The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), Aug. 3, 1881

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p.1 Kingston to Ottawa - Rideau Canal Route - trip on str. Gipsy - full column (a day or two earlier it mentions it was written by a local student. [Ottawa Citizen]



A Few Moments' Chat With Capt. John Donnelly.

"John, your wrecking experience would make an interesting sketch.?"

"I dare say, it has often been suggested but never written. I couldn't begin to narrate all I know about it, never having kept a record of my work."

The remark was made by a reporter to Capt. Donnelly, of Garden Island, who had just returned from a western tour, after adding another to his long list of successes namely raising a steam barge and her consort, the salvation of which seemed to be an almost hopeless undertaking.

John Donnelly was born in Armagh, Ireland, and emigrated to Canada in 1846, being but 11 years of age. In 1848 he assisted in measuring timber. In 18 he became connected with Messrs. Calvin & Breck's wrecking department, and has since about 1860 acted as its superintendent, performing in the long interim a great deal of important and profitable work. He has been invariably successful. Some say he has been unusually lucky, but his luck would have been of small account had he not exercised much natural shrewdness and adapted ways and means to circumstances in a way which marked the genius of the man. In wrecking, as in every other business, there has been constant improvement. The methods of a quarter of century ago have nearly fallen into disuse, and instead resort has been had to expedients, sometimes simple yet effectual in their application. Naturally enough where there has been but one company in Canada which made a specialty of wrecking its engagements have been very numerous, and to dispose of them expeditiously the best appliances available were procured. Capt. Donnelly was quick to perceive the value of the rotary pumps manufactured in Seneca Falls, and, even contrary to the opinions of Mr. Calvin, always sensible and practical, tried and found them of such utility that now there are three, having twelve inch discharges and capable of raising 400 tons of water per hour, kept ready for service. They occupy small space when even the suction pipes are made to telescope. Donnelly's career has been indeed remarkable, and he has ground for honest pride, though he is properly enough mindful of the assistance he has received from such men as Capt. T. Howard, of Montreal; Capt. C.G. Fortier, of the Royal Insurance Company; Capt. J.T. Douglass, of the Phoenix Insurance Company, and last and not least, the veteran Mr. D.D. Calvin.

Capt. Donnelly's Predecessor.

"Who was your predecessor, Capt." queried the inquisitive Bohemian.

"Poor John Crawford. He was the wrecking master for years and lost his life under rather peculiar circumstances. How? Well he shipped as mate on the steamer Hercules, his object being to obtain a more perfect knowledge than he possessed of lake navigation. In the fall of 1860, I think, while the Hercules was pulling the Bay State off the beach, and to prevent an impending mishap, he attempted to cut the hawser, but causing a severance in the wrong place the rope whirled about the post, the end struck him in the face and from the injury inflicted he died."

"What was your first wrecking work?"

"Now I'm puzzled. I know that one of my early contracts was the raising of the steamer Brooks, which was sunk in 84 feet of water near the Ducks. She was successfully raised, afterwards rebuilt, the engines of William IV were put into her and she was run, under command of Captain Sughrue, until about five years ago, when, worn out, she was retired, her engines being broken up as old iron at the Kingston foundry."

"Then the propeller Magnet and steamer Bay State had a bad collision. The latter was struck abreast the boiler and cut through as far as the boiler. Of course she sank, and in 84 feet of water. She had a large and miscellaneous cargo, which was destroyed. The wrecked boat was taken up and her machinery removed. It was afterwards put into the propeller China, consumed by fire not so long ago near the Ducks."

Accidents To The Mail Line.

"You have a great deal to do with the Royal Mail Line, haven't you?"

"Yes, I have, as a wrecker, given those boats a good deal of attention. The Grecian in 1868 struck in the Lachine Rapids, and knocked in her bilge for 26 feet, and broke off the leg of the port boiler. She sank so deep in the water that only her promenade deck was out of it. She was raised without much difficulty and conveyed to Montreal for repairs, but in the same year, bound up, she struck in the Gallops rapids, and sank at the canal bank. Again her promenade deck only was visible. On that occasion her joiner work was considerably damaged. She was a second time repaired in Montreal. In 1869 she struck the split rock, knocking off 15 feet of her keel. A third time she was raised and repaired. In 1870 she struck the split rock once more, knocking in her bottom. On this occasion she was bound for Montreal with a detachment of Royal Artillerymen, who were en route from Toronto to Europe. She passed over a place only three feet below the water, while she was drawing seven feet. The rent in the forefoot was of such a nature that the current boiled up through it and the forward hatch. One of the soldiers, in the excitement of the moment, jumped overboard and was drowned. A consultation of the best wrecking talent in Canada was held in Melochville. The Etna Insurance Company sent for Captain Merritt to make an examination of the craft and case. He advised the company to pay the insurance and abandon the steamer, which was done. But the boat had to be removed at any cost. I was summoned to take the wreck out of the channel, and I succeeded not only in taking out the steamer's machinery, now in the steamer Corsican, but with the use of pontoons floated the boat to a shallow and unused part of the river. The wrecking company's charges were $5,000. In this job I was engaged for 31 days.

