Lauded for its speed and its ability to cross the Atlantic in a mere nine days, the 284-foot-long American paddle steamer named the SS Arctic was one of the most celebrated of the four steamers owned by the Collins Line. On September 27, 1854, the steamer was en route from Liverpool, England to New York when it collided with another steamship, The Vesta, near Newfoundland.
Of the 400 passengers onboard the Arctic, only 88 survived. All women and children on board went down with the ship mainly because the lifeboats were taken over by the crew and other able-bodied male passengers which they then used to escape the floundering ship.
Though the captain of the Arctic initially thought the smaller steamship was in danger of sinking, he soon discovered that his ship was in even more danger and tried to make landfall but the engines failed before they could arrive at safety as this excerpt explains: "After the collision her captain, James Luce, first attempted to assist the stricken Vesta, which he believed was in imminent danger of sinking. When he discovered that his own ship had been seriously holed below the waterline, he decided to run her towards the nearest land in the hopes of reaching safety. His plan failed; the engines stopped when the ship was still a considerable distance from land. Arctic's lifeboat capacity was sufficient for fewer than half of those on board; when Luce ordered these launched, a breakdown in order and discipline meant that most places in the boats were taken by members of the crew or the more able-bodied male passengers."
Following that, some of the passengers attempted to build improvised rafts in order to escape but most perished in the disaster.
Three of the lifeboats made it to safety while another one was picked up by a passing steamer. It is unclear what happened to the three remaining lifeboats. The Vesta was also able to make it to the harbor in Newfoundland.
As per reports, nobody was legally held responsible for the disaster.