The collision and foundering of La Bourgogne

"La Bourgogne"
- by Pascal Kainic -

A Titanic before the Titanic ?


The French passenger liner La Bourgogne, from the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, sank after a collision with the British ship Cromartyshire, in dense fog, 60 miles south of Sable Island near Nova Scotia, in the Atlantic, on 4th July 1898.

Of 711 passengers and crewmen, only 165 survived, thus recording a terrible death toll of 546 lives !

There are no deaths on the British sailing craft when it struck the speeding French liner on the starboard side. Although the Cromartyshire had her bow ripped off, she somehow remained afloat, but lost sight of the colliding vessel. Quick investigation indicated that the sailboat was in no imminent danger and Captain Henderson ordered his life-boats lowered.

At this point, several rockets were observed from another vessel in the fog, after which all was quiet. The collision had taken place at 5.00 in the morning and half an hour later, Captain Henderson, in the lifting fog, noted the approach of two life-boats filled with survivors.

It was soon determined that the other vessel was the French liner La Bourgogne. The Cromartyshire then jettisoned thirty tons of her cargo to lighten the ship, and took the survivors from the French vessel aboard. Further lifting of the fog revealed a dreadful disaster with people foundering in the water. All were taken aboard the Cromartyshire, and it was learned that La Bourgogne had gone to the bottom about forty minutes after the collision.


Memorial La Bourgogne
Aldige family tomb in Meterie, LA.

Discussions with the survivors revealed many strange stories concerning the collision of the two ships. For one thing, only one woman of about three hundred female passengers had survived the calamity; moreover, the only ones saved were steerage passengers and sailors.

It soon was apparent that there had been considerable foul play and that the crew of the French ship had breached all discipline and regulations by forcibly and brutally taking possession of available life-boats and rafts to the exclusion of most passengers.

The passengers were seized with panic, the Italians and Austrians using their knives and revolvers in a mad attempt to rush the boats. Captain Deloncle and his officers were powerless to control the disorderly elements. However, it did appear that Captain Deloncle and fifteen of eighteen officers had remained at their posts and had gone down with the French vessel. Details relating to the disaster and the ship involved were later reconstructed.

The Cromartyshire, a full rigged three-masted iron ship of 1.462 tons, sailed from Dunkirk for Philadelphia on June 8th, 1898, with a cargo of coal. The schooner was 248 feet long and was cruising about sixty miles south of Sable Island, off Nova Scotia, on the 4th of July, on a port tack, heading west northwest under reduced sail. In dense fog, she kept blowing her foghorn every minute.

At 5.00 am, with the momentary sounding of a ship’s whistle, a huge vessel suddenly and rapidly loomed out of the fog on the port bow, and a collision ensued.

The French passenger liner La Bourgogne had sailed from New York on July 2nd, bound to Le Havre, France, carrying 725 people and 1.000 tons of cargo valued at $ 600.000, and 170 bags of mail. The vessel had been constructed in Toulon in 1886 for $ 1.6 million; it grossed at 7.395 tons and was 480 feet long. The liner was operated by the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique and was part of the French Naval Reserve.

The passengers lost everything they had on board luggage, money and property; a diamonds merchant lost more than $10.000 and other rich passengers going to Paris for purchasing good or for pleasure.

It was widely held, based on the tales of rampant brutality aboard the foundering of La Bourgogne, that a strict and impartial investigation of the disaster would be held by the United States authorities in New York City. Instead the French Consulate issued statements defending the French officers and crewmen.

In some haste, on July 9th, the surviving crews, secured by the French officials as prisoners, were secretly interviewed; depositions were recorded, and all sailed from France on the liner La Touraine. The French government indicated an inquiry and possibly a trial would be held in France.

Subsequently, it appeared, the whole matter was white-washed, and responsibility for the alleged brutality was attributed to a dozen or so foreign sailors who had been traveling on the French ship in steerage.

American editorial comment at the time of the disaster decried the continuing peril of ships colliding in fog on the ocean. Science apparently had been unable to devise any means of averting these tragedies.

Common sense dictated that ships under conditions of reduced visibility should proceed with infinite care and at greatly decreased speeds. Ship construction utilizing systems of watertight compartments should be such as to insure that stricken vessel could remain afloat long enough to allow passengers and crew to escape to safety quickly.

