The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Meteor (Propeller), U17570, collision, 9 Aug 1865

Full Text

Propeller METEOR, collided with the Propeller PEWABIC about 10 miles off Thunder Bay Light, Lake Huron, resulting in the immediate sinking of the PEWABIC and the loss of 40 lives, this on August 9, 1865, the METEOR waited by the scene of the wreck until daylight August 10, then apparently, with only slight injuries, from the shock of the collision, continued on her voyage to the lake Superior, on August 11th. while in the St. Mary's pass canal basin, she took fire and was scuttled to save her, the fire was a result of water coming in contact with lime on board, and may be considered as a delayed result of damage suffered in the collision with the PEWABIC.
(data taken from Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aug.12, 1865)

      . . . . .

      The masters, engineers and others officers of the METEOR have made a detailed sworn statement concerning the collision between that vessel and the PEWABIC, from which it appears that the METEOR conformed to regular maritime rules in steering at the time of the accident, but that the PEWABIC in some unaccountable manner took the wrong direction.
      Erie Daily Dispatch
      Wednesday, August 23, 1865

      . . . . .
      From the Engineer of the METEOR
      Editor Marine Review:—In your issue of July 15 a Detroit correspondent gives an account of the memorable collision between the steamers PEWABIC and METEOR. The account is pronounced interesting, but it is incorrect in particulars. I I chief engineer of the METEOR for nine years, and as I was in charge of her engines at the time of the collision, I feel that I should know something of facts pertaining to the sad affair. The METEOR and PEWABIC were built in Cleveland in 1863 by the late Capt. E. M. Peck for J. T. Whiting & Co. Members of this company were the late J.T. Whiting, W.D. Walbridge and L. McKnight. These vessels were first-class freight and passenger propellers of about 850 tons, elegantly fitted out, and they were speedy for those days, as they made 11 1/2 miles an hour regularly, and could be forced to a speed of 15 miles. They were two of the finest boats then afloat on the lakes. Their officers were as follows: METEOR—Captain, Thomas Wilson; mate, Byron Mills; purser, Charles Atwood; steward, Thomas Ryan; chief-engineer, John M. Cronenweth; second-engineer, Thomas Bucanan. PEWABIC. Captain, Geo. P. McKay, mate, George Cleveland; purser, Charles A. Mack, steward, John Lynch; chief-engineer, Charles R. Jackson; second-engineer, Wm. Kennedy.
      On the night of the collision the METEOR was bound up Lake Huron with a full load of passengers and the PEWABIC was bound down. The weather with us (on the METEOR) had been very fine up to the time of the collision, but officers of the PEWABIC reported that they had for some time been running in mist and rain. It was quite plain to my mind that the main cause of the collision was the deceiving weather, mist, rain and some fog. On both boats the mates were on watch when the collision occurred. The mate of our vessel, the METEOR, said that he saw the white and green lights of the PEWABIC two points off our starboard bow about three minutes before the boats came together, and it was claimed that if the PEWABIC had kept her course the boats would have passed each other in safety; but it was held by this same source of evidence that all at once the PEWABIC shut out his green light and showed his red light. The METEOR's wheel was put hard aport and one blast of her whistle sounded, but it was too late. A mistake had been made, and in a few seconds the METEOR crashed into the PEWABIC, cutting her about two-thirds in two It has always been my opinion that the mate of the PEWABIC was deceived by the condition of weather 'end had misjudged the distance between the two vessels. He thought he had plenty of time to pass to starboard. Many of the passengers who were saved jumped aboard the METEOR while the boats were wedged one into the other. About three minutes after separating, the PEWABIC went down bow first. The pitiful cries of the drowning, struggling for help, are still in my memory, and will remain with me while memory lasts. Both crews did all they could to save life, but it was difficult to find people in the water. On account of the mist and rain the rescuers could be guided only by the cries for help. Your Detroit correspondent says he saw the lights of the PEWABIC an hour before the collision. This is ridiculous, as two boats running at a speed of 11 1/2 miles would have covered together a distance of 23 miles in an hour, and every sailor knows that a boat's lights cannot be seen for quarter of that distance. He says further that after the collision the METEOR began to fill very rapidly, that all of the mattresses and blankets were taken to fill up the hole, and that he, with most of the other passengers, was kept at the pumps the greater part of the night to keep the vessel from sinking. All this is wrong. As a matter of fact there was not a hand pump on the METEOR. Immediately after the collision I connected up the steam pumps, with which the METEOR was well supplied. She had one 8-inch pump worked from the main engine, three 8-inch pumps worked by the hoisting engine, two 3-inch syphons and a boiler pony, piped to pump bilge water. All were started, but it was soon found that two pumps were sufficient to keep her free. A hole in the bow of the METEOR was large enough to drive a horse through it, and it extended down to within 18 inches of the water, but we got the foresail around the bow and remained in the vicinity of the wreck until daylight.
