The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Ariadne (Schooner), aground, 2 Dec 1886

Full Text

A Boy's Quick Eye And Peril On Board The Lake Schooner ARIADNE
A striking instance of the play of chance in connection with Uncle Sam's well devised resources was afforded in the case of the Canadian schooner ARIADNE ; which stranded during a blinding snowstorm in Mexico Bay, on the northern coast of New York Dec. 2, 1886. The vessel was engaged in the grain trade, and at the time of the disaster had on board a cargo for Oswego, N.Y.
The season for lake navigation was over, but the masters of the ARIADNE needed the profits of one more trip to tide over the long winter of idleness, and although buffeted back by high winds on several attempts to get to sea they persisted and finally got under way on Dec. 1 and reached the middle of Lake Ontario with a moderate breeze and fair weather prevailing.
Suddenly a snow storm set in, and the wind increased to a gale, stirring up a powerful sea. But the schooner out-rode the gale and at 6 o'clock sighted the Oswego lights about two miles distant. The lake, however, was too rough for harbor tugs to venture out and bring in the tow, which, of course, could not work up unaided to the harbor entrance. Her masters made the attempt on bare chance and got near enough to sight the breakwater and see danger signals sent out from the Oswego Lifesaving Station.
Unfortunately the strain of the wind and seas sprung some of the seams of the schooner and tore open her sails so that she became unmanageable, and with dangerous land all about the Oswego coast there was no alternative but to make for Henderson¹s bay, over 30 miles distant, where there was prospect of a good lee and shelter from the gale, but the vessel was unequal to the voyage. She wallowed badly, and her creaking timbers and rising water in the hold showed that she must speedily go to pieces and sink, and her captain decided to turn her head to land and beach her in Mexico Bay. In changing her course the main boom snapped and split the mainsail so as to render it useless. The pieces of the broken boom also fell across the pumps, rendering them useless, and to make bad worse the schooner shortly struck upon a reef over half a mile from shore and over five miles from a Lifesaving Station.
It was 2 o'clock in the morning, Dec. 2, when the ARIADNE struck. It was still snowing and the thermometer stood at 18 above zero. The sea broke over the decks with such power as to drive all hands below, where they remained until the water arose over the cabin floor. Then the crew rushed for the main rigging but the captain, in spite of the remonstrances of his men, climbed to the top of the cabin, from which he was almost instantly swept away by a wave which carried the cabin top overboard. The unfortunate man clung to a plank for some moments and then disappeared forever.
In the course of another hour the schooner worked over the reef and drifted shoreward until she reached another bar, 200 rods from land. About that time the mainmast broke loose at the deck and fell against the foremast. Warned of danger, the crew had abandoned the main rigging for the forerigging, and seeing that the foremast was about to go clambered to the deck and took refuge forward, the only portion of the vessel lying above the water.
In this situation day dawned, and the eyes of the crew turned anxiously to shore in hopes of descrying some signs to give hope. But the driving snow shut out the land. The cold increased, and the waters dashing over the men soaked their clothing and soon turned to ice. The ropes and rails and everything which offered a hold were coated with ice. The decks were ankle deep with freezing slush, and none but the hardiest frames could stand the ordeal. One sailor fell to the deck a corpse - frozen to death.
Three seamen and the mate, father of the drowned captain, now remained. It was 9 o'clock in the forenoon, time for landsmen to be stirring, and with strained eyes, the hopeless fellows looked shoreward. All at once two persons appeared on the beach gesturing in the direction of the wreck. On receiving answers from the sailors the pair, two schoolboys, ran of at full speed in different directions. One of the boys while on the way to school had sighted the wreck through a rift in the snowclouds and hailing his fellow had run down to the beach.
On separating one notified his father, who, in turn, spread the alarm until it reached Lakeview Hotel, a summer resort on Wood's Pond. A telephone carried the news to a post office on the way toward Big Sandy Lifesaving Station, where a messenger was dispatched to Captain William A. Jenkins, a lake navigator, who got the news at 11 o'clock. Hoisting a flag at the masthead of his schooner, which was ice locked near his house, he set out across the marshes to alarm the station, some miles away.
The outlook at the station saw the messenger coming and aroused Keeper Fish, who started in an iceboat and met Jenkins just as the latter struck rotten ice upon the marshes and could proceed no farther. Jenkins told his story briefly, and the two hastened to get out the lifeboat, which was tracked along shore in order to save a pull of two miles windward in the stormy lake and the danger of swamping her in meeting the beds in the coast. It was rough, laborious work, and the boat, with its weight of three men, who guided it, was often cast ashore.
Finally the party was met by a farmer with a team in readiness to haul the boat to the scene of the wreck. Even then difficulties of travel were not overcome. The boat again and again filled
with water and needed to be constantly pushed against the surf to keep her afloat. Fortunately she was of the self bailing type, and no time was lost in freeing her of water, but the spray, which the wind dashed over the struggling party froze as it fell and even showered the horses and men following on shore to keep the boat in her course.
The thermometer dropped to 16 degrees, and soon the clothing of the surfmen, the harness and tow ropes as well as the oars and poles became stiff with an icy coating. The wagon to which the rope was attached also became weighted and clogged with ice, so that the driver, having his hands busy in managing the team, couldn¹t keep his place on board without help. It was 3 o¹clock when the team pulled up opposite the wreck. Before attempting rescue it was necessary for the surfmen to beat their clothing and the oars, thwarts and rowlocks of the ice with heavy sticks in order to crack and loosen their thick scales of ice. Meanwhile signals had been given to cheer the survivors on the wreck, three of whom could be seen clinging to the hillock of ice out in the surf, for such the frost covered bow of the schooner appeared to be.
The trip of the boat to the wreck was the fortunate event of the rescue, for although the sunken schooner was surrounded with wreckage held to her by lines and pounding up and down in the heaving surf, the gallant life craft bore through it and brought alongside the forerigging without a serious collision.
Three men at the point of perishing and too far gone to display any interest in what was taking place crouched in the lee of the bulwark, with a dead shipmate half buried in ice at their feet. The deck was covered with ice, and at a motion from Keeper Fish the poor fellows loosed their holds and slid across to the rail above the lifeboat, where strong arms received them.
One of them appeared to be crazed, and on finding himself safe asked after his captain. Taking a hint, the surfmen examined the wreck further and discovered, in a coffin of ice, the body of the mate, who had perished of cold early in the day, or soon after the schoolboys sighted the forlorn vessel and started on their seemingly hopeless quest for aid.
      Cortland (N.Y.) Democrat
      December 14, 1894

