The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily Journal (St. Catharines, ON), Thursday, Oct. 8, 1868

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The Perseverance Disaster

From the statements published below, there seems no reasonable hope that Captain Fitzgibbons and those of the crew who are reported as missing will turn up safe. Everything that humanity could suggest to save life was adopted by Captain McGrath, of the Enterprise. He remained by the burning wreck until there was no probability of picking up any one in the water, and only then did he leave the spot . - There is no ground to attach blame.

The disaster resulted from accident. The vessel burned up like a piece of tinder, and almost before any of the ill-fated crew had time to realize the awful position in which they found themselves at the dead hour of night.

They had to choose the alternate of casting themselves into a raging sea, rather than suffer the more dreadful death of being burned alive. We can only mourn at the sad fate which has befallen the unfortunates.

Statement of William Thorp, One Of The Survivors.

Was second mate of the Perseverance. Was asleep when the fire was first discovered. The fire was seen about 2 o'clock. I came off watch at 1 o'clock and went to bed. Maurice Fitzgibbons alarmed all the crew, including myself; I ran aft immediately to lower the large boats; while engaged in so doing, the flames rushed out in great volumes from around the smoke-stacks and I had to leave; the engineer, Alexander McArthur, was aft with his hands in his pockets; I said - "this is no place for us," and ran forward, through the flames, burning my hand and face; McArthur made no effort to come forward; or otherwise to save himself; as I came forward Cap't FitzGibbons shouted to :"lower the life boat," and I rushed for the upper deck and got the boat ready to launch, and the first mate, Maurice FitzGibbons, dropped in; I followed; the life boat was full of water, having ran aft after throwing her over, and shipped a sea, turned broadside as she was being hauled up. The wheelsman (Peter Legho) followed me into the boat; then came H'y Scott, the fireman. The latter, seeing the boat full of water, and evidently no knowing that she could not sink, made at once for the steamer again.

He got his hand on the side to haul himself up, but in some way missed his hold, and sank to rise no more.

Pat Lynch then got into the boat, and he was followed by a deck hand, whose name I do not remember. This made five in all in the boat. Captain Fitzgibbons hung on to our line as long as possible, I think, but could not haul boat up on account of the very high sea. I think the line attached to the barge was cut shortly after the fire broke out by some one on the steamer. After getting into the boat the barge was about fifty rods to the side of us. We had no oars in the boat, they having been taken out by the wheelsman and laid on deck before throwing her over. In the hurry the oars were forgotten. I saw the captain getting over the bow by a line, with a float on his shoulder. At this time the flames were coming out of the pilot house.

It was impossible to live any longer in the boat when the captain left. The captain blew his whistle twice, but for what reason I do not know. I think Mason, the second engineer, was burned, as he was not seen on deck either fore or aft; believe he was attaching the hose to the donkey engine, as the donkey engine was heard working; he evidently, in my opinion, perished at this work; I fully believe all parties got off into the water but Mason; it was about half an hour after we got into the boat when the captain left the burning vessel; she kept burning until six o'clock, when the Enterprise picked us up in a very exhausted condition; the Enterprise came along in about one hour and a half after the fire broke out; she did not pick us up until about six o'clock; owing to the darkness and the heavy sea the Enterprise could not succeed in picking up any of the floating survivors; those on board the Enterprise could occasionally hear the shouts of those in the water, and by the reflection of the burning vessel now and then see some of them; to one, James Patrick, I think, a heaving line was thrown, and he was drawn up about a foot from the water, when his grasp of the line relaxed and he fell in the water again and went down; he was evidently about dead when he caught the line;

at daylight, when we were taken on board, nothing could be seen of any of the others of the ill-fated vessel; the Enterprise remained until about half-past seven; I do not think any of those who jumped into the water

could have lived very long; the water was intensely cold; I do not think it possible that any one could survive long in the heavy sea; we were about used up when taken on board the Enterprise.

Letter From Capt. McGrath.

Port Dalhousie, Oct. 7.

To the Editor of the Journal:

Sir: - having seen a statement in the Times newspaper, in which my name is prominently brought forward as having deserted the ill-fated Perseverance, I cannot to justice to myself or for the sake of humanity allow such an assertion to go before the public without contradiction. The facts are these: I came up to the Perseverance about 4 o'clock a.m., a heavy sea rolling at the time, and never left the place until about quarter

past 8 a.m., and there was nothing in the shape of a human being to be seen. Before I left I asked young Fitzgibbons if there was any possibility of doing anything more, and he replied thee was not, as all were gone! The second mate of the Perseverance and all hands on board my boat will testify to the above.

Yours truly,

P. McGrath,

Capt. of steamer Enterprise

P.S. - I would also mention that the schooner Live Yankee came up ere I left the scene of the disaster and united with me in the unavailing search, describing a wide circle round the wreck.

The Fire As Seen From the Enterprise

The propeller Enterprise was fifteen miles behind the Perseverance, and saw what the captain at first supposed was a vessel light. He soon afterwards became satisfied that it was some craft burning, and crowded all steam to the rescue. He was over an hour reaching the scene of the disaster, and though there were a number of persons still floating about on planks and other supports, they were so much exhausted that they could not take a line, and the sea was running so high that a boat could not be launched.

Heartrendering Scene

As the Enterprise came up she ran into some of the crew in the water. The cries for help were heart rendering, and Capt. McGrath and all on board were deeply affected. One poor fellow who seemed stronger than the rest was on a plank, and just as he called on Capt. McGrath to save him, a sea took the plank and drove it against the propeller, and its human load was seen no more. The Enterprise saw 7 men drown at this point. With great difficulty those in the yawl were got on board.

Not Sent Out.

When Enterprise reached Port last evening, Messrs.. Norris & Neelon were waiting to hear the report of her captain. From his statement it was decided useless to send out a tug as all had undoubtedly perished long before the Enterprise had left the scene of the disaster.

Search For The Bodies

Mr. McGrath, manager of the Welland R.R., gave orders last evening to the captain of the Enterprise on his return trip to Oswego to send a boat's crew ashore near the scene of the disaster, if the weather permitted, with orders either to remain along the shore or make arrangements with some parties living in the vicinity to keep a sharp lookout for the bodies of any of the unfortunates which may be washed ashore. Vessels are also requested to be on the lookout for the remains.

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Thursday, Oct. 8, 1868
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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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Daily Journal (St. Catharines, ON), Thursday, Oct. 8, 1868