The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Nov. 29, 1842

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Lake Ontario Navigation

We find the following under the Commercial head of the N. Y. Ev. Post, of the 21st. It appeared about the same time in some of the other principal city journals.

Correspondence of Pomeroy & Co.

Buffalo, Nov. 18, 1 P. M. - A year ago today, a desolating gale of wind and snow swept along the Lakes region, causing immense loss in life and property. One hundred persons were drowned, and some 25 vessels were driven on shore at various places between this port and Chicago. On Lake Ontario, too, the loss of life was frightful, with a corresponding amount in vessels and property. All operations on the inland waters ceased for the season.

We should not trouble ourselves to notice the above were the statement limited to western papers. But when eastern journals of so much respectability as the Evening Post and others , are made use of to disseminate these Buffalo fabrications, it is scarcely proper to be silent.

We well remember the tremendous gales referred to - the most violent we ever witnessed. We also remember the fact of our two schooners having made our harbor in most beautiful style in the height of the gale, and having come with ease and safety to their moorings.

A Canadian schooner, in the early part of the gale, and before it had attained unusual force, from mere unskillfulness and mismanagement of those on board, was thrown ashore within the piers of the east bank. She was put into comfortable lodging there, and remained the winter. - Another Canadian schooner was totally wrecked in the western part of the lake, and is reported with some loss of life. These two casualties comprise the full extent of "the frightful loss of life on Lake Ontario, with a corresponding amount in vessels and property. "

That there was a frightful loss of life and property on the upper lakes is too well known. Why there was no corresponding loss on Lake Ontario, and why there never is, although we certainly sometimes have tremendous weather, is worthy of some remark, and this is a fitting occasion for it. The tonnage navigating Lake Ontario is about equal to that on Lake Erie.

It is claimed to be greater, but we have our doubts of it. But assuming that as many lives and as many vessels are exposed to the elements on Lake Ontario as on Lake Erie, there is a most extraordinary disparity in the losses suffered by the navigation of the two lakes. A serious loss on Lake Ontario is a rare occurrence. On Lake Erie it is an every day affair. We believe several causes may be assigned for this disparity. First, the gales on Lake Ontario, though sometimes of extreme violence, do not equal those on Lake Erie. The worst and most violent of the lake gales are the south-westers. A glance at the geographical position of the basin of Lake Erie will satisfy anyone of the cause of it. If Lake Ontario lay at the same elevation as Lake Erie, it would experience the hardest force of these gales. But being about 400 feet lower, the currents of air are interrupted by the ridge of land lying between the two lakes, are somewhat broken and a good deal moderated, in their passage over Lake Ontario. A south-west or westerly gale is therefore not the ungovernable agent it is on Lake Erie. On the latter lake, there is nothing to moderate its force, and it rides in the spirit of the hurricane.

So also the north-westerly currents, in their progress towards Lake Ontario, from Lakes Superior and Huron are greatly interrupted and broken by the broad and elevated region of the West Canada Peninsula. Secondly, Lake Erie is the most shallow of the Great Lakes, and the sea is far more dangerous than that of the deep lakes. It is the short, quick, deep swell of shoal waters, and exceedingly trying to craft of all descriptions. The average depth of Lake Erie is stated at 50 feet - that of Lake Ontario at 600. But the true average of the latter lake is probably 1,000. Why Lake Ontario, in the late geographies and gazetteers, is rated at a less depth than the lakes above the St. Clair, we do not understand. It is known in its central parts to be of such depth, that a line of 500 fathoms did not reach bottom. In long continued bad weather on Lake Ontario, the sea, is said by the eminent geographer, Murray, to be like that of the Atlantic.

The same writer remarks that "Lake Erie is a grander expanse than Ontario, but the navigation is by no means so commodious. It is shallow, not average a depth of more than 15 or 18 fathoms, and at the same time liable to violent storms. Long sunken reefs and precipitous rocky banks occasion dangers greatly increased by thick mists, which often hide from the mariner all view from his course. Scarcely a summer passes in which some vessels are not lost. "

Thirdly, it is claimed, by those concerned in the navigation of Lake Ontario, that they have better vessels and that they are better found and manned than the Lake Erie vessels. This is an invidious subject upon which we have no disposition to remark. In truth, we know little of the upper lake tonnage, and while we think the shipping interest on Lake Ontario is entitled to claim great merit on account of the construction, fitting and manning of their vessels, we are not disposed to say any thing in disparagement of the tonnage on Lake Erie. We know, at least, that there are upon that lake, some of the finest steam vessels in the Union.

We hope those papers which have published Mr. Pomeroy's correspondence will not find what we have said too long for them, to republish. We are told that insurance cannot be had in New York on better terms for a Lake Ontario risk, than for one on Lake Erie - and we believe the regular and systematic fabrications which come forth from the west every spring and every fall are the cause of it. For a number of years these fabricated disasters have come under our notice, and their falsehood has been repeatedly shown. The old fable of the shepherd's boy seems not to have its usual application when Buffalo gives the alarm of "wolves. "

For the last seven years, at least, every spring, something frightful has been published about the Lake Ontario route - the Oswego canal, or the Welland canal - and the most responsible papers in the city repeat the cry, apparently without suspicion of a hoax.

[Note: It doesn't sound like the North Western Insurance Co. had a good year in 1844!]

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Nov. 29, 1842
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Richard Palmer
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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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Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Nov. 29, 1842