The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Milan (Schooner), sunk, 13 Oct 1849

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MILAN Schooner, bound up with a cargo of salt from Oswego, sprung a leak and sunk about 15 miles off Oak Orchard, cargo consisted of 1,000 barrels of salt. Crew all saved. Oct. 13, 1849.
      Casualty List for 1849
      Erik Hyle's private papers

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      DISASTER ON LAKE ONTARIO. --- BOAT SUNK. --- We learn from the Rochester papers, that the schooner MILAN, Capt. Richardson, 147 tons burthen, from Oswego, bound to Cleveland, sprung a leak and sunk, about 15 miles from land, off Oak orchard yesterday morning. The crew saved themselves by taking to the boat, the vessel going down in about 150 fathoms water. She had on board 1,000 barrels of salt, for the west. The vessel was owned by Capt. Richardson and was insured for $3,500. The cargo was probably insured at Oswego.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      Friday, October 12, 1849 p.2

      We are indebted to Capt. Robert Richardson for the following particulars of the foundering of his vessel on Wednesday morning, about fifteen miles off the mouth of Oak Orchard Creek on Lake Ontario. The MILAN sailed from Oswego at 11 o'clock on the morning of the 9th, with a crew of seven men, bound for Cleveland, with a cargo of 1000 barrels of salt. About half past 2 o'clock on the morning of Wednesday, while the master was on the watch, the men in the forecastle were awakened by the splashing of water therein, and it was found that there was 18 inches of water on the floor. The vessel at this time was about ten miles from the South shore, North of the "Devils nose." The crew immediately resorted to the pumps, and commenced removing the salt from the forward hold. Meanwhile the water continued to gain upon them, and an effort was made to run the vessel ashore, but the wind being southerly she made but little headway. At five o'clock she was put about for the north shore of the lake, some fifty miles distant; but she had not made five miles before she went down headforemost, giving the crew barely time to escape in the small boat, which they rowed towards the American shore, and were taken on board the schooner CHURCH of Sacketts Harbor at 11 o'clock and brought into this port.
The Captain had on board the vessel at the time of the disaster a fine Newfoundland dog, who was carried down by the waters as they gathered over the vessel as she sunk, but afterwards arose to the surface, swam to the yawl, and was finally saved. The MILAN was owned by Capt. Richardson and Herrick & Brown and was insured for $3000 in the Columbus Company. The cargo was insured for $900 in the Oswego Company. We are indebted to T.B. Hamilton, Esq., of this city, agent for the underwriters, for his politeness in assisting us to the above particulars.
      Rochester Republican
      October 18, 1848

      . . . . .

Schr. MILAN, sprung a leak on Lake Ontario and sunk; total loss of vessel and cargo ....... $5,000
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      Thursday, January 3, 1850 (extracted from list)

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      Shipwreck from 1849 found in Lake Ontario
      Associated Press
ROCHESTER— 19th-century commercial sailing ship, its twin masts still intact, sits upright in deep, frigid waters off the southern shore of Lake Ontario.
Shipwreck explorers Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville said they located the schooner Milan in summer 2005 about five miles off Point Breeze, 30 miles west of Rochester. They videotaped the 93-foot-long, square-stern vessel this year using an unmanned submersible built with the help of college students.
“It’s not unheard of to have well-preserved ships, but this one is in so good a shape,” Scoville said Monday. “It almost looks like it could be floated” to the surface.
The Milan was hauling 1,000 barrels of salt when it sprung a leak and sank in October 1849. Its crew of nine clambered aboard a yawl and was rescued by a passing ship along with a Newfoundland dog. The animal was carried down with the sinking ship but then popped to the surface and swam to the yawl.
The ship sits evenly on the lake bed, its masts extending 70 feet upward in a dark, almost oxygen-free setting. And while its rigging and sails have long since disintegrated, much else appears largely undamaged.
Both anchors are firmly in place near the bow. The bowsprit — a large, tapered spar extending forward from the bow — is intact, as is the tiller, a large handle for turning the rudder.
“If a ship goes down in a big storm, it usually gets broken up,” Scoville said. “If it goes down on a nice day, it usually breaks when it hits the bottom. This one looks like it just drifted down and set upon the bottom nice and easy.
“At those depths, and the water being so cold, there’s not a lot of oxygen” or light, he added. “It basically helps preserve the wood. If a shipwreck is in shallow, fresh water, the ice will get it or storms will beat it up.”
Built in 1845, the Milan ferried corn, flour, wheat, salt and lumber to ports on lakes Ontario and Erie. It was sailing to Cleveland from Oswego, a port 80 miles east of Rochester, when crew members said they were awakened in the forecastle by splashing water, historical records show.
The inflow was already 18 inches deep when they started pumping out. They removed salt bags from the forward hold and steered south in an effort to get to shore. But the ship ran into southerly winds, made little headway and was abandoned soon before it went under.
While hundreds of ships have been wrecked in Lake Ontario’s harbors and along its shores, fewer than 200 have been lost in the lake, which is 800 foot deep in places, Scoville estimated. About 100 of those wrecks have already been found, many in or near the St. Lawrence Seaway, he said.
The Milan is “the oldest and the prettiest” of at least five wrecks that Scoville and Kennard, both electrical engineers and deep-water divers, have discovered since teaming up five years ago. They undertook months of historical research before announcing their find this month.
“From the Niagara River up to the St. Lawrence, there’s about a dozen that haven’t been found that we think we are capable of finding,” Scoville said.
An obscure newspaper reference to the sinking got the pair started on the Milan’s trail three years ago, and they used sonar equipment to finally locate it.
Because many Ontario shipwrecks lie in water too deep to dive safely, they enlisted a team of seniors at Rochester Institute of Technology last fall to help them build a remote-operated vehicle equipped with cameras to explore the Milan.
Most wrecks and their contents found on the American side of the lake belong to New York.
      Tonawanda News
      December 12, 2006