      "As there was nothing to be seen in the morning, we went on to the Sault, arriving there about noon. We made temporary repairs and were intending to proceed on our voyage up Lake Superior, but while going through the lock, about 7 AM., we discovered fire working through the forward hatch. The passengers took their effects and went ashore. The METEOR was hurried into the guard lock and every effort made to put out the fire, but as we had made no headway up to after noon, I opened all the seacocks and allowed the vessel to fill with water. With the boat sunk to her deck the fire was soon extinguished. We then closed the upper guard gate and let the water out of the canal. The vessel was, of course, cleared of water at the same time. After closing the valves and opening gates to let water into the canal again, the vessel was soon floated. We fired up, relieved her of such water as remained, and were again at a dock discharging cargo. A hurried run was made to Detroit for repairs, and we were soon in Cleveland again, ready to take our regular time for the next trip. But in Cleveland the METEOR was libeled by underwriters for $200,000. Her owners refused to furnish bonds and she remained out of commission for the balance of the season.
      Among officers of the PEWABIC who were lost was Mr. Jackson, the chief engineer. His young wife, who was making a trip with him, was also lost. He was a noble fellow, a good engineer, and he had many friends. No doubt, he might have saved himself had he made the effort, but he stood at his post of duty like a true "knight of the throttle," and went down with the ship, his wife with him. He died as he had lived unselfish to the end. In early days of steamboats on the lakes it was customary, when boats were meeting in the day time (not at night) to check down and pass close together, so as to give an opportunity to throw a bundle of newspapers from one vessel to the other. At this particular period, during the late internal war, passengers were particularly anxious to get war news from the papers. There were no railroads and no telegraph connections, even with the upper Michigan peninsula Your Detroit correspondent says that these two vessels were trying to pass close to each other in order to exchange papers. This is another mistake. We did not know what boat we were making until after the collision. He says further that we sent for a tug from Alpena to take the PEWABIC's passengers to Port Huron. In this he is also mistaken, as it was the propeller Mohawk that was hailed to take the rescued passengers to Detroit. George Cleveland, mate of the PEWABIC, who was in charge of her at the time of the collision, was arrested and tried for manslaughter before Judge Wilkins of the United States district court. The present Justice Brown of the United States supreme court was then prosecuting attorney, and Wm. A. Moore of Detroit defended Mr. Cleveland. A number of captains from Cleveland came to Detroit to give testimony in the mate's behalf, among them Capt. Benjamin Sweet Capt. Edward Turner, Capt. John Spaulding and others. They vouched for his ability, trust worthiness, etc., and they agreed that he acted according to his best udgment under the circumstances, which were of a deceiving nature. He was promptly acquitted.
      J.T. Whiting & Co. were among pioneers in vessel business of Lake Superior In the early sixties they controlled about two-thirds of this trade In those days all contracts ended on the first of October, and for the balance of the fall vessels could charge what they saw fit. I have seen $22 a ton paid for carrying copper from Ontonagon to Detroit and $6 a ton paid as freight on pig iron from Marquette to Detroit. On our way up the estimated value of every square foot of room was $1, and there was always enough freight left on dock when we were leaving to load another boat. Often the mate would have a $10 bill slipped into his hand by an anxious shipper who wanted a jag of freight moved at once and would not wait for the next boat. But the ups and downs of life were with us then as now, and the steamboat business lacked stability. Take the case of J. T. Whiting & Co. In the spring of 1864 they owned seven boats, namely, the steamer ILLINOIS, and propellers METEOR, PEWABIC, DETROIT, MINERAL ROCK, GEN. TAYLOR and SKYLARK. Not needing all of them, they sold the DETROIT, GEN. TAYLOR and SKYLARK, and during the summer they laid up the MINERAL ROCK for a rebuild. A short time before the METEOR-PEWABIC collision, the ILLINOIS broke down and made a complete wreck of her engine. Then, with the PEWABIC sunk and the METEOR tied up, the company was without a single vessel. They were forced to charter vessels to fulfill their contracts, and as a result of the collision the firm was practically ruined.
      Detroit, August 10, 1897. JOHN M. CRONEWETH,
      588 East Fort Street.
      Marine Review
      August 12, 1897
      . . . . .
METEOR Propeller, U. S. No. 17570 of 729 tons, built 1863 at Cleveland, was re-rigged 1n 1882 as the Schooner NELSON BLOOM
      Merchant Steam Vessels of the U. S. A.
      1790 - 1868 Lytle - Holdcamper List

      . . . . .

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: collision
Lives: nil
Remarks: Damaged slightly ?
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 45.00001 Longitude: -83.39997
William R. McNeil
Copyright Statement:
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.

Meteor (Propeller), U17570, collision, 9 Aug 1865