The Forgotten

SS Atlantic disaster (Currier and Ives Lithographs)When I wrote my first novel, Ship of Haunts, the focus was on child migration, ghosts and Titanic. Titanic is well-known for being a major maritime disaster. But there have been many other tragedies, also with significant loss of life, and in Ship of Haunts, as well as Carrin, whose ghost haunts Titanic, we meet someone from the Empress of Ireland and a man called Aaron who was drowned on a ship called the SS Atlantic. Aaron gets bored staying by his ship under the sea, after it sank and wanders off and finds Titanic. Aaron and Carrin become ghost-friends, bound together by their shared tragedy and current home under the ocean.

I recently did a talk on the Atlantic and its sad history, because I felt that it’s important we remember all shipwrecks, not just the ones which are most obvious. Here, below, is a summarised version of that talk.

The Forgotten.

What makes a ship sink? When people talk about Titanic, and how she sank, they cite many things such as Captain Smith’s failure to navigate the iceberg – he wasn’t even on deck at the time, but instead eating his supper inside. There are numerous other things they cite, such as the repairs to Olympic, a sister ship, which delayed the departure of Titanic – had it not been for this, Titanic might never have hit that iceberg. And the list goes on.

But what if no-one remembered Titanic? All those people (1,500) tragically dead; it’s unimaginable, isn’t it?

The Atlantic is a ship very few remember, despite the enormous loss of life. At the time it was a terrible tragedy. It should be remembered.

‘The world’s worst single vessel maritime disaster, before Titanic in 1912.’

The wreck of the SS Atlantic – divers recovering bodies and cargo, 1873So what happened

The Atlantic sank, somewhat ironically, on 1 April 1873, near Halifax in Nova Scotia. The weather was bad, the wind was high and the sea very cold and decidedly choppy.

She left Liverpool on 20 March, heading for New York, but the Captain ran into a bout of  bad weather and also feared a shortage of fuel so he decided to head for Halifax (Canada, not Yorkshire!).

At that point the tragedy happened. She ran aground after striking a rock which left a vicious gash in her side. The ship began sinking.

Officers tried to get lifeboats out by chopping at ropes frantically with axes. But sadly the boats were washed away in what was now a terrible storm. It’s doubtful even if they’d been lowered properly whether they could have floated off. Conditions were dreadful.

People died, up on the deck as the ship began sinking, taking in water, and worse still, those below were trapped in the rush to get up and escape.  There was no way out.

The Final Death Toll

Reports vary as to the numbers. The official Canadian report of the time says more than 500 people died. This was out of 957.

Deaths included all of the women and all but one of the children on board. Many men were heroes that night, refusing to leave their wives to their fate. Others climbed the rigging to escape, as part of the rigging was still above water.

SS Atlantic disaster. Officer BradyWorst of all, the SS Atlantic wasn’t far from shore. Officer Brady, an enterprising man, swam out to a rock, probably part of the one the ship hit, and with two colleagues, engineered a system of ropes, so men could swim, first to the rock, and then from the rock to a nearby island. Fifty men were saved this way, but many others died. Brady and the others did their best.

Early in the morning, around 6 am, people from the island sent out boats to rescue those on the rock and the rigging. The rescue continued until midday. Meanwhile the wild and stormy weather raged on.

So who was to blame?

At first it seemed to be only the weather but…

The ship was due to arrive in New York in early April, but made little progress due to the weather. The captain decided to head for Halifax, fearing conditions and a shortage of fuel.

When the ship had previously left Queenstown, she appeared to have left with not enough coal – so much so that there were strong reactions to her leaving the port. But the owners said there was more than enough fuel for the journey.

The report of the tragedy laid some blame on Captain Williams and suspended his certificate for two years.

The Captain himself blamed miscalculations of speed and the current – the ship was off course and going too fast.

The papers of the time blamed the officers on board: for not being on the lookout for land and the dangers of rocks in the area.

There were also discipline problems on board  –  some of the crew had previously broken into a room where the drink was kept. Later, when the rescue boats came, crew were rumoured to have pushed passengers aside so they could get on board the boats first. There was also theft from the bodies of the dead. It was all very tragic.

And perhaps we’ll never know the full story…

There is one sad but interesting tale

One of the women who died that night, possibly American and in her early 20s, had been a member of the ship’s crew. She’d been on board for three voyages. But everyone thought this woman was a man. As one of her fellow crewmates said

‘I never realised Bill was  a woman. He took his grog like the rest of us and was always begging and stealing tobacco. But all the same, he was a good fellow, and I’m sorry he turned out to be a woman.’


With subsequent, more high-profile disasters, like the loss of Titanic and the Lusitania, the Atlantic tragedy has been Burial service for the victims of SS Atlantic, 1873forgotten. But in the 1990s something happened.

The Atlantic’s dead were buried in two locations, one of which was a small churchyard in Sandy Cove, not far from where the Atlantic sank. The ship stills rests there, even now, at the bottom of a slope less than 75 ft beneath the surface.

This area where the dead were buried, was sadly subject to coastal erosion. At that time, more than a century after the sinking, 30 feet of bank vanished, and waves crashing against the grave sites meant that the graves’ contents became exposed. Victims’ bones could now be seen.

