The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily News (Kingston, ON), Nov. 27, 1873

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p.1 The Bavarian Disaster

The following is the evidence of John McGowan, given before Commissioner Risley, on Tuesday, at the British American Hotel:

John McGowan, examined, said: "I reside at Kingston; am an Irishman; have resided in Canada about twenty years. I was fireman on the steamer; am 55 years of age. I have been a long time in the steam-boating business - twenty years or more. I went on the Bavarian on the 2nd of October. At the time of the accident I was standing in the engine-room going out after lighting my pipe. It was about 8 o'clock. As I was going out of the engine-room I heard a crack which I thought was the bottom of the cylinder, I heard a crack again of the same kind, but a little stronger, and after the second crack there was a third crack and then she stopped. I did not hear any crash. I then made up my mind to go to the fire, but met the second engineer going to the engine-room; then I saw him running away from the engine-room, and I thought I would not go into the fire hole until I saw the first engineer and knew what he was going to do. The second engineer came back again shortly after and went away also. The captain came down along the waist and passed me by, and said "This is going to be a big fire" "Yes," I said, "Captain, this is going to be an awful fire." I was then standing in the main saloon, just outside the engine room. While the captain was going towards the saloon stairs, he said everyone was to get up above and get into the boats. I followed him, then going along to the stairs. I thought it would be the surest holt to be along with the captain. I then took another notion. I thought I would go outside and go along the iron ladder, going up above to the boats. As I was going up I met the watchman, the engineer's son. I met him at the main saloon. He said it would be better for me to go above and get into the boats, as they were all getting into the boats. I asked him if he had seen his father, or knew anything of where he was. He seemed very much "through other" (confused) about the fire, and answered, "I do not know where he is." I could not find him. I went up the ladder then outside. The first boat was launching from the upper quarter. I went into the boat off the quarter above. I could not say how many more got into it with me. I could not say the second engineer and wheelsman were in it. I got in among the first. The pilot and two other wheelsmen got in. The ladies' maid was taken in from the guard. The cook was taken out of the water after the boat started. I was a good deal excited, but had my wits about me. I have a distinct recollection of what occurred. I did not hear Mr. Parmenter or the purser call out to get into the boat. I saw a good many in the water shouting for relief. There was no relief given to them, except the cook. I felt anxious to save them. I heard a command by the pilot. There was water in the boat; it was up to my shoe mouth. The pilot said, "Bale out the boat with your hats and caps." I said, "Save the men in the water; it is a sin to leave them in the water." Some reply was made in French. I do not know what it was. When the boat touched the water I don't know who took off the forward tackle. I believe the steamer had no headway on when the boat first touched the water. The boat did not swing around by the headway of the steamer as the latter had stopped. When I called out to save the men in the water. Some one said if they would get hold of the boat they would turn her over. The pilot said, "way fore." I understood by that order he meant us to drive the boat ashore. We then started to row towards the shore, and made no stop until the shore was reached, as we started, we could see all over the steamer by the light of the fire. When the second mate called aloud, "Don't take away that boat; fetch back the boat, and take more people with you on the boat," the pilot could not but hear him. I heard him plain enough. No attention was paid to the order. I did not see the engineer after I met him, as he was coming out of the engine-room. I never saw the Captain afterwards. I did not see the ladies on the forward deck. The whole of the steamer was in view by the light of the fire. The steamer lay broadside. She did not veer towards the shore that I noticed. We kept off a little towards Whitby first and then turned. I saw two oars in the boat. The water was about up to our ankles when they got the plug in. From the time I heard the first crash until the boat started from the steamer, was about five minutes. I did not see the first mate or hear him to recognize him. After the captain left me on the saloon-deck, going from the main saloon stairs, I never saw him. The highest steam carried was 40 lbs. pressure. I was only on the boat a short time. When going on watch the engineer told me he did not want to carry much steam, as they were not in a great hurry. He said he wanted to carry from 35 to 38 lbs., and not to get up any more. I went into the engine-room, and saw there was 35 lbs. on the gauge. When the captain passed me he seemed much excited. He had not a life preserver on; he had an overcoat on. There was a number of people in the water before I got into the boat. I did not know who they were.

(The examination concluded in Kingston on Tuesday and was to open at Toronto yesterday. Mr. John Mudie was present at the sitting taking the evidence for Mr. Risley.)

Marine News

Port Colborne, Nov. 26th - Down - Schr. Samana, Chicago, Oswego, wheat; Wm. Sanderson, Sandusky, Toronto, coal; James Wade, Milwaukee, Ogdensburg, wheat; Madeira, Milwaukee, Oswego, wheat; Reindeer, Chicago, Ogdensburg, corn; barque Montmorency, Bay City, Clayton, timber; British Lion, Toledo, Kingston, timber; Prop. City of Toledo, Chicago, Ogdensburg, gen. cargo.

