The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oswego Times and Express (Oswego, NY), Mon., Nov. 15, 1886

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The Belle Wilson Ashore
A Thrilling Experience In A Snow Storm On The Lake
Caught in a Snow Storm - Losing the Rudder - Attempting to Steer With a Drag - Heroic Efforts of the Captain and Crew - Driven Back Repeatedly When Close to Port and Finally Beached at Ford's Shoals

Early Sunday it was reported that the well known Picton steamer Belle Wilson had gone ashore at Ford's Shoalsabout four miles east of the city. This was corroborated by the appearance of Capt. James Collier, who had walked in from the scene of the wreck and gave the first account of the transaction. This morning a Times-Express representative went to the scene of the disaster.

He found the Wilson lying on a gravelly beach at Ford's shoals, head on to the beach and lying easily. She was at the west end of the shoal with about five feet of water amid ships and so near the shore that in quiet weather she could almost be boarded from the beach. The roads by which the scene of the disaster could be reached were execrable, especially in the city, where they should have been the best.

The Times-Express man got aboard by the aid of the breeches buoy which fitted him very closely, and his course from the shore was watched with much interest by the spectators on the shore and on the barge. Arriving on board Capt. James Collier and mate Andrew Bougie of Picton were found and readily gave information in regard to their thrilling voyage.

The Belle Wilson, loaded with barley at Napanee and Deseronto, carrying 11,800 bushels left Deseronto at 1 p.m. Friday with a crew of eight men, all of Picton, and Mrs. James Collier, as cook. The wind was northeast when they sailed, no snow, and clear weather. They ran to the eastward until under the lee of the Main Ducks. The wind had freshened and was blowing hard. At 6:30 p.m. the rudder post was carried away, below the ducks and the casing. The steamer was then between the Main Ducks and the Galloup's and the snow was coming in blinding clouds and it was freezing hard. The crew bent a foresail and tried to keep her away but shortly after the foresail blew out.

At this time it was blowing a perfect gale and nothing could be seen through the clouds of blinding snow. A jib was bent and they tried to keep her head off and the rudder being disabled, they rigged a drag with 600 feet of line and a log, and tried to make it serve as a rudder, the engine working all right. When they had arrived within four miles of Oswego as nearly as they can make out - for it was impossible to see anything - they tried to make the harbor but failed. They then got her head to the sea and ran up the lake about ten or twelve miles from this port when they came about again under the jib and made another effort to reach Oswego. At 3 p.m. on Saturday they saw the shore and something which they now think was the windmills on the boulevard.

The steamer was close in shore and they tried to work off but not succeeding in this, let go the big anchor at 5 o'clock and it held. They let out chain and worked the engine all the while and the steamer rode quite easily until 3 o'clock Sunday morning when the chain parted. Just before this happened they could see Oswego light plainly. When the chain went they started down the lake and again within three miles of port when the steamer swung around and in spite of all they could do started up the lake.

It is thought that at this time the line on the drag got entangled with the crew and rendered the drag useless. When near Ford's shoals they let go the anchor, but this also failed and she broached to and went on the shoal, which is a flat rock with about four feet of water. They got a boat under the lee of the steamer and got Mrs. Collier on board with the crew and everybody got safe to land.

What was their surprise as they started for the shore to see the steamer rise over the reef and come rolling in and they had scarcely landed when she was also on the beach and soon lay at ease, the water dashing over her.

We cannot close this account without saying a word for the actors in this adventure. Captain Collier was everywhere and did everything possible to save his vessel. Mate Bougie says he has sailed thirty-seven years and has never encountered such a sea or storm as that through which the Wilson passed. The men had nothing to eat from Friday night to the time she struck. Mr. Charles Goyette, the engineer, stood at his post for 18 hours without sleep or food and it is due to his heroic efforts as much as any man on board that the crew reached shore alive. The engine worked continually until just before the steamer went on the shoal.

The Belle Wilson has traded between the Bay and this port so long she is well known. She is owned by Capt. James Collier, James Gillespie , Walter Ross and Stewart Wilson of Picton, and is valued at $10,000. There is no insurance on the hull. The cargo is badly damaged and Captain Collier things it is valued at $10,000. There is no insurance on the hull. The cargo is badly damaged and Captain Collier thinks it is all wet as the bulwarks were stove in and for a time the sea made a clean breach over her.

Others who have looked at the wreck think that a portion of the barley will be found all right. It is impossible to say at present whether the vessel can be got off but at the the time the representative of this paper left her she was apparently in good condition. If the sea does not get up an effort will be made to get her off at once.

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Mon., Nov. 15, 1886
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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.
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Oswego Times and Express (Oswego, NY), Mon., Nov. 15, 1886