The Wreck of RMS Atlantic
By Mike Stevens
Before Titanic, There was The First White Star Line Disaster
Mike Spence climbed the gangplank of the RMS Atlantic. He was going home. His wife, Mary, was waiting anxiously for the ship to dock in New York, and he was glad to be heading home. He’d gone to England in person because his fledgling company, Spence Securities, had recently purchased a Liverpool-based securities company, and he wanted to make sure there were no last-minute snags. This purchase represented a huge gamble; he had borrowed heavily to make the purchase, and for something to go wrong now would be disaster; but he was on deck now, and was impatient to get the voyage home underway!
He was seated for dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Smyth, who were going for a vacation to New York City, and could talk of nothing else, asking Mike if New York City was as impressive as they’d heard. Yes, he’d answered, it was very impressive. He didn’t add his personal caveat, if you considered being crammed together with many other people, too many to count, as being impressive. He himself felt there were too many people, but as that was good for his business, he put up with it. Personally, he’d much rather move out west somewhere, where a man had a little elbow room, but there wasn’t enough money to be made out there, so he stayed put.
The dining room was crowded with wealthy passengers, and Mike thought, please, if I every become wealthy, don’t let me act like these people! At least Mr. and Mrs. Smyth’s conversation kept the time flying by. If he had to listen to one more personal yacht story!
He left the dining room and strolled along the deck, in spite of the freezing weather. He spied Captain Williams coming along the deck going the opposite direction.
“Evening, Captain; chilly out here, isn’t it?” he said, just to be making conversation.
“Evening, and I have to agree with your statement; too cold out for man or beast!”
“I’m glad I ran into you, Captain, I wanted to ask you how much longer before we reach New York?”
“Oh, I’m afraid a longer time than was advertized; we’re running low on coal for fuel, and if we run out of that, I’m sorry to say we’ll have to rely on the wind, and if that happens, I don’t need to tell you we’d be completely at the mercy of Mother Nature, so we’re going to stop in Halifax for more coal. Yes, it’ll put us behind our schedule, but nothing compared to running out of coal completely.”
“Yeah, I agree, we should stock up on coal,” said Mike Spence, although he was thinking, how could you leave Liverpool without enough coal? I think you’re not telling me all of the story!
And so, the ship, instead of heading directly for New York, headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia instead. More time away from Mary, thought Mike. At this rate, he’d never get home!
On the bridge of The Atlantic, Captain Williams and the 3rd Officer Brady were keeping a wary eye on the nasty weather, which was atrocious. Heavy wind and driving, freezing rain drove the ship imperceptibly westward. Captain Williams was pretty sure of their position, but as anymore delays could put the ship even further behind, he’d be damned if he’d slow down or take the time to properly take soundings.
If the Captain or any of the crew had notice the warning light of the Sambro Lighthouse, they would have realized they were approximately 12 miles off course, But somehow, inexplicably, no one spotted the light.
It was must have been somewhere around 3 in the morning, a bitterly cold morning, and Mike Spence was snuggled in his warm bed, in his cabin, when he was gruffly jarred awake by the sudden stop to the forward momentum of The Atlantic. By the time he got dressed to go out and find out what had happened, the ship was already listing heavily. As he was leaving his cabin, his eyes caught sight of the calendar hanging on the wall next to the cabin door. April 1st, 1873 it read, but his harried brain didn’t register that fact.
He managed to make it to the deck, where he saw a truly-frightening sight. Men, who had rushed out on deck to see what had happened, were struggling to launch the lifeboats, but the howling wind and soaking rain were hampering their efforts. The women and cildren had all stayed behind in their cabins. The men finally managed to get the boat in the water, but the rough waves soon smashed it against the side of the ship. Spence shouted at one crew member just standing there,
“What about another lifeboat?”
The crewman gave him a sour look, and replied,“We got one loaded and launched, But there are no others. Every one of them are either ruined, or floated away in the storm.”
Just then, Spence noticed Captain Williams coming by, with a haunted, disbelieving look on his face.
“Captain Williams, what happened?”
The Captain didn’t seem to see or hear him, as his eyes stared at some unseen horror. Spence caught his arm on his way by, and roughly spun him around.
“Captain, I said what the hell happened?”
Finally, the Captain seemed to notice him for the first time. “It appears we were off course, and ran into Marrs Head Rock, and are sinking.”
As he was saying this, the ship gave a sickening lurch to starboard and settled lower in the water. Mike suddenly felt himself falling, and soon plunged into the storm-tossed sea. When he hit the water, the freezing-cold water hit him like a physical punch, and it took him a few second until his brain began to work again. His desperate, searching eyes spotted a rope apparently leading to a rock, and he began pulling his tortured, frozen body along this, until he nearly smashed into the rock in the dark, and somehow managed to hoist himself up out of the freezing water, and onto the frozen rock, where he collapsed beside crew members and passengers who had managed to swim ropes to the scrap of rock, and were now strewn across the solid ground every which way. He overheard two men talking, talking about what they’d seen. Apparently, when the ship had lurched to starboard, throwing him and many more overboard, the listing to starboard ship had crushed the sole lifeboat able to be launched; the fate of those unlucky souls on board was unknown, although with tons of metal hitting them, it probably wasn’t good.
As Spence watched, a couple of hours later, what remained of the stricken ocean liner gave a shriek in an especially-vicious wind gust, and sank below the storm-tossed waves. He heard a wailing, which seemed to be coming from the ship, which he would later realize was the women and children still trapped on board.
After what seemed to the freezing Spence to be a few hours later, although it was probably only an hour or so later, rescue boats from shore finally arrived on the scene. As he gratefully flopped into a rescue boat, he finally had time to reflect on this morning’s events. The visions he had seen or heard about were horrifying!
A month later, he was sitting in bed reading about the wreck of the RMS Atlantic, and the numbers staggered his already-tenuous grip on reality. If it wasn’t for the rock who was his wife, Mary, he probably would have long ago surrendered to madness. 535 souls perished, including all of the women, and all but one of the children. It was all so surreal to Mike Spence, and he’d found himself unable to return to work. It just seemed extremely unimportant compared to the disaster of RMS Atlantic!
The ice-cold sea water was a nasty shock, as Mike Spence struggled to stay afloat, after The RMS Atlantic, on board which he was a passenger, unexpectedly struck jagged rocks, and, when he and other men had rushed out to see what had happened, a sudden shifting of the ship had thrown him and many others overboard. Now he was floundering in the water, trying desperately to stay afloat. Just then, the ship groaned again, and slipped beneath the waves, but not before he heard the terrible screams of those unfortunately trapped on board, including all the women and children. Spence screamed, and was awakened by his Mary, who was shaking him by the shoulders.
“Wake up; you’re having that dream again."
Spence was covered in sweat, and shaking. 10 years had passed since the wreck of HMS Atlantic, yet he was still haunted by nightmares of the tragedy. He stood up; a vague uneasiness still gripping him. He knew it was only a nightmare, but he wondered if he’d ever be free of it?