There were also many newspaper observations about the horrible scene of savagery that followed the collision of the two vessels. Reliable evidence attested that ignorant, undisciplined, and unfeeling crewmen had taken possession of the ship’s life-boats and rafts, to the exclusion of the passenger’s rights. In addition, it was felt that in the forty minutes interval between the collision and the sinking of the French liner, more lives should have been saved.

The outcome of the disaster was considered a disgrace to the officers of the ship, her owners and the French merchant marine in general.

Very deep... Possibly like the Titanic !
Any candidate for salvage ?


  • Linda
    • 1. Linda On 23/11/2020
    My great great uncle Charles Elkoory survived this disaster. He immigrated to the United States sometime in the mid 1890s, from Mt. Lebanon, which at that time was part of Syria and is today Lebanon. My relatives talked about their uncle having survived a ship collision on July 4th on his way to Beirut Syria to find a wife but that's all they knew other than the ship sunk on the 4th of July around 1900. It wasn't until recently that my genealogy project took me in search of the details of this story. Based on the date it sunk and the port of departure I quickly found that only one ship met the criteria, the La Bourgogne. I was pretty certain my great great uncle was on this ship but I wanted to find supporting evidence. I started searching the newspapers from the East coast and unbelievably an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer dated July 7, 1898, page 6, shows that the journalist talked to a Charles Elkoory about the "Assyrians" on board. Syrians were also called Assyrians at that time. Charles said that there were about 70 Assyrians aboard and that only 8 survived the disaster. I told my cousins about my discovery and they were in disbelief. They said his wife use to talk about the sinking of the ship and how Charles was in the water trying to get in a lifeboat and they were hitting his hands with an oar. They didn't remember the rest of what she told them because they were young and they weren't that interested. Charles never returned to Syria for a bride. He married a Syrian girl in Springfield Massachusetts, had two sons and passed away in 1905 due to complications of pneumonia.
    • treasures
      • treasuresOn 23/11/2020
      Great input Linda ! Good luck for the rest of your research
  • Victor C. Ernst
    • 2. Victor C. Ernst On 11/03/2020
    It is interesting to note that the Halifax, Nova Scotia undertaker who was entrusted with the recovery and care of the victims of the Titanic tragedy was the same undertaker who accompanied the steamer Hiawatha on her mission in search of bodies of victims of the La Bourgogne disaster. Various newspapers, including Los Angeles Herald; El Paso Daily Herald (Texas); St. Paul Globe (Minnesota); Daily Capital Journal, (Oregon); Topeka State Journal (Kansas) and Madison Daily Leader (South Dakota) reported the following (or versions of it): " A dispatch to the New York World from Halifax, N.S., says: Undertaker John Snow, who accompanied the steamer Hiawatha on her mission in search of bodies of victims of the La Bourgogne disaster, stated to The World correspondent that some of the bodies found showed evidence of having been alive in the water for two days at least, and that the body of one woman showed that she must have lived four days after the sinking of the ship. Many of the victims, he thought, caught pieces of wood and other wreckage, and their life gradually ebbed away in the vain hope of being rescued. He now thinks that if the French company had immediately sent out a vessel from Halifax upon receipt of the news, some of the unfortunates might have been rescued alive."
    It was because of the diligent efforts of Halifax's Undertaker Snow in connection with the La Bourgogne tragedy in 1898 that he was selected to take charge of the Titanic victims in 1912 notwithstanding the fact that several well-known undertaking firms in New York and Boston made application to do so. (Victor C. Ernst, Licensed Funeral Director & Embalmer, Toronto, Canada).
    • treasures
      • treasuresOn 11/03/2020
      Thank you Victor for your interesting comment
  • Mark Durham
    • 3. Mark Durham On 24/02/2018
    A bronze plaque in my church - All Saints Episcopal Church, Bay Head, NJ - is dedicated to Francis Penn Steel, Jr. and his sister Gertrude who were "Lost at Sea" when La Bourgogne went down.
  • Francis Garrett
    • 4. Francis Garrett On 29/05/2017
    I have a water colour by A. Ogden representing the collision of these two ships.
    He spelled La Bourgogne incorrectly as La Burgoine.

