The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Perseverance (Propeller), fire, 8 Oct 1868

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The particulars of the loss of the Canadian propeller PERSEVERANCE were given in this journal. She had on board a cargo of 20,147 bushels of corn for T. S. Scott, of Oswego. The hull and cargo are both insured. The Securities Insurance Co. has the risk on the hull, which is insured for a very considerable portion in other companies. The PERSEVERANCE was a nearly new vessel, and was classed A 2 on the Marine Register.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      October 8, 1868 3-3

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PROPELLER 'PERSEVERANCE' -- The propeller PERSEVERANCE, which was destroyed by fire off Pultneyville, on the morning of the 6th. inst., the particulars of which was given in the Tribune of yesterday morning, was a craft of 652 tons burden, old style, being built in 1864 at St. Catharines by L. Shickluna, rated A 2 at $40,000 and was the property of the Welland Canal Railroad Co., of St. Catharines.
      Chicago Tribune
      Thursday, October 8, 1868

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      The propeller PERSEVERANCE, lost by burning on Lake Ontario, belonged to the Welland Railway Co. and cost about $40,000. She was built at St. Catharines.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      October 10, 1868 3-4

OSWEGO Oct. 6.-- The propellor PERSEVERANCE, Capt. John Fitzgibbon, of the welland Railway line, took fire fifteen miles off Pultneyville about two o'clock this morning, and burned to the water's edge. The fire was first discovered by the engineer, who showed it to the first mate, he being then on watch, and almost before he could realize the appalling fact the propeller was completely enveloped in flames. Two of her boats were on fire before they could be reached but the third was launched and put off with the two mates, two men and a boy. There were nineteen persons aboard 14 of whom, including the captain, perished in the flames. The propellor ENTERPRISE, of the same line, was about 15 miles astern of the PERSEVERANCE and she picked up the boat containing the persons above named and arrived with them at port this afternoon. The ENTERPRISE remained near the burning steamer until daylight, at which tinie the wreck was still afloat. The captain's son who was first mate, is among the saved.
The cargo of the PERSEVERANCE consisted of 20,147 bushels of corn for P.S. Matt of Oswego, and both boat and cargo were insured.
      The perseverance was a first-class propellor and was employed wholly in the grain trade beteen the welland Railroad and Oswego.
This is one of the most heart rending accidents which has ever occurred on Lake Ontario and has cast a gloom over the whole community. Captain Fitzgibbons (sic) formerly resided in this city and was well known and much respected.
The following are the names of those lost:- John Fitzgibbons, captain; Wm. Thorp, second mate; Peter Legho, wheelsman; a deck hand, name unknown, and Patrick Lynch, the porter.
The account of the disaster as given by Archibald Graham, a deck hand, is as follows:- "About one o'clock this morning when about 20 miles off Pultneyville, we were called up and found the propellor on fire. The fire commenced near the smoke pipe and in less then 15 minutes the boat was burned to the water's edge. The two mates, porter,
wheelsman and myself launched a life-boat and were picked up by the propellor ENTERPRISE about five o'clock this morning. The crew consisted of 17 men and two women, 14 of whom were lost, including the Captain. I think none of the others made any attempt to save themselves. I do not know the names of any of the crew."
      Goderich Signal. Semi-Weekly
      Thursday, October 15, 1868
      . . . . .
      Last trip of the Steamer PERSEVERANCE
      by Richard F. Palmer
She was a first-class propeller and had always been employed in the grain trade between St. Catharines and Oswego. She was 180 feet long had a 31 foot beam and a hold of 12 feet, four inches. Her capacity was 750 tons. The machinery was manufactured by John Gartshore, who had a foundry in Dundas, near St. Catharines. The engine had a cylinder measuring 50 inches in diameter with a 30 inch stroke.
She was equipped with two boilers, 26 feet in length and 8 feet in diameter, each with 100 flues.
The PERSEVERANCE was launched at Louis Shickluna's shipyard at St. Catharines on July 6, 1864. At the time she was the largest propeller ever built on the Welland Canal. Her sister ship the ENTERPRISE, was launched on Aug. 20, 1864.
