The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily News (Kingston, ON), Sept. 17, 1860

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p.1 Loss of The Lady Elgin

We give below the narrative of one of the passengers on this unfortunate vessel.

The Chicago papers furnish voluminous details from other sources. From these it appears that the Captain did all that was possible to save those in his charge; the upper cabins were cut away, and converted into rafts, on which hundreds floated to the shore to be drowned in the surf. The Captain himself on a large raft with about fifty passengers perished in this manner.

Mr. H. Ingram and his son are now both reported lost.

The Lady Elgin was well found with life-preservers, but in the violence of the storm, and the fury of the breakers on the shore, rendered these of little value. The greater part of the lost perished within a hundred yards of land.

Statement of Lieut. Hartsuff

Mr. Hartsuff is a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and is stationed at Fort Mackinaw.

I was on board the steamer Lady Elgin, when she collided with the schooner Augusta, asleep in my berth. I immediately jumped from my berth, and saw the schooner floating away. Did not think any serious damage had been done at first, but soon discovered that the steamer was settling. I immediately left my berth, which was in the after cabin, and ran toward the pilot house, when I found Capt. Wilson on the hurricane deck. I asked him if he thought there was any danger, and he replied that he thought she would float. He told me where there were life preservers on the hurricane deck, and I went and passed them down to the passengers in the cabin till they were about exhausted, when I took one myself and waited on the hurricane deck. While there quite a number came on deck, only a few of whom were females, but how many came up I could not say, as it was very dark. From a quarter to half an hour after she was struck she broke up, the hurricane deck floating off, and the hull going to the bottom, with a tremendous noise. As she broke I jumped with my life preserver - a board six or eight feet long, and about one wide - into the water, which was at this time only a few feet below us, and pulled with all my might to escape from the mass of the wreck. After the confusion had somewhat subsided, I heard the voice of Capt. Wilson cheering and encouraging the people on the wreck, telling them that the shore was but a few miles off, and that if they kept calm and obeyed his directions they might all be saved. I heard him in this manner for perhaps ten minutes, and then I had separated so far from the hurricane deck, on which the Captain and a large number were, that I heard no more. All around me were numbers of persons floating on pieces of the wreck, until it became daylight. When it became so light that I could see some distance, I discovered a large mass of the wreck a little distance to the windward of us covered with people. I then got ou quite a large piece of wreck which was floating near me, and which contained no other person, and no person got on it after I did. The large mass to the windward of which I have just spoken, now began to separate. I then left the piece I was on and got on a large piece of the hurricane deck, on which there were four other persons - don't know who they were. On this fragment I remained until we reached within about a quarter of a mile of the shore, when our raft broke up, and two of the four on it with me were washed off and drowned. A moment after the remainder of our little party were washed off by a heavy sea, and one of them drowned. My remaining companion contrived to regain the raft, and I again took a life preserver which I found afloat, and on this I floated to the shore just below the boats. From the time I was swept from the raft until I reached the shore, I was several times buried deep under the waves. When close in to the shore, I was thrown from my life preserver and went to the bottom, and although the water was not more than three or four feet deep, I was so exhausted as to be unable to rise, and crawled for some distance under the water until I reached dry land.

Early in the morning I discovered a fragment of the wreck a short distance from me on which was a woman and three men. She was so much exhausted that she seemed unable to keep herself from dropping to sleep, although the exertions of the men were continually in use to prevent it. She was finally drowned while remaining on the wreck, being unable to keep her head from the water. Her body remained on the fragment of the wreck as long as it was in sight. I saw many pieces of the wreck containing from two to four persons capsized, almost invariably drowning all that were on them. To avoid the capsizing of our frail bark, I instructed the men with me so to sit on as to keep the edges under water. This prevented us from capsizing, and at the same time enabled us to float faster, we having in this way passed many of the other rafts. I saw one woman alone floating on a dining table, and a short time after I discovered her, the table capsized and she disappeared under the water for several seconds, but finally reappeared on the surface clinging to the table, and eventually, by great exertions, she regained her seat on the table. When I last saw her she was near the shore, and as I heard of a woman being saved shortly after I was taken to a house near by, I presume she must have been the one. By my instructions, our party most of the time turned our faces from the shore, and thus faced the waves, and in this way were enabled to watch the breakers as they came towards us and be prepared for them. In this way we were several times saved from being washed off, while almost all those near us were carried from their frail barks and perished. Under one piece of the wreck which was floating near us were four dead cattle fastened to it. On this were two or three persons. The buoyancy of the dead bodies of the cattle kept this piece of the wreck almost entirely out of the water, and when last seen, this peculiar life-boat was very near the shore, and the persons on it were doubtless saved.

When I passed through the cabin on my way to the pilot-house, immediately after the collision, there was much confusion there. Many of the passengers, owing to the scarcity of berths, was asleep on the floor, and when the collision took place the vessel listed so much that all rolled to the other side of the cabin. This caused much confusion, and when persons from above commenced passing down life preservers, and those below commenced pulling down the doors and other floating material, the anxiety to obtain these preservers was great indeed. About daylight I saw one boat badly stove, bottom up, six or seven men clinging to it. Whether or not they were saved I cannot say.

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Sept. 17, 1860
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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), Sept. 17, 1860