On September 27th of 1854, two ships collided about fifty miles off the coast of Newfoundland, killing at least 322 people of the 400 who were onboard. Even stranger, all of the women and children onboard died, and most of the survivors were members of the ship's crew.
The collision was caused by a sudden, heavy fog that obscured the view of both ships' Captains. The larger ship was the wood hulled paddle steamer called SS Arctic. The smaller ship was called the SS Vesta, an iron hulled, propeller driven French ship.
The SS Arctic was a luxury ship, which had been built only four years earlier, for the purpose of transporting passengers across the Atlantic Ocean and back. The SS Arctic had a wood hull, and could reach speeds of up to 13 knots an hour, which was an impressive speed for those days. On September 20th, the SS Arctic had left Liverpool, England, on its way to North America. When the ship entered heavy fog seven days later, the Captain, James Luce, did not take any fog precautions, such as slowing down the ship, or sounding the ship's horn, or employing extra watchmen. At around 12:25, the Arctic crashed head on into the iron hull of the SS Vesta, which was captained by Alphonse Puchesne.
At first, Captain Luce tried to help the passengers on the Vesta, but it was soon realized that more damage was done to the SS Arctic than to the SS Vesta. So Captain Luce tried to beach the SS Arctic. He aimed for Cape Race, which was about four hours away. In so doing, he ran over some of the lifeboats, drowning more than a few people. He even ran over a lifeboat launched from the SS Vesta, killing all but one of its dozen occupants when they were crushed under the Arctic's paddle wheels. Then his engine failed before he reached land. What's more, there were not enough lifeboats to accommodate all the passengers, and many of the ones there were had capsized in the choppy ocean waters.
Mostly crew members and able bodied men made it onto the rafts, by grabbing them away from the women and children who were trying to escape. When a high ranking officer tried to stop them, he was instantly killed by the ship's crew. The remaining 70 people who were left onboard struggled to build a makeshift raft, but most were unable to leave the ship, as the SS Arctic sank to the ocean floor, four hours after collision. It is believed that only one in this group survived. All women and children went down with the ship.
Despite angry calls for investigation into the disaster, no investigation took place, and no criminal charges were ever filed. Some of the surviving crew chose not to return to the United States. Captain Luce was not blamed, as he had done all he could to help, and had even lost his son in the ordeal.
On that day, chivalry was dead.