Collisions With The Split Rock.

"I had an interesting experience with the steamer Kingston about twenty years ago. She was then almost new. A raft being in the way she struck the split rock and sank, her bow being clean out of water and her stern under it about 20 feet. With the aid of barges and screws chains were passed under her, and then she was lifted and taken to Montreal, her own machinery being put in operation. Afterwards she had the misfortune to strike at the same place and sink, but being patched and pumped out was taken alongside of the str. Hiram A. Calvin and towed to Montreal, the current running at a speed of at least 15 miles an hour.

"The str. Corinthian once stopped at the same place. While passing through the split rock she was struck with a gale, listed to one side and turned in the channel. A steamer was taken alongside of her, the cargo removed, and the boat then raised and run to Montreal. These feats were highly commended.

"During the time the steamers of the Royal Mail Line touched at the wharf at the foot of Queen street the steamer Passport had a singular mishap. She ran too close to the Martello tower (in 1865) and struck the shoal. She continued on her way, but was found to be making water so fast that she had to be grounded off the water works. She was lifted easily and placed on the Marine railway for repairs.

"The Corsican, you will remember, too, ran ashore a couple of years ago at South Bay, and being raised was taken to Ogdensburg for repairs because there was not a dry dock here. The Corinthian, sunk off Grafton previously, had also to be taken to Montreal because she could not be repaired here.

Commotion Among Passengers.

"There was a commotion once on the str. Spartan. When coming from Oswego she ran, under a full head of steam, upon Pigeon Island, in conseqeunce of light-house mismanagement. By prompt action all the passengers were saved, the sea being so rough that the schr. Gazelle had to be used as a lifeboat, dropping around to the Spartan's stern. The Spartan was afterwards pulled off.

"My last work on the mail steamers was in connection with the raising of the steamer Corsican a couple of weeks ago. The facts of this case are well known.

"The only accident, (to which I have alluded) occurred in 1866, when I was engaged in raising the steamer Spartan, which struck and sunk at Caughnawaga, while en route to Montreal, with about 300 navymen, who belonged to the troop ships then doing service in Canada, and who had been to see Niagara Falls. About 26 feet of her bottom was knocked in. To raise her eight holes had to be dug under the steamer and through them eight one and a half inch chains were passed. With these, purchases were fixed and the steamer raised in 64 hours.


The sloop Highland Lassie is loading oak for Deseronto.

A large raft of timber left Cataraqui Bay this morning for Quebec.

The schooners Anna M. Foster and B.W. Folger are loading tamarack ties for Oswego at 3 7/8 cents per tie.

The schooner Garden Island is reported to have arrived at London, Eng., yesterday. She was just four weeks in making the trip thither from Montreal.

The barges Ayr, Cameron, and Craig are at Allanburg, in the new canal, loading square timber from a raft. This is the first entrance into the new canal.

The regatta at Clayton occurs on the 12th inst. In the yacht race the following prizes are offered: First $50; second $25; third $10; 15 per cent; rebate of the winning crafts. Will Kingston boats compete?

On the arrival of the Bronson at Charity Shoal yesterday it was found that the schooner Nevada had been pounding on the rocks, had in fact scraped over them for 200 yards. The Nevada had her entire sails set to assist her in laying easy. There was a heavy sea rolling at the time. The captain thought that the vessel was leaking. The Nevada on being released at once started for Charlotte.


Str. Magnet, Prescott, pass. and fgt.

Str. Passport, Hamilton, pass. and fgt.

Str. Corinthian, Montreal, pass. and fgt.

Prop. D.R. Vanallan, Chicago, 108 walnut logs.

Prop. City of Montreal, Toronto, 14,000 wheat.

Prop. Persia, St. Catharines, pass. and fgt.

Tug Glide, Montreal, 6 barges.

Prop. Lake Michigan, Toledo, lightened 4,100 wheat.

Schr. Fabiola, Toronto, 2,435 wheat.

Prop. Shickluna, Chicago, lightened 3,600 corn.


Tug Bronson, two barges, 20,000 grain, 108 walnut logs.

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Aug. 3, 1881
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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.
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), Aug. 3, 1881