The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Montreal (Steamboat), C32910, fire, 25 Jun 1857


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MONTREAL, Steamer (C.) burned on River St. Lawrence, 264 lives lost. Property loss $41,000.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      (1857 casualty list) Jan. 28, 1858

      . . . . .

      Quebec, June 27th.
      Steamer MONTREAL, one of the regular steamers running between Quebec and Montreal, left this port at 4 o'clock yesterday P. M., having on board between four and five hundred passengers, of whom a majority were Scotch and other emigrants recently arrived from Europe. Nothing unusual occurred after leaving the wharf, until the MONTREAL reached a point, Cape Roque, about twelve or fifteen miles above this city, when the wood work near the furnace was discovered to be on fire. Almost the very moment the smoke was discovered the flames broke forth, causing the utmost consternation amongst the crowded passengers. The fire was first discovered about 5 o'clock, when the steamer was nearly abreast of Cape Roque. Every effort was made to arrest the flames, and to this purpose she stopped so as to lessen the draught; but finding it impossible to save the steamer, Capt. Rudolph ordered her to be run towards the shore, and at the same time the officers and crew exerted themselves to get out the life boats.
      The flames spread with the most astonishing rapidity. In a few seconds after the steamer began to move forward, the wildest confusion and despair prevailed throughout the ship, and numbers of passengers threw themselves overboard, and were, in most cases, drowned. Fortunately, the steamer NAPOLEON, also bound for Montreal, was but a few miles in advance of the burning boat, and as soon as the fire was discovered, put back with all possible speed, and succeeded in rescuing from the burning wreck 127 passengers. Capt. Rudolph and the Purser of the MONTREAL were amongst the number of those who threw themselves into the river, and they being excellent swimmers succeeded in reaching the steamer ALLIANCE, and were saved. It is quite possible that others may have succeeded in saving themselves by swimming, but as the steamer became unmanageable when a considerable distance from land. There is no doubt that most of those who threw themselves from the burning boat found a watery grave. One of those saved, died within a short time after reaching the deck of the NAPOLEON; and from present information, it is believed the total loss of life by this terrible disaster, will not fall short of from three hundred to four hundred.
      The steamer ALLIANCE arrived here this P. M., with forty-five dead bodies.
We have not been able to learn the names of any of those lost, except Mr. Philips of the extensive lumbering firm of Norcross & Philips, of Three Rivers.
      The MONTREAL had on board 258 emigrants, recently arrived here from Glasgow, together with several German families, and raftsmen, and several American passengers.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      Monday, June 29, 1857


ONTARIO, built Prescott 1839, steamer (wheels) of about 325 tons. 197 x 25 x 9 Renamed LORD SYDENHAM 1841; rebuilt 1847 as 235 x 23 x 8. Rebuilt Quebec 1855 as 215 x 33 x 10 and renamed MONTREAL official number 32910. Exploded and burnt Cap Rogue, Quebec, 25 June 1857 killing 253 persons.
      Prelm. List of Canadian Steamships 1809 - 1930

      . . . . .

      interesting Incidents Of The Burning Of The Steamer MONTREAL.
      (From the Montreal and Quebec Paper)

