The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
George A. Marsh (Schooner), C133750, sunk, 7 Aug 1917

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Schooner GEORGE A. MARSH. U. S. No. 85727. Of 174 gross tons. Built at Muskegon, Mich., in 1882 by Footlander. 118.0 x 36.0 x 9.0 Sold Canadian 1914, with Canadian No. 133750.
      Herman Runge List

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      I Thought I would maybe bore the list with my account of the last days of the GEORGE A. MARSH...
      It was a beautiful 8th day of August in the year 1917 as the GEORGE MARSH cleared American waters for the trip across the expanses of Lake Ontario. She was on her way to the picturesque city of Kingston with a load of much needed coal for the Rockwood Hospital.. The Soward's Coal Company had retained her when their usual carrier was found to be unavailable.. The MARSH very seldom made this trip to the Limestone city but cargoes were in short supply and her Captain had jumped at the chance to earn extra money. Therefore, after a reported 450 tons of black energy was loaded into her holds at the port of Oswego New York. She set sail this lovely morning for Kingston and history..
The MARSH and most of the old wooden sailing schooners and barges like her were in their final years of long and gallant careers.. Steam had arrived on the scene and with it came larger, faster, and more reliable ships. Ships that were a lot more economical to operate and maintain by their owners when weighed against the amounts of cargo and number of trips they could handle versus a slow sail powered vessel.. The steamers carried the better paying payloads of passengers and freight. The old ladies of the lakes were left to carry what ever they could to make a buck.. This generally meant overloading the holds with merchandise such as coal and feldspar. Built 25 years earlier the MARSH suffered a little each time such a load was placed against her old timbers..
The GEORGE MARSH had started her life in a Muskegon Michigan ship yard in the year 1882.. Built for a gentleman by the name of J. Footlander and put to work as soon as she hit the water the MARSH was a typical three masted great lakes schooner of the day. Her design had evolved over the years to suit the Great Lakes and their canals.A couple of the more interesting changes from the traditional designs were a blunter bow and a center board.. For most of the shipÆs working career she flew a American flag of registry. Then on April 17,1914 a Canadian, Mr J.B. Flint of Belleville Ontario, bought her. He went to Toronto, registered the vessel as Canadian, and was given the registration number 133750. Her registered tonnage was listed as 220. As with many of the old ships of the time her new captain, C.J. Smith, was a partner and part owner.. The schooner was then sailed to her new home of Belleville.. Many trips were made across Lake Ontario while the ship was based in this small South eastern Ontario town. Calling on ports such as Oswego New York..
For the fourteen souls on board and making the trip to Kingston this day, things couldn't have looked brighter. The day was sunny with a nice fresh breeze out of the south west. The ships three large masts could carry plenty of sail, so the trip should be fast and enjoyable. Captain Smith along with his sixty-five year old first mate, William Watkins were seasoned sailors. The second wife of the captain and five of their seven children were on board. As well Mr. Neil McLennan, a deck hand, had received permission to bring his wife, their eighteen month old baby, and a nephew along. The captains brother William Smith was aboard. Rounding out the rather large crew was a deck hand by the name of George Cousins. In all 14 people were aboard this fateful day... Then it happened! The ship was suddenly hit with a voilent, fast rising lake storm.. This was the kind of storm that the Great Lakes were famous for and every seaman of the day feared and had a healthy respect for...The crew of the MARSH fought this raging enemy of wind and rain professionally and valiantly. Hour after hour the storm battered the old ship while the mariners struggled to keep her from broaching in the mountainous seas. Finally the old ladies timbers could take no more. Her seams opened allowing the lake's water to rush in and fill her passages.. The pumps could not handle the vast amounts of liquid. Her buoyancy gone The GEORGE A. MARSH slipped below the surface of Lake Ontario. Ending her career within sight of her Kingston destination and the safety of it's harbour..
The last few hours in the life of the MARSH must have been terror for her crew and passengers. The wind raged, the ship rocked violently from side to side and up and down. Foaming lake water surged again and again over the decks. All of this coupled with the darkness of the night that had fallen over them made it difficult to complete any task. Then the realization that the ship was doomed! The hands managed to launch the yawl that hung on the stern davits. The other life boat remained lashed to the port side deck near the bow.. As the ship sank, some people were thrown into the cold black waters. The captains brother and deck hand McLennan managed to climb into the yawl which they would have immediately cut loose from the ship.. McLennan had his baby in his arms. One of the other children managed to grab hold of the yawls side. For some reason the two men inside were not able to pull her into their small craft. The cold eventually took it's toll. She could hold on no more and was lost to the fury of the lake. After many hours the yawl made it to Amherst Island. By that time ,however, the baby had succumbed to the dreadful cold. In all twelve of the fourteen people on board lost their lives. Gone were the Captain, his wife, his children (Greta, John, Harry, Clarence, and one other),Mrs. McLennan, her baby, Mclennans nephew, and the deck hand George cousins. Some of the dead were recovered from the lake. Some ,however, still lay beside their ship at the bottom of Lake Ontario To-day..
The next morning in the year 1917. All that could be seen of the once proud ship were her masts sticking above the surface. The GEORGE A. MARSH had sunk upright in 80 ft of water. At the time of her sinking she was valued at $5500.00. It was decided not to raise or salvage the ship as it would be too expensive. The masts, being a navigational hazard, were pulled out of the deck and dropped along side the ship.. There she would sit forgotten for almost fifty years...
I hope some one, some where got some enjoyment out of this. Just remember I am Not a writer!!!!

