The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily News (Kingston, ON), Nov. 10, 1873

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Captain Howard, General Superintendent of the Canadian Inland Navigation Company, returned from Whitby last night where he made a thorough examination of the hull of the steamer Bavarian. The result of his examination, taken in conjunction with the statements of some of those who were on board of the ill-fated vessel, leads to the conclusion that the burning of the steamer was due to the breaking of the walking-beam. To understand how a mishap of this nature could lead to the dire calamity which followed, it is necessary to make a few explanations as to the positions of the machinery, and a portion of the cargo. The Bavarian was a side-wheel steamer, with a walking-beam above the hurricane deck, and the beam was reversed so that the connecting rod worked in front and the piston behind. On the main deck were stored twenty-five barrels of spirits. The accident occurred in this manner:- From some unexplained cause the main centre of the walking-beam broke, was thrown forward and carried with it a portion of the connecting rod. This heavy mass of iron was precipitated through the saloon to the main deck and fell among the barrels of spirits. The barrels were broken open, their contents ran down into the boiler room in the hold, communicated with the furnaces and immediately the vessel was enveloped in the blue flames of the burning liquid. By the breaking of the walking-beam the piston head was driven through the cylinder and the steam was thus allowed to escape.

Captain Howard speaks in the highest terms of the mate's conduct, Mr. Henderson, of Charlotte. He did everything in his power for the rescue of the passengers and crew, but the great rapidity with which the flames spread prevented him or any one else remaining on the boat. It was under his orders that the first boat was launched, and Captain Howard states that all the passengers would, in all probability, have been saved had it not been for the inhuman conduct of the pilot who was placed in charge of this boat. The mate ordered nine men into the boat under the pilot, and told them to stand by while he endeavoured to fill her with the full complement, namely, twenty-five. Instead of standing by, however, the pilot ordered the men to pull off, and this he did in the face of the mate, who appealed to him, as strongly as he knew how, to remain. The company have determined to give the pilot the full benefit of the law, and proceedings have already been instituted with that object in view.

Statement of a Passenger

We have received from Jonas J. Parmenter, of this place, who was on board at the time of the disaster (sic). He says: "We left Toronto on Wednesday at five o'clock, and proceeded without anything unusual occurring, till eight o'clock, when opposite Whitby, and about twelve miles from land. At this time I was standing with the Purser in the saloon, near the stairway. The first intimation I had of anything wrong was a sudden jarring, crunching, smashing noise; this was followed by an interval of a second or more, when the same noise, but much louder, was heard. This occurred three or four times. I said to the Purser "My God! what is the matter?" He replied, "The boat is blowing up, we are lost." I then ran to my state-room, which was nearby, and secured a life-preserver. When I came out of the state-room the saloon, near the engine, was a mass of flame, and steam was also escaping. I made my way aft, and passed out of the door to the outside deck. Here I found some men lowering a life-boat. The boat had been got into the water before I reached it. It was a boat capable of carrying twenty persons, and had in it then eight; it was in charge of the river pilot, who had been ordered to hold on to pick up all he could. I let myself down by the fender line, and called to the pilot to take me in. He was not two yards from me, but did not come back. On the contrary he pulled for the shore, leaving us to save ourselves as best we might. This boat afterwards picked up another man out of the water - making nine in all, and having room for twenty. While I was hanging by the rope the second boat, in charge of the mate, came near me, and I sprang in. There were in this boat eleven persons, I made the twelfth, and we afterwards picked up another. We then pulled for shore, and after five hours of labour and anxiety, we reached Oshawa, where we learned the next morning the first boat had also landed about a mile above. The captain, engineer, steward, Mrs. Sibbald and daughter, of Brockville, Miss Ireland, of Kingston, and thirteen others were lost, twenty-two were saved. I was the last person who escaped from the burning boat. The boat in which I was saved was made of zinc, and so intense was the heat, that parts of the zinc were melted before the boat could be launched. It was thrown into the water, and partly filled; the plugs had also been removed, so that it was with the greatest difficulty we kept her afloat. When I got in, the gunwale was not more than two inches out of water. We had to bail with our hats. The mate made a plug with the skirt of his coat, and by this means stopped the water from coming in. While we were thus engaged, I saw Captain Carmichael in the water, with a life-preserver on, and he also had hold of a bucket rack. He begged to be taken up, but it was impossible to aid him, as the slightest motion was liable to swamp our boat. The lady passengers evidently perished by fire. I have no idea how the fire originated, but some of the officers think the rod broke loose from the crank and smashed in the deck. Fifty barrels of spirits were stowed near the engine, and it is thought the rod knocked some of them through the deck to the fire below. But it is difficult to form an opinion, as in less than two minutes from the time of the first alarm, the whole boat was in flames. A small boat, that was lying inside the life-boat, was thrown overboard but it floated off. We reached Port Oshawa about 1 o'clock, and we were kindly cared for by the people there. Mr. and Mrs. J. O Guy and Mr. and Mrs. Smith were particularly attentive, furnishing articles of clothing, getting refreshments, and doing everything they could to make us comfortable. On Thursday morning we rowed out to intercept the Corsican, by which boat we were picked up, and brought down the lake."

