A VICTIM OF FIRE
The steamer AUSTRALASIA, owned by James Corrigan of Cleveland, and bound from Cleveland to Milwaukee with a cargo of 2,200 tons of soft coal, was burned to the water's edge at Whitefish Bay Saturday evening and now lies upon the bottom with her bow resting in ten feet of water. The AUSTRALASIA passed through the Straits of Mackinac early Saturday morning and headed towards the west shore of Lake Michigan.
About 6 0'clock in the evening, just after land had been sighted off Bailey's Harbor, fire broke out beneath the boilers and resisted every effort of the crew of extinguishment. The flames speedily licked up the bulkhead separating the freight hold from the engine and boiler compartment and made their way forward beneath the deck. Seeing that his steamer was doomed to destruction the captain headed her for Whitefish Bay. Before abandoning their posts the engineer threw the throttle of the engine wide open, and the fireman filled the furnaces of the two boilers with coal, so as to hold a good head of steam as long as possible. Fortunately the heat of the blaze beneath the boilers did not disable the machinery and it carried the steamer landward until bottom was struck near Whitefish Bay. While the crew of the steamer were fighting the fire the lookout of the Bailey's Harbor station sighted the flames, and the lifesavers were soon in pursuit of the AUSTRALASIA with their large lifeboat under canvas. They reached her soon after she struck bottom and took off the crew, who were grouped forward. Before abandoning the burning hulk the captain caused holes to be bored through the hull forward to fill the hold with water as speedily as possible and thus save the bulk of the coal cargo.
This is the purport of one account, at least, it does not tally with another from Sturgeon Bay, from which point the tug JOHN LEATHEM was hurried to the scene on receipt of a telephone warning forwarded from Bailey's Harbor. The captain of the LEATHEM states that the AUSTRALASIA was four miles off land when he reached her and had been abandoned by the crew, the lifesavers having taken the latter to Jackson Port. The LEATHEM, he says, then got a line on the AUSTRALASIA, intending to take her to the Sturgeon Bay Canal entrance. Finding this impossible, he claims to have towed the steamer ashore and then scuttled her by ramming a hole through her side. While this may possibly have been the case. It is hardly probable, as no one is prepared to believe that a tug could perform such a ramming feat without losing her stem and in fact shattering her entire bow. At any rate the Leathem & Smith Towing & Wrecking company will have a salvage claim to file against the underwriters.
The AUSTRALASIA was built at West Bay City by James Davidson in 1884. Her tonnage is 1,539 net, rating A 1-1/2* and valuation $85,000. She is insured in the Chicago Agency of C.A. McDonald & Co., who represent the Sea, Marine, Reliance and Chicago Insurance companies, for $85,000. The same firm also carries insurance to the extent of $8,000 on the coal cargo. Wrecking master C.H. Sinclair left Chicago today to ascertain the actual condition of the wreck. The case of the AUSTRALASIA is precisely the same as that of the steamer WALDO A. AVERY, which burned in the Straits very late in the season several years ago. In that instance a representative of the underwriters purchased the wreck and had it rebuilt at West Bay City. The AVERY is now known as the PHENIX.
October 19, 1896
The big wooden steamer AUSTRALASIA, coal laden from Lake Erie to Milwaukee, burned in Lake Michigan Saturday night and the wreck now lies sunk in Whitefish Bay. The crew were rescued by the life saving crew from Bailey's Harbor and taken to Sturgeon Bay.
Port Huron Daily Times
Monday, October 19, 1896
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Sturgeon Bay, Oct. 22 - Wrecking operations on the burned stm. AUSTRALASIA have been suspended for the time being. It is reported that Leatham & Smith are negotiating for the purchase of the burned hull and the cargo it contains where it now lays.
Buffalo Morning Express
October 23, 1896 3-2
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Sturgeon Bay, Oct. 23. -- The Leathem & Smith Towing & Wrecking Company have purchased from the underwriters the wreck and cargo of the burned steamer AUSTRALASIA. The cargo will be pumped out, after which the hull will be patched up and an effort be made to raise it and bring it here. Divers will begin work at once.
Milwaukee Library Scrapbook
October 24, 1896
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Work is still being done on the wreck of the burned steamer AUSTRALASIA whenever the weather will permit. The Leathem & Smith company expect to be able to save the boilers and are now engaged in the work of preparing to raise them. The hull is too badly broken up now to be saved, but the boilers, and possibly the engine, except bedplate, may be recovered.
Milwaukee Library Scrapbook
November 28, 1896
Steam screw AUSTRALASIA. U. S. No. 106302. Of 1,829.32 tons gross; 1,539.20 tons net. Built West Bay City, Mich., 1884. Home port, Cleveland, Ohio. 282.0 x 39.0 x 21.2 Of 2,600 Nominal Horsepower.
Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1891