The SS Hungarian, an iron-hulled Canadian passenger steamer, one of the country's largest, founded off the southern tip of Nova Scotia at Cape Sable, the Horse Race on February 20th, 1860. Captain Thomas Jones was trying to make Portland, Maine from Queenstown when a violent storm swept the vessel into a group of rocks just off the coast.
Distress flares were launched into the nighttime sky around 3am, and at daybreak the wreck was visible to the gathering crowd on the shore. They could see people clinging to the ship and some being sweeped away, but there was nothing they could do. High seas and gale-force winds made a rescue impossible. Many turned away, wrenched at the tragedy unfolding before them. Some prayed for the rain to stop. Instead, it continued, relentlessly, for 6 days. The ship was eventually broken asunder and everyone perished. 205 lost.
Over the next couple weeks, local townspeople took to the shoreline every morning to collect and sort through the large amount of debris that began washing to the sandy edge. There were wooden steamer trunks, leather shoes, men’s felt hats and silk parasols. A few bodies needed to be buried. Many textiles began surfacing, too. They were part of the ship’s cargo. All of the fabrics that were brightly colored where now muted, their dyes pulled away by the greater abundant blue.
Someone found a woman’s diary and carefully opened it. Comments of a spirited life filled the ink smeared, undulated pages. The last entry was simply, Lizzie dies tonight.
“There's health upon my cheek once more,
And in my eye new light
'Twill all be quench in Ocean's gloom,
For Lizzie dies tonight.”
From “Lizzie Dies Tonight” (1862) words by Mary Byron Reese. Music by Stephen Foster