      . . . . .

      The schooner ARIADNE is ashore in Mexice Bay, Lake Ontario. The captain was drowned and two of her crew were frozen to death. She went to pieces a few miles east of Sandy Creek Life Savibg Station Thursday.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Saturday, December 4, 1886

      . . . . .

Brave Sailors Perish - Terrible Sufferings of the Survivors - A Truthful and
Thrilling Story of the Loss of the Schooner Ariadne - How Three Seamen
Died - Heroic Work of the Life Savers - One of the Crews tells the ³Palladium
All About the Wreck - Kind Hearted Farmers.

The most heartrending story of hardship and suffering attending shipwreck on the
lakes that has been told in a long time is given by the survivors of the ill-fated
schooner Ariadne, of Toronto, wrecked in Mexico Bay on Wednesday night. A
Palladium man was detailed to go to the wreck last night, and an adventuresome
trip he had.
Leaving the train at Pierrepont Manor at 9 o¹clock in the evening, he took a rig
and started for the scene of the disaster, twelve miles away, with a fierce wind and
blinding snow storm to face the entire distance. The snow drifted badly in places
and it was with the utmost difficulty that the cutter would be kept right side up.
Arriving at Woodville it was learned that the sailors saved from the wreck were at
the farm house of John A. Whitney, about a mile from the lake.
The home was reached shortly after midnight. The seamen were snugly tucked in
bed, but were suffering greatly and it was impossible for them to give an account of
their experience until 8 o¹clock this morning, when Thomas Cox, one of the
survivors, told the following thrilling story:
³Our crew consisted of Captain Hugh McKay of Toronto; Southerland McKay,
father of the Captain, and mate, also of Toronto; Charles Dean of Shannonville,
Ont.; Edward Mulligan of Picton, Ont.; Maurice Young of Toronto; Thos. Cox of
Toronto. We left Oswego on November 18th to load barley at Shannonville, Ont.,
and Bath, Ont., for Oswego. We left Bath a week ago today, Nov. 26, for Oswego
with a cargo of ten thousand bushels.
³We got well out into the lake when we found a big sea running and were forced
to run for South Bay Point for shelter. We remained there until Monday when we
tried it again. It began to freeze hard when we got out in the lake and we were
again driven back. On Tuesday morning we made the last start. The morning was
beautiful and we were congratulating ourselves on having a splendid run. After
getting out twenty miles it came on to snow and got very thick. We first saw
Oswego light about 6 o¹clock p.m., but only for a moment. We were then below
the harbor, and the wind was fresh from the westward. The next we saw of
Oswego light was about 8 o¹clock. We were standing off and on, but the wind
freshened to a gale and the sea made very rapidly.
³We could hear the tugs whistling for us and could see the rockets sent up by the
life crew. We made every effort to work to the windward and at one time were so
near the harbor that we could see the breakwater. We saw that we couldn¹t fetch
the harbor that stretch and we came in stays and stood out. On the next tack we
found that we had lost ground. When we came about, our jib was blown away.
Then our real began. We had to wear the vessel to get her before the wind and
then discovered that she had three feet of water in the hold.
³We knocked out the bulwarks to prevent the vessel floundering. Our pumps
were frozen solid and the schooner started for Stony Passage. We were unable to
steer, owing to the water in the hold and the vessel jibed several times in spite of all
we could do The first time, the main boom was carried away and then the sail was
blown to ribbons. Then the fore-gaff was carried away and we were left entirely
³We were then well down the lake and could see Stony Point Light. The vessel
was nearly full of water and to prevent foundering, we headed for the beach. We
struck first about 2:30 p.m. on a reef three quarters of a mile from shore called
ŒDrowned Island.¹ We pounded on the reef until 5:30 o¹clock in the morning
