On the Rocks: Shipwrecks of Nova Scotia - Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Marine Heritage Database

SS Atlantic - 1873

Ship Type

Typical Profile





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Shipwreck Details


One of the largest and grandest ships afloat at the time of her loss, SS ATLANTIC sank near Halifax with heavy loss of life on April Fool's day 1873. Until the sinking of Titanic in 1912, it was the worst ocean liner disaster in history. ATLANTIC was a part of a new generation of liners which combined both deluxe accommodation and a brisk passage from Liverpool to New York. The fledgling White Star Line had great hopes that ATLANTIC, and her sisters, (BALTIC, OCEANIC and REPUBLIC) would make them preeminent on the North Atlantic. While still rigged for auxiliary sail, her primary propulsion was steam and she had the newest generation of compound steam engines, cutting coal consumption in half. She had an extremely long thin hull (a length to beam ratio of 10 to 1) a characteristic of Harland and Wolff's Belfast built ships for the White Star Line. ATLANTIC and her sisters had several accomodation firsts with the most luxurious and comfortable first class accommodations seen on the North Atlantic.


After leaving Liverpool, heavy seas forced ATLANTIC to make an unscheduled stop in Halifax as it appeared she was running short of coal. Her captain was unfamiliar with the Nova Scotian coast, yet took few precautions approaching Halifax on April 1, 1873. A few miles off course she ran straight into the rocky coastline at full speed, striking Golden Rule Rock near Lower Prospect at 3:00 a.m. ATLANTIC filled with water in minutes leaving her decks and rigging swept by waves. The struggle to leave the ship and make it to precarious Golden Rule Rock claimed the lives of all women aboard, all married men and all the children, except one. Several crew members heroically swam through heavy surf and freezing water to land rescue lines and seek help. At daylight fisherman braved high seas to seek survivors. The Clancy family, including teenager Carrie Clancy, were the only family close to the wreck and saved the lives of the first wave of survivors. The hundreds of survivors were soon taken to the nearby village of Lower Prospect to be looked after until steamers came from Halifax. One group of survivors, not wanting to burden their rescuers, set out and walked all the way to Halifax. Despite the efforts of the crew and the citizens of the tiny village, 562 of the 933 people lost their lives. Most were buried in mass graves at the Anglican and Catholic cemeteries in Lower Prospect. A monument to the victims is located at the SS Atlantic Heritage Park beside the Anglican cemetery in Terence Bay, 32 km. from Halifax. An inquiry determined that ATLANTIC's engineers were incorrect in their estimate that she was short of coal. Her captain and officers were blamed for not taking precautions such as extra lookouts and soundings as they approached Halifax in darkness. A high energy wreck site, ATLANTIC was broken apart by waves and years of salvage work. Her extensive wreckage, boilers and propeller shafts are popular dive sites.

Vessel Type

Barque, Steam

Type of Event


Nature of Event

Sank after breaking

Cause of Event

Judgement error

Date of Wreck



Marrs Head, Mosher Island


China, mail, mixed goods

Lives Lost


Voyage from

Liverpool, Merseyside , England

Voyage to

New York, New York , United States


Abnormal current. Total Loss. Inital records give 545 for death toll but most sources agree on 562.

Ship Construction

Built at

Belfast, Northern Ireland



Official Number


Registered at

Liverpool, Merseyside , England






Built by Harland & Wolff. Iron hull. Seven bulkheads.

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Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Original Data Design by Katherine Riordan, Computers for People

This Web Site is dedicated to the memory of Terry Shaw

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Comments to: Maritime Museum of the Atlanic      / Last updated on 2007-10-05

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