[Gananoque Reporter]

Marine News

The elevators are all silent this morning, and the prospect of an early close is getting more apparent. Only one arrival is reported with grain, and that a comparatively small quantity. Freights are scarcely to be had, and the captains of vessels are hurrying into port to lay up.

Jones and Miller's wharf - Schr. Hannah Butler arrived from Colborne with 7,300 bush wheat. The barge Beaufort leaves tonight with 19,000 bush wheat.

Montreal Transportation Company's wharf - The tug H.F. Bronson arrived with six barges.

James Swift and Co's wharf - The steamers York and Osprey, and propeller America passed down. The schooner Mary O'Gorman is unloading 150 tons coal from Oswego. The tug Wren coaled this morning.

Ashore - The propeller California is ashore near Cooper's Dock, South Bay. We have not heard any particulars of the disaster so far.

The cargo of the Delos de Wolfe has been nearly discharged, and the steam pump is still on board. She will be hauled out for repairs soon.

Port Colborne, Nov. 8th - Down - Schr. Penokee, Welland, Ogdensburg, wheat; schrs. S.J. Luff, Milwaukee, Oswego, wheat; Blazing Star, do., do., do.; F.J. King, Chicago, do., oats; Magellan, do., Thorold, corn; Garibaldi, Erie, Toronto, coal; O. Mowat, Chicago, Prescott, corn; prop City of Toledo, Milwaukee, Ogdensburg, gen. cargo; schrs. Falconer, Cleveland, Toronto, stone; Emerald, Chicago, Kingston, wheat; H. Fitzhugh, do., Oswego, corn.

Up - Prop Maine, City of New York, schrs. Olive Branch, Houghton, Monticello, Nett, Woodward, Lyman Casey, Dundee, Clayton, Belle.

At Elevator - schrs. Graham, Jane McLeod, Howland, Montpelier, Montcalm.

In Harbour - schr. Fellow Craft.

Wind, south-west fresh; up vessels wind bound.

p.2 Accident - to purser George Newlands, jr. of str. Norseman, while hunting.


Montreal, Nov. 8th, noon. This morning the steamer Corsican brought down several of the survivors of the Bavarian disaster from Oshawa. Charles Bradley, the second mate, thus described the scene of the horror: "I was off watch and was sitting in the engine room. The engineer had looked at the steam, and was just gone out to shift the watches, when I heard a loud crack down below. It was followed by a crash. Fire burst out about the cylinders, accompanied by another loud noise. I ran out on to the guards and up the ladder aft to the hurricane roof. The flames were then bursting up all over. I never saw such a terrible sight before; it was the work of a minute. The deck hands did not come up, and I and the mate had to throw a boat overboard. It was on fire. It plunged under water and came up full. I jumped in, and twelve others followed me. We baled the water out with our hats. A boy got hold of the gunwale. And we pulled him in. We thought we would sink. I heard the Captain, who was floating on a bucket-rack, shout to me, "Charley, Charley." What could we do? We couldn't row, as the boat was full of water. That was all we heard of the Captain. The fire ran so quick that we were unable to look after anything. The roar of the steam and flames was deafening."

Another account is that of the chief waiter. He said - "I was in bed when I heard three cracks. I was frightened, and getting up took my clothes and ran out into the saloon. As I left it the partition dividing it from the engine fell down in flames. I jumped into the water and grabbed the boat's side. The three lady passengers were on the bow with their hands clasped together; there was no screaming."

From Collingwood, Nov. 10th - The steamer Cumberland arrived from Thunder Bay and intermediate ports at 7 o'clock this morning. She experienced rough weather during the trip, and passed through several storms on Lake Superior. She had a cargo consisting of fifty passengers, five hundred packages of fish, ten horses and three waggons. She leaves on the arrival tomorrow of the noon train for Sault Ste. Marie and intermediate ports. This will be the last boat of the season.

From Milford, Nov. 10th - The prop. California is ashore on Point Traverse. She is light. Not much damaged.

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Nov. 10, 1873
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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), Nov. 10, 1873