At the time, the shipyard was located near the large Welland Canal entrance lock that measured 200 feet length, 45 feet width and 9 feet deep. This lock would allow larger vessels to enter the canals to serve St. Catharines, but
the remaining locks were smaller and could only accommodate smaller vessels.
The PERSEVERANCE was launched broadside into the canal, amidst the cheers of a large crowd of spectators. As the propeller commenced to glide off the stock she was christened in the traditional manner.
She made her trials trip on the morning of Aug. 25, 1864 to test her machinery preparatory to commencing her regular trips between Port Dalhousie, Oswego, Kingston and Ogdensburg. She performed perfectly, although the trial trip was in ballast only without a cargo. With a full head of steam she made 12 knots per hour. The engine was rated at 530 horsepower.
On her first trial trip with a cargo, on September 27, 1864, the Perseverance sailed from Kingston to Port Dalhousie in 15 hours and 45 minutes.
      One of the worst steamboat disasters on Lake Ontario in the post-Civil War era was the loss of the propeller Perseverance off Pultneyville, New York on the morning of October 6,1868. Fourteen list their lives. The steamer, owned by the Welland Railway, was en route from Port Dalhousie to Oswego with 20,132 bushels of corn consigned to Thomas S. Mott, a local merchant there. The steamer was also towing a barge loaded with 170,000 board feet of
lumber, also consigned to Oswego.
The vessel was commanded by Capt. John FitzGibbons of St. Catharines, formerly of Oswego. The crew was Maurice FitzGibbons, first mate and son of the Captain; William Thorp, second mate: Alexander Mc Arthur, first
engineer; Charles Mason, second engineer; Dolf Bisnet and Peter Leghe, wheelsman; Patrick Lynch, Alexander and James Patrick and Hy Scot firemen; Michael FitzGibbon, steward an son of the Captain Patrick Lynch, the porter;
and five deckhands. Four of them were not named and the fifth was Archie Graham, who recalled:
"About 1 a.m., this morning, when about 20 miles off Pultneyville, we were called up, and found the propellor on fire. The fire commenced near the smoke pipe, and in less than 15 minutes the boat was burned to the water's
edge. The two mates, porter and wheelsman and myself launched a life boat, and were picked up by the steamer ENTERPRISE about 5 a.m. this morning. The crew consisted of 17 men and two women, 14 of whom were lost, including the captain. I think none of the others made any attempt to save themselves."
According to news account the fire was first discovered by the engineer, who showed it first to the mate, he being then on watch. Almost before they realized what was happening the steamer was fully engulfed in flames. Two of the lifeboats were on fire before they could be reached, but the third was launched and put of with the two Mates, two men and a boy.
Others aboard jumped into the water and clung to anything floating, mostly boards and planking. The ENTERPRISE, a sistership was following 15 miles behind. Its captain, P. McGrath, eventually spotted a light down the lake from what he supposed was an oncoming vessel.
When he discovered it was a fire, he ordered full ahead to rescue survivors. It took more than an hour to reach the scene. Although they were still clinging to planks, the survivors were too exhausted to take a line to be
brought aboard. One, stronger than the others , was calling to his rescuers when a wave carried him and his plank against the propellor and he disappeared.
The crew of the ENTERPRISE watched helplessly as seven men drowned. It was with great difficulty those aboard the yawl were rescued from the heavy sea. IT was so rough that Capt. McGrath dared not launch a boat to rescue others who were crying for help.
Captain FitzGibbons, father of Maurice, the first mate and Michael, the steward, who drowned, was last seen on the deck of the burning steamer in the midst of the flames.
The ENTERPRISE remained at the scene until after daybreak and finally left when all hope of rescuing additional survivors had waned. Capt. McGrath said it was one of the worst night storms of the season. He and his crew were
visibly shaken by not having been able to rescue more people. The steamer burned to the water line.
The survivors were brought to Oswego. "This is one of the most heart rendering accidents that has ever occurred on Lake Ontario, and has cast a gloom over the whole community," The New York times reported the following day.
      Statement of William Thorp, one of the survivors:
