SS Atlantic History

Did you know that the largest marine disaster in the North Atlantic before the Titanic, occurred on the very shores of a picturesque community in Nova Scotia?

On the treacherous morning of April 1st, 1873, what was the greatest liner of its time crashed upon the shores of Lower Prospect. The SS Atlantic was part of the White Star Line and one of the newer steam-driven and sail vessels. It was on its 19th voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, making its way from Liverpool, England to New York. Aboard were 954 passengers and crew, as well as much valuable cargo such as copper, jewellery and earthenware.

Captain James A. Williams was the man controlling the ship and the person whom many blame for the crash. On March 31, 1873, his ship was running short of coal and he feared it might not make it to New York, so he diverted to Halifax to refuel.

Sinking of the SS Atlantic Alas, the infamous stormy seas and foggy nights along the Nova Scotian shores had Captain Williams tricked – he had believed the ship to be near Halifax when it was in fact near the fishing community of Lower Prospect. And on that morning, at 3:15 A.M. on the 1st of April, the Atlantic smashed at full speed into the rocky shores and was wrecked, resulting in the deaths of some 560 people (the exact number has never been established) including all the women and all the children but one.

Had it not been for the heroism and bravery of the seaside community, that number would have surely been much larger.  The fishermen of Lower Prospect and Terence Bay rallied soon after the ship struck a small island and rolled over into the cold waters of the North Atlantic.  They used their boats to rescue survivors clinging to life on the rocks and cliffs and those freezing in the rigging of the crippled ship. Meanwhile, the residents of the local communities struggled to care for those that managed to make it to shore.

During the following days as bodies were collected, 277 of those not claimed were interred in St. Paul's Anglican Cemetery and another 150 were buried in the Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Cemetery.
The Ismay family donated the monument pictured below in 1915; Thomas Henry Ismay was the founder of the White Star Line, which owned the SS Atlantic. The monument reads:

Near this spot
was wrecked the 
S.S. 'Atlantic'
April 1st, 1873
When 562 persons
perished, of whom 277
were interred
in this church yard.

This monument is
erected as a sacred memorial
by a few sympathetic friends.
Jesus said
'I am the resurrection and the life.'

The monument was lost in overgrown brush and bushes for many years until its rediscovery in 1980. In September of that year, an application for a grant to restore the memorial found in the park, as well as the two burial sites, was sent for approval and the following spring, the restoration was completed. On July 25, 1981, a rededication ceremony was held for the memorial monument and many community members involved proudly attended.

Now, generations after the disaster, the SS Atlantic and its victims are not forgotten. This site is maintained by community volunteers and members of the SS Atlantic Heritage Park Society to keep the memory alive in the community and the province of Nova Scotia.