The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), Nov. 29, 1882

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We have now the full details of the loss of the schr. Collingwood on Thursday. The vessel was bound with cedar posts from Chicago to St. Helena. Capt. Hugh Willis and three of the crew were drowned. R.D. Sneldon, mate, of Chicago, Frank McFee, of Amherst Island, Nicholas Johnson, Wallaceburg, seamen, and Herman Gruter, the steward, took to a raft made of fragments of the vessel's cabin. Gruter died from the terrible exposure and his body washed overboard. The other three were picked up by the propeller Wisconsin, Captain McGregor, and were landed at Milwaukee on Saturday morning. They were in a pitiable condition. When the vessel went down she was 16 miles northeast of Milwaukee and about 15 miles from land. The Wisconsin picked the survivors up about 25 miles off Grand Haven, they having drifted over to that shore.

A Harrowing Recital.

Frank McFee, of Amherst Island, well known in this city, makes the following statement:

"The old schooner was going along all right about 25 miles north east of Milwaukee. There was a good stiff breeze blowing, but it didn't amount to much. Along late in the afternoon the breeze stiffened up considerably, and we had some flurries of snow. As it began to grow dark the Captain set us to work and pulled in every rag. We saw we were going to have a rough time of it, and made our preparations. About six o'clock the squall struck the schooner and she began to pitch forward. The most of us ran aft, but the sea kept piling in on us. Every sea swept clean over the deck. The deck load of cedar posts started off by pieces, and every now and then we had to

Dodge A Big Tie

to keep from being swept off. All of a sudden there was a kind of a snort, and the wind veered a little to the nor'ard. The schooner was lying nearly head on, when all of a sudden she listed and went clean over on her broadside. She didn't right again, and then we knew she was gone. The Captain and two more of us were at the boat. It took a long time, and every sea swept the tackle out of our hands. Just as the boat was ready a big bunch of those ties came bumping along and smashed the yawl. The mate went forward to where there was a lot of the cedar, but he had to come aft again. Then the hold load began to start the deck, and we could hear it snapping and groaning. Then the schooner split right in two fore and aft. We saw she was a goner and jumped. We hardly had left the deck before she pitched her nose deep down and made one tremendous dive."

"How Did You Save Yourself, Then?"

"For some time it was hard to say what we did. I remember going down several times. It was pitch black, and I couldn't see anything or anybody. When I came to the top I would strike against a tie and hold on until another sea swept me off. Then I would go down again. I kept floundering around, and thought every minute that I would go down for good. Then I heard somebody yelling out to one of the other men, and I tried to get to them. I struck a piece of the deck about fifteen feet square, which was pretty light and kept on top of the water. I caught hold of the edge, and although I was swept off time and again I managed to reach the other fellows. I found the mate, the cook and James Johnson there. I had no sooner got there than the cook was swept off. He was sailing by on the top of a big sea, and one of us caught him by the coat. The piece of deck was pretty clean, and every few minutes one of us would be swept off. We finally got hold of an old piece of canvas and made a hitch so that we could hold on. When we got the canvas rigged it was a little easier, but we kept slipping off by times, when the others would pull the man back. Every once and a while one of those cedar ties would be thrown clean over the raft, and then we had to dodge under. Once when I was swept off I went under the piece of deck, and thought I would never get out again, but another wave swept me out on the other side, and I caught hold again."

"How Was The Water - Cold?"

"The water wasn't so cold as the air. It was a freezing night, and every time we struck the air we were chilled through. When the raft lifted our hands became so numb we had to let go for a moment to warm them. When we couldn't hang on any longer we would climb on deck, but the first big sea would sweep us off again. Pieces of the planking were torn off every now and then and we thought the old piece of deck would go to pieces entirely. If it hadn't been so light it would have parted a dozen times. The squall kept right on, and I never expected to see daylight again.

It was along about midnight that Jacobs, the cook, began to get weak. He kept slipping off, and we kept pulling him back. He seemed to loose all his strength at once. It was as much as we could do taking care of ourselves, but we couldn't see him go without helping. We finally lashed him with the canvass and a bit of rope, and kept him on the raft. Finally he went clean (daft ?), poor devil, and it was awful to hear him. He got worse and worse, and went clean out of his head. He thought we were at anchor and everything snug. He waved his hands about, and thought he was standing over the galley fire. Then he would sing out something, and when a sea washed over him he complained that the boys were putting out his fire, and threatened to tell the Captain. We could do nothing with the poor fellow. He kept getting worse and worse. He tried to walk upright once or twice, and began to howl and sing. We tried to hold him on, but it was no use.

"What Became Of Him?"

He was quiet and silent for a time, and then a big wave came, when it was just getting light, and he was washed out of sight. By that time we were all pretty well tired out and ready to give up. When the day came we could see nothing all around us except the pieces of the wreck. There was a frightful sea, but it was easier holding on than in the night. We were all numb and sore and we held on to each other and to the strip of canvas. During the morning we saw a schooner about two miles away, but we had nothing to raise up, and we were almost crazy when she passed us. We were so low in the water that no one could see us any distance, and it was blowing too hard for the schooner to come after us. That was a long day, and when night came we gave up all hope. All of us were almost insensible, and by that time we hardly knew or cared whether anybody came to our help or not. Every few minutes during the day we would look all around but there wasn't a rag of canvas in sight. We had about given up all hope when, about 11 o'clock Friday night we heard the noise of a steamer. We all shouted together, but there was no reply. We were so exhausted we could hardly talk or yell at all. We kept on singing out as loud as we could, until finally someone answered our hail. We began calling louder than ever, and then I hardly remember anything until I was in Milwaukee.

Another Survivor's Statement.

Another survivor says: "The vessel became waterlogged, and we worked the pump for all it was worth. About 4 o'clock the pump choked. The whole crew, eight of us, were all hanging for dear life to the taffrail, thinking that it would be the last thing that would give way. After she went down the sea washed over us. The Captain and the three other men who were lost were seen floating with posts under their arms. About 4 o'clock Friday afternoon, the steward's strength gave out, and after a last maniacal struggle he died. We held on to his body for awhile, but had to let it wash overboard. McFee walked off the raft three times during the night, and I succeeded after great trouble in getting him back each time. For thirty one hours we didn't have a thing to eat. I managed to dig a little bit of oakum out of the raft, and the three of us chewed this for twelve hours. McFee would have died in a couple of hours if he hadn't been picked up. He was beginning to act crazy, and was so numb that it was with great difficulty that we kept him on his feet."

Captain Willis hailed from Kingston. He was about 45 years of age and is stated to have been single. He was an old and thorough navigator.

p.3 F.A. Folger - str. owned by Dominion Salvage & Wrecking Co. to run between North Shore and Gulf during winter; hull strengthened against ice.

p.4 Napanee Notes - str. Pilgrim stopped by ice.

mail str. Deseronto on ways; her bow is being clad with a heavy sheeting of iron.

strs. Louise and Nile on dry dock to be overhauled during winter.

str. Quinte on regular trips to Trenton.

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Date of Original:
Nov. 29, 1882
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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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British Whig (Kingston, ON), Nov. 29, 1882