The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), Sept. 5, 1845

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[Toronto Colonist]

It is desirable that proper information should be laid before the public, respecting the unfortunate collision which lately took place between the steamers London and Kent, on Lake Erie, and which caused the loss of the latter vessel, and the lives of several passengers, besides other property: we have therefore copied, from the Chatham Gleaner, of 26th August, a letter from the Messrs. Eberts, on the subject, -the contents of which have been compiled, as we are told, from twelve affidavits of parties who witnessed the unfortunate collision. The details disclosed in that letter, give a very different complexion to the occurrence, from what was at first circulated by the Detroit papers; and, altogether, the subject is one which ought to undergo a thorough judicial investigation. Let "the saddle be put on the right horse," and the guilty parties be dealt with according to their deserts.

To the Editor of the Chatham Gleaner.

Dear Sir, - We have been furnished with twelve affidavits of parties on board the steamers London and Kent, and cognizant of the facts on the occasion of the late disastrous collision on Lake Erie, resulting in the loss of the latter vessel, which contain full and authentic information relative to all the circumstances connected therewith, and we conceive it a duty we owe the public, and in justification of the officers and crew of the Kent, to lay before them, through the medium of the press, a correct account of the occurrence, which will disabuse the minds of many who may be erroneously impressed by the mis-statements which have already found their way into the public prints.

It appears from the depositions on oath of several good seamen, who composed the watch on board the steamer Kent at the time she was run down by the London, that she, the Kent, left the wharf of Detroit, in the United States, at half-past six P.M., and after touching at Windsor and Malden, in Canada, on the Detroit River, finally sailed from the latter place on her trip to Buffalo, in the State of New York, and situated at the outlet of Lake Erie, between eight and nine o'clock, on the evening of the 11th instant, having on board ninety-seven passengers.

She pursued her usual course down the Lake until about two o'clock on the following morning, when Captain Laing retired below, leaving the vessel in charge of the mate's watch, with instructions to 'be careful and try the water round the reef, Point au Pelee spit, and when clear of it, to steer north east by north, so as to keep close to land and make smooth water.' These orders were accordingly obeyed, and some time afterwards the watch on deck of the Kent descried the light of the London about five miles off, some distance on the starboard or the right hand side of the Kent, steering up the Lake. The Kent continued on her course down, and the London continued steering up the Lake in a parallel line with her, but as before stated, some distance to the right or seaward. Thus they continued on their respective courses, and the mate of the Kent seeing the London would shortly pass, stepped to his bell rope for the purpose of ringing the customary salute, and while there, the London having come within two cables length or so, nearly abreast of the starboard side of the Kent, she, the London, began to swing towards shore running directly into the Kent; one of the wheelsmen of the Kent had just previously to this said to the mate, 'David, are you not going to give her a bell,' but suddenly turning towards the London shouted 'she's swinging into us,' David Patten, first mate of the Kent, who still stood at his bell rope awaiting the salute of the London, she being the larger boat, instantly looked about and discovered that the London was swinging completely round and making in a direct line for the side of the Kent, gradually altering her course in such a manner as could not fail to bring her in contact with the Kent. The mate of the Kent at this time heard distinctly on board the London, 'hard a port,' and in the hope of being able in some measure to avert the shock, ordered his vessel 'hard a starboard,' and the Kent had obeyed her wheel in so far as to vary her course one or two points to the northward, or in shore, when the London's larboard bow struck her forward of the starboard paddle box, and her stem cut forward to the Kent's firehold; at this moment, one of the watch on the Kent rushed on board the London, went to her compass and found she was heading north west by north. The Kent was found to be heading at the same time north east by north half north. The London had thus swung from her own course (south west) eight or nine points, and when she struck the Kent was running within six or seven points of the Kent's course, which accounts for the incision in the Kent raking forward, and also for the London's striking the Kent with her larboard bow, staving in her own bulwark rails, guard stanchions, and receiving other injuries, while her starboard bow was uninjured.

Capt. Laing, of the Kent, immediately on the collision taking place appeared on deck, where a scene of indescribable confusion and distress ensued. The vessel was sinking fast, and the attention of the Kent's crew was first directed to the safety of the passengers, amongst whom were many ladies and children, and it is believed that all the passengers with the exception of about eight or nine, who met a watery grave, were hurried on board the London, some with scarcely any clothing and all having lost their baggage.

The Captain of the Kent demanded in a loud voice 'why the London did not lower her boats and attempt to save those who were still clinging to the wreck, and the baggage which was every where floating about. Boats were afterwards lowered, and a few articles picked up. - The Kent had in this time gone down, excepting the stem, which still remained floating, shewing the cabin windows out of water; she was then towed by the London some short distance towards Point au Pelee; a great deal of baggage and valuable property might have been taken off her stem and from her cabins at this time, but she was cast off by order of the Capt. of the London and both property and vessel abandoned about ten miles from the nearest land. The officers and crew of the Kent, with her passengers returned to Detroit in the London. The wreck has since been inspected by the owner and found to lie in twelve fathoms water.

The statements which have appeared in the Detroit papers, and been copied widely throughout the country, originated on board the London, and with the parties who were in bed before and at the time of the collision, and who of course, gave the public the story they themselves were told by the mate and others of the London, and who, it is not probable, would willingly state any thing in crimination of themselves.

Had the London kept her usual course S.W. she would have passed the Kent as she has invariably done before, to the seaward; or if the London had even kept her course when she had neared the Kent on the starboard bow, there would have been no collision; but by the testimony on oath of men from her own decks, who had looked on from the time the Kent first hove in sight on the inside course, she, the London, made a complete half circle towards the Kent when almost abreast. When the two vessels came in contact, the London was steering north west by north, instead of south west, her proper course.


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Sept. 5, 1845
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Rick Neilson
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), Sept. 5, 1845