    I would be interested in selling the painting.
    I am in Canada 100 miles northeast of Toronto.
  • Maureen Files
    • 5. Maureen Files On 10/11/2014
    My great grandfather died on this ship-Peter Barrett of Philadelphia. He left a wife and 3 young children behind. My mother's father(my grandfather-whom I never met since he died in 1958 and I was born in 1962) was 9 at the time of his father's death. His wife only had 1 arm due to an accident(she was originally from Ireland) and had to start working to support her family after the his death.( With help from relatives,she opened a shoe store which had a live goat in the window to attract children) Peter Barrett is mentioned in an old article as one of the few bodies(maybe 8 out of 500+) identified from the
    wreck-he had I.D. in his pocket. My e-mail is:
  • Karen Lagomarsino
    • 6. Karen Lagomarsino On 28/07/2014
    Today, I was roaming an old church cemetery in New Jersey and I found a headstone in the memory of Cornelia Demarest ~ Lost at sea with her husband on S.S. La Bourgogne on July 4th, 1898. Very fascinating, as I had never heard of this wreckage. God rest all their souls.........
    • 7. On 22/09/2011
    My great great great uncle was Father Kesseler who went down with this ship. I see #23 Arnet Taylor is also a relative of this fine man. I have been doing alot of research on this incident and his history. If you have any info you would like to share, please drop me a note at
    Jeff Kesseler
  • maura mc laughlin
    • 8. maura mc laughlin On 12/08/2011
    My great uncle Peter Barrett originally from Tyrone N.Ireland, died in this wreck. He was a tailor who lived in Philadelphia with a young family. He was on his way to visit his sick sister who was a nun in France. He also intended to visit his parents in Ireland.

    There is a horrible account of his death in The New York Times July 9 1898 (on line) Peter's mother was not told of his death until she was on her deathbed. The doctor advised the family to tell her.

    He though she was lingering in the hope of seeing him again. When she heard the sad news she died almost immediately.
  • Treasures
    • 9. Treasures On 17/07/2011
    Hello Benedict,

    You need to go to the archives and find the files... Or ask for a professional researcher to help you out.

    Good luck in your quest !!
  • Benedict ManovillSonz
    • 10. Benedict ManovillSonz On 17/07/2011
    My family's legend is that an uncle ?? Mr. Brown/Herr Braun ?? First name ?? was on board the SS La Bourgoyne (La Bourgogne) and went down with the ship when it sank on 4 July 1898. Has any one seen that name on the list of passengers lost at see ? Where can such a list be found ?
  • Onur Evren
    • 11. Onur Evren On 15/06/2011
    The Turkish wrestler, so called "Koca Yusuf" was drawned in this French liner. He is still famous in Turkey.
  • julien comeau feb 21 2010
    • 12. julien comeau feb 21 2010 On 22/02/2011
    I have an antique picture of "La Bourgogne" while it was sinking. It is mounted in black wooden frame. It's stern is under water, their people in the water and in lifeboats. I don't know much about it except what I red on this site.
  • Gil
    • 13. Gil On 12/02/2011
    The Cromartyshire was carrying chalk, not coal, from Dunkirk to Philadelphia.
  • Lou
    • 14. Lou On 27/01/2011
    I commend all of you on the research you're doing, and your interest in the stories of the Past !
    So, Arnet Taylor, or anyone else - I'd love to read more about it, so any of you who have stories, or a book to recommend. Among the casualties were the instructor/sculptor Emil Wuertz, and the painter De Scott Evans.
    Both artists were well respected in their day.
    Best Regards,
  • Terry Good
    • 15. Terry Good On 06/12/2010
    My great-grandmother, Melvina Salza and her young daughter died on LaBourgogne shipwreck. They were going back to visit relatives in northern Italy.
  • maureen
    • 16. maureen On 29/09/2010
    You can read Mrs. La Casse's account of the sinking of the LaBourgogne in a book titled "Sinking of the Titanic,`Eyewitness Accounts"..pages 171-176
  • Arnet Taylor
    • 17. Arnet Taylor On 04/09/2010
    I'd like to correct a statement on my June 10th statement #23. The only woman saved was Mrs Adrian(Victoire) La Casse, a lady we owe much to for her
    fascinating account of the disaster.
  • Benjamin Langford
    • 18. Benjamin Langford On 07/08/2010
    Hello Caitlin the 08. My mother is Suzanne Aldige'. Can you email me at I am putting together family history info on the Aldige's.
  • Caitlin
    • 19. Caitlin On 08/07/2010
    My Great-great-great grandmother, Alice Aldige nee Lepretre, died in this wreck along with one of her daughters and a granddaughter.

    You can see a picture of the family tomb here...

    It says, "In memory of mother, sister, and niece lost at sea on Steamship Bourgogne July 4, 1989." My great-great grandmother, another of Alice's daughters, Anna Aldige Hinderman must've had that inscribed.

