The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Constitution (Steamboat), storm, 1 Oct 1837

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In a tremendous Gale on Lake Erie, October 1837, wherein is shown the coolness and intrepidity of the engineer of the boat.
One of the most thrilling incidents on record, took place onboard the steamboat CONSTITUTION, during an awful gale or. Lake Erie. It tends to show the heroism and strength of nerve of which humanity is sometimes capable. We copy from an account written shortly after the occurrence.
That fearful night, the steamboat CONSTITUTION , Captain Appleton was out amidst the terrors of the gale. By the glimpse caught at intervals, when the fitful storm for a moment broke away, the anxious and watchful commander was made aware of the critical situation of his boat, which was rapidly drifting in--under the hurricane power of the gale, our., which blew almost directly across the lake--toward the dangerous reef, from which escape would have been impossible. He went directly to the engineer and ordered on more steam. The reply of the engineer was, that there was already as much on as the boilers would safely bear.
"Again did the Captain seek the deck, to see if his laboring boat was making headway, and again returned to the engineers room. He explained to the engineer their hazardous situation , and told him all hope was lost, if no more headway could be gained, but left the engineer to act his discretion in the crisis. A moment of reflections and his decision was made. Life or death hung on the issue. Certain destruction awaited the boat and her devoted crew in a few brief minutes, if they did not gain upon the driving storm.
This might be averted if the boilers, already crowded to a fearful pressure could yet bear a heavier strain., and that he determined to TRY. True the awful horrors or en explosion were vividly before him--the mangled limbs, the scorched and lifeless bodies, the death-shrieks and the groans of the helpless victims, were before his eyes, and on his ear. The alternative was a fearful one, yet it must be resorted to.
"He coolly directed the heads of two barrels of oil to be broken in; the furnaces were rapidly fed with wood dipped in the highly inflammable liquid, while two men, with ladles, dashed the oil into the flames. The intense heat which these combustibles created generated steam with the rapidity of lightning; and soon the resistless vapor forced up the safety-valve, and issued forth with tremendous violence, its sharp hissing being heard above the wild uproar of the waters and the storm.
"With a desperate and determined courage, which equals the most daring heroism that the page of history has ever recorded, the engineer sat down upon the lever of the safety-valve, to confine and rates the steam to the necessary power required to propel the boat against the drifting waves In this awful situation he calmly remained, until the prodigious effort of the engine had forced the boat sufficiently off shore to be beyond the threatened danger.
"This intrepid act was not a rash and vainglorious attempt to gain the applause of a multitude by a fool-hardy exposure of life, in some racing excursion; it was not the deed of a drunken and reckless man, wickedly heedless of the safety of whose lives were periled,--but it was the self-possessed and determined courage of one whose firmness is worthy of all admiration. We give it as it was told to us, as one of those frequent scenes of real life, whose actual realities are indeed stranger than fictions."
      "Steamboat Disasters And Railroad Accidents In The United States, '
      Worcester 1846

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Reason: storm
Lives: nil
Remarks: Uninjured ?
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.454166 Longitude: -81.121388
William R. McNeil
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Constitution (Steamboat), storm, 1 Oct 1837