Artist Of A Buried World


The S.S. Arctic sailed from Liverpool on the twentieth of September, 1854. Many New Yorkers were aboard: there were Drews, Comstocks, Fabricottis, Rowlands, Lockmiranets, Ravenscrofts, and a sprinkling of aristocracy, the most notable representative being the Duc de Gramont, returning to his post in Washington with his family. On the seventh day out of Liverpool, the sea was obscured by a thick fog blanket and at noon time, just as it began to lift, the Arctic collided with the S.S. Vesta . There were only enough lifeboats for fifty people. After frantic efforts to make rafts out of barrels and available timber, the S.S. Arctic went down with nearly all its three hundred passengers.

Two weeks elapsed before New Yorkers became aware of the disaster, but then the boldest type swept all else from the front pages of the city’s newspapers: “THE LOSS OF THE ARCTIC … THRILLING ACCOUNT BY THE CAPTAIN … SERMONS ON THE DISASTER.” The Stock Exchange closed; banks stopped their business; flags throughout the city were at half-mast. The captain of the Arctic made his first statement from Quebec, where he had been brought after his rescue. It was addressed to E. K. Collins, president of the line: “Dear Sir: It becomes my painful duty to inform you of the total loss of the S.S. Arctic , under my command, with your wife, daughter and son …”

Then followed, day upon day, name after name of the missing passengers. For two weeks the editors barred everything from the first page but details of the tragedy. One by one the survivors told of the last acts of those who had perished, and later the newspapers printed long obituaries on each of the victims. All, that is, except for the friend of Keats, Severn, Shelley, of Prescott and Bancroft; not a word of the companion of Bonomi, Robert Hay, and WiIkinson; the pioneer of Egyptology, the panoramist of Leicester Square, the New York architect, the co-discoverer of the Maya culture, the builder of South America’s first railroad. His death was to be as obscure as much of his life had been. Only after many days had passed did the New York Herald, almost as an afterthought, print the single line:

“Mr. Catherwood, also, is missing.”