Drowned in a Maritime Disaster

The Empress of Ireland – colorised photo from Wikipedia

In the early morning of 29 May 1914 there was thick fog at the mouth of the St Lawrence River, Canada. RMS Empress of Ireland was carrying 1057 passengers and 420 crew members from Liverpool. At 2 am she collided with a Norwegian collier, SS Storstad. The collier stayed afloat, but there was a gash in the liner’s side. The Empress of Ireland had watertight doors, and more than enough lifeboats for everyone, but there was no time to close the doors and get everyone into the boats. The ship listed quickly to starboard, and the angle was too steep for many of the lifeboats to be launched. Some of those that were launched crashed violently into the ship’s side, those on them going overboard. The Empress of Ireland foundered in 14 minutes, throwing most of the hundreds still on her into the freezing water. The lifeboats of the Storstad rescued as many as possible, and other ships came to the rescue and did what they could, but only 465 were saved. 1012 died, among them 134 children and almost all of a large Salvation Army group.

This was the worst Canadian maritime disaster in peacetime.

Among those who perished was John Joseph Cayley, one of the Canadian Cayley-Nokes line. He was a first-class passenger, and, as with so many, his body was never recovered.



Home Children sent to Canada

From 1869 to the 1930s tens of thousands of orphaned, abandoned and poor children were sent from Britain to Canada by a range of church organisations and charities. One of them was a Cayley.

On 19 May 1898 Annie Cayley, age 12, left Liverpool on the Numidian. She was one of a group of children sent by the Liverpool Catholic Children’s Protection Society under the supervision of a Miss Yates to St Vincent’s Home at 11 St Francis St, Montreal, Quebec. This home was established for the Society by a Miss Brennan in 1884. The children were selected by a school board committee, usually with the consent of the child but with frequently little attempt to obtain the consent of parents, other relatives or guardians. The conditions which children endured after emigration could be harsh, and accommodation could be cramped an unsuitable. Whether that was the case at St Vincent’s Home, I do not know.

If any reader has more information about Annie, I would welcome it. She was presumably from Liverpool.