the Wreck of the ALICE HACKETT at Horse Island, October, 1828
by Roy Fleming
The wreck of the schooner ALICE HACKETT on her way from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene in the fall of 1828 at Fitzwilliam Island just east of Manitoulin Island, was really a strange occurrence, in which the vessel was an entire loss but no lives lost.
It is the only case in Great Lakes navigation known to the writer where the sole cause of the disaster was the intemperate use of alcoholic liquors by nearly all the company aboard including the officers in charge.
After Drummond Island was awarded to the United States by the International Boundary Commission it was decided to move the British garrison and their effects from there to the Naval Station at Penetanguishene, 200 miles to the east across Lake Huron.
The ALICE HACKETT one of the three vessels used in the transfer, was a staunch sailing vessel from Moy House (Detroit River) owned and sailed by Captain James Hackett, a Scottish pilot from the Hebrides.
On board were some of the military stores including a brass cannon and some muskets, but most of the cargo were the possessions of civilians moving to their new location. Staff Interpreter William Solomen, who was a farmer, had his livestock along, being eight head of cattle four horses, one of them his favorite saddle horse called "Louis," some sheep and pigs. The fort tavern keeper, Alex. Frazer, had thirteen barrels of whisky and rum aboard, which actually turned out to be the real cause of the catastrophe.
The vessel was loaded to more than full capacity with effects and had, as well, a company of migrators, over thirty in number. Some were soldiers, some farmers and tradesmen, the only females being Madame Pierre Lepine and her little daughter Theresa, about nine years old, which two also were to play a vital part in the sad story of disaster.
The vessel left Port Collier on Tuesday afternoon the 30th day of September, 1828, with a light fair wind, all aboard in good spirits, on their way to their new homes.
During the following day Frazer opened tavern with his liberal supply of liquors, in which most everyone indulged; and so with music and song and general hilarious enjoyment, little attention was paid to the navigation of the vessel.
It was nearly midnight when the good ship HACKETT, sailing before a strong wind, without any warning of danger bumped heavily on some rocks, and almost in no time swung around on an unknown rocky shore, throwing a lot of upper cargo immediately into the water.
"Ease of the sheets, men," shouted the Captain suddenly sobered, "and, Mate, shove out the yawl boat and see what can be done."
By the aid of some lanterns it was found that the vessel had lodged firmly on the shore, the stern half already submerged; but with care it appeared that the company could get on land. With the help of the boat most all were ferried to shore.
In the process of salvaging whatever could be easily handled, it was somewhat strange and certainly without good reason, that Frazer and his friends landed all thirteen barrels of liquor on shore; there were also a few casks of pork saved.
Poor Solomon was much less fortunate. All his live stock were drowned except his one favorite white horse, which had got loose and had swum ashore. The company on shore constructed a wind-break of logs and evergreen boughs and then made a fire to warm themselves some resting, and some attempting to continue salvaging till daylight came.
It was not till morning arrived that it was discovered Madame Lepine and her little girl were still aboard the vessel, tossing in the waves. They were discerned by some on shore, figures wrapped and bound to the mast. The faithless husband, Pierre, still in his drunken stupor, had failed to note the absence of his wife and daughter.
Willing hands soon rescued the poor refugees. They had spent a night of terror on the rolling ship, one cause of alarm being the swaying of the cannon near them, which finally fell through the hatch-way and then through the ship's bottom. Poor Captain Hackett viewed the scene of his wrecked ship that morning, a total loss, his life savings gone. "She'll never float again," lamented the pilot, "and it was Frazer's bad whisky that did it."
How word reached Penetang of the disaster is not known, but after some days' waiting at this southern tip of Fitzwilliam Island by the Great Gap, a large sailboat came to rescue the refugees and bring them on to their destination. There was room on the vessel for all the company and the few salvaged goods, but no room for Solomon's poor horse, this to the great disappointment of its owner. Solomon's white horse remained alive on this island it is said for some years, seen occasionally by passing vessels. Thus it came that Fitzwilliam Island has been long known to the lake sailing fraternity as "Horse Island."
It may be added that the wreck at Horse Island was long forgotten by everybody; but in the summer of 1860, two fishermen from Southampton, MacAuley and McLeod, found the wreck, then mostly under water. After some examination they discovered the brass cannon. They got the gun out (weighing about 200 pounds) and two army muskets. However, on making their way into Southampton, their sailboat capsized opposite Chantry Island dumping the cannon into the water and there it lies today. It was an historic gun as it was brought to the lake from Hudson Bay when De Troy and Iberville raided the British posts there in 1786, bringing the trophy to Michillimackinac. I saw one of the salvaged muskets in Southampton, then owned by Larry Bellemore.
Madame Lepine lived the rest of her lifetime at the Bay of the Rolling Sands and at her death was given a military funeral. Theresa married a farmer and lived happily. The Lepine descendants are still there.
Captain James McCannel, veteran lake mariner, told me he knew the Lepine family, and that one of the sons long sailed with him on the S. S. Assiniboine. I am told that the HACKETT wreck is still up at Horse Island, with some of the army muskets still to be salvaged. Manitoulin Island salvagers still have a chance; perhaps HACKETT's money box is there too.
Summer 1954 pps. 142 & 143
. . . . .
NOTE:- There is absolutely no truth in the above story as regards the vessel named ALICE HACKETT, it did not exist, the vessel in question was the Buffalo schooner VICTOR, which was bringing the settlers and Solomen's horses to Penatanguishene. It was the VICTOR that was wrecked on Fitzwilliam Island, Solomen sent letter after letter to the British Governement pleading for money to repay him his loss (Horses & other articles). The date of wrecking was 1830.
A wreck near the mouth of Rattlesnake Harbor, when measured, was exactly the same measurements as that of the VICTOR ?
Schooner VICTOR. Of 36.31 tons. Built 1828 at Silver Creek in 1828. Home port, Silver Creek, N.Y. 50.6 x 16.9 x 5.1. Owned by William Newberry & Hollern Vail of Silver Creek, N.Y. 1 deck, 2 masts, no galleries, no figure-head. Enrolled at Buffalo, N. Y., as No. 9 of 1828 and dated August 24, 1828 Notation, -- Lost 1828
Port of Buffalo, Enrollment.
Port of Detroit
Arrived, Sept. 18, 1828
Schr. VICTOR, Squires, Buffalo.
Cleared, Sept. 18, 1828
Schr. VICTOR, Squires, Buffalo
September 25, 1828
Port of Detroit
Arrived, Nov. 1, 1828
Schr. VICTOR, Squires, Buffalo.
November 6, 1828
Cleared, Nov. 10, 1828
Schr. VICTOR, Squires, Mackinac.
November 20, 1828