Nova Scotia Archives

Where the Land Meets the Sea: Shipwrecks of Nova Scotia


The Wreck of the SS Atlantic

The SS Atlantic left Liverpool, England, for New York on 20 March 1873. Eleven days later, the captain decided to steam to Halifax, the nearest port, because the vessel's coal supply was running low. However, en route, the ship went ashore at Mars Head, near Lower Prospect, in the early morning of 1 April. The loss of life was horrendous — 565 passengers and crew. The disaster was the world's worst merchant shipwreck known at that time.

The international press seized upon the loss of the Atlantic with a zeal unsurpassed until the sinking of the Titanic nearly forty years later. The Canadian Illustrated News of 19 April 1873 provided on-the-spot coverage of the aftermath:

The bow, with about sixty feet of the forward part of the ship, is broken sharp off, and lies close to the shore, and at a distance of nearly fifty feet from the rest of the vessel. The bow and stern now point in the same direction.... The ship now acts like a breakwater to the small bay in which she lies, occupying nearly the whole of it. The divers and draggers are busy looking with an eager, professional eye to what is coming to the surface in the shape of salvage. Several respectable looking men are watching likewise from the side of the vessel with a different object. Beneath those iron walls lie the mortal remains of those whose memories are dear to them and occasionally there is something floated upwards that they claim. There are many sad and anxious countenances among that quiet knot of strangers.... Incidents of a sad character occur every day, both as regards the loss of life and property. The crew of the schooner in which our correspondents went to the scene of the catastrophe were using pieces of the beautiful teak wood polished saloon doors for fuel.

The Victorians were enthusiastic sight-seers, with a melodramatic interest in disasters; they were also fascinated by both the intrinsic and commercial possibilities of the camera, which had arrived in Nova Scotia during the late 1850s. Outdoor photography was still a novelty in 1873, and Lower Prospect was far enough away from Halifax — and its physical setting suitably wild and 'romantic' — to provide for an exciting day-trip into drama and tragedy. Some of the commercial photographs taken then survive today as grim reminders of the toll which the sea has always imposed on those who dare to challenge it.


Results 1 to 15 of 18 from your search: atlantic

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"The Wreck of the Atlantic
Date: 1873
Photographer: E.A. Bollinger
Reference no.: Photo Nova Scotia Archives Ships: Atlantic

"The Great Wreck" 
Date: 1873
Artist: Joseph Becker
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives MG 100 Vol. 228 #7 mfm #9744

"Wreck of the Steam-Ship Atlantic
Date: 1873
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives MG 100 Vol. 228 #7 mfm #9744

"Scene of the Atlantic disaster, Meagher's Island, showing wreck, divers recovering bodies and cargo" 
Date: 1873
Reference no.: Notman Studio Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1983-310 #90070

"Scene of the Wreck Atlantic, at Prospect, April 1st, 1873" 
Date: 1873
Reference no.: W. Chase Nova Scotia Archives #31

"Scene of the Wreck Atlantic at Prospect, April 1st, 1873" 
Date: 1873
Reference no.: W. Chase Nova Scotia Archives #32

"Scene of the Wreck Atlantic at Prospect, April 1st, 1873" 
Date: 1873
Reference no.: W. Chase Nova Scotia Archives #30

"Qr Mast Speakman, SS Atlantic
Date: ca.1873
Reference no.: Notman Studio Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1983-310 #90095

"Burial service Victims of Wreck of SS Atlantic, at Lower Prospect, Hfx. Co., NS, April 1873" 
Date: 1873
Photographer: W. Chase
Reference no.: Photo Nova Scotia Archives Ships: Atlantic

William J. Ancient 
Date: ca.1873
Reference no.: Notman Studio Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1983-310 #90088

Cornelius Brady 
Date: ca.1873
Reference no.: Notman Studio Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1983-310 #90100

William S. Fielding 
Date: 1873
Reference no.: Notman Studio Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1983-310 #91952

Gravestone of Ambrose Worthington in Camp Hill Cemetery, Halifax 
Photographer: Stephen Smith
Reference no.: private Nova Scotia Archives used by permission

Master John Hindley 
Date: 1873
Reference no.: W. Chase Nova Scotia Archives #23

Master John Hindley 
Date: 1873
Reference no.: W. Chase Nova Scotia Archives #23 reverse
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