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      Only Two of Crew of Fourteen Rescued When Belleville Schooner Goes Down.
      Captain Smith, His wife and five children are drowned, William Smith, aged ten, being the only survivor of the family---Three of the McClennan family also are lost---One of survivors had dead child in his arms.
      (Special Despatch to the GLOBE)
KINGSTON. Aug. 8. ------A thirty-five mile gale swept over Lake Ontario during the night, and out of this unusual August storm the coal laden schooner GEORGE A. MARSH of Belleville battled, and was finally overcome about 5 o'clock this morning, midway between Nine Mile Point and Pigeon Island. Twelve out of the fourteen persons on board perished, eleven by drowning, and one, a child, from exposure, while two others were making for land in a small boat. The schooner was coming to Rockwood Hospital from Oswego.
      Those who perished were: Captain Smith, his wife and five children: Mr. and Mrs. McClennan and one child: Wm. Watkins, mate: and George Cousins, deckhands. Four were able to enter a small boat, but in the tossing and rolling one was lost overboard, and Mr. McClennan Jr. and William Smith, aged ten, son of the captain, were rescued by Hugh McCartney and Benjamin Wemp, Amherst Island fishermen, who had gone out to lift their nets, and come across the storm-tossed skiff. Mr. McClennan had the dead form of a child in his arms when rescued.
      All who perished, as well as the survivors, belonged to Belleville. The two who were saved were taken to Bath and went on to Belleville.
      The details are meagre, but are all that could be obtained by telephone from Bath.
Early this forenoon the light-house keeper at Simcoe Island reported seeing vessel sink early this morning, and it set vessel owners here agog, but no vessel answering the description was missing here.
At midnight the Belleville police had heard nothing whatever of the wreck of a Belleville schooner on Lake Ontario. Officials there said that the only intimation of a wreck had come to them by newspaper inquiries. Speaking over the long distance telephone last night, Sergeant Ritchie said he knew of no schooner GEORGE A. MARSH, but he knew the JOHN B.MARSH, which vessel he believe left a couple of days ago for Oswego, for a coal cargo. He had telephoned the home of the mate, William Watkins, reported drowned, but was unable to get any reply.
      Bell Telephone operators refused connection with Kingston because of a severe storm raging in that vicinity.
      Early this morning the Globe was in telephone communication with the police of Kingston, Ont., and secured confirmation of the report of the wrecking of the schooner JOHN B. MARSH of Belleville. According to the police sergeant at Kingston, twelve persons out of fourteen on board lost their lives. Up to late last night, no bodies had been recovered, although small craft from Kingston worked all day. The JOHN B. MARSH was wrecked in a heavy gale which swept that section of lake Ontario. The schooner foundered it is believed near Pigeon Island, about two miles off Long Point, at about 5 o'clock Wednesday morning.
      Toronto Globe
      August 9, 1917 p.1
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      People On Board Schooner GEORGE A. MARSH Missed Safety By A Few Feet
      Thrilling Story Of Wreck Of Belleville Ship, Is Told By One Of The Survivors BELLEVILLE, Aug. 9th.---Lake Ontario was at it's wildest when the GEORGE A. MARSH of Belleville went down at 5 o'clock Wednesday.
      Half a moon hung high in the southern sky and a pale dawn was trying to break through the rags of clouds. All night long the storm had given threats of breaking. Clouds were racing across from the south west, although the prevailing wind was from south east.
      The seas came snarling in from the southward, about 2 A.M. the storm broke. The schooner bound from Oswego with coal for Kingston was within 30 or 40 miles of her destination.
When the big seas began to spill, Captain John Smith tried to run for the shelter of the Bay of Quinte through the Upper Gap, while running the schooner went down under his feet, taking with her, the captain, his wife, their five children and all of the crew, except two men, these two, Bill Smith, the captain's brother and Neil McLellan scrambled into the yawl boat with some of the others, the yawl boat capsized. Two of those who had escaped into it, were washed away, and McLellan and Smith clung to the bottom of the upturned boat. McLellan, who, like the captain, had his wife and children with him, held one child in his arms, but it, too, perished from exposure. Amherst Island fishermen sighted the capsized yawl boat when daylight appeared and rescued the two men, but Mclellan's child was dead.
