The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), May 13, 1850

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We announced briefly in our last issue, the destruction of the steamer Commerce on Lake Erie, and the loss of a number of lives. Since then we are in receipt of the full particulars of the sad calamity.

The Commerce left Port Maitland on Monday last, before midnight, for Port Stanley, having on board about 120 men of the 23rd Regiment, with the officers and wifes and families of the soldiers. The vessel pursued the usual course, running S.W.S. (sic) to avoid a shoal lying in the vicinity of the harbor. Immediately after leaving port, the Captain and wheelsman (desc ?) a steamer bearing towards them, which proved to be the Despatch, from Port Stanley to Buffalo, touching at the British ports on the Lake. Upon nearing this steamer the Commerce bore away, in order to give her a wide berth, but strange to say, the Despatch continued to approach; the Commerce then deviated still farther from her course, always keeping her own side, until finally, when the Despatch appeared determined to cross her bows, her helm was put hard aport. Immediately afterwards the collision took place, and the Captain of the Commerce seeing it unavoidable, rang the bell to have the engine stopped, which was done accordingly. The Despatch struck the Commerce a few feet from the bow, coming nearly stem on, and a very few minutes afterwards, the forehold was full of water, and the vessel stood with her bow downwards at an angle of 45 degrees. The greatest alarm naturally prevailed; the Surgeon of the Regiment, a young lad named Rodgers, son of a Commissariat officer in Montreal; and the 2nd Engineer, Wm. Colborn, ran up the rigging, and unfortunately became entangled, and lost their lives when the vessel went over. The boats were speedily got out, but owing to the panic, they were either sunk or capsized, and many who had taken refuge in them were drowned.

The conduct of the Captain and Engineer, in this trying emergency, is beyond all praise. The former, regardless of his own safety, used his utmost exertions to secure the transfer of the passengers to the Despatch, and in this noble work he labored until the very moment when the Commerce went down; then he was barely able to throw himself, with the assistance of a rope passed from one vessel to the other, on board the Despatch. The Engineer, notwithstanding the dreadful concussion, had the presence of mind to raise the safety valve of the engine, thus doubtless preventing an explosion, and the loss of many more lives.

The conduct of the Captain of the Despatch is also deserving of the highest commendation. His passengers, knowing that they were on the much smaller and weaker vessel, urged him to run her ashore, but he declared his intention to remain by the Commerce as long as a life could be saved.

As to the cause of the calamity, all that is known at present is that the Despatch, fancying the Commerce to be a sailing vessel, running into the canal, thought that she could cross her bow, and only ascertained the error when it was too late. The Commerce carried at her cross-trees two brilliant lights, and it is well known that sailing vessels carry but one, generally at their jib-boom end, and never at the mast head. The whole matter will doubtless undergo a thorough investigation, and we shall therefore abstain from making any comment whatever. We have been particular in ascertaining the facts, as we find that the telegraph operator in Buffalo has been sending eastward a statement which is at total variance with truth. The motive for such a proceeding has not transpired, but we beg to direct the attention of our contemporaries, who have inserted that report, to the communication and protest of Capt. Cochrane, in another place. They will there see how much confidence can be placed in the idle stories circulated about Buffalo, and made use of by the telegraph operator.

The following is a list of the sufferers:

Dr. Grantham, Surgeon 23rd Fusiliers; Mr. Rodgers, a boy of 14, son of Mr. Rodgers, Ordnance Department, Montreal; Wm. Colborne, 2nd Engineer of the boat, are supposed to have gone up the rigging, and when the boat careened and dipped her mast were drowned; 24 men of the Royal Welch Fusiliers; 7 women and 3 children, belonging to the same Regiment.

We understand that the Commerce was partially insured, to the extent of 1,500 pounds in the British American office, and 1,500 pounds in the Mutual Insurance office. She was owned by Messrs. McPherson & Crane. [Hamilton Spectator]

Reduction of Tolls on Welland Canal - a list comparing last year's tolls with this year. [St. Catherine's Journal]

We are requested to state that the steamer Sovereign, Captain Wilkinson, will commence plying between Queenston, Lewiston, Niagara and Toronto next week. It is expected that she will leave Lewiston and Queenston next Wednesday morning, the 15th instant about 8 o'clock, for Toronto; and will leave Toronto, on her return, at half-past one o'clock P.M.

Business in Oswego - The harbor is crowded with steamers, propellers, schooners, and canal boats. They come in from New York, Troy, and from Albany, by Canal, and from the Upper Lakes, and the Canadian ports by lake, on the north and on the west. The docks are crowded with every kind of craft, loading and unloading. Freight is abundant and a steady stream of arrivals and departures by canal and lake is constantly taking place. Many of the mills are in operation. Vessels from Canada and the upper lakes, loaded with wheat, run directly alongside of the flouring mills, and from thence is taken directly into them by the patent Elevator. The whole business is done here with wonderful convenience and celerity.

The First Class Steamers


Will ply regularly during the season, between Montreal and Hamilton, calling at Kingston on their way up and down.

For Freight or Passage apply on board, or to

JOHN KER, Montreal.


Kingston, May 11th, 1850.

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May 13, 1850
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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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Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), May 13, 1850