The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Zimmerman (Steamboat), fire, 21 Aug 1863

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Steamer ZIMMERMAN, burned at the wharf at Niagara. Total loss. Two of her crew lost their lives.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      Wednesday, January 20. 1864

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      DESTRUCTION OF THE STEAMER ZIMMERMAN. - The following account of the burning of the steamer ZIMMERMAN as furnished by the Toronto Globe, of Friday will be of interest to those who have ever traversed Lake Ontario on the beautiful steamer ZIMMERMAN. The Globe says: Captain Milloy who visited the steamer on Thursday night, about ten o'clock,found all safe, and went ashore to go to his house, which is situated about a mile from Niagara wharf, leaving the watchman, Patrick Lawrence, in charge. Every precaution had been taken against fire, and before the engineer went to bed he threw several pails of water on the hearth in front of the furnace.
      The fire was first discovered by the watchman, between the funnels, under the main deck, about a quarter to two in the morning. He speedily gave the alarm by running forward to the fore-cabin and arousing the second mate, Duncan
Sinclair, and the crew. He next awakened Mr. John McMillan, purser, and Mr. N. McDougal, the first mate, who were in bed in the after-cabin. All hands were speedily on deck, Mr. Sinclair rushing aft to render assistance without taking
time to put on any of his clothing. The fire at this time had commenced bursting through the deck, and dense volumes of smoke were enveloping the vessel. The pumps were quickly rigged and water plentifully dashed on the flames by the crew; but their efforts to subdue the fire were in vain. In a very few minutes the entire deck was one mass of flames, and the upper works in a blaze. The purser managed to open the door of his office, and succeeded in saving about $400 in bills and a few books and papers, when he was obliged to escape on shore to save his life. The mate, Mr. McDougal, roused the ladies' maid, Mrs. Smith, who was asleep in the cabin, and with great difficulty got her ashore. She lost all she had on board. He then returned to the deck to endeavor to do all that lay in his power to put out the fire, but he was driven back by the smoke and flames, and got on shore by one of the lines. The second mate, Mr. Sinclair, had been working alongside of him a few minutes before he escaped on shore, and Mr. McDougal is of the opinion that he had endeavored to get to the fore-cabin to procure some of his clothing, and perished in the attempt. The watchman, Patrick Lawrence, when last seen was working at the pumps, and while trying to reach the wharf he got enveloped in the flames and was burned to death. His body was found lying on the deck mutilated in a dreadful manner, his legs and arms being burned to a crisp.
      Meanwhile the flames had spread all over the vessel, the bells of the town rang the alarm of fire, the brigade turned out with great alacrity, and almost every inhabitant ran to the wharf. Captain Milloy was early on the spot, and gave orders to endeavor to scuttle the steamer. The firemen at this time were playing copious streams on the burning vessel, which had not the slightest effect in checking the progress of the flames, which were spreading with fearful
rapidity in every direction, and lighting up the sky for miles around. The attempt to scuttle the vessel proved futile, owing to the intense heat, and, although the firemen continued their efforts till a late hour in the morning, the vessel was burnt to the water's edge before the fire was entirely subdued. Between four and five o'clock the steam rushing into the cap of the whistle, caused it to give forth a dull, melancholy scream, as if sounding the requiem of the vessel.
      With the exception of the two unfortunate men above mentioned, the crew escaped with slight burns, but they lost everything they had on board.
      As it was feared that the flames would communicate with the warehouses on the shore, the burning vessel was allowed to drop down to the end of the dock, where she now lies on the shoal, a charred and shapeless wreck. The engines and boilers are rendered completely useless, and not a vestige of furniture was saved.
      A rumor was current in the city yesterday that the watchman was asleep when the fire broke out; but this is entirely without foundation, as when the mate got to the spot the flames had not broken through the deck, and the fire had
made so little headway that he was confident it could be got under. Captain Milloy made a thorough inquiry yesterday, and states that he completely exonerates every one on board from blame, and that every effort was made to subdue the flames the instant they were discovered. How the fire originated is a mystery, but when first discovered the flames were under the main deck, between the two funnels of the vessel; it is considered to have been accidental
      The ZIMMERMAN was built at Niagara, by Mr. Shickluna, of St. Catharines, for the late Mr. S. Zimmerman, in 1855, to ply on the route between Niagara and Toronto, in connection with the Erie and Ontario Railway. In 1859 she was
purchased from the trustees of Mr. Zimmerman, by her popular commander, Captain D. Milloy. She was thoroughly painted and overhauled last winter, and has always proved a staunch and reliable vessel, and a great favorite with all who traveled on the route between Toronto and the Falls. As the steamer was owned exclusively by Captain Milloy, and as he is only insured in the Aetna, of Hartford, and the Home, of New York, for $12,000, the loss to him will be a
heavy one. Only a few days ago he received an offer of $35,000 for the vessel, from a person who desired to turn her into a blocade-runner, it is supposed.
      We are glad to learn that Captain Milloy is already making arrangements for placing another boat on the route at once.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      Tuesday, August 25, 1863

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Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: fire
Lives: 2
Hull damage: $20,000
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.262222 Longitude: -79.073055
William R. McNeil
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Zimmerman (Steamboat), fire, 21 Aug 1863