when the vessel slipped off and pounded along toward shore, bringing up about 200
yards from the beach. The tremendous waves raked the vessel fore and aft. When
we first struck the reef the crew ran into the cabin and fastened it tightly.
³We remained there until 6 o¹clock when a big sea washed the top of the cabin
off and we climbed into the main rigging. Every rope was covered with three inches
of ice and we had been wet to the skin since 8 o¹clock the night previous. Our
clothes froze quickly, and the spray coated us heavily with ice. While we were in
the main rigging the mainmast was carried away, but fell against the foremast. All
except the Captain got out of the tangle and by a great effort got up into the
fore-rigging. The Captain remained aft and a big wave swept him into the lake. He
grabbed a plank as he went over, but soon sank.
³The vessel began to break up rapidly and we thought the foremast was going to
fall, so we climbed down out of the rigging and huddled together on the bow. The
bow and about ten feet of the deck remained above water, but every sea went
clean over it. It was every man for himself. Half drowned and nearly frozen we
clung to the deck. About 8 o¹clock in the morning Charles Dean was frozen to
death at our feet. He sank to the deck and we had not the strength to do anything
for him. He spoke the name of his wife at the last and said, ŒGod have mercy on
my soul.¹ His body was froze solidly to the deck.
³Two hours afterwards the Captain¹s father, who is 68 years old, began to give
up. he died hard and it was the worst sight I ever saw. He first became blind and
then deaf and raved at times like a maniac. Just before he became quiet he turned
his face up and said: ŒTell my poor wife how I died, and that my last thoughts
were of her.² The last word he spoke was the name of his wife. His body also froze
close to our feet. The rest of us gave up two or three times and once I got a plank
to endeavor to swim ashore. A big wave came over the wreck that nearly knocked
the breath out of me and I lost the plank. About noon we were badly frozen and
completely exhausted. We could see the people making signs to us from the shore
and about 3 o¹clock we saw the life boat coming. At 3:30 they reached the wreck.
Mulligan was insensible and would have died in ten minutes. That is all I can tell
you, except we lost everything but the clothing we wore.²
The sailors could not tell much about the rescue. They had no clear recollection
of what took place during the last hours of their terrible experience. It was heroic
work however. The vessel was first sighted from the shore about 8 o¹clock in the
morning by Bert Hubbard and Marshall Forbes, boys on their way to school. They
told some nearby neighbors and these mounted their horses and spread the news,
and every man for miles around hurried for the beach to render assistance, if
Among the first to arrive were John A. Whitney, Albert Whitney, John Mathews,
Barney Hubbard, Henry Harris and Pryor Scott. Nothing but the bow of the
schooner could be seen when the reached the shore. Captain William A. Jenkins,
who owns the little schooner Fiat, carried the news to the life saving station, six
miles away. He also worked heroically to save the unfortunate men, accompanying
the life crew to the vessel in their boat. The life crew left the station with their boat
loaded on a wagon at 1 o¹clock p.m. They hauled the heavy load two miles along
the beach when they were met by ³Jim² Wood with a team, who had come to draw
the wagon. It was a heavy load and the wagon and horses became fearfully loaded
with the spray from the breakers. It was 3 o¹clock before the boat reached the
scene of the wreck, and it was but the work of a moment to push the boat to the
water¹s edge.
The crew jumped into her and a dozen brave men seized the boat and pushed it
along out through the big breakers until they were waist deep in the ice cold water.
Every sea broke over the little craft and it looked as though she would be smashed
to pieces. But on she went, the crew exerting every muscle at the oars. After a hard