      The MARSH was lost not far from the spot where the schooner CHEBOYGAN went down with all hands two years ago. The MARSH was a staunch schooner of her sor ----a three masted lake vessel of old canal size. But like all the lake schooner she was old, and in the tossing she opened up. She was one of the many Lake Michigan hookers brought down to Lake Ontario in the last decade to carry coal,
after a life-time of usefulness in the lumber trade. She was about thirty year old. her yawl was a good boat, with a gasoline engine in it, but the sea running---was too high for a small craft.
Capt. Smith was as well known in Toronto as in Belleville, because he bought and refitted the schooner DUNDEE in Toronto, about five years ago, the DUNDEE has since been burned. Capt. Smith was reported missing many times, but always made port in safety, hitherto.
It is not once in a generation that a schooner goes down on lake Ontario with such a loss of life. people commented on the MARSH's unique lot of passengers when Capt. Smith took his family along, and one of the crew did likewise. Two orphans here in Belleville, Horace and Maggie Smith, aged sixteen and fourteen, mourn the loss of father, two brothers, two sisters, their step-mother and her baby, Capt. Smith was married twice. The children drowned were :- Rita and Elva aged ten and twelve, Jack aged seven, Clarence aged five, and the baby. Neil Mclellan had his wife and child aboard with him in addition and had taken his sisters along for the trip. In the uproal of wind and wave it was impossible to
care for. A crew of able bodied men could scarcely have been able to make the jump and care for themselves.
The MARSH's crew were all experienced sailors, Mr.Manning, the cook, was Capt. Smith's Father-in-law, and had sailed for years. George Couzens had been captain of the schooner J.B. NEWLANDS until this year. Wm.J.Watkins had, after twelve years of voyaging, settled down to keep the Ferry Hotel in Belleville, but the call of the lake was too strong. All these men were drowned, with the captain and the women and children. Watkin's widow clung to the hope that her husband was saved, when she heard that one of the survivors was Bill, but this was the captain's brother. "A lake schooner in these days" said a sailor, "when all of them are long past their prime, is no place for women and children. An ordinary crew with ordinary luck, may get away in a ship-wreck, but a sixteen foot yawl boat, even in smooth water would be crowded with fourteen persons, an in the sea running Wednesday morning, it would be impossible to keep the best of yawl boats, right side up." Had the MARSH had her ordinary crew of five or six men, it is very doubtful, if even all of them would have been able to get through alive.
Four year old George Graves, whom the crew nicknamed "Buster' was one of the McLellan family drowned. he was the nephew of Mrs. Neil McLellan and the son of George Graves, 51 Roseyear Ave. Toronto. The child whom Neil McLellan held on the bottom of the up-turned boat was Rita Smith, daughter of Captain John Smith She died in Neil Mclellan's arms about 10:30 in the morning. Half an hour late the fishermen sighted the boat and rescued the survivors.
One more surviver is to be recorded, the captain's dog "Rain." He was washed off the bottom of the yawl again and again, but always swum back, and was rescued with the two men.
"Another five or six length, and we would all have been saved," said Neil McClellan, one of the two survivors of the company of fourteen that sailed in the schooner GEORGE A.MARSH.
      Kingston.--August 9th.------(Special) A close watch will be kept for bodies. This morning the body of a boy, likely one of the sons of captain Smith, was cast ashore at Lemoine's Point, some five miles westward, the remain were brought here, the lad was dressed in a little Indian suit. One of his
suspenders had caught in his left arm, and it was for this reason he could not cling to the small up-turned boat.
This afternoon another body floated ashore, near where the first one was found, it is thought to be that of Greta Smith, aged fourteen years.
Mrs. McLellan, who was drowned with her 6 months babe, was formerly of Toronto, and a sister now lives on Simcoe St. She joined her husband on the boat only two or three weeks ago. her husband is a native of Port Hope, but spent his winters in Toronto.
      Toronto Globe
      August 10, 1917 p.3

