The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
W. K. Muir (Tug), U26367, boiler explosion, 18 Sep 1867

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      Detroit, Sept. 19. - The steaming W. K. MUIR exploded her boiler last night, totally destroying the boat, and instantly killing Capt. Robert Pridgeon, mate Elias Pridgeon, engineer Brampton, two firemen and the cook.
      The names of the latter were not ascertained.
      Five others were badly injured - one of whom will die.
      Buffalo Daily Post
      Thursday, September 19, 1867

      . . . . .

      Detroit, September 19th. -- The tug W. K. MUIR exploded her boiler last night, at Port Huron, Michigan, totally destroying the boat and instantly killing the captain, Robert Pridgeon; the mate, Elias Pridgeon; the engineer, Mr. Brampton, and two firemen and the cook, whose names are not ascertained. Five others were hurt, one of whom will die.
      The tug MUIR was uninsured. She was worth over $20,000 and was owned by John Pridgeon, of Detroit. The engineer's name was John Kirchean, the clerk's Wm. Brampton, Charlie the cook, Jim & John , firemen -- surnames unknown.
      None of the bodies have yet been recovered. Among the injured are Thomas Daniels of Buffalo, badly scalded, probably fatally; Walter Cartwright of Detroit, badly scalded; Michael McQueeny and Jas. Scofield bruised and scalded; Capt. and mate who were both lost, are brothers of the owner.
      Toledo Blade
      September 20, 1867
      . . . . .
NOTE: One of the big names in 19th Century shipping on the Great Lakes was that of English-born John Pridgeon. From his home port of Detroit, Pridgeon bought and sold floating stock with gusto and developed a sizable fleet of lake grain and lumber carriers. Last week a descendent and genealogist of Capt. Pridgeon contacted me concerning my database entry on the tug W. R. MUIR, which exploded on the St. Clair R. in 1867. She was owned by Pridgeon and skippered by his brother Robert, with brother Elijah as first mate. Until this article came to light, nothing was known of the lives of Robert and Elijah except their names. If anyone has a question of why it is worthwhile to collect and republish old newspaper clippings, here is a glowing example.
A rather interesting coincidence came of all this: perhaps due to the association of John Pridgeon with famous Detroit fleet owner Eber Ward (Pridgeon had bought several vessels from Ward and vice-versa), another Pridgeon brother, Samuel, acquired a piece of lumbered-over land from Ward's brother Samuel.
Unbeknownst to me, that land and the nearby Pridgeon cemetery are located less than two miles from my home in a thinly-populated area in the wilds of northern Michigan! Small world! If you are interested in the Pridgeon genealogy page:
      It is debatable whether this medium-sized tug (110 ft., 123 t.) was named W. R. MUIR or W. K. MUIR. There was another tug named W. K. MUIR, operating out of Milwaukee at this time. Extracts of official records show the spelling W. R. MUIR though she always shows in the papers as W. K. and the tug's actual name was probably W. K. MUIR.
      Dave Swayze