    I think they were going to visit my great-grandmother (another of Alice's granddaughters and Anna's daughter) Elise Hindermann who was living with her other grandmother in Switzerland.
  • Sue Eriksson
    • 20. Sue Eriksson On 07/07/2010
    My grandfather's sister went down on the Bourgogne along with a friend. Her name was Grace Marshall and they were going to Europe to meet family and inlaws. My Grandfather said they never spoke her name again!Do any of the Halifax papers have accounts of the sinking or are there any artifacts in a museum there, by chance? Did they bring any of the bodies ashore for burial?
  • Treasures
    • 21. Treasures On 15/06/2010
    Nobody has ever attempted to locate La Bourgogne... Are you interested ???
  • David Goncalves-Birch
    • 22. David Goncalves-Birch On 15/06/2010
    Has anyone actually attempted to salvage this wreck?
  • Arnet Taylor
    • 23. Arnet Taylor On 11/06/2010
    My great, great uncle, Father Anthoney Kessel was also a passenger on the La Bourgogne and refused a lifeboast to stay with passengers. Mr herself a {s. A. De La Casse, the only woman saved, as pointed out by Patricia Pinner above, attended the funeral of Father Kesseler in New York, and later wrote a beautiful and lengthy account of the tragedy which was published. Although herself a Protestant her praise of Father Kesseler, as well as many other details are worth reading. In his memoryI would be glad to send a copy to anyone interested.
  • Gina Bombolino
    • 24. Gina Bombolino On 04/06/2010
    my great, great, great grandfather was a passenger on this ship, does anyone know where I can find the passenger list/ships manifest of passengers? please email me the link
  • Madz
    • 25. Madz On 22/04/2010
    I am in the process of writing a historical fiction book on this particular ship wreak and am in need of information and names of actual people for my characters.
    If you have any info you can reach me at
  • Craig Rosenthal
    • 26. Craig Rosenthal On 19/04/2010
    I have been studying this wreck for years. Looking for descendants of passengers/crew? Please contact me at
  • Eddie
    • 27. Eddie On 16/04/2010
    The Bourgogne was the ship that brought Mother Cabrini to New York in 1889 when she first came to America. She would go on to found schools, hospitals, orphanages and of course become the first American saint. Does anyone know where in New York the ship docked?
  • Michael
    • 28. Michael On 22/02/2010
    One of my relatives died with his wife, two daughters and a maid. Such a sad story. Do you know where all the official papers on the tradgedy are kept?
    Cheshire, England
  • Glenn Dandoy
    • 29. Glenn Dandoy On 01/02/2010
    My Great Great Grandfather Oscar Dandoy emigrated to America on La Bourgogne, arriving in New York on August 28, 1893. Less than five years later the ship was on the
    bottom of the North Atlantic. The stories of the collision of La Bourgogne with the Cromartyshire are
    terrifying. If anyone has more information on this tragedy, I would welcome the opportunity to view it.
    G. R. Dandoy
  • Jeff Domenick
    • 30. Jeff Domenick On 02/01/2010
    My Great Great grandmother Kathryn Bresch was on that ship. She had left behind my great grandfather Jacob Aigeldinger while she went back to France to settle her business affairs.
  • Patricia Pinner
    • 31. Patricia Pinner On 14/12/2009
    The wrestler's name from Turkey is Ismail Yousouf and yes he toured the US fighting everyone who would fight and beat them all! Undeated! I am writing a story about La Bourgogne and including him.

    I would LOVE to have any pictures/paintings/copies of pictures or paintings of La Bourgogne. Please send directly to me at
    Thank you.
  • Michael O'Neill
    • 32. Michael O'Neill On 22/11/2009
    My Great Uncle - the artist De Scott Evans - and his three daughters were drowned in the shipwreck. They were in route to Paris where he commissioned to do a portrait.
  • Wystan
    • 33. Wystan On 17/11/2009
    There is a small memorial stained glass window in the University of Michigan Library for Professor Edward Lorraine Walter, who drowned in this tragedy. Prof. Walter had published a book on Rousseau.
    • 34. On 23/09/2009
    Crackers hi,
    I'm searching for more information about that circus performer. He was actually a wrestler from Ottoman Empire and went to the US to wrestle some of the most famous figures in wrestling at that time. Do you have any more information about him. I'd really appreciate if you share it with me if you have them of course.

