The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
St. Clair (Propeller), U23109, fire, 9 Jul 1876

Full Text

The steam barge St. CLAIR, bound for Houghton, was burned on Lake Superior about 2 o'clock Sunday morning (9th.), 14 miles east of Ontonagon, and 16 passengers and ten of the crew were lost. For several weeks early in the season she was out of commission, lying at Detroit where a new upper deck was built and her cabin extended.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Tuesday, July 11, 1876

      . . . . .

      Full Details or the Terrible Disaster.
Houghton, Mich. July 10. -- Last Sunday morning about 2 o'clock, the propeller St. CLAIR, Captain Robert Rhyness, belonging to Ward's line, on her way from Duluth left Ontonagon for this port, having on board eighteen passengers and a crew of fourteen persons. When off Fourteen Mile Point a fire was discovered in the hold of the vessel, and in less than five minutes the boat was enveloped in smoke and flames from one end to the other. Owing to the rapidity with which the flames spread, but one boat was launched. Life preservers were brought on deck, and all succeeded in putting one on, when a rush was made for the yawl, which was swamped six or seven times. The water was very cold, and it was not long before all but one of the passengers, sixteen In number, perished, together with ten of the crew. When the boat caught fire she was about five miles from shore. The following is a list of the saved: Robert Rhyness, captain; Daniel J. Stunger, first engineer; Thomas C. Bothnan, mate; Thomas Fortier, wheelsman; Jno. B. Sutphin, passenger. It is reported that among the passengers lost were a number of residents from Ontonagon and Marquette county. The boat's cargo was made up of cattle, flour, feed, etc. Tugs and boats are out searching for bodies. No further particulars.
      Cleveland Herald
      Tuesday, July 11, 1876

      The total destruction by fire of the steam barge St. CLAIR, with twenty-seven lives, on Lake Superior, occurred ten years ago this date.
      The Detroit Tribune
      July 9, 1886

      . . . . .
      The Burning of the Propeller St. Clair.
      Statement of Captain Rhyness.
      I was master of the propeller St. CLAIR, of Detroit, Mich., which was burned off Fourteen-mile Point on the morning of the 9th inst. I set sail from Duluth, Minn., on the evening of the 7th of July with a cargo of floor, feed,
and live stock. I am pretty sure we took on five passengers at Duluth. We arrived at Bayfield, Wis., about 8 o'clock A. M. of the 8th Inst. We took no passengers at Bayfield. Stopped at Ashland, but took no passengers on board there. We landed one passenger at Ashland. We arrived at Ontonagon, about 9:0 or 10 o' clock on the evening of the 8th. We took on at Ontonagon twelve passengers and also one Indian as a deck hand.
We left Ontonagon at 11:55 P. M. the same evening. We ran along all right from there. The wind was south.
      When we got about off Fourteen-mile Point It was 1:35 o'clock. We then hauled the boat around and laid her
course for Eagle River. I was on watch from the time we left Ontonagon. I told the first mate to turn in and I would look out for vessel. The first engineer was on watch till I o'clock. Probably a little after 1 o'clock he left the engine room, when the second engineer came down and went up into the cabin to eat a lunch. When he got through eating lunch he went down into the engine room again. Thomas Fortier was at the wheel. There was a lookout on the promenade with me, and one fireman was on duty. Both engineers were in the engine room.
      About 2 o'clock A. M. the first engineer came running upon deck and told us the boat was on fire. I ran down with the lookout, and when I got there I saw a very little blaze and a good of smoke right forward of the smokestack. The pony pump was working when I got there, and I seized the hose and directed the stream of water on the fire. The first engineer tried to open the steam pipes leading into the hold. He got one of then open. Don't know whether he opened the other or not. Just at that time the flames came out and drove us away from the engine room, so we could not use the hose. I then directed the watchman on lookout to wake up the passengers. I went on deck and kicked open two state-room doors. I then ordered the wheelsman to put her wheel hard-a-port and head her to the wind. I then went around to awake the other passengers. I met John B. Sutphen on deck. He asked me if the steamer was ashore. I told him no; that the boat was on fire. I went around with the intention of waking the other passengers, but they were all up. I then went on the hurricane deck and threw about fifteen or twenty pails of water down the smoke stack. Tried to lower the wooden boat on the hurricane deck aft. The first mate was with me at one end of the boat and I was at the other. We were trying to lower it, and had not been there more than a minute before the flames drove us away. The fall was burnt in twain. I then went down on the promenade deck and lowered the metallic life boat. while I was lowering this boat the first mate got out the life preservers and threw them around on deck among the passengers. The boat was all lowered by that time. Two men got down into the boat. I heard them yell that the boat was filling. I slid down on the fall and found the line foul, one end of the boat in the water, and the other up. I cut the fall. The moment the boat dropped into the water about twelve men jumped into it from the promenade deck. We had a fireman on duty all the time. The look out was the only watchman. We did not keep any watchman on the main deck, but the lookout went down every few minutes to see that things were all right there. The woodwork was at least two-and-a-half feet from the boiler. The woodwork around the smoke stack was fourteen or fifteen inches from the stack, and was protected by iron. I do not think that the fire caught from the boiler or from the smoke-stack. We used lard oil in the lamp on the main deck and in the hold. There was no oil of any kind among the cargo. We had some baled hay aboard for the cattle, It was on the main deck. There were no lights left near the hay. When I was driven away from the yawl boat I saw that the bow of it was burst clear through, the first engineer, John B. Sutuhen, and myself righted the metallic life-boat and got into it. We afterward fond the first mate and two wheelsmen on the hatch. One of the wheelsmen was dead. The metallic boat would carry from twelve to fifteen persons; the yawl boat about the same number. There was very little sea on at the time. It was not over two minutes from the time I first saw the fire until we were driven out of the engine room. There was no alarm given by blowing the whistle. The deck hands slept in the forecastle, and the firemen aft of the engine room. We had on over sixty cork life- preservers, and two Babcock fire extinguishers, but could get no chance to use them.
      Cleveland Herald
      Monday, July 17, 1876
Steam screw SAINT CLAIR. U. S. No. 23109. Of 236 tons. Built Algonac, Mich., 1867. First home port, Port Huron, Mich. DISPOSITION. -- Lost 1876.
      Merchant Steam Vessels of the U. S. A.
      Lytle - Holdcamper List, 1790 to 1868

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: fire
Lives: 27
Freight: cattle, flour, &c
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 46.87105 Longitude: -89.31403
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.

St. Clair (Propeller), U23109, fire, 9 Jul 1876