The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), Oct. 17, 1887

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Details Of The Disaster Very Minutely Described.

The enquiry into the loss of the propeller California was conducted by Capt. Harbottle and Mr. W.J. Meneilly. At it the following witnesses were examined:

Capt. Trowell said he had had command of the California for four seasons. During that time he had a good opportunity of judging her sea-going qualities and considered her a good, staunch, seaworthy boat. We loaded at Chicago Oct. 1st with 20,000 bushels corn, 696 barrels pork, and 55 tubs of lard. She was loaded as she had been on previous occasions but with a lighter cargo on board. She was accustomed to carry from thirty to sixty tons more during the summer than on this occasion.

Captain Crangle stated that he gave instructions to load light because he wished the California to make good time.

Capt. Trowell said the California's hold would have held 3,500 bushels more. He did not take any means to prevent the corn from shifting.

Captain Harbottle said he should have looked after this. In looking over his papers for examination he had been asked: "If you were master of a ship carrying 20,000 bushels and had 15,000 to carry, what would you do?" and you answered, "I would put shifting boards in her." He knew this; how did he come to neglect it?"

Capt. Trowell said this was seldom attended to. Most of the vacant space would be fore and aft. She would be well-filled mid-ships. He had used shifted boards in her, but none this time. Leaving Chicago he had a full crew of twenty-two, excepting a second mate, and three passengers. The second mate got drunk at Kingston the trip previous.

Capt. Crangle wanted to know who a young man in the room represented, and received the polite reply, "J.F. Kairds, Sea-men's Union."

Capt. Trowell said it was 11:10 on Saturday night, Oct. 1st, when the California left Chicago. The weather continued fine until twelve o'clock on Sunday night, when wind shifted to the westward and blew pretty hard. They went inside the Manitous. He came on deck about four o'clock Monday morning. They were in the lee of the islands. The sea was running high. After getting abreast of the Foxes he concluded to run on and get in the lee of Beaver Island. He tried to bring her round to port, but she would not come around so he took her around on the starboard wheel, making a round turn. He then stood out midway between the islands and the mainland where the sea was broken. He had a sail on her all night, but the sheet of the mainsail was blown away about 5:45 and it was lowered. She was all right then.

The first trouble came off Waugochance, abreast the light at Waugochance. He would have gone into Beaver harbour but did not think he would have any trouble. After passing Waugochance he tried to set the sail again, but it was blown away. She never steered so badly before. She was making a little water at this time, but the pumps kept her clear. He steered her E.S.E., as she wouldn't answer her port wheel. He kept her at that for a short while, but she broached to. He headed to the wind and ordered the mate to throw 350 barrels of pork overboard. That was about 7 o'clock on Tuesday night. It was dark. The pork was rolled out of the starboard forward gangway. The engineer came forward and said to look out for the pumps. Just then the anchor shutter was carried away. He gave orders to have the gangway replaced, and the anchor shutter secured. The engineer then sang out that she was making water very fast. Witness decided that if he got in the lee of the land he would beach her. Shortly afterwards the engineer came up and said he could not keep her clear of water. The mate asked the witness what he intended to do. He ordered the mate to get a few shots of chain out aft and make a drag and then she might steer better, but he replied that he could not get the men to do anything, that they were demoralized, as some of them had been seriously injured by the pork barrels rolling about. He said the tarpaulin had been torn off the forward hatchway and witness told the mate to nail it down. The engine was still working. The engineer then came up and said the water was putting the fires out. She might have had a slight list. They were seven hours and a half making sixteen or seventeen miles.

Capt. Harbottle - "When you threw out some of that pork would it have broken the stowage?"

The captain said it loosened, and some of the barrels rolled through the bulwarks, at least he was told so. He ordered the mate to clear the boats and get them in readiness. After throwing the pork overboard the inside gangway was shipped, but the outside one was not. He couldn't say whether there were any lights burning on the main deck. A short time after that the engineer came up and told him the engines had stopped. This would be about twelve o'clock. Witness told him to get the passengers together and put life-preservers on them. The steamer was then inside St. Helena Island about a mile from land and in smooth water. He noticed that the engineer had a life-preserver on, and so had the purser. He asked the engineer to get out two more, one for himself and one for the man at the wheel. He did so. Witness gave the wheelsman his and told him to lash the wheel and leave it. Witness went down on the promenade deck and the mate came forward. Witness told him to get the boat on the starboard or lee side ready for the passengers. There was one boat on the starboard side and three boats on the port side. But there was such a heavy list on the steamer to starboard that it was impossible to launch the port boats. He cleared the boats and got into it. The steamer began to keep surging ahead, working in towards the mainland which was about half a mile off. Witness went into the cabin to tell the passengers that he expected to be on the ground shortly, that the boat was ready and that he did not expect any danger in life. As he passed the first engineer called out to him and followed him out on the forward deck.

