The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), Nov. 5, 1887

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This has been an unfortunate fall upon the water, a fall pregnant with shipwreck and loss of life and despair and misery. One could the more easily become reconciled to the situation were he not pursuaded that into the storm vessels have been driven unprepared for a test of its severity.

In another column, taken from the Globe, we give an article the reading of which is calculated to make everyone think. It reveals a state of things of which the public knows absolutely nothing, and of the seriousness of which ordinary language is inadequately descriptive. Scores of floating coffins appear to be in service - boats unsafe in themselves and insufficiently equipped and manned - and it is certain that sooner or later they will be swallowed up in the turbulent sea. The depression in the marine business in recent years has added to the "dangers of the deep." Boats have been run lacking the necessary repairs; they have been out later than usual, and later than they ought to run considering their condition; and in the hiring of crews there is an economy practised which is decidedly unwise.

Risk is practically invited that would not be permitted if the government had inspectors always on duty and commissioned to tie up the craft that do not give an assurance of perfect safety. It is folly to appoint men to enquire into the cause of accidents which could be prevented by reasonable precautions. There should be not only inspectors of hulls and boilers but of everything about a boat, and it should be tied up if it is not in every respect fitted for the emergencies of a gale. It should be the duty of the officers to see that every craft is properly manned, that it has the requisite number of men, and that they are competent to act in any capacity that circumstances call for. Some months ago there was agitation in favour of the repeal or modification of the act in regard to captains and mates. Experience shows what a blunder this would be; it would encourage neglect and incapacity and put a premium upon the fatalities that have made the season of 1887 a lamentable one.

Of all the disasters of the year none was so great as that which befel the propeller Vernon, involving, as it did, the loss of over two score of lives. These unfortunate persons are the victims of misplaced confidence. They entrusted themselves to the care of a captain who seems to have been continually intoxicated and unfit to have to do with the course of any boat. Nor was this all. The so-called life preservers, with which the vessel was equipped, were filled with grass instead of cork. Those picked up off Sheboygan reef had evidently all been worn, as the belts remained tied, but were made of grass instead of cork, and had become so saturated that they were worse than useless to float a body, and had apparently been slipped off by the wearers when they found themselves being dragged down by their weight. The knot of one had been cut as though with a knife, and the captain of the life preserving corps, who took them in charge, thinks it probable that the wearer had done it when he found himself settling in the water. "This startling revelation," says a western paper, in criticising it, "will not bring back those who have gone down to death, but it must suggest the most searching inquiry into the equipment of similar vessels. When passengers go on board a lake craft and see a plentiful supply of life-preservers on board, they are apt to conclude that there is some chance for escape in the event of a catastrophe. What an imposition it is, then, to palm off as a life-preserver, an apparatus stuffed with straw that is calculated to sink the wearer rather than to aid them to keep afloat."

Is the U.S. government not blamable for such a deception? We think so. The inspectors should insist upon a more than seeming compliance with the law. Life-preservers should be tested and stamped as all genuine articles are. What a horrible feeling it is to depend for safety upon appliances which are a positive detriment instead of an aid! Who is responsible for this fraud? If among the living the vials of the country's wrath should be poured upon his head. His conduct is scandalous; nay, more, it is criminal.



The Serious Revelations Late Enquiries Have Led To.

Hamilton, Nov. 4th - When the barge Oriental was lost a few miles off Port Dalhousie, a despatch said: "The straining in the heavy sea opened her seams, causing her to fill and sink." This was only part of the story. Vessels go down and are forgotten by all but the widows and orphaned children. Only sailors know how many coffin ships are fitted out every spring that they will never see the close of the season. There is no law to regulate the quantity or quality of a crew even in a well found vessel. She may leave port with as many or as few men or boys as the owners choose. There is no inspection of a sailing craft except by the insurance companies for their own information. No matter in what condition the rigging or outfit of a vessel may be, no attention is paid to it. Life-saving apparatus is unknown on lake vessels. "I have seen only one schooner in my time that carried a life-buoy," said Mr. J.T. Carey, master of the St. Catharines seamen's assembly. "Every vessel has a yawl boat, but many of them are unfit to float in smooth water, let alone carry a crew in a sea." The seamen's district assembly speaks for 6,000 sailors. They are exposed to many hardships and dangers. But the risks of navigation are added to by the coffin ships, unseaworthy, over-loaded, undermanned vessels. Perhaps one-tenth of the sailing vessels on the lakes are like the Oriental. "A man does not need to ship in a vessel that he doesn't think seaworthy," says the careless reader. But a vessel that is seaworthy, with her proper cargo, is easily made unseaworthy by over-loading. Ask a captain about this. Suggest that if he should meet a "snorter" his vessel would not live through it. He knows the danger better than you, but he says, "What can I do? If rates are good the owner must make hay while the sun shines. I know its taking pretty hard chances, but I've got a wife and little ones at home, and I guess we can keep out of the way of the snorters." And when a gale strikes his overloaded ship she founders, and to the act of Providence is charged that for which man alone is responsible.

Such losses as that of the Oriental are preventible, and the way to prevent them is to prohibit such a craft from leaving port. The Oriental was a 21-year-old schooner, her topmasts taken out and used as a barge. She had so little canvas as to be unable to proceed under sail when cut loose from the steamer, even had her crew been competent, but her company consisted of only a captain and mate - presumably from their positions capable seamen - and two men who had never worked before. Only two men able to reef or steer in a three-masted vessel loaded with over 700 tons of coal. What could these unfortunates - compelled no doubt by the necessity of earning a living to ship in such a vessel - do but wait for the howling seas to swallow up their coffin ship, while the fiery eye of the Port Dalhousie light alone saw them go down? Other vessels on the lake are like her, and their end will be the same. The B 2 vessels of today are the coffin ships of next year,and the ranks are kept well filled. Some of the tows of steambarges trading on the lakes are not fit to cross Toronto Bay, but no law says they shall not carry men to their destruction. "Some of them are so rotten that I can pick pieces out of them with my fingers and they would go down in a summer squall that is over in half an hour," said Mr. Carey. "I have seen sailing vessels leave Port Dalhousie with holes in their sides patched up with pieces of canvas, and the Niagara, with a hold only thirteen feet deep, was loaded down until till she drew fourteen feet. As a rule vessel-owners are willing to pay reasonable wages and carry good men, but some prefer cheap, incapable crews and will take any chances with their vessels."



The props. Celtic and Canada have gone to Fairhaven to load coal for Toronto.

The prop. Ocean, from Toronto, passed down on her way to Montreal this morning.

The tug Thompson arrived from Oswego yesterday with three barges, laden with coal, and proceeded to Montreal.

The schr. Julia, which arrived on Monday from Oswego with coal, had a stormy voyage. She left yesterday for Consecon to load barley for Oswego.

The prop. Bruno, and consorts Laura and Maggie McRae, from Chicago, with grain, were expected today. They were at the Welland Canal last evening.

Loading: schrs. P. Bennett, lumber for Oswego; B.W. Folger, Two Brothers, Clara White, A. Foster, 26,300 bushels barley, for Oswego.

Arrivals: Lorraine, Brockville, 4,000 bush. rye; Armenia, Chicago, lightened.

Departure: schr. Proctor, Oswego, lumber.

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Nov. 5, 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.
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), Nov. 5, 1887