The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily News (Kingston, ON), Aug. 14, 1856

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p.2 Burning of the Tinto


The readers of the News will remember that on the night of Thursday, the 17th day of July, the propeller Tinto was destroyed by fire near to the light-house at Nine Mile Point, and that on this occasion upwards of twenty persons lost their lives. The subject is recurred to, inasmuch as the bodies of two females, evidently victims by the burning of the ill-fated steamer, having been picked up in the River St. Lawrence by the "look-out party" belonging to the garrison, and brought to the city, has led to an official enquiry into the cause of the said burning.

An adjourned meeting of the Coroner and Jury was held (Monday the 11th) in the Court House, when the mate of the Tinto, the only witness present, was fully and thoroughly examined. The Coroner (Dr. Barker) stated that he was disposed to go fully into the merits of the case, and he requested the witness to be particular, to be positive, and to take his own time, in giving his evidence. Moreover, before he would ask him to sign the book on which his evidence was to be taken down, he, the Coroner, would read the evidence over again, and an opportunity would thus be afforded for amending or altering it.

The Jury, with Douglas Prentiss, Esq., as foreman, could not have been better selected. On it were to be seen steamboat owners, steamboat captains, wharfingers, etc.; in fact every member of it was more or less acquainted with the ways and means of steamboats, and therefore it is not a common-place expression to say, the Jury was a highly respectable and intelligent one.

We understand that prior to this occasion, the evidence of two soldiers with respect to the finding of the bodies in question, and of the mate of the Tinto identifying those bodies, was given; the latter deposing that the said bodies were those of the cook of the Tinto, and of a Miss Benton, daughter of a passenger, and that her age was from twelve to fourteen years.

(Our reporter is accountable for what follows.)

Mr. Robert Delaney, mate of the propeller Tinto, on his examination, said: -

I was mate and river pilot of the Tinto. We left Montreal on the evening of Monday, July 14th. The crew amounted in all to twenty-two persons. There were on board ten passengers, and we received one additional at Prescott. Four of these were women, three were children, and the rest men. The cargo consisted of oil, codfish, iron, nails, tea, one fire-engine, two horses and a carriage, and one small barrel of gunpowder, in all twenty-five to thirty tons. We took in wood at Fiddler's Elbow; on receiving which we had about sixty cords on board. This was piled part on deck and part in the hold, convenient to the boilers.

Question by the Coroner - In your opinion do you consider that a proper place to stow wood?

Witness - Yes. It is so stowed in all the steamers. Passed Kingston harbor about 9 p.m. on Thursday, 17th July. Whilst steaming past Garden Island, went to bed and slept until awoke by the screams of women and children on board. On coming on deck saw the vessel on fire. Looked out and saw the light-house at Nine-mile Point, distant about five miles ahead. The casing round the funnel was on fire, through the kitchen, aft the funnel. Looked into the pilot-house. The steersmen had done their best. The smoke and flame now enveloped them. It was impossible for them longer to remain, so they had to relinguish their post. The fire was extending forward from the funnel to the pilothouse. Saw the Captain, who stood forward on the deck. He looked confused. Did not speak to him. Had no conversation with him then or since. Did not hear him give any orders.

To a Juror - He might have given orders without my knowledge of the fact.

