University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Sorin Shipwrecked

Painting by Luigi Gregori

Letter from Very Rev. Father Sorin, Superior General C.S.C.

[Very Rev. Father Sorin has written to us from aboard the Ville de Brest, the steamer sent out by the French Transatlantic Steamship Company to cruise for the Amerique, and which towed her into Queenstown harbor, and thence to Havre. He sends us the following extract from interesting to many who had friends on board the Amerique.]

The following is an official report of the movements of the steamer "Ville de Brest," from the first intelligence she received of our accident. The officers of this vessel deserve the highest praise for their noble and persevering efforts to save us. They suffered extremely in keeping themselves at a proper distance during the gale, which lasted for a whole week after our first meeting. Such was their boldness at a second attempt to effect a connection, on Wednesday morning, December 8th, that when I saw the "Ville de Brest" crossing us to starboard, scarcely twenty feet from our bow, whence a single sea would have dashed her against us, I trembled for fear of a collision, and ran down to my cabin to pray. Five minutes later both steamers were tossing and tolling at a distance of half a mile from each other, which position remained the same for full four days, the storm in the mean time continuing with unabated violence. The events which transpired on board will not be soon forgotten. Miss Starr had never before passed through such an ordeal. She went down bravely enough half the length of the rope ladder along the side of the big boat, but when she reached the lower boat I could see she was still alive by the sign of the cross she was making and repeating. Ah! she is a Christian woman.


Nov. 24. -- Started from St. Nazaire at night, with orders from Paris to cruise around the Scilly Islands, there to wait for the Amerique, expected from the dispatches of the China to proceed in a right course since the 21st.

Nov. 26. -- Communicated with St. Mary's, whence no information can be obtained, either from the sea or from Paris, the cable being broken. We start for Parzenne, where at 3 p. m. we receive communication of the letter of Captain Ponzoly, and order to start and search after the Amerique in the fiftieth degree of latitude and fourteenth of longitude.

Nov. 27. -- Sudden blow from southeast; threatening weather; we cruise to see if the Amerique is now in those quarters designated by the information received from a vessel which had sighted her the night previous; the signals, like our own, uncertain.

Nov. 28. -- The weather continuing unfavorable, and the sea being very rough, we decide to retrace our course and renew our provisions of all sorts, to take afterwards the high sea in search of the Amerique; the winds from the east must have thrown her back very far.

Nov. 29. -- At night we enter the port of Queenstown.

Nov. 30. -- We commence our coal provision.

Dec. 3. -- Provisions completed and our ship liberated (for an attachment had been made on her for a collision with an English vessel three years before); we put to sea, and on the 4th and 5th run on several ships; we question in various languages, but all in vain, none of them having met the Amerique; all experienced eastern winds.

Dec. 5. -- Night -- Fifty degrees and one minute latitude; we sight position fires from a vessel; draws our attention by her special lights; have been sending up rockets hourly to draw the attention of any boats in our vicinity; we recognized the Amerique in the answer to our signals.

Dec. 6. -- Midnight -- Come to speaking distance; from both steamers side boats are sent with provisions; weather turns unfavorable, and the sea is greatly disturbed by eastern winds. 8 a.m. In spite of very heavy sea we cast our towing chains and cables, which break by the sole opposition of the two vessels tossed, at times, in different directions; with difficulty we hoist up our side boats and collect our broken connecting appliances.

Dec. 8. -- Early Morning -- The sea scarcely changed; we send again chains and cables, which break as before; we pull them up again for repairs; the weather grows worse, and the sea is very high; from the 8th to the 12th the winds continue unabated, and all we can do is not to lose sight of the Amerique; our vessel suffering a great deal from our forced position.

Dec. 12. -- The wind abates; we near the Amerique, and notwithstanding the agitation of the sea, we succeed in transporting ninety passengers from 8.30 to 11 o'clock, without the slightest accident; at 12 we cast a chain 600 feet in length, and a double cable; new provisions are forwarded to the Amerique, and at 2 o'clock the two vessels start fairly together.

Dec. 13. The wind rises again; through the night our vessel suffers intensely from the Amerique, whose motions were very violent.

Dec. 14. The towing chain was broken; we replaced it by another of the same length and quality.

Dec. 15. Heavy sea, thick and low clouds; our headway is very insignificant.

Dec. 16. The weather improved; we have made 113 miles in the last twenty-four hours.

Dec. 17. Heavy rolling; same wind and speed as day previous; at 12 o'clock we coast Ireland, and expect to reach Queenstown port by 4 o'clock.

-- Notre Dame Scholastic, 8 January 1876.

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