RMS Atlantic

White Star Line ocean liner lost in 1873 with a massive loss of life.
by Matthew Anderson

Year Built


Year Sank



15 ft (4.6 m)

Difficulty Level


RMS Atlantic

Wreck Location

The Atlantic lies southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia and east of Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia at the south end of Marrs Island. Nearby towns include Lower Prospect and Terence Bay. The depth of the wreck varies, being at average around 50 feet below the surface. Atlantic is a popular scuba diving site.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   44° 26' 30.4656" N      Longitude:   -63° 44' 0.8016" W


The RMS Atlantic was built in 1870 at Harland and Wolff Limited in Belfast, Ireland for the newly created Oceanic Steamship Navigation Company, which was better known as the White Star Line. Atlantic was part of a four ship series which also included the White Star Liners Oceanic, Adriatic and BalticAtlantic and her sisters were iron hulled ocean liners capable of carrying around 160 First Class passengers and over 1,000 Steerage. They could travel a maximum of 14 knots, powered by a sinlge compound condensing steam engine driving a single propeller, fed by 12 boilers. The finer accommodations of the quartet were featured amidships as it was believed this area of the four vessels had the least motion. Atlantic and her sisters included a high standard of luxury unseen on any previous vessel. Only First Class passengers were allowed on deck, the steerage passengers being confined to cramped spaces below. The four ships also included a single funnel and four masts rigged for auxiliary sails. Oceanic sailed her maiden voyage in February of 1871, inaugurating White Star Line operations. Atlantic entered service for the White Star Line in June 1871 and regularly traveled between Liverpool, England and New York City, via Queenstown, Ireland (now Cobh). Atlantic completed 18 successful voyages between 1871 and 1873.

On March 20, 1873, Atlantic left Liverpool with 835 passengers and 117 crew on her nineteenth voyage under command of Captain James Williams. Unknown to all aboard, this would be Atlantic's final voyage. Over the next week, Atlantic was beaten heavily by strong wind. Her engines burned far more coal than normal due to increased effort being placed to keep the ship moving. On March 31, 1873, the chief engineer reported to Captain Williams he believed the Atlantic was dangerously low on coal and would not make New York under her own steam. Captain Williams decided to divert Atlantic to the nearest port for refuelling; Halifax, Nova Scotia in northeastern Canada. Atlantic was diverted more than 100 miles off course bound for Halifax. This decision would prove to be fatal for more than 500 people.

At midnight on April 1, Captain Williams retired to his cabin, ordering his crew to awaken him at 2:30. The Atlantic was two knots below full steam, had no lookout on duty, was dangerously close to the Nova Scotia coastline in dense fog and was 20 miles northwest of Halifax. Furthermore, the crew did not wake the captain at the time he had requested. By 3:00 AM he was still asleep. Fifteen minutes later, Atlantic struck Golden Rule rock on the starboard side. Passengers immediately came upon deck. Atlantic was now sinking stern first with a list to port at the mercy of the breakers. The pounding surf destroyed or carried away most of the port side lifeboats, The list making it nearly impossible to launch the starboard ones. Passengers scrambled into the water trying to swim ashore or were forced to climb into Atlantic's rigging. Local fisherman from nearby towns came to assist and along with Atlantic's crew helped secure a lifeline to shore, to carry survivors to land. Atlantic came to rest on her port side in over 20 feet of water. 525 passengers and ten crewmembers in total lost their lives that night including all women and all but one child.

Following the wreck, inquiries found Captain Williams responsible for the disaster. Over 300 bodies were recovered from the wreck, most left unidentified and buried in mass burial grounds. Divers and salvagers looted the wreck not long after the disaster had subsided. In 1873, Atlantic lie partially destroyed on her port side in shallow water, the bow separated from the main hull and lying a fair distance northwest of the main wreckage. 140 years later, the ship has been completely destroyed by time and sea. She now sits in small fragments in anywhere between 40 to 60 feet of water. On land, the SS Atlantic Heritage Park near the wreck site houses a museum with relics from the Atlantic, a mass burial site for 277 victims, a monument erected by Thomas Ismay in 1873 and a coastal boardwalk.


The Atlantic was the worst peacetime maritime disaster on the North Atlantic until July 4, 1898 when the French liner La Bourgogne sank. She was also the worst disaster of the White Star Line until the sinking of Titanic on April 15, 1912. The tragedy of the Atlantic replayed itself 33 years later. On January 22, 1906, the American steamship Valencia bound ultimately for Seattle, Washington from San Francisco, California, strayed off course by fifty miles, striking rocks on the western coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The victims and survivors of the smaller Valencia had to endure the same conditions faced by the Atlantic. When Valencia sunk, she took with her all women and children. Valencia also lies in shallow water in sc


1 Comment & Rating

anonymous by Dave on 4/13/2017

"The Atlantic lies northwest of Halifax..."
According to the map, the wreck is southwest of Halifax.

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