struggle she reached the wreck. In such a tremendous sea, with the sailors unable
to jump and entirely helpless it was no easy matter to get them off. There was
nothing to do but let the little boat come against the wreck and there was a great
danger of dasher her to pieces.
But the brave men did not hesitate. The boat was lifted up on the crest of a huge
wave and hurled toward the vessel with great force. As they came together strong
arms grabbed one poor fellow and pulled him into the boat. The boat lurched away,
but almost immediately flung broadside against the wreck again. Another sailor was
pulled in, and the operation was repeated a third time when the last man was
rescued. The life boat was probably ruined. As she neared the beach on the return
trip the men again ran into the water and pulled her ashore amid the cheers of two
hundred people who faced the storm and ventured to the beach. Mr. Whitney had
a sleigh in readiness with plenty of blankets, and the exhausted men were tumbled
into it and driven rapidly toward the house.
On their arrival they were stripped of their wet and frozen clothing, the ice was
thawed out of their boots and dry clothing substituted. Mulligan was insensible for a
long time, but under the skillful treatment of Dr. Chapman of Belleville, he revived
finally. The men were wrapped in warm blankets and everything that loving and
sympathetic hears could do, was done by Mr. and Mrs. Whitney. They were given
a hot supper and put to bed, but it was a long time before sleep came to them. The
shivered constantly and suffered much pain.
The Palladium man and Mr. Harrington, who drove him to the scene, helped to
care for them the latter part of the night. Poor Mulligan¹s feet were badly swollen
as were also his face and hands. he suffered more severely than the rest, but all
arose refreshed this morning and are a hearty breakfast. They wrote letters to their
friends and gave them to the report to mail for them, and expected to stay at the
wreck until they hear from the Captain¹s mother. Captain Hugh McKay was a
single man, 23 years old and widely known along the lakes. His father leaves a wife
and two children in Toronto. Dean leaves a wife in Shannonville.
Mr. Whitney says while the men were in the wreck their appeals for help were
pathetic and heartrending and he never again wants to witness such a scene. The
men ran about on the beach trying in vain to devise some means to render
The reporter visited the wreck at five o¹clock this morning. Nothing but a piece
of bow was visible. A piece of the foremast was still standing and the mainmast
was swinging at the side. The bodies of the dead men could not be seen and the
beach was too icy to allow one to approach close to the water to see if they were in
the surf. The shore for two miles is strewn with wreckage, all covered with ice.
The vessel was so completely broken up that a man could lift almost any piece that
came ashore. None of the barley was washed ashore. The vessel was fifteen years
old and valued by the owners at $3,000. She is not insured. The cargo was
consigned to Gaylord, Downey & Company of Oswego.
This is the second time Cox has been wrecked this Fall. he was one of the crew
of the schooner Rathburn, wrecked at Goderich in October. he says he would not
sail again if he could earn a living on shore. Mulligan says he has made his last trip
as a lake sailor. Maurice Young says he will sail again. His parents live in Germany.
Dean, as he died, left a message for his children.
The survivors are very grateful to Capt. Fish and the rest of the life crew and all
others who aided them. They also wish to thank the Oswego crew for signaling
them when off this port Wednesday night.
People who live along the coast near the wreck claim it was a great mistake in
locating the life saving crew at Big Sandy. They say that ever wreck in the last 40
years in that vicinity has occurred from four to seven miles north of the station.
None have occurred near the station. The wreck of the Ariadne is near where the
Cortez was lost.
      Oswego Palladium
      Friday, Dec. 2, 1886

