This film is part of Free

Empress of Ireland Disaster

Beautiful and chilling newsreel pictures of the worst maritime disaster in Canadian history.

Non-Fiction 1914 9 mins Silent


The newsreels frequently covered disaster stories, using aftermath footage to piece together an impression of tragic events. But seldom were they as skilfully constructed as this Gaumont Graphic report on the wreck of RMS 'Empress of Ireland'. The film uses footage of the ship's crew, the rescue vessels, the survivors and their families to build a beautiful yet chilling narrative of the tragedy.

Among the portrait shots of crew, rescuers and survivors there's a rare (for the time) interior shot of the radio operator in his booth, illustrated with an inventive animation of an SOS signal. More harrowing are the scenes of sailors unloading wooden coffins from a ship and the rows of child-sized coffins stacked up at the Quebec morgue. The Canadian liner was bound for Liverpool on its 96th voyage when it collided with the Norwegian collier SS 'Storstad' (also pictured here) in the St Lawrence River. The 'Empress' sank in under 15 minutes, drowning more than 1,000 of its 1,477 passengers and crew.