The Wreck of the S.S. Princess Sophia

SS Princess Sophia
Sunk October 25, 1918
Vanderbilt Reef
353 people dead

At 2:10 am on October 24, 1918 the Canadian Pacific steamship Princess Sophia struck the Vanderbilt Reef in the Lynn Canal of the Inside Passage. The ship was traveling from Skagway to Vancouver and on to Seattle with 353 passengers and crew on board when it was caught in an early winter storm and ran aground. Although numerous vessels responded to the Sophia’s distress calls, rescue attempts were thwarted by ever worsening conditions which eventually forced them to retreat after a futile two days of circling the ship. At 5:20pm on October 25th the Sophia’s wireless operator sent a message, “For God Sake’s hurry the water is coming in my room.” When told to conserve his battery, he responded “Alright I will, you talk to me so I know you are coming.” Those were the last words from the Sophia. When the rescue boats were able to return on the morning of October 26th all that was left was 20 feet of her foremast protruding from the water. The only survivor was an oil-covered dog that managed to swim to shore despite the frigid water. Several of the Sophia’s victims are buried in Vancouver’s Mountainview Cemetery including Jack Maskell who was on his way to England to be married and knowing that the ship was in grave danger wrote the will that was later found on his body.

Many of the shipwreck victims are buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver, British Columbia.
(All images by Nigel Laing)

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Shipwrecked off coast of Alaska
S.S. Princess Sophia
October 24, 1918
My own dear sweetheart,

I am writing this my dear girl while the boat is in grave danger. We struck a rock last night which threw many from their berths, women rushed out in their night attire, some were crying, some too weak to move, but the lifeboats were swung out in all readiness but owing to the storm would be madness to launch until there was no hope for the ship. Surrounding ships were notified by wireless and in three hours the first steamer came, but cannot get near owing to the storm raging and the reef which we are on. There are now seven ships near. When the tide went down, two-thirds of the boat was high and dry. We are expecting the lights to go out at any minute, also the fires. The boat might go to pieces, for the force of the waves are terrible, making awful noises on the side of the boat, which has quite a list to port. No one is allowed to sleep, but believe me dear Dorrie it might have been much worse. Just hear there is a big steamer coming. We struck the reef in a terrible snowstorm. There is a big buoy near marking the danger but the captain was to port instead [of] to starboard of [the] buoy. I made my will this morning, leaving everything to you, my own true love and I want you to give £100 to my dear Mother, £100 to my dear Dad, £100 to dear wee Jack, and the balance of my estate (about £300) to you, Dorrie dear. The Eagle Lodge will take care of my remains.

In danger at Sea.
Princess Sophia
24th October 1918
To whom it may concern:
Should anything happen [to] me notify, notify Eagle Lodge, Dawson. My insurance, finances, and property, I leave to my wife (who was to be) Miss Dorothy Burgess, 37 Smart St., Longsight, Manchester, England.

J. Maskell

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