The Ariadne - An Attempt to be Made to Get the Bodies.
Woodville, Dec.. 4. - Owing to the heavy seas no attempt was made yesterday to
get the dead bodies of the schooner Ariadne off the wreck. The life saving crew
will make an attempt to get the bodies today The survivors are still near the scene
of the wreck and will gather up what wreckage they can that will sell. They will
hold the bodies of the dead men until they hear from their friends in Canada.
      Oswego Daily Palladium
      Saturday, December 4, 1886.

      Taken From the Wreck
The bodies of Southerland McKay and Charles Dean were recovered from the
wreck of the schooner Ariadne yesterday afternoon. A justice of the peace of
Woodville issued burial certificates and the bodies will leave for Toronto tomorrow.
The remains of the Captain have not yet been found.
In connection with the death of young Hugh McKay, Captain of the ill fasted
schr. Ariadne there remains a sad story that has never been given to the public. it
was related to a reporter today. During the past season the Ariadne has traded more
or less between Toronto and Waupau Island on the north shore. During one of
these trips young McKay became acquainted with a young lady school teacher
there and he made such good use of his time that it was given out a few weeks ago
that during the coming holidays their marriage was to be consummated and
preparations were being made for the event. The young lady did not receiver the
news of her lover¹s death until Saturday.
      Oswego Daily Palladium
      Monday, December 6, 1886

      Mrs. McKay Returns Thanks.
The remains of young Hugh McKay, Captain of the wrecked schooner Ariadne,
which went on the beach at Stony Point last Wednesday night, has been recovered.
Mrs. Southerland McKay, his mother, was in this city yesterday and left yesterday
afternoon for Woodville. She will pass through this city today with the bodies of
her husband and son, which will be buried at Toronto. Mrs. McKay wishes to
express through the Palladium her sincere thanks to Capt. Blackburn of the life
saving station and the good people of Woodville, who so kindly cared for the
remains and the uniform kindness and courtesy with which they received her.
      Oswego Daily Palladium,
      Wednesday, December 8, 1886.

*Ariadne was built by Foster at Port Burwell, Ont. in 1867 (90¹x22¹x 8¹ 158 tons).
The Cortez, (US #4930 , built at Oswego by Navagh in 1866, 309 tons) also
mentioned in the article, was wrecked nearby on Nov. 12, 1880. All eight members
of the crew were rescued by the U.S. Life Saving Service crew at Big Sandy

