The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Sir C. T. Van Straubenzie (Schooner), C75632, sunk by collision, 27 Sep 1909

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SIR C.T. VAN STRAUBENZIE, Official Canadian Number 75632. of 317 tons. Home port, St. Catharines. sunk by collision with CITY OF ERIE 8 miles east of Long Point, Lake Erie, September 27, 1909
      Casualty List for 1909
      Dept. of Transport

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Bark SIR C.T. VAN STRAUBENZIE, official Canadian No. 75632. Built St. Catharines, Ont. 1875. Home port, St. Catharines. 127.7 x 26.2 x 13. Of 317 tons reg. Owned by John Williams, Toronto. Ont.
      List of Canadian Vessels, 1905
      Dept. of Marine & Fisheries

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      A vessel's running lights, those red and green aids to navigation, are indispensable in plotting her position and direction at night. Without them she is lost to others.
On September 26, 1910 the CITY OF ERIE left Cleveland at 9:00 P.M., on her scheduled voyage to Buffalo. On leaving Cleveland, the wind was from the northeast and it was raining. As soon as the vessel was outside of the Cleveland breakwater, Edward S. Picked, the pilot, relieved the captain and took charge. From Fairport Point he plotted a course further to the northward than usual on account of the sea, which was running from the northward. At 2:37 A.M. the morning of September 27, the vessel passed Long Point. Shortly thereafter the regular lookout relieved the regular wheelsman at the wheel while he went below, and an extra watchman, who is kept for the purpose of relieving the regular lookout whenever it becomes necessary, had taken the regular lookoutÆs place in the "eyes of the ship." After this exchange of lookouts, a red light was seen about a point and a half off the steamerÆs starboard bow. The pilot took his glasses and looked at the light, but could see no other except a red one. This indicated to him that it belonged to a sailing vessel CITY OF ERIE's course. An order was given to the wheelsman to port, in order to go under the vesselÆs stern. When the bearing of the red light did not change fast enough, the pilot ordered the wheelsman to put his wheel hard aport, and this was done to make the steamer swing faster. When the red light was nearly dead ahead, it was shut out entirely. The pilot signaled to the engine room first to stop and directly afterward rang full astern. Shortly afterwards the sailing vessel, which proved to be the schooner SIR C.T. VAN STRAUBENZIE, was seen standing across the CITY OF ERIEÆs course, and someone was heard calling on the schooner; "hard up! hard up!" The two vessels came together at an angle of about 5 points, the CITY OF ERIEÆs stem striking the schooner on the starboard side at about the main rigging. After the collision, the engines of the CITY OF ERIE were stopped, and the schooner quickly sank. Lifeboats were lowered in order to try to save the crew of the SIR C.T. VAN STRAUBENZIE. Only two of the crew were saved.
The only member of the crew of the schooner to testify was William T. Garner. He testified, in substance, that the schooner left Port Colborne at 11:00 P.M. bound for Cleveland; "that shortly after leaving Port Colborne, he turned in. When he left the deck the wind was well from the northward, a whole sail breeze; that the sails were out to port, and they had the north 3 or 5 points free on the starboard side, and were going seven to eight miles an hour; that he went to sleep and woke up, as he thought, about 4:00 Eastern Time,
and he heard the captain talking, and soon thereafter, he heard the captain calling, "hard up! hard up!" and then he heard the captain running aft; that he thought there was something wrong, and that while he was getting up, he heard the crash of the collision, and he ran out onto the decks with Hollis (the other man saved) following him; that when he got to the deck, he saw that the steamer was right into them; that when the steamer began to pull clear of them, and he could feel the schooner settling, that he saw Hollis jump into the main rigging, and he ran and climbed into the forerigging as the schooner was sinking. He then swam to the surface of the water and was later rescued. He stated that he did not know what the course of the schooner was, except the way she lay with the wind, which was from the northward. He also stated that while he was climbing up into the forerigging, he climbed over the green light and noticed that it was burning.
      The important issue in the case was whether of not the SIR C.T. VAN STRAUBENZIE's green light was burning or was visible to those on the CITY OF ERIE at the time the red light was first sighted. If the green light was not burning, it is quite possible that the schooner was either on a course about parallel with the CITY OF ERIE's course and a little to starboard of the City of Erie's course, or else was heading slightly toward the CITY OF ERIE's starboard bow. If she were on either of these courses and both the green and red lights were burning, they could have been seen on the CITY OF ERIE. The court was faced with the problem of whether to believe the crew of the CITY OF ERIE or the survivor of the schooner. The court chose to believe the CITY OF ERIE, not because it thought the survivor to be a liar, but because if both lights had been operating on the schooner, it would have taken the most gross form of negligence on the part of the crew of the CITY OF ERIE to cause a collision. Running lights are a necessary part of nighttime navigation, but, like so many things in life, it takes two!
      by Robert I. Schellig, Jr.
      Telescope Magazine
      September-October 1973