Ice in the canal pretty thick. The tug Jennie Griffin cut through it this morning, and sank near Welland. Vessels are passing. Some 15 to 20 vessels on this lake bound through the canal. The prop. City of Toledo, just arrived, reports several close by in tow of tugs.

p.2 The Bavarian - Mr. Risley, chairman of the Board of Steam Boat Inspectors, has been examining, in Kingston, several witnesses in connection with the disaster to the steamer Bavarian, and our readers have had an opportunity of reading the evidence for themselves, and will, therefore, be able to give an intelligent opinion upon it. That the catastrophe has caused a sensation and a wide spread feeling of alarm in the city and country, arising from the loss of life upon that occasion - a loss which, it is believed, might have been avoided had the pilot remained by the steamer with the boats - is a fact which cannot be doubted. Without sympathizing with the views of our Montreal correspondent in Tuesday's News, many of which are extreme and some of whose statements are in direct contradiction to the evidence, we believe, that in order to allay the fears of travellers as well as in the interests of the company itself, a full and free discussion should be had of the circumstances connected with the disaster, and this the published evidence enables to be done, as we have said intelligently. As to the storage of inflammable cargo, such as spirits, powder, etc., the purser, as well as Captain Howard, admit that there are no special instructions, and that it may be stored any place at all; and the fact of the spirits being so contiguous to the furnace of the Bavarian, and having caused the disaster to that boat, shows the practical working of the system. We should be glad to learn what the effect of the breaking of the walking beam would have been had the spirits not been there. Would there have been a fire all the same and to what extent? We think also there should be some specific rules laid down for the launching of the boats in case of accident, the breach of which should be visited on the offender with the severest penalties. It has been stated by employees of the company that officers are not promoted as they ought to be, and that the company are more anxious to save money than to procure efficient officers. This is a somewhat serious charge and we mentioned it to Captain Howard yesterday, who however indignantly denied it. He said, however, that the deck hands were not looked upon as sailors at all, they were merely employed to remove and transfer freight. That is all very well, but in such a case as the Bavarian disaster, is it not these very deck hands who by running off with the boats, may cause a very large loss of life? Now, surely it is not asking too much that these persons should be made amenable to some discipline, as well as those who are placed over them. As to our Montreal correspondent's letter we need scarcely remark at the outset that we are not responsible for the sentiments of our correspondents. We frequently insert communications, the sentiments of which are in direct opposition to our own. We may, therefore, say that there are many things in this letter with which we do not concur, and we inserted it chiefly to provoke discussion, inquiry and investigation, believing that truth is mighty and will prevail. A point is made in this letter of the fact that the Bavarian was merely the Kingston rebuilt, but little should be derived from that, if the evidence of Mr. Howden of Montreal is correct. He said that "none of the parts (of the Kingston) which had suffered by the fire were used in the Bavarian's engines except such as were thoroughly repaired." It also matters little that the Athenian is the old Bay State or the Abyssinian the old Ontario, if they are in good repair. Again, as to the refusal of the company to pay for baggage, we believe they consider that as they do not receive payment for the carriage of baggage, in case of loss they should not be called upon to pay for it, and this does not appear unreasonable. As to the Bavarian only making "six miles an hour on her first trip," we fancy our correspondent must be mistaken, as the writer was present when Mr. Howden (who appeared a very respectable man) testified that he had charge of the engine of the Bavarian on her trial trip; that she carried 45 lbs. of steam, and that 60 lbs. pressure could have been carried if necessary. This, we think, disposes of that statement. With regard to Mr. Risley, we must say that from what we saw of him we consider him a very competent gentleman, and apparently only desirous of ascertaining the truth. We do not exactly see what the Government of Ontario or the Upper Canada members of the present Government have to do with the matter. They may be, and we have no doubt are, very inconsistent, and perhaps immoral, but we fail to see what bearing that has on the Bavarian inquiry. Concerning the walking-beam we may add that both Mr. Howden and Mr. Taylor pronounced it a strong casting. Steam boat companies have rights as well as individuals, and it must not be forgotten that if we impose onerous and vexatious restrictions upon them, the public will not care to invest their money in them. On the other hand, travellers have a right to expect that every precaution shall be taken to provide against accidents, and that when they do happen the servants of the company will not be the first to run off with the means of safety.

The tug Hiram Calvin with Captain Donnelly have been doing good service lately to vessel owners in taking vessels off South Bay Point, no less than four having been taken off lately. They brought here the Enterprise, laden with barley for Oswego, which is now being discharged; they also took off the Ocean Wave, which is now lying at South Bay. All honour to the brave fellows.

Marine News

Port Colborne, Nov. 27th - The following vessels arrived last night and this morning: Schrs. Hammond, Brooklyn, P.M. Rogers, Adirondac, Rising Star, Trinidad, Blazing Star, Anglo-Saxon. The propeller City of Toledo passed down at eight o'clock last night, and the Milwaukee at seven o'clock this morning. They had not much difficulty in getting through the ice in the canal here.

Snowing last night and this morning.

Vessel captains express doubts of getting through, unless the weather changes.

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Nov. 27, 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. 27, 1873