"I was second mate of the PERSEVERANCE. I was asleep when the fire was first discovered. The fire was first seen about 2:00. I came off watch and went to bed. Maurice FitzGibbons alarmed all the crew, including myself; I ran aft
immediately to lower the large boats; while engaged in doing so, the flames rushed out in great volumes from around the smoke stack, and I had to leave.
The engineer, Alexander McArthur, was aft with his hands in his pockets. I said "this is no place for us." and ran forward through the flames, burning my hand and face. Mc Arthur made no effort to come forward, or otherwise to
save himself. As I came forward Captain FitzGibbons shouted "lower the lifeboat!" I rushed for the upper deck and got the boat ready to launch when the first mate, Maurice FitzGibbons , dropped in. I followed. The lifeboat was full of water, having ran aft after throwing her over, and shipped a sea turned broadside as she was being hauled up.
The wheelsman, Peter Leghe, followed me into the boat, then came Henry Scott the fireman. The latter seeing the bot full of water, and evidently not knowing that she would not sink, made at once for the steamer again. He got
his hand to the side to haul himself up, but in some way he missed his hold, and sank to rise no more.
" Pat Lynch then got into the boat, and he was followed by a deck hand whose name I do not remember. This made five in all in the boat. Captain FitzGibbon hung on to our line as long as possible, I think, but he could not haul the boat up on account o the very high sea. I think the line attached to the barge was cut shortly after the fire broke out by someone on the steamer. After getting into the boat the barge was about 50 rods to the side of us. We had no oars in the boat, they having been taken out by the wheelsman and laid on the deck before throwing her over.
"In the hurry the oars were forgotten. I saw the captain getting over the bow by a line, with a coat on his shoulder. At this time the flames were coming out of the pilot house. It was impossible to live any longer in the boat when the captain left. The captain blew his whistle twice, but for what reason I do not know. I think Mason, the second engineer, was burned, as he was not seen on deck either fore or aft I believe he was attaching the hose to the donkey engine, as the donkey engine was heard working. He evidently, in my opinion, perished at his work. I fully believe all parties got off to the water but Mason.
It was about half an hour after we had got into the boat when the captain left the burning vessel,. She kept burning until six o'clock, when the Enterprise picked us up in a very exhausted condition. The Enterprise came along in about an hour and a half after the fire broke out. She did not pick us up until six o'clock. Owing to the darkness and the heavy sea, The Enterprise could no succeed in picking up an of the floating survivors; those on board the Enterprise could occasionally hear the shouts of those in the water, and by the reflections of the burning vessel, now and then see some of them.
To one James Patrick, I think a heaving line was thrown and he was drawn up about a foot from the water when his grasp of the line relaxed and he fell in the water again and went down. He was evidently about dead when he caught the line; at day light when we were taken on board, nothing could be seen of any of the others of the ill-fated vessel.
"The ENTERPRISE remained until about half past seven. I do not think any of those who jumped into the water could have lived long. The water was intensely cold. I do not think it possible that any one could survive long in the heavy sea. We were about used up when taken aboard the Enterprise"
St. Catharines Constitutional July, 6, 1864 July 7, 1864 Aug. 25, 1864
St. Catharines Evening Journal Aug. 15, 1864, Aug. 26, 1864 Oct. 7, 1868
Toronto Globe and Mail Sept. 28, 1864
Journal of the Assembly of Upper Canada-1846 Appendix N. Larger locks were built at Port Maitland, Port Colbourne and Port Dalhousie.

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Canadian steamer PERSEVERANCE. Bound from Port Dalhousie to Oswego, burnt (cause unknown) 50 miles from Oswego. 14 lost, 10 saved. 5 escaped in boat, 5 picked up by ENTERPRISE.
      Statement of Wreck & Casualty
      Dept. of Marine & Fisheries, 1870

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: fire
Freight: corn
Remarks: Total loss
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Geographic Coverage:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.27979 Longitude: -77.18609
William R. McNeil
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Perseverance (Propeller), fire, 8 Oct 1868