This week we are talking about my third novel “Shipwrecked Lives” (290 pages) which is in various stages of rewriting and should be out in a few months. “Shipwrecked Lives” tells the story of the government inquiry into the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914. The ship sank in 14 minutes and claimed the lives of 1012 people.
The book was edited last summer and I recently completed rewrite no. 10. I have sent the manuscript to readers of mine and I am also checking the various navigational theories with regards to the two ships.
There is a wonderful book entitled “Forgotten Empress” by David Zeni which gives a lot of information about the ship and the inquiry. Last year I learned the following lines:
“On June 2 (1914) a foreign national was found wandering along the shore between Father Point and Rimouski. The foreigner was a woman believed to be a passenger from the Empress. The woman may have been travelling to Sweden and was found “naked in a daze”. Newspapers said she had been driven insane by the tragedy.”
Well, this poor woman “naked on the beach” is now one of the main characters in “Shipwrecked Lives”. Her name is Alice Bingham and she lost her husband and child in the collision. Alice managed to survive by floating on a wooden crate and was washed ashore.
The foreign woman was not alone. Among the bodies washed ashore, there was a young girl discovered by thirteen-year-old Eileen Tuggy. The local people built a coffin and sent the body to Quebec City for identification. When the coffin was opened on Pier 27, a wreath of lilies was found resting on the body with a note from Eileen which read: “Kindly accept my kindest and sincerest sympathy. May she rest in peace. If identified, I would like to know.”
The story of the Empress is full of heart-wrenching tales. A thousand men, women and children drowned that night in the fog on the St. Lawrence River. Many of the passengers were first generation Canadians on their way back to the old country for a visit. Their deaths provoked long periods of unhappiness and changed the course of their children’s lives.
*Originally posted in February 2018