Captain's Statement

James Agnew Williams was the captain of the Atlantic. He remained in Halifax for approximately three weeks after the disaster. During that time, he wrote several letters to the White Star Line, testified at the inquiry, and was interviewed by several Halifax newspapers. Following is an excerpt from one of his letters.

Some of the distances he describes are not accurate, having been based on his recollection. He also reported that the ship wrecked on Marr's Head. That was the nearest place on his chart that had a name. The wreck is approximately a mile from Marr's Head on the western side of what today is called Mosher's Island. At the time of the wreck, it was called Meagher's (pronounced Marr's) Island.

"Sailed from Liverpool March 20th; during the first part of the passage had favourable weather and easterly winds; on the 24th, 25th, and 26th, experienced heavy south-west and westerly gales, which brought the ship down to one hundred and eighteen miles a day. On the 31st of March, the engineer's report showed only 127 tons of coal on board. We were then 460 miles east of Sandy Hook, wind S.W. and high westerly swell and falling barometer, the ship steaming only eight knots per hour.

Considered the risk too great to push on, as we might find ourselves in the event of a gale short, out from any port of supply, and so decided to bear up for Halifax, at one P.M., on the 31st, Sambro Island north five degrees, east, distant 170 miles, ship's speed varying from eight knots an hour to twelve; wind south during the first part with rain; veered to the westward at eight P.M., with clear weather at midnight; judged the ship to have made 122 miles, which would place her 48 miles south of Sambro.

I then left the deck and went into the chart-room leaving orders about the lookouts and to let me know if they saw anything, and call me at three A.M., intending then to put the ship's head off to the southward, and await daylight. My first intimation of the catastrophe, was the striking of the ship on Marr's Island, and remaining fast. The sea immediately swept away all the port boats.

The officers went to their stations, and commenced clearing away the weather boats; rockets were fired by the second officer. Before the boats could be cleared, only ten minutes having elapsed, the ship keeled heavily to port, rendering the starboard boats useless. Seeing no help could be got from the boats, I got the passengers into the rigging, and outside the rails, and encouraged them to go forward, where the ship was highest and less exposed to the water.

The third officer, Mr. Brady, and quartermasters Owens, and Speakman, having by this time established communication with the out-lying rock, about forty yards distant, by means of a line, got four other lines to the rock, along which about two hundred people passed. Between the rock, and the shore, was a passage one hundred yards wide. A rope was successfully passed across this, by which means about fifty got to the land; though many were drowned in the attempt. At five A.M. the first boat appeared from the island, but she was too small to be of any assistance.

Through the exertions of Mr. Brady, third officer, the islanders were aroused, and by six A.M. three large boats came to our assistance. By their efforts, all who remained on the side of the ship and on the rock were landed in safety, and cared for by a poor fisherman named Clancy and his daughter. During the day, the survivors, to the number of 429, were drafted off to the various houses scattered about the village. The resident magistrate, Edmund Ryan, Esq., rendered valuable assistance. The chief officer having got up the mizzen rigging, the sea cut off his retreat. He stood for six hours by a woman who had been placed in the rigging.

The sea was too high to attempt his rescue. At three P.M. a clergyman, Rev. Mr. Ancient, succeeded in passing him a line, and getting him off. Many of the passengers, saloon and steerage, died in the rigging from cold, amongst the number the purser of the ship. Before the boats went out, I placed two ladies in the life-boat, but finding the boat useless carried them to the main rigging, where I left them, and went aft, to encourage others to go forward on the side of the ship."