Launching mallet for ‘Canada’s Titanic’ to go under the hammer

The launching mallet for a ship dubbed Canada’s Titanic is to go under the hammer in the UK next month.

The RMS Empress of Ireland went down in the St Lawrence River following a collision with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad on May 29 1914, with the loss of 1,012 lives.

The tragedy, which came two years after the Titanic sank, was the worst maritime disaster in peacetime in Canadian history.

The ivory launching mallet and silver casket from the Glasgow-built vessel are now due to be auctioned at McTear’s in July, with an estimate of £10,000 to £15,000.

Commissioned by Canadian Pacific Steamships, the RMS Empress of Ireland was built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at Glasgow’s Govan Shipyards.

When the ship was launched in 1906, the mallet was given to the wife of Sir Alexander Gracie, who was a member of the Fairfield board of directors at the time, and is now being sold by Alison Cousin, one of their descendants.

Mallet and casket
The mallet is kept in a silver casket (McTear’s/PA)

She said: “My father was close to Sir Alexander Gracie, who was his great uncle, and also to his daughters.

“The mallet and case were gifted to him decades ago and I remember seeing them in the house when I was growing up. I knew they were important pieces but I didn’t realise the huge historic significance until after my father passed away.

“While the sinking of the Empress of Ireland was a devastating maritime disaster, claiming the lives of many, it is important to also remember the opportunity for new life that emerged from the ship’s multiple voyages between the UK, Ireland and Canada.

“It is absolutely right that these important items are now passed to a new owner who will treasure them the way that our family has.”

The sinking claimed the lives of 840 passengers and 172 crew on the RMS Empress of Ireland. The SS Storstad remained afloat.

Due to the historical significance of the mallet, McTear’s has been given a rare dispensation by the UK Government to sell the lot, following the imposition of a ban on the auction of ivory in 2022.

McTear’s specialist James Bruce said: “It is now very rare to receive a licence to sell works made from ivory, with dispensation granted for items of ‘outstanding artistic, historical or cultural value’.

“Only a handful of licences have been granted in the past.

“The mallet and casket should be seen as tangible links to the Empress of Ireland’s monumental birth, pivotal voyages and doomed final journey.

“She was proudly celebrated when launched, a vital connection between the UK and Canada that came to play a critical role in transporting nearly 200,000 people between the two nations.

“Her demise will live on as one of Canada’s greatest tragedies, with the death toll and manner of sinking leading many to class her as the nation’s very own Titanic.”

The mallet, a ceremonial piece, was used to tap the ship to mark the launch.

It has a number of intricate carvings of crests and inscriptions, with the silver casket including a Royal Coat of Arms and embossed panels of national flora, fruits and Poseidon masks over crossed tridents.

– The RMS Empress of Ireland launching mallet and silver casket will feature in McTear’s Fine Furniture and Works of Art Auction in Glasgow on July 20.