The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Kingston Herald (Kingston, ON), July 19, 1842

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p.1 a letter to Editor of Patriot - about Emigrants and good land available north of Toronto, gives a long description of trip by steamer Simcoe, Capt. Laughton, from Holland Landing.

(1 1/2 columns) [Patriot]



We mentioned in our last number this melancholy accident, and said several lives were lost. In general, reports exaggerate facts; but in this case the report was far below the facts, for it appears that not less than 58 lives have been lost by this fatal event. The Shamrock was a new boat, with a high pressure engine, built by the Niagara Dock Company, and warranted by them for three months, and the warranty had not expired. The loss of the boat falls therefore on the Company: but who is to answer the loss of life?

The Shamrock left Lachine on the morning of Saturday the 9th inst., with 120 passengers, and three barges in tow, two of them empty. When about 8 or 9 miles from Lachine, the boiler exploded, its force being directed forward, carrying away the bows, and opening the sides so that she began to fill and sink immediately. The engineer, who was saved, stated to the coroner's inquest that he had examined the boiler about two minutes before the accident took place, and found all right. He was allowed to carry 85 lbs.of steam, and there were only 70 on at the time. So that the makers had either miscalculated the strength of the boiler, or there had been some deplorable defect in its construction. The Captain said the boiler seemed a good one, but leaked a little. Mr. Ross, one of the owners, said the boat did not make so much speed as they wished in consequence of the boiler leaking. All who were examined connected with the boat agree in saying that there was no blame attached to any of them, but this is quite natural. The coroner's jury returned a verdict of "accidental death."

The passengers were English, Irish & Scotch, but chiefly the first, who were by themselves at the bow, and therefore suffered most. They were of a superior class, and had considerable money with them. The steamer Dolphin was a few miles behind the Shamrock when the accident occurred, and the Captain instantly dropped 2 barges that he had in tow, & hastened to the spot, which presented a distressing scene. The Shamrock had sunk, and the water was covered with living and dead bodies, the living clinging to parts of the wreck, and the sides of the barges. By the exertions of the master and crew of the Dolphin about 60 persons of different ages and sexes were saved, 30 of them more or less injured, and the remainder chiefly Irish, were unhurt. One old lady named Cousins, from Cleaveland, Yorkshire, was found alive floating on a feather bed, but her husband and 7 children had perished. Eighteen of the wounded were taken to the Montreal General Hospital, and one of them, named Coverdale, who had both his legs broken, died after they were amputated, leaving a wife who, besides her husband, lost 6 children. Three of the crew and one bargeman perished. The captain of the Shamrock was in the cabin at the time, and escaped injury. He assisted to his utmost in saving the passengers, and was the last to leave the boat, when he swam out some distance, and saved one of the passengers who was drowning.

Several persons had narrow escapes. A sailor asleep in the forecastle received no injury except a slight scalding of one hand. One man was blown into the air, and knew nothing until he found himself on the barge. A Scotch family named Macarthur, consisting of 11, escaped unhurt, but lost their property said to be a thousand sovereigns. An Englishman was playing with his child at the stern of the boat, and sent it to its mother just before the explosion; he saw them no more.

The utmost attention was paid to the wounded both at Lachine, and at Montreal, and six physicians were up all night at the Hospital attending them. Many Gentlemen also in the neighbourhood of the disaster exerted themselves both to save the property and recover the bodies of the dead. Thus all that could be done was to mitigate the fearful calamity. The boat will be raised, and thus most of the bodies and the property will be recovered, and some clue afforded to the cause of the explosion. The stern of the boat is above water, and when the coroner arrived he caused the cabin to be broken open, and the body of a female floated out. She had a number of sovereigns quilted in her corsets. The force of the explosion was so great that it drove an iron bolt through the side of the barge.

We have compiled this account from the Monday papers, and now subjoin from them a list of the missing and lost as furnished by the owners of the boat. It is thought that there were many persons on board of whom they had taken no account, and therefore the loss of life is greater than it here appears.

(a long list of names follows with family size, etc.)

Of the "missing or lost" forty-three are from among the English portion of the passengers.

It was our intention to have made some remarks upon the testimony of the Captain and Engineer; but we prefer giving the following extract from a communication which appeared in the Morning Courier of Thursday, as it contains the substance of what we wished to have written. "The Accident Was Purely Accidental!" is the recorded opinion of both Captain and Engineer. In our opinion - founded upon the evidence given by them - the accident was the result of GROSS NEGLIGENCE SOMEWHERE; and nearly sixty lives have been sacrificed as the result of that negligence. [Montreal Royal Standard]

"A Coroner's Jury has been assembled to inquire into the causes of death of one of the unfortunate persons who perished on board the steamer Shamrock, and that jury has returned a verdict which attributes to the explosion of the boiler the terrible catastrophe which has so shocked the public mind. A number of witnesses, it appears, were examined, but nothing was elicited which offers a satisfactory clue to the cause of the accident - whether it arose from negligence on the part of those who were entrusted with the working of the machinery, or whether it is to be ascribed to a defect in the manufacture of the boilers. The evidence of the engineer would indeed, go to exculpate himself. He asserts that the boilers were well supplied with water, that the pressure was not what he was authorized to use, and that, in fact, the accident as far as he is concerned, is quite inexplicable. Making every allowance for the anxiety this person must naturally feel to relieve himself from the fearful amount of responsibility which the accident casts upon his shoulders, we are bound, in the absence of any proof to the contrary, to believe this statement, and in doing so we can come to no other conclusion than that the machinery itself must have been defective. Common sense will tell every man that an accident of this nature could not occur but from some cause which it is in the power of careful men to avoid; and to set it down to mere chance or to the operation of some unknown agency, is the laziest and least creditable manner of getting out of the difficulty. A steamboat with a pressure of only 70 lbs. to the square inch, with boilers of the best proofed power, machinery in good order, well supplied with water, is blown up in the St. Lawrence in broad day-light, whilst a careful engineer is attending to his duty, in defiance of all the laws that science has yet laid down! Upwards of 60 poor people are blown into the air, and yet no one is to blame! Ruin and desolation alight upon a hundred heads, and all that the ingenuity of a jury can make out of it is - that the boiler did burst - although according to the statement of the engineer it ought not to have burst - that the poor people were killed, although according to all that experience teaches, they ought to be alive at the present moment - and that there is no precaution which could have been taken which would have prevented this frightful accident.

"This, I say, is the true interpretation of the Coroner's verdict; and if it is to pass current, there is no reason why every steamboat now lying at the wharf should not - in spite of boilers, engineers and crew, be blown into the air at their next trips, in accordance with a law which is yet undiscovered, but which it is beyond the skill of man to guard against.

An investigation of a much more searching nature is required to satisfy the public mind, and the evidence of scientific men should be taken, to afford, if possible, a solution of what at the present moment appears to be a mystery."

The St. Lawrence Canal - should not be built on south side of river. [Montreal Gazette]

More on Riots at Cornwall Canal and Welland Canal, with information from St. Catharines Journal and Niagara Chronicle.

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July 19, 1842
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Kingston Herald (Kingston, ON), July 19, 1842