      From the first moment the ship dropped anchor in the harbor, these poor emigrants were beset by a set of bloodhounds, anxious for their money. it was understood they were likely to go up by railway, and a nefarious scheme was set on foot to prevent them. No sooner had the vessel arrived and the passengers been mustered, than steamboat and railway runners came alongside, seeking to secure passengers for their several lines. The captain, like a man, refused them permission to board until he had visited the shore and ascertained for himself the best means of forwarding his passengers. While he was away, however, the mate unfortunately allowed a runner for the MONTREAL to come aboard the vessel, who, among other means of dissuading the passengers from taking the railway, exhibited pictures of the Desjardins Railway Bridge accident, which succeeded admirably in producing the desired effect. The great majority of them decided to go 'en masse' by the steamer to avoid such a disaster as that represented in these cuts.
I said the coroner seemed to want the qualities necessary to deal with such an occurrence. As an example of his inefficiency, I may mention that up to Monday evening he had taken no precautions to protect the persons of the dead from robbery. Boats manned by crimps and other ruffians were all Saturday, Sunday and Monday prowling around the wreck, robbing the dead, and carrying off the effects which were found afloat or cast ashore. No man interposed to put a stop to this disgraceful proceeding. Men were seen to draw up dead bodies, plunder their pockets, and drop them again into the river. Bodies brought down on Monday from the wreck reached Quebec with their pockets turned inside out, and the contents gone. A Mr. Ledyard was seen at the counter of O'Neill's Hotel, ere starting, to put his pocket book, containing a large amount, into his breast pocket; Yet, when his body was found, not a dollar remained. Another young man, who lost his mother, informed me that she in her bosom, a short time before she leaped overboard, a small sum of money in Quebec bank bills. When he found her body lying amongst the dead, her dress had been torn open and the money gone. One widow told me her husband had a large amount about his person ere his death, but when the body was brought in all was gone. Poor Nicholson, a young man who had twice gone up to the wreck on foot to seek the body of his father, told me that he had 300 sovereigns about his person. He begged of the people in the boats, time after time, to take him out with them to the wreck to search for the body, but none would do it. They seemed to gloat over the dead as their legitimate prey, like vultures over carrion. He returned to Quebec and begged the coroner to send some persons up with authority to prevent the wholesale plunder going on. Up to noon to-day, so far as I could learn, no one had been sent. Nicholson had left home with his father to buy a farm here, the seven remaining members of his family staying behind till these had provided a home for in the new world. Now his father is gone, and with him the little store, the fruit, doubtless, of long and painful earnings, with which they had hoped to begin life comfortably here.
      One scene I witnessed to-day left an impression on me 1 cannot shake off. . I trust it may never be my lot to witness another like it. On the Queen's wharf, under the boat-house, lay 20 dead bodies. Among them were some Canadians and Norwegians, but nearly all were
Scotch passengers by the MACKENZIE, A woman came in, dressed in black, sobbing as if her heart would break, searching for a lost one. She passed the first four or five murmuring "it's no him, it's no him." Then she stopped; a dreadful change came over her face, an eager maddened look -- her sobs suddenly ceased, she drew herself up to her full height, a piercing shriek burst from her lips, and she fell prostrate over the body of the child, screaming " my babe, my Willie ! my babe, my Willie !" The bystanders stooped and raised her; she held the body of the child in her arms, convulsively clasped to her bosom, and kissed the pale, cold face again and again, calling out, "speak to me Willis ! speak." This was only one of her family, five in number, which she discovered in her search among the dead. Three children and her husband were missing still. There was scarce an eye in the room that was not moistened with a tear. I should be ashamed to confess that mine were dry. Dr. Cook strove to control his feelings, that he might soothe and comfort her; but he, strong, brave man though he be, and accustomed to scenes of sadness, was compelled to turn away a moment like the rest of us, and dry his cheek.
      The boy Narcisse Lamontague, who so heroically saved eight children from the steamer MONTREAL, was in town yesterday. He is about 15 years old, and though tall for his age, is of delicate form, and it is really wonderful that he should have had the presence of mind and courage to grapple with the children in the water, some of them being nearly as tall as himself. Mr. J. B. Ryan and Captain St. Louis, of the steamer VICTORIA, took him about the city yesterday afternoon, with a view of getting a subscription raised to reward him for his noble conduct. He is from Sorel, and we are informed that he is the chief support of his widowed mother. Surely, such heroism as this boy displayed should not pass unrewarded. We have, no Humane in Quebec, but we have, we trust, those in this city who, admiring this noble boy's conduct, will give him a medal, and something besides it. It was by seizing the door of a state-room, placing the children upon it, and pushing it before him while he swam, that, at different trips, he succeeded in landing on dry rock or on the beach, eight of the survivors who would have otherwise met, with the hundreds of others, a watery grave.
      Close by the good clergyman stood a little girl named Catharine McArthur. She could not have been over 13 years of age. She bore up under the heavy sorrow as courageously as possible. She said she was looking for her father. He jumped overboard with her in his arms. He had been a religious man -- a Sunday school teacher in his native land; and amid the terrors of the accident, his faith and blessed hope did not desert him. He brought strong testimonials of his worth with him. When in the water, he spoke to his daughter and those around him: -- "Do no fear to die. Trust in God. Don't by afraid." Finally he sank. His body has not yet been found.
      Amid the general confusion, terror and excitement, there were many instances of coolness and intrepidity. One man swam on shore with a little boy on his back; he had never attempted to swim before, and the child accidentally clung to him; he struck out in God's name and came safe to land with his burden. Many others owe their lives to the assistance of fellows in misfortune.
      One woman as she floated on the water found a child nestling to her bosom, though she knew not how it came there, and though expecting to perish herself, let it cling to her, and exerted herself to save it, and both were taken up alive. The child is badly burned, and no one claims it.
      On the persons of many of the victims were found sums of money. One woman examined yesterday, but not identified, had 55 Pound in gold in her pocket. The passengers by the JOHN MACKENZIE were all in good circumstances, and it is said, drew as much as 10,000 Pound out of the banks on there arrival here. It this be the case, the report that the deceased have been plundered since taken out of the water may be correct.
      Buffalo Daily Republic
      Thursday, July 9, 1857