He had not been out there a moment when the steamer lurched to starboard and he saw the water coming up aft on the promenade deck. He called out to the purser and engineer to get on to the promenade deck and went to the side to see if the lifeboat had been launched. He did not see it and got on to the hurricane deck. The first thing he saw was the lifeboat the length of the steamer astern between the propeller and the island. There were three men in it. He saw that the roof of the cabin was fast breaking up, and he took hold of the pilot-house steps when they started to give way. He was in danger of getting foul of the rigging. He jumped into the water and took hold of a piece of wreckage like a partition. It broke up and he crawled on to a part of the cabin. He then saw Engineer Ellis on another part of the cabin roof and beyond him one of the lifeboats. Ellis got into the boat and sang out to witness to come on. He made his way along the wreckage and when he got close to the boat Ellis hove him a line. They got the boat clear of the wreck and picked up Mrs. Connerton, a lady passenger. She was clinging to part of the wreckage. After they got her into the boat they heard someone call out and got down alongside the wreck and took on board the second engineer and cook. The engineer called out to see if there was any person else about, but got no reply, and then began to pull for the mainland. Witness saw what he supposed to be a vessel at anchor, behind the island, and we drifted down to her and was taken on board. It was the American steambarge Folsom. On board of her the captain said he had seen another boat passing some time before with several men in it. They called for assistance but were too far off to get any. Before witness left the Folsom he saw the ferry steamer Faxton taking a man off a piece of wreckage in the straits. The Faxton was crossing from Mackinaw city to Point St. Ignace.

James Howard Ellis, chief engineer, testified that they left Chicago on Saturday night and that all went well until Monday morning. He was then called forward to repair the bilge pumps, and while doing so the port anchor shutter was stove in. The mate and hands began throwing the pork overboard. Witness got the anchor shutter barred, and in a few moments the sea smashed it in again. He then told the captain and returned to the engine room. The engines were worked for about two hours alternately under full steam and checked. About 11 p.m. the second engineer reported two feet of water in the hold. Witness put on the pony pump and the bilge injector, but the water gained steadily and pretty soon the fires were extinguished. He followed the captain forward to ask what kind of a beach it was on shore when the steamer began to sink. He hurried back to tell the others she was sinking, but as he reached the cabin it began to break up. He swam to the roof of the cabin and saw a boat floating on some wreckage. He climbed into it and rescued the captain, Mrs. Connerton, Mr. Mills and Mrs. Blood.

Second Engineer Samuel A. Mills, sworn, said: On Monday about 4 a.m. the steamer began to roll about. The captain came down. He looked at the engine, said it was working splendidly, and remarked that Mr. Ellis was one of the best engineers on the lakes. He said the glass was way down and he believed there was going to be a storm. He left the engine room and went on deck. About ten o'clock Monday night witness first discovered the water coming back in the fire-hole. He put on the bilge injector and Mr. Ellis put on the syphon. Up to this time the engine had worked continuously, although there was about three feet of water in the fire-hole, and the centre fire, which was lower than the others, was out. The firemen took their boots off and kept feeding the furnaces as long as they could. Mr. Ellis said the captain was heading her for the beach. The water crept up. In a short time the fires went out, but the engine continued to work for nearly twenty minutes. Life-preservers were all on our men and the passengers. They sat down in the cabin and waited for her to go on the beach. By this time the boat was full of water to the aft promenade deck, and it was coming up the cabin stairs. They were trying to get the women out when the vessel lurched. The next instant they were all in the water, and up against the roof of the cabin. Up to within half an hour of this time there had been very few on her, and I thought she was steadying. He found himself right in a corner mady by the roof and one side of the cabin, where the water didn't come quite to the top, and he could keep his head above. He found Mrs. Blood, the cook, beside him. The smokestack had been carried away and they climbed out of the hole and got on the edge of the hurricane deck. While yet under the roof, in going towards the smokestack hole, he came in contact with a body. It was that of little Arthur Hazzard. He was dead. Mrs. Blood and he got up on a piece of the hurricane deck. He saw a boat with two men in it apparently some distance off. The wreckage was all around. He called and he and Mrs. Blood were saved.

At the resumed enquiry on Saturday Captain Harbottle asked Capt. Trowell if the vacant space in the hold was sufficiently large to contain the pork that was placed on deck.

Captain Trowell - "I'm not sure. I hardly think so. I never tried to stow pork on top of a cargo of corn. The leakage of brine from the barrels would damage some of the corn."

Witness was then asked how it was the California made water so fast. He replied that it was by the broken anchor shutter on the port bow and through the timbers straining in the heavy sea.

Mr. Meneilly - "What in your opinion caused the steamer to founder?"

"The straining of the hull, which made her leak badly; the breaking of the anchor shutter allowing the water to leak through the forecastle hatch and the main hatch, and the refusing of her to obey her helm."

Captain Harbottle wanted to know why the captain did not order the engines to be reversed and work her to windward, as when a ship will not obey her helm she will always back up against the wind. This, Captain Harbottle considered, would have kept her out of the trough of the sea. But it did not occur to Capt. Trowell.

The enquiry has been adjourned indefinitely.



The schrs. Sylvester Neelon, ore, for Cleveland; O. Mowat, lumber, for Oswego; Kate Kelly, light, for the canal, are windbound.

Arrivals - schr. B.W. Folger, Oswego, 75 bush. waterlime; prop. Lake Ontario, Ogdensburg, light; schr. British Queen, Oswego, 189 tons coal; schr. Singapore, Oswego, 365 tons coal; schr. Philo Bennett, Oswego, 170 tons coal.

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Oct. 17, 1887
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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), Oct. 17, 1887