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      S C H O O N E R S U N K, T H R E E O F H E R C R E W D R O W N E D.
      Steamer CITY OF ERIE of The C. & B. Line Crashes Into
      the T. VANCE STRAUBENSTEIN of the Erie Coal Company.
      Schooner Carried No Light and was Seen Only Half a Mile Ahead,
      Too Late To Avoid a Collision.
      Out of the darkness which overlay Lake Erie off Dunkirk at 3 o'clock this morning darted the tiny schooner T. Vance Straubenstein straight into the course of the ponderous steamer City of Erie of the C. & B. Line. There was a crash and shrieks from three who will never call out again, Capt. Corson of the sunken schooner, Mate James McCallum and an unknown woman who cooked for the crew of four.
      Thomas Hollis and Thomas Garner, two seamen, pulled from the wreckage by the hands on the City of Erie, were saved to tell their half of the tragedy.
      The Straubenstein, an eggshell craft owned by the Erie Coal Company, was sailing light from Port Colborne to Cleveland for a load of sand. Capt. Corson, whose home is in Hamilton, and Mate McCallum of Toronto are reported to bear reputations as cautious sailors and the womder is that the schooner's lights were not burning properly. That was the sole cause of the collision, declares those in charge of the City of Erie.
      Seen Half a Mile Ahead.
      Capt. McAlplns of the big passenger boat bad turned over the immediate charge of the vessel to Pilot Pickle, who was at the wheel shortly before 3 o'clock in the morning. The skies were then clear and starry and the proper signal lights could easily have been seen several miles ahead. But suddenly, dead ahead, the pilot perceived a dark shape take form out of the night. The two vessels must have been at least a half a mile apart at that tlme but although the pilot signaled to reverse the engines, such was the rnomentum of the City of Erie that she crashed prow to prow into the oncomlng schooner.
The Erie's boats were lowered immediately and one of the seamen was picked up within the first few seconds of the search. It was nearly half an hour afterward that the second sailor was discovered clinging to a bit of drifting wreckage. The City of Erie lingered in the vlcinity of the wreck until dawn showed that it was useless to continue the search and then proceeded on its course to Buffalo, where she docked at 9:10 instead of 7:30, the usual hour for arrival.
      No Lights Displayed
"I am confident the collision was due to the negligence of the schooner in not properly diaplaying her lights," declared General Freight Agent H. R. Rogers of the Cleveland & Buffalo Line, after a grilling examination of the captain, the pilot and other members of the crew of the City of Erie as well of the two survivors of the wrecked schooner.
"I know that the night was clear and that the collision could have been avoided easily if the other boar had been seen in time. But the City of Erie has a speed of a mile in four minutes and when the obstacle was visible at a distance of only half a mile it was practically impossible to turn out of the course in tlme."
      Convulsive Shudder
The shock of the collision sent a convuisivs shudder through the City of Erie from prod to rudder. Her passengers tumbled from their berths and could plainly see the two rescued sallora in the life struggle in the water. One of them was picked up almost immediately but more time was required for the crew in life boats to reach the other poor fellow.
The boat's searchlight spread a greenish halo upon the water. In the center the sailor's head bobbed up and down with the motion of the sea running heavily. To the passengers he appeared to be clinging to an object like a piece of the mast.
      Rescued Just in Time.
      "I can't hold on much longr." he cried when the lifeboat was still some distance away. Those aboard feared he would go down.
"Hurry up, fellows, I'm slippln'." he cried. "I guess I'm goln'." A moment later the broad glare of the searchlight showed the crew pulling him over the side ol the boat.
"Of course the men and women aboard were badly frightened by the jar, the stopping of the engines and
the shrieks of those in the water." said Fred R. Grant, traveling passenger agent of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, who was aboard the City of Erie. "That there was no panic I believe was due to the action of a passenger who was sitting in the writing room.
      Prevented a panic.
      "As soon as the Jar of the collision was felt he looked out and realized what had occurred. A woman in stateroom nearby put her head out through the hall-opened door and began to scream. He ran over, clapped his hand on her mouth and chucked her into the stateroom so suddenly that all the scream was taken out of her. I was told he was one of 11 men who were rescued when a boat went down two years ago, but did not learn his name."
"The crew of the boat showed excellent discipline in the accident and the llfeboats were launched in remarkably short time. They did all they could to rescue all on the schooner.
      Peculiar Light on Water.
" I understand the schooner showed no lights. It was a night when there was a peuliar light on the water, making it difficult to see. You couldn't see the schooner on the water."
After the accident the City of Erie lay to until daylight and did not arrive at her dock until 9:30. The steamer Western Statesof the Detroit & Buffalo Line passed her off Erie and was going out of her course to offer assistance when she was inlormed that her aid was not needed and proceeded on her way.
      What David Altman Saw.
