The SS Arctic was a 3,000-ton Paddle steamer in the Collins Line steamships. A sister-ship to the SS Pacific that went into service in 1852, the ship was at the time the largest and most splendid of the line and was in operation in the Liverpool packet. It sank 27 September 1854, off Cape Race, Newfoundland, after colliding with the 250 ton French iron screw steamer SS Vesta in the fog.
After the collision, the captain of the Arctic left the scene, thinking it would be safer to steam toward land. The bows of the Vesta were heavily damaged but her forward bulkhead was not breached, and after her crew had shored it up she was able to proceed cautiously. When the French vessel reached land, the captain was told that the Arctic did not make it back.
Casualties included 92 of her 153 officers and men, and all her women and children passengers, including the wife, the only daughter, and the youngest son of Collins Line manager Edward Knight Collins. The total lost was near 400. The tragedy hit the public quite hard in 1854 due to stories of cowardice by crew members, who took over some of the life boats. The fact that no women or children survived did not sit well with the American public. In a search for heroes in the disaster the Americans noted the bravery of young Stewart Holland, who stood on the sinking ship's deck firing (at intervals) the distress cannon, until the ship went under water. Holland did not survive. The ship's Captain, James C. Luce, survived the disaster with another man clinging to one of the ship's paddlewheel boxes, but Luce's son died in the wreck. At one point nearly 30 people were floating on a raft from the ship's deck, but due to waves and exhaustion only two were alive the following morning to be rescued. Yet one gentleman, from Mississippi, managed to make his own small raft, and was rescued the next day.