      . . . . .

      THE `' MONTREAL ' MASSACRE
Under this heading the Toronto Globe of Wednesday has a long article, giving the latest information of the terrible disaster, and reviewing the causes which led to it. It says:--
" Up to Saturday evening last the bodies of two hundred and forty-four of the hapless victims of the late frightful catastrophe had been recovered. The list of the dead, when fully completed, cannot fall much, if any, short of three hundred. So dreadful a slaughter never before, occurred within this Province, and with the mass of facts already before us, we cannot wait the tedious course of a coroner's investigation without forming some judgment on the question, whether the calamity was one which no human foresight or prudent care could have prevented, or one which was the result of criminal human negligence. We are not yet in a position to pronounce on the precise degree of culpability attaching to the several parties concerned, but that much human life was sacrificed by a wanton neglect to comply with the most obvious requirements both of the statute-book and of reason, we think, admits not of a doubt."
The Globe then proceeds to review the matter in a candid and earnest manner, with so much of the evidence before it as the coroner's investigation elicited.
      1st. It appears that the inspection of the boat, as required by law, was NOT MADE. The law requires the inspection to be made once every six months, under the penalty of a hundred pounds. But the last inspection was made twelve month ago. That both the master and the proprietor of the vessel were guilty of criminal negligence in this most important matter, is evident. A serious responsibility also rests on the Government and their officials for having allowed the law to be violated with impunity.
2nd. As regards the immediate origin of the fire, nothing appears to have come out in the evidence before the coroner to contradict the first impression, that the wood in close proximity to the heated boiler ignited and set the vessel on fire. Mr. James Wilson, Jr., purser on the boat, said --- " The wood-work surrounding the boiler is apart from it only about SIX or EIGHT INCHES IN SOME PLACES, and at other FIFTEEN. There is nothing to protect the woodwork from the heat of the boiler." The Statue provides " that no certificate shall be granted if any combustible material shall be placed at LESS THAN EIGHTEEN INCHES distant from such heated metal or other substances likely to cause ignition."
The absolute necessity for this provision is unhappily proved by this very disaster.
3rd. There appears to have been no adequate apparatus on the boat for extinguishing fire. The act of last session requires every passenger steamer to have not less than three double-acting force pumps, with chambers, at least four inches in diameter---two to be worked by hand, and one by steam, each having a suitable, well fitted hose of at least two thirds the length of the vessel. But the provisions made on the MONTREAL consisted only of one force pump, with a nozzle about an inch in diameter, and even that did not seem to work well. Here again, there was manifested, on the part of those in charge of the boat, a grossly criminal neglect of the most ordinary precautions for the safety of their passengers.
      4th. There was an absolute disregard of the act which made it the " duty of the owner and master of every such steamboat, to provide and carry with the said steamboat, upon each and every voyage, a good life preserver, or a float well adapted for the purpose, FOR EACH AND EVERY PASSENGER." The penalty to be Fifty Pounds for every trip or voyage made, without the provisions of this clause being attended to. Had even this enactment been observed, notwithstanding the negligence in other particulars, the loss of life would have been counted by tens instead of hundreds. But, the MONTREAL, instead of five hundred life preservers, had NOT ONE, and yet has been permitted to make voyage after voyage for three seasons with impunity!
      5th. The law requires that every steamboat, of more than two hundred tons shall carry three long boats, two competent to carry twenty persons each, and shall carry three long boats, two competent to carry twenty persons each, and one competent to carry fifty persons. From the evidence before the coroner, it appears that the MONTREAL had but two boats. One of these was allowed to get into a blaze, before any attempt was made to lower it, and so was rendered useless. The other, being the only refuge, was swamped by the rush made into it by the passengers. Had there been three boats, capable of carrying ninety at each trip to the shore, only eight hundred feet distance, nearly all on board might have been saved.
      6th. All the accounts agree that, had the vessel's head been turned towards shore immediately on it being seen that there was no hope of saving her she could have been safely run upon the beach. But, with a strange infatuation her head was kept up the stream, until she was run fast upon a reef, at almost as great a distance from land as she was when the flames first burst out. A number of passengers say that the pilot had deserted the wheel, and that the steamer run on the reef by accident. Captain Rudolph, however, states that the pilot kept her in control, and finally turned her head to shore by his orders.
      The Globe, in concluding its article, of which we have given but the main points, says:-- "We have confined ourselves to recapitulating the leading features in the evidence already taken by the coroner, and which we think prove beyond all question, that in the chain of circumstances which eventuated in the turning of the MONTREAL, and the terrible loss of three hundred lives, there was a degree of culpability which we cannot find terms adequately to characterize."
      Cleveland Morning Leader
      July 11, 1857