      Ons of the passengers on the City of Erie was David Altman, manager of the "On Trial For His Life" Company playing at the Academy.
"It was Just 3 o'clock when the crash came" he said. "I was almost thrown out of my bunk and hurried on deck as soon as I could draw on some clothes. Everwhere men were shouting orders, and boats were being lowered. At first I thought our ship had been damaged, but I soon learned what was the matter, and I did what I could to quiet the women who were by this time poking their heads out of the cabins and askIng guestions.
      Little Excitement.
      "Considering that there had been a collision, there was very little excitement. Most of the women aboard kept their heads and there was nothing approaching a panic. The crew manned the boats and rowing back succeeded In rescuing two men whom they brought aboard, half drowned. 0f the other three on the schooner two men and a woman, they could find no trace.
"It was hard for the passengers to get any information. I do not know the names or the men, nor what the ship was, except that she was a three masted barge. By the time we got on deck there was no sign of her, but the crew said she had disappeared some distance astern. The men were unconsrlous when they were brought aboard, and could tell nothing of what had happened."
      Buffalo Evening News
      September 27, 1909
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      Port Colborne, Sept. 29. -- Marine men here take no stock in the statement that the schooner VAN STRAUBENZIE had not the proper signal lights burning when she was run down by the steamer CITY OF ERIE about 20 miles southwest of this port at 3 o'clock Monday morning. When the VAN STRAUBENZIE passed out throught port Colborne lock at 7 o'clock Sunday evening her signal lights were burning brightly. She lay in the harbor for four hours with these lights burning, awaiting a favorable wind. When she was being towed out her lights, the tug watchman on the piers says were burning and when the tug let go of her outside the breakwater about 11:30 the captain and the crew will testify that the vessel had the proper signal lights burning brightly. Capt. Corson was well known here, and was considered one of the most competent and careful vessel Captains on the lakes.
      Buffalo Evening News
      September 29, 1909
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      Dispatches from Toronto state that the woman cook who went down with the schooner STRUBENZIE off Dunkirk Monday morning was Mrs. Madeline Connolly of Toronto, who had shipped from that port. She has a sister living in Toronto. Nothing has been learned concerning the unidentified seaman who went down with the ship.
      Buffalo Evening News
      October 1, 1909
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      Capt. James Stone, supervising inspector of steamboats rendered a decision this afternoon in the collision between the CITY OF ERIE and the canadian schooner SIR T. VAN STRAUBENZIE off Dunkirk at 3 o'clock last Monday morning in which two men and a woman were drowned. In his report, Capt. Stone finds that the schooner's starboard lights or green light was not burning at the time of the accident, and therefore finds in his decision that the pilot of the CITY OF ERIE, Edward S. Pickell, is blameless.
      Buffalo Evening News
      October 1, 1909
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      Automobile Skipper Says he Was Forced to "Butt In" When Crash Came.
      St. Catharines, Ont., Oct. 2. -- That the work of getting out the boats and rescuing the crew of the schooner VAN STRAUBENZIE when she was struck and sunk by the C. & B. steamer CITY OF ERIE, between Cleveland and Buffalo, was badly managed is the assertion of Samual Boyd of Cleveland, who was in St. Catharines today. Mr. Boyd is a prosperous merchant of Cleveland and was bringing his automobile on the CITY OF ERIE to Buffalo, whither he intended to motor to his old home in Hamilton.
      He was asleep in his machine in front of the engine, when the collision occurred, and was awakened. The schooner's signal bells, showing she was in distress, appealed to him as an old sailor, and finding the pilot was nervous, he informed the engineer of the condition of the schooner, and told him to back up, which he did.
      The schooner was then in flames. Mr. Boyd will be a witness before the United States Local Inspectors, as he is in a position to give facts not in the possession of others.
      Buffalo Evening News
      October 2, 1909

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      Toronto, Oct. 28. -- W. J. Corson of this city, has asked the Minister of Marine & Fisheries for an investigation into the circumstances of the collision near Buffalo on the morning of Sept. 27, in which the coal carrier VAN STRAUBENZIE was sunk by the CITY OF ERIE and his brother, Capt. Corson of the VAN STRAUBENZIE, the mate and woman cook lost their lives. Although an investigation held at the time by the United States marine inspectors exonerated the officers of the CITY OF ERIE from all blame for the disaster, Mr. Corson thinks the findings was based on an insufficiency of evidence. His appeal for a Canadian investigation is based on the ground that the accident occurred in Canadian waters.
      Buffalo Evening News
      October 28, 1909


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Reason: sunk by collision
Remarks: Total loss
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.454166 Longitude: -81.121388
William R. McNeil
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Sir C. T. Van Straubenzie (Schooner), C75632, sunk by collision, 27 Sep 1909