The ivory launching mallet and silver casket from the ill-fated R.M.S. Empress of Ireland are set to go to auction in Glasgow, with specialists at McTear’s placing an estimate of £10,000 to £15,000 on the historic maritime lot.
Commissioned by Canadian Pacific Steamships, the R.M.S. Empress of Ireland was built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at Glasgow’s Govan Shipyards and launched in 1906.
Tragically, on May 29, 1914 – only two years after the sinking of the Titanic - the Empress went down in the Saint Lawrence River following a collision with the Norwegian collier S.S. Storstad. The disaster claimed the lives of 1,012 passengers and crew members, making it the worst peacetime marine disaster in Canadian history.
The launching mallet was gifted to Mrs Alexander Gracie by the Chairman and Directors of Fairfield on the occasion of the ship's launch. Mrs Gracie was the wife of Sir Alexander Gracie, K.B.E. M.V.O., who played a significant role in Scottish shipbuilding history and was a member of the Fairfield board of directors at the time.
The items have passed through the family and are now being sold by a descendant, Alison Cousin. “My father was close to Sir Alexander Gracie, who was his great uncle, and also to his daughters,” said Alison. “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.”
Due to the huge 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.
Commenting on the auction, McTear’s specialist, James Bruce, said: “It is now very rare to receive a license to sell works made from ivory, with dispensation granted for items of ‘outstanding artistic, historical or cultural value’. Only a handful of licenses 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 beautifully designed mallet 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 R.M.S. Empress of Ireland launching mallet and silver casket will feature in McTear’s Fine Furniture & Works of Art Auction on 20 July.
For a complimentary, no-obligation valuation, visit our Glasgow Galleries or contact a specialist on 0141 810 2880 or firstname.lastname@example.org.