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      Dominion Government to Receive reports on Schooner
The Government Steamer Grenville Has Left For the Place Where the Vessel Foundered
      The Boat May Be Dynamited.
Kingston Ont. -- An official investigation by the Dominion government into the foundering of the schooner GEORGE A. MARSH with the death of twelve persons is taking place at the scene of the wreck between Pidgin Island and Nine Mile Point.
Shortly after eleven o'clock on Saturday the government steamer GRENVILLE which patrols the waters around Kingston, left to make an investigation into the causes of the wreck. The boat is under government orders and a thorough inquiry into the matter will be made.
A report is to be made by the captain of the steamer GRENVILLE to the Department, of Marine and if the ill fated vessel is considered to be in a position where it may endanger the lake and river traffic it will either have to be salvaged by the owners or blown up by the government.
The steamer GRENVILLE expected on Saturday morning to return some time in the afternoon but it is not known what report will be handed into the government.
It is reported form Belleville that J. J. B. Flint who was part owner with the late Capt. W. H. Smith, will have the vessel raised. In this case the government will have to take no action beyond ordering the owner to either have the vessel raised quickly or allow it to be dynamited in case it is an obstruction to traffic.
      The Daily British Whig
      saturday August, 11, 1917

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      "Buster" Greaves Victim of Tragedy
      Body of Little Toronto Boy Recovered-Wore Indian Suits Parents Bought
Kingston Ont. -- Little George Francis "Buster" Graves, aged five, only child of Mr. and Mrs. George R. Graves of 51 Rosevear Ave., Little York, drowned in the MARSH disaster, was one of Toronto¹s fairest baby boys.
Speaking of Mrs. Graves boy Mrs. McLelan wrote her. "Buster is fine he told me to tell his mama that he is working. You should see him. He is as black as a negro and is piling up the wood for the men. He is fine and can eat like a horse." The lad was dressed in a little Indian suit that his parents bought for him before he went away.
Mrs. Graves lost a brother, Stoker Hugh Donnelly, when the cruiser Aboukir was torpedoed in the North Sea in Sept. 1914.
Neil McLelan and his wife formerly lived in Toronto at 139 Gimcoe Street. He was then a sailor on the Oliver Mowat. And was also on the Sophia Minch when that boat was in a wreck. He sailed on the Scheobazer, which foundered at
almost the same spot that the Marsh sank, when Capt. Macdonald and his wife on the Scheobazer, were drowned. He was on the Kitchen when it sank outside of the Eastern gap. He was fortunately rescued from his accident by a tug. Besides his brother in Toronto, two other brothers, William and Charles live in Port Hope. His wife was formerly a Toronto business woman.
      Daily British Whig
      Saturday Aug. 11, 1917

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Solemn Services at St. Thomas' Church in Memory of Those whose lives Went Out in the Storm "Suffer Little Children"
      Sunset and evening star,
      and one clear call for me,
      and may there be no moaning of the bar,
      when I put out to sea.
      But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      too full for sound and foam,
      when that which drew from out the boundless deep,
      Turns again home.
      Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark,
      And may there be no sadness of farewell.
      When I embark.
      For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place,
      The flood may bear me far,
      I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
      When I have crost the bar.