      LAKE ONTARIO: Team finds 19th century schooner preserved near Oak Orchard Harbor
      By Molly Coats/ Intern
Finding shipwrecks and having an adventure usually reserved for sea-faring divers is not so far-fetched for western New York, as researchers Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville have discovered.
      The duo recently found a 19th century schooner, possibly the oldest found to date, resting at the bottom of Lake Ontario off Oak Orchard Harbor in Point Breeze. According to Kennard, the discovery of the Milan was exciting because the ship is in relatively decent shape for having been at the bottom of a lake for nearly 160 years.
      “The masts are still attached to the ship,” he said. “Usually they break off and fall next to the ship.”
Kennard and Scoville have been working together for several years trying to find the Milan as well as discovering other ships in the area. Some of the team’s Lake Ontario finds include the Homer Warren and the Etta Belle. All of these discoveries took years of researching and trying to determine where the ships were located based on reports and old news stories, according to Kennard.
“Trying to find a wreck in Lake Ontario is like trying to find the tip of a pencil eraser in a football field at the rate of two square feet per day,” he said. “You have to be a shipwreck detective to come up with a general area of where the ship is. We’d been searching for (the Milan) for a couple years.”
Once the ship was found in 2005 using a side scan sonar method, Kennard and Scoville began planning their exploration. One of the biggest obstacles the team faced was the depth at which the Milan laid, said Scoville.
“It was too deep to safely send a diver down,” he said. “There are a lot of risks with technical diving and once you reach the bottom, you can only spend 10 or 15 minutes searching the wreck.”
To continue their research, the team needed a way to take pictures and video without placing any lives in danger. Scoville, who was a senior at the Rochester Institute of Technology at the time, said he took the opportunity to create a Remotely Operated Vehicle as his senior project with the help of some of his fellow students.
“The ROV can stay at the bottom taking video for hours a day,” he said. “It was expensive to create at first, but after that it cost a lot less than technical diving.”
According to Scoville, the ROV is a small device with multiple cameras and high-intensity lights attached to it in air-tight containers. The device is attached to a 680-foot-long fiber-optic cable which sends images to a laptop computer. Researchers can operate the device via remote control in the safety of their boat, eliminating the risks of diving.
Upon graduating from RIT, Scoville sold the intellectual properties of the ROV to Henrietta-based company Hydroacoustics, Inc. Scoville now works for the company developing the next generation of ROVs.
With the means to explore the wreck available in summer of 2006, the team began their research. The images sent back by the ROV proved to be valuable as Kennard and Scoville discovered how unique the Milan was to Lake Ontario’s southern shores.
“The ship had a tiller, whereas most ships after 1850 had a wheel and a rudder,” Kennard said. “This gave us a better idea of how old the ship was, which helped us make a better case that this was in fact the Milan.”
Other features helping the team determine they had found the Milan included a scroll bow, which Kennard said is unique to ships of the time period. Kennard said he knew of one other ship, called the Oxford, found in Lake Erie, that had the same type of bow. The ship was built by Asa Wilcox and based on the comparison of bows, the team was able to definitely say the Milan was also built by Wilcox at Three-Mile Bay in 1845, according to Kennard.
“There is no name plate on the Milan,” he said. “Sometimes they paint the name on but it comes off. We sent for enrollment papers that give information on when the ship was built, where it’s been and all the specifics, and this helped us make all these conclusions.”
After releasing the Milan story, Kennard was contacted by representatives of the Salt Museum in Liverpool, N.Y. The museum was interested in the ship because it had been carrying 1,000 barrels of salt when it sank. Kennard said they did not find any barrels of salt because the crew tossed them overboard before abandoning the schooner.
Based on records and the condition of the wreckage, Kennard said the team concluded that the ship had sprung a leak during a voyage in 1849 and the crew changed direction in an attempt to run ashore. The leak could not be found and the crew was forced to abandon ship, letting it sink.
All of the information and images gathered during the exploration allowed team artist Roland “Chip” Stevens to come up with a sketch of how the schooner looks in its current condition. He will also be able to make a rough sketch of what the ship looked like during the four years it was in service, according to Kennard.
“You don’t have photographs of ships like this from when they were built, so being able to bring back images of what they looked like is something special,” he said.
As for the future of the ship, Scoville said the team’s work is basically finished. Any further research would require approval from New York state to do an archaeological survey, which costs much more than anything they have done so far.
“Obviously the more you look the more likely you are to notice things you didn’t see before,” Scoville said. “We’ve concluded our investigation, so the Milan will probably stay right where it is for now.”
      The Journal - Register, N. Y.
      August 6, 2007

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: sunk
Lives: nil
Hull damage: $5,000
Cargo: included
Freight: salt
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.27422 Longitude: -78.33252
William R. McNeil
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Milan (Schooner), sunk, 13 Oct 1849