      Explosion of the Tug W. K. Muir.
      Seven Lives Lost - All the Crew Killed or Wounded
      Particulars by Telegraph
      Special telegrams received at the office of THE FREE PRESS yesterday from Port Huron, announced the terrible explosion of the boiler of the tug W. K. Muir, in the river just below that city at a late hour on the night previous, by which seven persons on board were suddenly hurled into eternity, and the five others composing her crew were severely, and some of them it is feared, fatally injured. It seems that the tug, which was considered one of the best in the service, owned by Capt. John Pridgeon of this city, and commanded by a brother of the owner, another brother being first officer, had just taken up a tow consisting of the bark City of Buffalo and another vessel, name not known, and was proceeding down the river. When about a half a mile below the city of Port Huron, a startling and stunning report was heard, and as quick as thought followed the fearful cry and conviction that the tug had burst her boiler. The tug Red Eric immediately went to the scene and there, among the floating fragments of the wreck, the most of which had disappeared beneath the waves, picked up all that were left of the crew, five poor mangled and scalded persons; the others, including the captain, mate, 1st engineer, the clerk, cook and two firemen, were all gone, ushered into the presence of their maker without a note of warning, or an instant of preparation. The first special dispatch referred to is as follows:
      Port Huron, Sept. 19, 8:45 a. m.
      A terrible explosion occurred half a mile below here about ten o'clock last night. The tug W. K. Muir had picked up a tow and started down the river, when her boiler exploded, killing Captain Robert Pridgeon, Elijah Pridgeon, Bampton, the first engineer, two firemen and the cook; five are wounded, one seriously. Capt. Wm. O'Neil, of the tug Red Eric, went to the rescue of the wounded, who are now being kindly taken care of at the Larned House.
None of the drowned have been recovered. The tug is a total wreck. No Particulars as to the cause of the explosion. T. J. C.
      Capt. John Pridgeon left for the scene immediately upon receipt of the appalling announcement to him trebly terrible, to ascertain the true facts of the case, and to aid the remaining sufferers, who, it will have been seen, were properly and kindly cared for by the people in the vicinity.
      The unfortunate captain and mate, Robert and Elijah Pridgeon, were well known, and had for a long time been connected with the boat. They were both married, and leave families in this city. The engineer had served for some years in the subordinate station, and had just been promoted to the first place in that service. Of the others killed but little is known at present, they being for the most part recently attached to the boat. Only surmises as
to the cause of the catastrophe can be indulged in; it comes almost like the sudden crash of an unseen irresistible fate. It comes with a suddenness, and the appalling consequences with which death often loves to deal - who, like other tyrants,
      " -- delights to smite what, smitten most proclaims the pride of power and arbitrary nod."
      For what more arbitrary than the irrevocable decree whose execution works such ruin, terror and dismay! The officers of the steamer Reindeer, which came down yesterday, report the river filled with the floating fragments for a long distance. The explosion must, evidently, have been of terrific force, and it is thought that the boiler must have shot forward and upward, throwing the deck of the boat completely over to the rear.
The following is a
      Those drowned by the explosion of the tug W. K. Muir were Rob't Pridgeon, Captain; Elijah Pridgeon, mate; John Kirchean, 1st engineer; Wm. Bampton, clerk and lookout; Charlie, the cook; Jim and John, firemen; the surnames of the three latter unknown. The wounded are Thos. Daniels, of Buffalo, face seriously scalded and bruised; Walter Cartwright, spine severely injured; Oscar Cartwright, wheelsman, foot and back injured; Michael McQueeny, slightly in foot; James Scofield, 2nd engineer, feet scalded. No insurance on tug. None of the killed have been found yet. T.J.C.
      Detroit Free Press
      September 20, 1867 page 1

      . . . . .

      THE ILL-FATED TUG MUIR. - This ill-fated steamer, the career of which terminated so disastrously, was formerly the HAMILTON MORTON, and was built at Buffalo in 1854. After several years' service the Morton was partially destroyed by fire at this port, and in 1863 was rebuilt and considerably enlarged, her name changed, and was doubtless as staunch a built craft as plied the rivers. It is stated that a few moments prior to the explosion the low state of water in the boiler was noticed, the boat stopped and the fires put out, when the tug was hailed by the captain of the vessel she had in tow to go ahead and get out of the way. The tug made one or two more turns with her wheel, when the result already known immediately followed.
      Detroit Free Press
      September 21, 1867

      . . . . .
      TUG BLOWN UP. -- The tug W. K. MUIR exploded near Port Huron, on Wednesday night, and sunk in two minutes afterwards. Capt. R. Pridgein; mate E. Pridgeon; -- Brampton, clerk; J. Kirschner, engineer; the cook and two firemen were killed.
      Toledo Blade
      September 21, 1867
NOTE :-- Ex HAMILTON MORTON. -- The bodies of the captain and four others were recovered several miles downstream a few days later. The tug was later raised and rebuilt.

      . . . . .
Steam screw W.K. MUIR. U. S. No. 26367. Of 66 tons gross. Built Milwaukee, Wis., 1862. First home port, Milwaukee, Wis. -- DISPOSITION -- Abandoned 1882.
      Merchant Steam Vessels of the U. S. A.
      Lytle - Holdcamper List, 1790 to 1868


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Reason: boiler explosion
Lives: 6
Remarks: Repaired
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 42.97086 Longitude: -82.42491
William R. McNeil
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W. K. Muir (Tug), U26367, boiler explosion, 18 Sep 1867