The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
St. Joseph Traveler (St. Joseph, MI), 13 July 1859

Full Text
Loss of Capt. C. McNeil, and his three Children, by the Capsizing of the Barque Sunshine in Lake Erie.

Again the painful duty devolves upon us of recording the death of another highly respected and valued citizen of our seemingly unfortunate village. The last sad rites had not been performed over the remains of the lamented Napier, ere the melancholy information came, startling all with its unexpectedness and sadness, that another cherished member of our community had met with a fate scarcely less tragical than that which had just snatched from life, him over whom the public was sorrowing. Capt. C. McNeil is no more. On Saturday, the 2d Instant, the barque Sunshine, of which he was commander, was struck by a squall off Fairport, below Cleveland, whereby Capt. McNeil and his three children, the first mate, cook, and three seamen, were drowned -- the particulars of which will be found in the article appended below.

Capt. McNeil was known to every citizen of St. Joseph. He has lived here many years, and no man had more friends in the place than himself. Always kind and obliging, one of the most agreeable of gentlemen, earnest and honest in the advocacy of right principles, and firm in opposing wrong and injustice, scrupulously honest in his deal [sic] with mankind, he had not formed a mere, passing friendship with men in moving along the path of life, but he had drawn out their finest sympathies and enlisted in his behalf the warmest feelings of their natures -- carrying with him wherever he went the enduring friendship of all with whom he came in contact. He was in all respects an upright, high minded and noble man, and in his death the community suffers an irreparable loss. It is needless perhaps to add that he was one of the most affectionate of husbands and tenderest of fathers. He estimable wife will miss him often -- his children never. They crossed the "dark valley" with their father and are now reposing in the sunshine of unending joy. Their existence now is the same as that which God enjoys, (an existence far better than that of this earth, else God, all-wise, would live the life of mortal) at once spiritual, happy and desirable. They have gone to God in all their innocence, and though we lament that they have been taken away, Heaven is rejoiced to receive them. Peace to their manes. [sic]

Mrs. McNeil, in her heart-rending affliction, has the deepest sympathy of the public.

The Buffalo Daily Commercial gives the following particulars of the lamentable catastrophe --

The barque Sunshine, Captain C. McNeil, sailed from this port on the 30th day of June, with four tons of general merchandise bound for Saginaw for a load of lumber to Chicago. She had a crew, all told, of twelve men. The captain's wife and three children were on board. Saturday afternoon, at a quarter past two o'clock, about the middle of the lake, between Port Stanley and Fairport, just as the crew had finished taking in all sail, preparing for a squall, a heavy gust from the southward and westward struck the barque, and rolled her bottom upwards in an instant. The spars, it is supposed, took the bottom of the lake, and the fore main top-mast and mizzen-mast were carried away. The vessel then righted to, and remained on her beam ends. It was then discovered that Captain McNeil, his wife, and three children, Mark Graham, first mate, Jeremiah Sweeney, Marshall Logan, and Frank Larkin, seamen, and Joseph Watson, cook, had disappeared, and were supposed to be lost. The survivors, Alexander Elton, second mate, John Gordon, John Wilkinson, James Martin, Dennis Daley, and John Cossick, succeeded in saving themselves by climbing upon the vessel's side, which was pretty well out of water after she had settled. They soon heard signals, a knocking from the cabin, which they answered and were replied to in the same manner. They then set to work and tore out the bulk head of the break to the deck and extricated Mrs. McNeil alive. She must have been drowned soon, however, as she had only space for her head between the side and the water, which was rising in the cabin. She was in her night clothes, having been sea-sick. The seamen, noble fellows, clothed her with their own garments, each one sparing something, and he night robe was used for signals. When the vessel capsized she was in bed. Her children were in the cabin. The water rushed in rapidly. She placed her little ones on the cabin table, which, being solidly fastened to the floor, was now inverted, and sustained them and herself.

The lurch, when the vessel righted to her beam ends, threw the children beyond her help, sick and weak as she was, and enciente, and they were drowned. She then climbed into the galley, and made the signals which attracted the attention of the crew. As we have stated, the generous fellows clothed her as well as they could and, placing a box to windward to keep the sea from washing over her, themselves stood around her the better to protect her from the water and chill night air. Thus they remained all night.

At 8 o'clock Sunday morning the schooner Nebraska, Capt. Richmond, bore down and took them off the wreck. They were made comfortable and taken into Fairport, where the unfortunate survivors of the catastrophe were hospitably entertained by the people and kindly provided for. Captain McNeil was about forty years old, and lived at St. Joseph, Michigan, where he had a little property. For Mrs. McNeil the circumstance was peculiarly melancholy. At one swoop of the wind she is childless and a widow, and in delicate health. We are told that she is almost if not quite mad. Poor woman! Mark Graham, the mate, lived on Folsom street in this city, and leaves a widow and three children to lament his loss. The vessel was a first class barque, 515 tons register, four years old, and was owned by Jesse Hoyt & Co. and J. R. Bentley. The tug Relief went to her on Monday.

The Buffalo Republic speaks of the disaster as follows --

On Saturday afternoon this vicinity was visited by a squall of wind and rain, which though short in duration, was furious while it lasted. Buffalo was not alone in this visitation. The same storm swept over Lake Erie, but with more startling and terrible effect.

The barque Sunshine was caught by it when bound up, in the middle of the Lake just off Fairport, about 2 o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday, and although the squall had been anticipated and all sail taken in, she capsized as soon as the squall struck her. At the time of the capsize the captain's wife, Mrs. McNeil, was in the cabin, with her three children, one man was in the forecastle, and the rest -- the captain, two mates, and seven men -- were on deck. At this moment four of the men were swept overboard and drowned. The captain and mate, who were clinging to the rigging, a short time afterward were torn from their hold by a heavy wave, washed overboard and drowned in sight of the vessel.

The remainder of the crew went to work after a little while to get into the cabin, which they succeeded in doing. The Captain's wife had saved her life by clinging to the berths but her three children were drowned. She was got out in speechless agony in a little while, and the crew clung to the vessel. For seventeen hours did they remain in this condition on board the wreck, and when almost exhausted were taken off the next morning a little before 8 o'clock by the schooner Nebraska, which took them into Fairport.

The Sunshine was a full rigged barque of 600 tons, one of the staunchest craft on the lakes. She was owned by J. R. Bentley of this city and Jesse Hoyt of N. Y. City. Her captain, C. McNeil, was a fearless sailor, a good man, and was universally esteemed. The tug Relief went out yesterday to the wreck, for the purpose of raising her, and towing her back to Buffalo.

Media Type:
Item Type:
"C. McNeil" was Cornelius McNeil; his wife's name was Priscilla. The Napier mentioned in the article was Jack Napier, a brother to Nelson W. Napier of "Alpena" wreck fame. Jack was killed when he fired a cannon to celebrate the 4th of July and it blew up.
Date of Original:
13 July 1859
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Robert C. Myers
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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St. Joseph Traveler (St. Joseph, MI), 13 July 1859