    feel free to contact me from

    Thanks in advance,

    9. crackers 08/01/2009 at 07:46

    My grandmother, Christina Nicoleti from the Northern Italian city of Turino, emigrated to America aboard the La Bourgogne in 1896. As a child, she told me that one of the passangers that drowned, a Turkish man who was returning back to his native Turkey after retiring as a circus performer, drowned because he could not swim due to the weight of the gold he stached in his pockets.
  • Patricia Pinner
    • 35. Patricia Pinner On 26/07/2009
    My Great Grandmother, Victoire Lacasse was the only female survivor. I have a copy of my Great Grandfather's "Copy of Statement" of the incident, dated July 11, 1898. Adrian Lacasse was his name. His Granddaughter, my aunt Hertha is still alive. She gave me the copy.
  • Jacques MALET
    • 36. Jacques MALET On 26/06/2009
    I belong and old painting (1901 ?)showing the collision between the Cromartyshire and La Bourgogne. I found it in a garret, in the house of my grand-father, who was the captain of several sail ships of french merchant marine, in the years 1897-1905. He was the captain of the brick Fernand Marguerite on 9/08/1898, which used to sail from Europe to New Found Land, since this date and his name as captain, are written in a painting of this ship. Moreover, the brick Fernand Marguerite wrecked next year 1999 in St-Pierre et Miquelon,not far from the location of the collision.

    The picture was painted by Temple West, actually the name of a company located in New-Castle (Australia), who drawed portraits (paintings and photographs)of ships, crews .... My cousin belongs another painting showing the Cromartyshire, alone like a portrait, also from Temple West. I belong another painting and photographs from Temple West, ordered by my grand-father, showing his following ship .
    I don't know the exact relation between my grand-father and this collision.
    But I suppose he and his ship Fernand Marguerite were concerned by this disaster, maybe as rescuers, since he ordered two paintings three years later. I don't see how to join a photograph of the painting to this message. If possible, tell me (by mail) how to do. I can also join the photograph to mails for interested people.
    • 37. On 08/01/2009
    My grandmother, Christina Nicoleti from the Northern Italian city of Turino, emigrated to America aboard the La Bourgogne in 1896. As a child, she told me that one of the passangers that drowned, a Turkish man who was returning back to his native Turkey after retiring as a circus performer, drowned because he could not swim due to the weight of the gold he stached in his pockets.
  • DS
    • 38. DS On 17/12/2008
    My great-grandfather was a survivor.

    I would love to find more information about what happened.
  • Kül Tegin
    • 39. Kül Tegin On 13/12/2008
    I read about 20 died body from La bourgogne find on one of the Azores islan (Acores) after weeks of colussion.
  • TP
    • 40. TP On 30/11/2008
    From The Counterfeiters, by Andre Gide:
    [/quote]There were about forty of us in the boat, all crowded together, for a number of swimmers had been picked up at the last gasp, like me. The water was almost on a level with the edge of the boat. I was in the stern, and I was holding the little girl I had just saved tightly pressed against me to warm her, and to prevent her from seeing what I couldn’t help seeing myself—two sailors, one armed with a hatchet and the other with a kitchen chopper. And what do you think they were doing?...They were hacking off the fingers and hands of the swimmers who were trying to get into the boat. One of these two sailors...turned to me, as I sat there, my teeth chattering with cold and fright and horror, and said “If another single one gets in we shall be bloody well done for. The boat’s full.” And he added that it was a thing that had to be done in all shipwrecks, but that naturally one didn’t mention it.[quote]
  • jody
    • 41. jody On 13/10/2008
    I would suggest e mailing the Sable Island Ship Wreck Society...I think that is what it is called but not sure. They have the original papers and will make copies of them and they will snail mail them to you.

  • Jennifer
    • 42. Jennifer On 13/10/2008
    I suspect my great-great grandfather may have died in this sinking. Any ideas how to get a list of those who died?
  • Jody Czapla
    • 43. Jody Czapla On 23/08/2008
    My Great Great Grandfather was on the La Bourgogne when it went down. There are newspaper reports with quotes from him in them. He was taking his fiance home to meet his family. She was killed when the ship dragged her under.

  • John Walters
    • 44. John Walters On 18/08/2008

    Hi, How is the research going? John
  • Craig Rosenthal
    • 45. Craig Rosenthal On 22/07/2008
    I have been studying this wreck for years. Looking for descendants of passengers/crew?

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