I was going to say something else about sailors but have concluded instead to talk a moment about reporters. Some people have an idea that the life of the news gatherer is full of adventure and frolic - that they always go everywhere, see everything and have plenty of money to spend. Thursday night a Palladium reporter was detailed to go to the wreck of the schooner ARIADNE, four miles this side of Stony Point.
A fierce storm was raging and the assignment was by no means a pleasant one. On the way to the train a friend remarked to him: "I wish I was going down with you, You newspaper men have fine times, don¦t you?" Now we wish very much that our friend could have accompanied us on that trip. It would have speedily shaken an erroneous impression out of his mind and for his benefit and others who may think as he does, I want him to take that trip on paper with me, just as it was.
We left here at 6:30 P.M., and after several narrow escapes from being stalled in big snow drifts between Mexico and Sand Hill, arrived in Richland at 8 o'clock. The train for Pierrepont Manor was an hour or more late. We finally arrived at the station designated at 9:30 o'clock. There we found the mercury away down in the thermometer, a nipping cold wind blowing and
the snow drifting badly.
A rig and driver were secured and the twelve mile drive to the scene of the wreck, in the face of the storm, was begun. The first four miles to Ellisburg was accomplished without incident except the freezing of one eye shut. Here both reporter and driver were willing to stop to get warm and to exchange our light overshoes for heavy ones. After a fifteen minute stop we were off again. The wind blew through our heavy overcoat as though they were made of cheese cloth and our hands became numb with the cold in our endeavor to keep the ice off our noses. We concluded to make a stop at Woodville, halfway to the wreck, but we found the little town fast asleep. We finally roused up a sleepy landlord and he loaned us the side of his bar-room stove for fifteen minutes.
Then we began the last six miles of the ride. After leaving Woodville we began to find occasional snow drifts and they grew larger as we progressed. The horse was allowed to pick his own way. Suddenly he plunged into a snow drift six feet deep and comes to a dead stop. We get out, boost him along, and fill our trousers legs with snow. Now the horse sees another drift. He
turns to avoid it, one side of the cutter goes down and the driver goes out headfirst into the top of a clump of bushes.
We gather ourselves up, dig out, and start again. It is impossible to see the way, the horse becomes confused and we find him astride a stone wall. We take new bearings and a fresh start. Are we cold? Oh not! It was not a bit cold in that country that night! How the reporter longed for his friend! While he is trying to ascertain whether his cheek is frozen as stiff as sole-leather or only coated with ice, he takes a side somersault into a bank of the beautiful and the heaviest part of the bulky driver lands on top of him. He wiggles out minus a mitten.
The poor horse, coated with white frost and puffing like a Pougkeepsie ferry boat, looks over his shoulder and says "suppose we take a rest." But a rest means a freeze. We break a path for the horse, pull him to his feet, brush the snow out of the cutter and on we go. We turn into a meadow to avoid a trip ground and the horse actually trots! But there is a big stone. Do we hit it? Well, gently. What¦s the result? The scribe is on top of the driver and the driver is in close communion with the ground.
Another start. The horse trots again. A sudden stop, a snort from the horse, and the occupants of the cutter are thrown violently against the front end. What's up now? Don't know. The horse is afraid to move forward, but the driver is sure he is in the road and uses his whip. Jump, jump goes the horse. Craunch, craunch, crack, crack, goes something under his feet.
It's ice and there is water under it! The horse is stopped and an investigation made.
We discover that a creek which crosses the road has overflowed its banks and flooded the highway. We make a guess where the road ought to be and fortunately escape getting into the stream. We are too numb to mind the cold now and the last mile is begun.
One o'clock finds us at our destination. The horse put out, we enter the farmer's house. There is a pound and a half of ice on our eyelids, and the chunks of frozen snow and ice on our moustache refused to be pulled off peaceably. A dish of warm water is brought into use and the ice disappears. A good fire is burning, but holy Moses! How we begin to ache. We are not
frozen, but chilled to the marrow. We help take care of the shipwrecked sailors but cannot get ride of the "shivers." By five o'clock we are pretty thoroughly warmed and set out on foot to visit the scene of the wreck a mile away.
Returning to the house, the sailors are interviewed, their awful story is put on paper, we take a cup of coffee and a "bite" and begin the last half of our 24 hour drive. We can see the road now, but daylight doesn't drive the cold away. The cold wind pierces to the bone, but we make only one stop. Half past ten sees us at Pierrepont Manor again and ten minutes later we are on the train. We try to write our report on the cars but get too near the stove and fall asleep. Shortly after noon the reporter is at the office and for the first time since leaving home the night previous removes his overcoat and rakes his jumbled ideas together. The Palladium readers got the story at 4 P.M. Is there any fun or glory in that? Well I should say not. En Paisant.
      Oswego Palladium
      December 4, 1886
      . . . . .

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: aground
Lives: 3
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.51896 Longitude: -76.2991
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.

Ariadne (Schooner), aground, 2 Dec 1886