The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Kingston Herald (Kingston, ON), May 28, 1844

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To The Editor Of The Brockville Recorder.

Sir: - On the morning of Thursday the 16th instant, it was my painful duty to hold an inquest on board the steamer Dart, at Mile's Locks, Rideau Canal, on the body of Thomas Willis, a lad aged 15 years. The verdict of the Jury was, that the deceased, Thomas Willis, came to his death in consequence of a plug and ferrule coming out of the boiler of the steamer Dart, which gave vent to so much steam and hot water as to scald the said Thomas Willis to death, and that no blame can be attached to any person on board at the time the calamity took place.

As there are two other persons severely injured by this lamentable occurrence, and as it is connected with a practice which is imminently hazardous to the public safety, a sense of duty impels me to state some of the particulars connected with this melancholy affair, in the hope that something may be done to prevent the recurrence of such heart-rending scenes.

From the evidence of the captain and firemen, it appears that the Dart arrived at Mile's Locks about 1 o'clock A.M. and the Captain was on deck at the time - that the boy Willis had gone down to the fire-room, some time before, for the purpose of warming himself - that the explosion took place after the steamboat had advanced about thirty rods from the Locks. Immediately before the explosion, the fireman had come on deck from the fire room, for the purpose of lighting his lamp. As he was coming up he met Joseph Hoople, one of the hands, going down, as he (the fireman) supposed, for the purpose of lighting his pipe. When he returned with his lamp, and was about descending the hatchway, the lamp was suddenly extinguished, and he and the captain, who was standing near, were compelled to run aft by a rush of steam issuing from the boiler doors, which instantly filled the fire-room, and escaped from the hatchway with great violence. The Engineer immediately went on deck and let off the steam.

After the Fireman had relighted his lamp and returned, he found Hoople on deck screaming and crying "Oh Lord I am killed." Poor Willis had also made his way upon deck; but he was so blind and distracted with pain, that he was staggering overboard by the gangway when the Fireman caught him, and he was carried to the Engineer's room. When he was stripped, it was found that his body was literally broiled; his skin hanging about his raw flesh in shreds. The scalding steam had also entered his mouth and inflamed his fauces, so that he breathed with the greatest difficulty. Medical aid was immediately sent for, and every thing was done that skill and sympathy could devise, to relieve the unhappy sufferer; but death brought the only relief that could be granted to poor Willis; he expired about six o'clock.

The man, Hoople, had received the greatest injury on his legs and arms; but having obtained the timely assistance of Dr. Burritt of Smith's Falls, considerable hope is entertained of his recovery. Another young man, named McKenzie, who was lying on deck, had his hands severely scalded.

It appears from the evidence of the Engineer, that the plug in question was put in by him before leaving Montreal, as some of the flues were leaking - that the amount of steam which the boiler was supposed to bear, was 80 lbs., but he had put in about 16 additional stay bolts, which he considered would render it capable of bearing 100 lbs. with safety - that they had a race with three other boats the day before the explosion, when an additional weight was put upon the valve, which would make the pressure about 85 lbs. - that this weight was kept on, between Long Island and Buritt's Rapids, a distance of about 24 miles, when the additional weight was taken off - that the steam in the boiler, at the time of the explosion, could not have been more than 50 lbs. Here a question arose with the Jury, whether the additional weight the day before could not have cracked the boiler, so as to be the proximate cause of the ferrule and plug giving way; but the Engineer stated that they had carried as much steam repeatedly before, and that an Engineer had no rule to guide him in raising the steam, but his own judgement and experience. He also said that the boiler had been examined by other Engineers in Montreal, and pronounced to be safe. He also stated that there had been a crack in the flue - to which the ferrule was attached, which was the cause of its giving way; but the crack could not be discovered till the ferrule came out; and what had made the crack he did not know. It was also stated on the evidence that there were many well qualified Engineers; but it was considered that there were others, who had the management of steamboat Engines, who were altogether incompetent to perform the duties of their responsible stations.

If the axiom be true, that like causes, under similar circumstances, produce like effects, may we not expect to hear of, and perhaps feel, the effects of similar calamities in future, as long as the present system continues. Surely the sacrifice of upwards of fifty lives, on board the Shamrock, the year before last, was sufficient to prove the necessity of establishing a Board of Engineers qualified to examine and judge of the qualifications of men, and the stability of work, the incompetency of which has so often caused the destruction of property, and the most appalling scenes of human misery.

We cut the following account of a very singular affair from the Brockville Recorder:-

Disgraceful Outrage - The Steam Boat Swan, which had just been fitted out for service, was on Friday night last taken from the wharf of Mr. Sanderson of this town, by some persons, (as is pretty well ascertained,) from the other side of the St. Lawrence. She was towed over to Morristown so stealthily that, although the Captain and three men were on board, and a gentleman sitting up in the cabin waiting for the Pioneer, and who did not go to sleep, they were unaware of the removal until the gentleman went on deck in the morning and found the boat was lying at Morristown. The Ogdensburgh Club Row Boat was used for the purpose, the consent of the owners not having been asked. Steam was got up on the Swan in the morning and she was taken down to Ogdensburgh under cover of some legal process. The boat is still detained there in the absence of the proper officer to whom application for her release should be made. We doubt if any law can be found on either side of the St. Lawrence to countenance such proceedings. Most assuredly if the individuals concerned in the theft, (for it can bear no other name,) be caught and identified on the Canadian side, they will stand a fair chance of seeing the inside of our Provincial Penetentiary. Even in the United States they are not safe, ass the late Ashburton Treaty provides for delivering up felons on demand by either Government.

p.3 Court of Assize - An action was tried brought by Mr. John Thirkell, against Messrs. Macpherson & Crane, to recover the value of some flour burnt in the fire at Kingston, and the jury gave a verdict for the defendants. The flour was in the warehouse when they took it from Mr. Counter, and he, as agent for Mr. Thirkell, instructed them to send it down, but it was burnt before they had the opportunity of doing so. The jury seem to have considered the defendants as merely wharfingers, or warehousemen, in the transaction, and therefore held them not liable.

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May 28, 1844
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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), May 28, 1844