The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), June 19, 1850

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To the Editor of the British Whig

Dear Sir,-

Several communications having appeared in the Port Hope Watchman, on the natural facilities of Presqu'Isle Harbor, and from a thorough knowledge of that subject, I am prepared to say there has been misrepresentation and truckling on the part of Mr. Lyons, who, having been sent here to make certain investigations, has reported to the Board of Works, and, from statements published a few days ago in your paper, that report appears to be untrue. Now, Sir, I am prepared to say, and further, to prove that the statement made by a correspondent of the Port Hope Watchman, signing himself H.S. is correct; which is proved to be so by statements made by Mr. Sweetman and Mr. Gibson. Mr. Lyons has degraded himself by publishing insinuations prejudicial to Mr. Sweetman.

Mr. Sweetman is a "close observer, and a man of undoubted integrity," is highly respected by all who share in his acquaintance, a man who has made himself acquainted with the world as it is; and I should be sorry to hear that Mr. Sweetman could not superintend the building of a little Stone Cottage, and make fewer blunders in it than Mr. Lyons has made in the one he boasts of here.

When you were here, Sir, you pronounced this one of the finest harbors on the Lake, and were surprised that there was not something more done; the reason is plain; whenever anything of a public nature is to be done in this county, the influence of Cobourg and Port Hope is brought to bear against us, and consequently we are thrown in the back grounds, and as a climax, Mr. Lyons is sent here after having been "schooled," and he sounds with a short line, and reports only seven feet 6 inches of water, when in reality there are 12 feet, and in high water considerably more. What does this mean? It means just this. They know we have one of the best harbors on the Lake, and if its natural facilities are known, Cobourg and Port Hope fear a rival town will spring up here, which will curtail their political and commercial influence. Presqu' Isle is a beautiful harbor, and I am surprised that Captain Kerr with the America, does not call here; there is the whole distance between Cobourg and Belleville, Presqu' Isle being about the centre, and an extensive and thickly populated country back; that the people have either to go to Cobourg to get a boat, or if they wish to go to Oswego, must go to Belleville, thence to Kingston and cross. If the America would stop here, and I think she could make her trips across as she now does; it would pay her well; for instance, nineteen passengers left here in one vessel, and many more would go if facilities were offered. She also might make a great saving in her wood. Last season she was supplied with wood at the mouth of the Genesee River, taken from this harbor, for which 3s. 9d. a cord was paid here; one dollar per cord freight, and 30 per cent duties, and then sold there to the America for from two dollars to two dollars and a half per cord; but notwithstanding all this, Cobourg and Port Hope will say you cannot call there. Presqu' Isle is no Harbor. There is an extensive business done by vessels carrying lumber etc. We ship the lumber sawed at 18 saw mills. There are four stores here, doing a good business. One first rate flouring mill, a cloth dressing establishment; and all the men connected with these establishments seem to be determined to go ahead. Why should we be kept back.

I was in Cobourg the other day; the Star came out and flourished the following: "Cobourg harbor has been alive with shipping." I stepped down to the wharf and beheld: only one small vessel. I was forced to exclaim, the Lord only knows when it was.

The inhabitants of Brighton are indebted to H.S. for the benefit they have and are likely to receive from his exertions in explaining the mysteries, which have so long hung over this much neglected harbor. I am aware, Sir, from a weekly perusal of your valuable paper, that you will expose missrepresentation or imposition whenever it exists, and that you will not allow the Government and the public to remain misinformed in this matter.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient servant,


Brighton, June 3rd, 1850.


When first the alarm was given the passengers were cool and collected - it was thought that the boat could reach the land - it struck upon a sand bar half a mile from shore - and then panic reigned. The passengers became wild with despair and plunged into the water as if life was safe there. Of the cause of the fire we know nothing and those who were saved can explain nothing - they were asleep - all they know is that about three o'clock or day break the alarm of fire was given - the shore was in sight and they hoped it could be reached, and all were still, but when the bar was struck hope was converted into despair and wildly death by fire was shunned - to meet death they took to the water. The passengers plunged into the lake and but few were saved. The number of passengers on board is thus stated: steerage 256 - cabin 45 - crew 25 - Total 326. Men in the cabin and in the lower deck jumped overboard in crowds, some 20 at a time. The captain remained on the upper deck near his state room immediately forward of the steamer's wheel house. After all the passengers had jumped overboard the captain threw the barber's wife, his own mother-in-law, wife and child into the lake, and plunged in himself. He remained a moment on the surface, when with his wife in his arms, they both sank together. There were at least 250 emigrants, chiefly from England and Germany, 45 or 50 cabin passengers beside the crew, numbering about 25. The number of those saved on the beach was only 40. The fire was discovered about half-past three yesterday morning, abreast of the smoke pipe. The crew endeavored to extinguish it without alarming the passengers, but the flames spread so rapidly that the cry was soon raised, "save yourselves." The hurricane deck was literally packed with emigrants sleeping, and when the fire was announced beyond control, the utmost confusion and terror reigned. The boat was immediately headed towards the land and grounded some six hundred yards from shore but the heat had become so intense, that most of the passengers had jumped overboard, preferring a watery grave to death by fire. The poor emigrants were crowded forward, and literally pushed overboard by those retreating from the flames. Some had presence of mind enough to throw overboard their chests and swim for them, but nearly all were lost. Both yawl boats were so badly burnt as to be rendered entirely useless. The beach was already strewed with the bodies for several rods they lay so thick upon the bottom and in such shallow water that they were finding them by the boatload. A coroner and his jury were in attendance to ascertain names, residence, etc. One man was found with an infant child clasped in his arms. A group of five or six emigrants, men, women and children were found with their arms closely locked together, evidently having left the boat and sunk in that position. It is said that only three females were saved.

The Diamond has been chartered by the city Cleveland and has gone down to bring the bodies. The citizens in the vicinity of the disaster are doing all in their power to make sufferers comfortable. A large trench is being dug in Cleveland to bury those unfortunate persons. A number of bodies have been brought to Buffalo. It was supposed that most of the passengers jumped overboard, but it appears that the boat is literally covered with the bones of the burnt.

ads for steamers Passport and City of Toronto.

Steamer For Oswego - The U.S. Mail Line, BAY STATE, Capt. Vancleve, will leave Kingston for Sackett's Harbor and Oswego, tomorrow morning at nine o'clock.

Browne's Wharf, June 19th, 1850.

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June 19, 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), June 19, 1850