Examination resumed - Saw the Engineer, who told me to hoist out the boat for the women and children. Got two deck hands and complied with the order. We had but one boat, an eighteen-foot yawl, which could carry about fourteen persons. It was blowing fresh at the time. The boat was swung on the tackles at the stern. Put the women and children into it. Told the men in charge to hang on to the tackles as long as possible. During this time some people jumped overboard; seeing which I threw overboard all the pieces of wood which I could find, and elevated the hatches; but to no purpose, for the flames burst up. The men at the tackle being afraid, said they could hold on no longer; so they lowered away the boat. The steamer having been brought about, was under full headway for Kingston - the breeze light from the Southwest. When the boat was lowered to the water, saw the women and children in it. The painter was held on board by a man named Ward. Three or four of the firemen slid down the tackle into the boat. A little sea running at the time. When the boat touched the water, the tackle not having been unhooked, the steamer continued to drag the boat along, the flames burnt the tackle, and finally the boat capsized. Of those who remained on board, some clung to the fenders for a while. I saved myself on a piece of board which I picked up on deck. I leaped overboard, having nothing on but my shirt. All that I have stated occurred in the space of six minutes, and about 10 o'clock p.m. The Engineer was in charge of the vessel at the time of the fire. Asked him could he stop the engine? He said No. After jumping overboard, I was on the plank in the water for two hours, and was picked up by the boat of one of the schooners and landed in Kingston. Believes the fire originated in a spark which fell between the funnel and the boiler. The wood was piled near to the boiler, and on the main deck. The powder was kept forward in the bows of the propeller. Has no reason to think the Tinto more unsafe from fire than other steamers. On coming on deck first, met the Purser, who asked me could I get at the powder and throw it overboard? I said it was impossible. It is my opinion that the Captain and some of the crew might have made more exertions, and have remained longer on board. (The witness thought the last sentence rather strong; it was therefore qualified by the Coroner, but remained the same in substance. - Reporter) The Captain remained forward all the time. Most of the people were aft.

Here a discussion arose as to whether this fact was evidence that the Captain regarded the safety of the vessel, or the fate of the people committed to his charge.

Witness - The Captain, Engineer, and all of the crew which I saw were sober.

The language of this expression was objected to by one of the Jurors (Mr. M.L. Greene) as unfair to the parties named, inasmuch as an inference might be drawn that they were not so on other occasions. This was overruled by the other Jurors, as there was no insinuation that at any time any officer of the boat had been intoxicated.

Question - It has been stated that the Engineer had an interest in the Tinto. Now, did he use more authority on board than other engineers; did he give, and you take, orders from him as from the captain.? Answer - Yes; but these orders related to freight, and not to the sailing of the vessel. On one occasion I asked the Captain whether or not I should obey such orders? He said Yes; the Engineer being part owner, had a right to be obeyed. The Engineer kept the cash. The Tinto had her wheelhouse smashed in this season. She had one large and two small boats; two of which, including the large one, were left by me at Brown's wharf, Toronto, previous to last downward trip, by order of the Captain. These were capable of holding forty or fifty persons. As a seaman of at least ten years standing, I did not consider the Tinto to be seaworthy, having only one small boat and no life-preservers. Remonstrated with the Captain against the impropriety of leaving the two boats behind. He said he hoped there will be no use for them, and that the owners were having a large and strong one built to replace those left behind. We were to get the latter at Montreal, but did not.

Question - If the boats had been on board at the time of the fire, what would have been the result?

Answer - They would have held all the people. No lives need have been lost, as they would have given such confidence as to restrain the people from leaping overboard. The boats could have been swung, so that they could have been made use of at once. The witness here repeated the names of the saved, but we could not hear him distinctly. There was no accommodation for cabin passengers on the Tinto, and the engineer stated that the orders from the owners were to carry no passengers. Has no recollection of carrying passengers except on this trip, save on one occasion, from Quebec to Montreal.

The foregoing was the substance of the mate's evidence. The Coroner and Jury having agreed to an adjournment, it was decided upon to summon the purser, 2nd engineer, one of the firemen, Captain Armstrong, Inspector of Boilers, etc., and that the Inquest be resumed at 3 o'clock, p.m., on Monday, the 18th August, inst.

Imports - 9,11,12; Exports - 12.

Anti-Religious Disturbance - preaching by Kingston Bethel Society, Rev. Mr. Pomeroy, at Earl St. dock, protested.

A Desperate Assault - involving captain of str. Alert and captain of canal boat. [Ottawa Citizen]

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Aug. 14, 1856
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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 News (Kingston, ON), Aug. 14, 1856