The memorial service held last evening is St. Thomas Church for the Belleville residents who were called by death in the sinking of the schooner GEORGE A. MARSH was solemn and impressive. The service was conducted by the rector, Ven. Archdeacon Beamish, assisted by Rev. Mr. Jones, clerical secretary of the Ontario Synod, while the musical service conducted by Prof. Wheatley and the choir was very appropriate.
The victims of the sad lake tragedy were nearly all members and communicants of St. Thomas church and the rector feels very keenly and sorrow which had descended so suddenly upon the relatives, the church and community generally.
Those whose lives were so quickly taken in the wreck of the Marsh were:
Cap. John W, Smith aged 48 years, His wife aged 22 years. Their children Greta aged 12, Eva aged 8, John aged 6, Clarence aged 4, Lorraine aged one year.
Mrs. Neil MacClellan aged 25
Her son, Douglas aged seven months.
Her nephew George Greaves of Toronto aged 4 years.
Mate William J. Watkins aged 66.
George Cousins aged 59

Those who survived were Neil MacClellan, whose wife perished in the gale; and William Smith brother of Capt. Smith.
The thoughts of the congregations as they took part in the solemn memorial service turned with sadness to the main picture of that early morning scene on the mist-enshrouded storm-swept waters of Lake Ontario when the Belleville schooner, buffeted by the waves, was vanquished by the Elements and carried men, women and little children to a watery grave.
The thought of the little group clinging to the storm swept deck in the cold and misty morning, facing inevitable death, must have turned longingly to the safety and comfort of their homes in Belleville, such a short distance away, and the manner of their death was such as to arouse the deepest sympathy of all.
      The beautiful service of the Anglican church was never more solemnly carried out or more impressive, and the music was particularly appropriate, the hymns being as follows:
      783 What a Friend We Have in Jesus"
      735 Perfect Jewels
      592 ON the Resurrection Morning.
      18 Abide With Me

The address of Ven. Archdeacon Beamish was full of feeling expressing respect of the dead and the greatest sympathy for the bereaved relatives. The consolation of God¹s promises was held out to the bereaved in the certainty of the better life beyond and the resurrection. The great heart of the Man Of Sorrows which held sympathy for all suffering and sorrow, was pictured by the speaker wich especial reference to the Savior¹s love for children. "Jesus Wept" at the tomb of Lazarus, in the Garden of Gethsemane and shed bitter tears over the impending fate of Jerusalem. A tender, loving Savior who doeth all things well and to whom the souls of those who perished in the storm can safely be entrusted.
      The rector's address was most fitting and he urged all to so pattern their lives that whether the summons comes quickly or slowly no apprehension need be felt of a glorious awakening in the Better land.
The drowning of the seven little children in the wreck of the Marsh was perhaps its saddest feature, making particularly appropriate the selection of the hymn "Perfect Jewels" which was sung with deep sympathy and tender feeling by the congregation inspired by the sad circumstances.

      Little children, little children,
      Who live their Redeemer,
      Are the jewels precious jewels,
      His love and His own,
      Like the stars of the morning.
      His bright crown adorning,
      They shall shine in their beauty,
      Bright stars for His crown.
      Belleville (Ont) Daily Intelligencer
      August 13, 1917

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      Kingston. August 20. (Special).------ A body thought to be that of Mrs. J. W. Smith or Mrs. Neil McLellan, two of the women lost by the foundering of the schooner GEORGE A. MARSH on the 8th. inst., was found floating near Rockwood Hospital shore this morning, so far the body has not been identified.
      Toronto Globe
      Tuesday, August 21, 1917

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: sunk
Lives: 12
Freight: coal
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.132222 Longitude: -76.727777
William R. McNeil
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George A. Marsh (Schooner), C133750, sunk, 7 Aug 1917