin’s shipping partner James
|A deck scene of utter
chaos as the Arctic sinks.
27th, when the Arctic had reached a point about 60 miles
south of Cap Race, she encountered dense fog. The policy for Collins liners
was to race through an area of fog as quickly as possible in order to flee
it. This foolishness resulted in that the Arctic was unable to turn
in time when a small French iron-hulled steamer called Vesta came
in her way. The collision was violent and as the Vesta’s metal structure
turned the Arctic’s wooden hull into ribbons, the Collins liner
began to sink.
resulted in panic among the Vesta’s passengers. They thought she
was more badly damaged than she actually was. The passengers and crew,
numbering 197, immediately started to evacuate the Vesta in favour
of the Arctic. However, it was soon apparent which ship was the
worst damaged, and the Vesta luckily made it into shore three days
passengers of the Arctic began to realise that their ship was sinking
from under them, the panic soon developed among them. The water was rushing
in through three holes below the Arctic’s waterline. The Arctic’s
master, Captain Luce immediately ordered the head of his ship to be turned
towards Cape Race, which was the closest point of land. But the speed of
the ship further increased the inrush of water, and four hours later the
water had reached the furnaces, making the voyage impossible to continue.
conditions were not the best for the stricken Arctic and her passengers.
It was blowing a strong gale at the time of the sinking, and some of the
first boats to be launched were destroyed, requiring many lives. Other
boats, which were launched successfully, were probably not manned or equipped enough
– because they were never heard of again. A mere two boats with 31 crewmembers
and fourteen passengers managed to reach Newfoundland. A raft made of wreckage
supported 72 men and four women from the beginning, but the strong wind
and the violent waves swept them off one after one until only one remained.
was later saved by a passing
|The Arctic foundering
60 miles off Cape Race.
Luce had managed to escape the ship on a raft along with fifteen other
persons, among them his own son. The young boy was unconscious and his
father held him in his arms. At that time, the Arctic had entirely
sunk beneath the surface. As the ship construction was made largely out
of floatable wood, big pieces broke loose when the ship crashed onto the
seabed and raced for the surface. A large section of the paddle wheel housing
came up edge-wise, hitting the captain’s son in the head, who was killed
immediately. Captain Luce had to let go of his son and start struggling
for his own life. Among with approximately fifteen other men, he hung onto
to the raft, but soon only three remained. After having seen several ships
that had failed to spot them, they were picked up on the 29th
by the Cambria bound to Montreal from Glasgow.
of the disaster was devastating for the Collins Line. Panicked crewmen
had not taken the time to inform and assist passengers, but left them on
the ship. This resulted in that no women or no children were saved in the
disaster. All three of the Collins family went down with the ship, along
with five of the Brown family. Of the 368 originally on board approximately
300 had perished.
Line got further problems in 1856, when the Pacific just vanished
during a trans-Atlantic crossing. She was not found until 1986 when a fisherman
got his nets caught up in the wreck. Atlantic passengers no longer trusted
the American Collins Line, but put their faith in the Cunard Line again.
The Collins Line built a new and larger liner – the Adriatic – to
compensate for the losses, but by the early 1860s the company
remains on the spot where she once sank, and to my knowledge no exploration
of the wreck has been made.
|The Arctic - Specifications:
||285 feet (87.1 m)
||45.9 feet (14 m)
||2,856 gross tons
||Steam engines powering
two paddle wheels.
||200 (later 280) people