Although the Atlantic had been forgotten, some of the victims of the ship made sure, apparently, that they and their shipmates would be remembered.

A final thought

Shipwrecks weren’t uncommon at the time, but the White Star Line suffered badly from the sinking. Passenger bookings were low for a year after the tragedy. The loss of lives and the circumstances surrounding the sinking almost spelt doom for the company that owned her. It’s rather ironic to consider the fact that if White Star had indeed gone under, RMS Titanic would never have been built…


Books, ships and of course a SALE

Hi everyone

Just a quick message to let you know there’s currently a SALE on Ship of Haunts: the other Titanic story.

Now at 99p/$1.55 until the end of 29 May.

So don’t miss out. Get your ebook copy from Amazon and enjoy some bank holiday (or other) reading!

Warning: this is a complex, time crossing novel with various strands. Are you up to the challenge?!

To learn more about the book see Pinterest:

What People Have Said

‘original’, ‘hard to put down’ and ‘I recommend this book to people who love a book with a sense of history or who have a creative imagination.’ (Reenie’s Book Blog)

‘Even those who don’t really go for ghosts and the supernatural will enjoy this book because the characters are so captivating, and the historical events are well described and conform to what we know from history. A thoroughly enjoyable book!’ (V. Salvemini, Amazon Review)

About Ship of Haunts

Carrin Smith remembers a past life – on Titanic. And now she’s being stalked by a ghost from the ship.

Lily the ghost is searching for her cousin. She’s crossed time to find Lucie, but now time is running out.

One hundred years after Titanic sank, Carrin’s shipmates are gathered together to remember the ship. But who can she trust – and can she even trust herself?

For Carrin has a terrible secret, but at least Lily is on her side… Or so she thinks…

From the heat of the harsh Australian sun to the darkest depths of the ocean floor, Ship of Haunts is a novel of conflicts. Carrin is scared and Lily is desperate, both of them in a race against time. Will they manage to make it through, including surviving the vengeful Mad?

Get your Copy Here (UK) (US)

Article written by Ellie Stevenson, author.Ellie Stevenson, author

This article is copyrighted material. Brief extracts including a link to this site can be quoted but the article must not be reproduced in full anywhere without the author’s written permission.

Pinterest, Photos and Gardens in Spring

Hidcote plant. Ellie Stevenson imagesPinterest is a wonderful resource.  It’s an online picture board, on which you can capture those images that tell your story (any story) and share them with the world. You can visit my Ship of Haunts Pinterest board here: the board gives insights into the novel as well as the themes behind the book, principally child migration, RMS Titanic and a number of other ships.

Because it’s spring, I thought we’d have a change from ghosts, and for this post, focus on gardens and plants instead. Gardening and plants are one of my loves and I’m always looking for new gardens to visit and enjoy. Hidcote Manor Garden, near Shakespeare’s home of Stratford-upon-Avon, was created by horticulturalist Lawrence Johnston, starting in 1907 and taking several decades, creating one of the country’s great Art & Crafts gardens.

Hidcote is a series of rooms, and each part of the garden holds something different. He intentionally made those areas close to the house formal in design and structure, with those further away more natural in appearance.

Johnston also developed another garden at Serre de la Madone in the south of France, where he retired, shortly after giving Hidcote to the National Trust in 1948. When he finally died he was buried in the small churchyard in Mickleton, not far from Hidcote. The word finally, is apt, because in 1914, he was so badly wounded he was laid out for burial.

In the Second World War, gardeners at Hidcote grew potatoes on the Great Lawn.

You can see my full Hidcote garden story on Pinterest (link at the end). Here are just a few tasters.

One of the walks at Hidcote. Ellie Stevenson images

Hidcote requires a lot of maintenance and has 12 full-time gardeners and two student gardeners, with support from 35 volunteers.

Hidcote Manor Garden. Ellie Stevenson images

Apart from the trees, there are a number of interesting buildings at Hidcote and in the nearby hamlet of Hidcote Bartrim. The manor house itself was built in 1664.

Flowers at Hidcote. Ellie Stevenson images

Hidcote wasn’t the best place to create one of the country’s greatest gardens. Its exposed position, high on a Cotswold hillside, meant it needed a lot of protection from the worst the weather could produce. But this didn’t stop Johnston. The first paying visitors arrived in 1949. That year, 1,160 people visited, today, the number is over 140,000.

One of the plants at Hidcote. Ellie Stevenson images

Many of the plants at Hidcote were collected on one of Johnston’s plant hunting trips. Plants are not labelled at Hidcote because the garden is presented much as it would have been in Johnston’s day.

Here’s the link to my Pinterest Hidcote page.

AND FINALLY… Keep checking in, because soon I’ll be sharing some exciting news. Ghosts coming up…

Find out more about Hidcote at:

Article written by Ellie Stevenson, author. Ellie Stevenson, author
This article is copyrighted material. Brief extracts including a link to this site can be quoted but the article must not be reproduced in full anywhere without the author’s written permission.

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Visit Hidcote Manor Garden and see the planting and garden rooms, with #thehauntedhistorian at