      . . . . .

      ARREST OF THE CAPTAIN OF THE MONTREAL
      Quebec, July 14
      On demand of the counsel for the survivors, Captain Rudolph of the steamer MONTREAL was arrested today, and imprisoned to await the finding of the Jury, which it is expected will be delivered to-morrow or Thursday.
It is in clear evidence that the burning of the MONTREAL, and the terrible consequences which followed, was the result of the most criminal carelessness, inefficiency and cowardice, on the part of the officers of the boat.
In the first place, there was no sufficient guard against fire. There was exposed woodwork in dangerous proximity to the boilers. But this fact would not, perhaps, have subjected the captain to a criminal prosecution. For it was shown that, in this particular, his vessel was not unlike many others of even higher reputation than the MONTREAL. Indeed, there is reason to fear that not one steamboat in ten is properly guarded against fire. And it is a daily miracle that they escape the consequences of this criminal neglect in their construction.
In the next place, Captain Rudolph, exhibited the most shameful stupidity after the fire was discovered. He seemed wholly unfitted for the emergency. He knew neither what to do himself, nor what to direct other to do. And, like all stupid men, he had not the grace to adopt the suggestions of others wiser than himself. This was fatally illustrated in his neglect to comply with a suggestion, when the fire was first discovered to be unmanageable, to run the boat on shore. At that moment a sand beach was accessible, and it could have been reached before the flames had driven any single one of the passengers into the water. But the suggestion was disregarded. The course of the vessel was continued as when the fire was discovered, until opposite a rocky coast; and its course was only changed when flames had driven hundreds of the unfortunate creatures on to the bulwarks or into the water; and even then the wheel was deserted and the vessel left to herself. The result, was that she struck upon rock at the worst point of a bad range of coast, where the water was deep, and where more than two hundred and fifty perished.
      But Capt. Rudolph was as brutal and cowardly as he was stupid, he did literally nothing to help the women and children by whom he was surrounded, and who were momentarily driven into the flames or water. His refusal to run his vessel on shore at the point first suggested, might have been overlooked as an error of judgment. The point ultimately selected might have been attributed to indiscretion of fatality. But his infamous indifference to the fate of his passengers -- his proven neglect to raise a finger to aid them -- the fact that not even a chair or table or plank was thrown over to the struggling sufferers by his direction; that, to secure a safe standing place for himself, he forced women into the water by crushing their fingers to compel them to loosen their hold---that he seized, for his own use, the only life preserver on the boat--- that he deliberately looked on and saw women and children sink into their watery grave, until a clear spot was thus made for him to leap into the water himself without running the risk of being grappled by those he thus saw sinking; these and a hundred other facts equally revolting, which were brought to light by the thorough and sifting inquest, render his arrest proper, and will, if sustained on trial, justify the punishment (however such a trial might result here) surely awaits him there. -------- Albany Evening Journal.
      Cleveland Morning Leader
      July 20, 1857

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Media Type:
Text
Newspaper
Item Type:
Clippings
Notes:
Reason: fire
Lives: 264
Hull damage: $41,000
Cargo: included
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
1857
Subject(s):
Local identifier:
McN.W.3066
Language of Item:
English
Geographic Coverage:
Donor:
William R. McNeil
Copyright Statement:
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
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Montreal (Steamboat), C32910, fire, 25 Jun 1857