The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Florida (Propeller), U120753, sunk by collision, 20 May 1897

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On Thursday morning shortly after 10 o'clock, the steamer GEO. W. ROBY, bound up light for Marquette, collided with the steamer FLORIDA, of the Lackawanna Line, between False Presque Isle and Middle Island in lake Huron. The FLORIDA went down in more than 200 feet of water about 15 minutes, after the collision, the crew of 21 men were all picked up by the ROBY and returned here early this morning. The ROBY lays at Dunford and Alverson's dock this forenoon. The FLORIDA was struck amidships in a dense fog and sank stern first. She was loaded with wheat and a quantity of flour in barrels and sacks.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Friday, May 21, 1897

      Buffalo Steamer FLORIDA Sent to the Bottom of Lake Huron. Loss, $200,000.
Chicago, May 21. -- During a dense fog the steamer FLORIDA of the Lackawanna line was sunk by collision with the steamer GEORGE W. ROBY in Lake Huron off Middle Island yesterday afternoon. The crew of the FLORIDA was taken to Port Huron. No one was hurt.
The steamer FLORIDA was bound from Chicago to Buffalo with a hold cargo of 56,000 bushels of wheat and a full upper load of package freight. She lies in deep water and is a total loss.
The Florida was one of the largest of a big fleet of wooden steamers built by the Mills Dry Dock Company of Buffalo. She was valued at over $100,000. Her hull was insured for $80,000 and her cargo for about $120,000, all in the "Chicago Syndicate."
Smith. Davis & Co., who represent the old line companies in Buffalo, today expressed themselves as mighty glad that the syndicate had taken the FLORIDA away from them.
For several years the FLORIDA, which is owned by the Red Star Line. Miller, Donaldson and others, of this city, has been under charter to the Lackawanna Transportation Company, of which M. M. Drake is manager. She was on her third trip of the season. The FLORIDA was launched in 1889. She is 270 feet long between perpendiculars, 40 feet beam and 15.4 feet depth of hold. She measures 2103 tons gross and 1834 net register. She was commanded by Capt. Henry Murphy, who is expected to arrive here this evening to give the particulars of the disaster.
The steamer GEORGE W. ROBY, which sunk the FLORIDA, is a steel boat. She was built at West Bay City in 1889, and owned by W. H. Mack of Cleveland. She is 281 feet long between perpendiculars, 41 feet beam and 20 feet deep. She measures 1843 tons gross and 1470 tons net register.
      Buffalo Evening News
      Friday, May 21, 1897
      . . . . .

      Port Huron, Mich., May 21. -- The steamer FLORIDA of the Lackawanna line, bound from Chicago to Buffalo with grain and general merchandise, was sent to the bottom of Lake Huron by collision with the steamer GEORGE W. ROBY at 9 o'clock yesterday morning between Middle Island and Presque Isle. The crew of the FLORIDA were all rescued by the ROBY, which steamer being badly damaged, turned back, arriving here this morning.
      It was very foggy at the time of the collision. The two steamers exchanged passing signals, but they had not sighted each other in time to avoid coming together. Capt. William Smith, who is in command of the ROBY, states that when he first sighted the FLORIDA through the fog, he stopped and backed his engine, but the two steamers were so close together that it was impossible to avoid the crash. The ROBY struck the FLORIDA on the starboard side, about amidships. A hole twelve feet long was cut in the steamers wooden side. It was soon seen that it was only a question of minutes before the FLORIDA would go down. The ROBY steamed alongside of the doomed craft and took off part of her crew. The remainder of the men had speedily lowered the yawl and succeeded in getting free of the sinking steamer. They were picked up subsequently by the ROBY.
      In about twelve minutes after the crash, the FLORIDA went to the bottom, sinking stern first, and breaking in two about amidships. As she went down the imprisoned air in her hull, blew off the cabins and upper works. This debris is now scattered over the surface of the lake, and has been reported by several steamers which passed through it.
      So quickly had the FLORIDA to be abandoned by her crew that they were unable to save any of their personal belongings. After the collision, the ROBY, which was bound for Marquette without cargo, and towing the schooner BECKER, turned the BECKER over to the V.H. KETCHUM. The ROBY is badly damaged about the bow and will go into drydock here.
      The FLORIDA lies in about 220 feet of water. Capt. Murphy says the steamer doubled up like a jack-knife when the stern struck bottom. The safe and kitchen range were floating around the lake with parts of the cabin. Capt. Murphy gives high praise to Capt. Smith of the ROBY for his course after the collision. Instead of backing away and leaving the steamer he lapped over the break and kept her bow lapped there until every man had jumped from the sinking vessel except those who had taken to the yawl.
      The members of the rescued crew, are :- Captain, Henry Murphy; 1st. mate, S.W. Burt; second mate, D. Morrison; Chief engineer, George M. Wyest; second engineer, John Gallagher; wheelsman, Joseph McCord and Patrick Bulger; lookout, John Conners.
      The place where the collision occurred has been the scene of many marine disasters and there is probably not a square mile on the bottom of the lake in that region without one or more wrecks, which have been caused by collision. The last big collision in that vicinity resulted in the loss of the steel steamer NORMAN.
      The cargo of the FLORIDA, consisted of 50,000 bushels of wheat, 1451 barrels and 3150 sacks of flour valued at about $65,000. Insurance was carried on the steamer to the amount of $80,000. The foreign companies represented by the McCurty, Peck syndicate of Chicago holds the risk on both vessel and cargo.
      The damage to the ROBY will amount to about $5,000. The stem is broken, and a large number of planks where she struck the FLORIDA, are started. Nothing will be done until the arrival of the W.H. MACK from Cleveland.
      There is a chance for a very lively legal fight over the collision. The FLORIDA is insured with the McCurty syndicate, while the ROBY is insured with lake companies through Smith, Davis & Co. of Buffalo. Her policies cover any liability she may incur from collision. Between the syndicate and the Lake Companies there has been a vast amount of bad blood, and a contest is certain to come over the liability for the loss of the Lackawanna line. Preparations for the legal battle are already being made.
      The crew of the FLORIDA will be sent to Buffalo on the GEORGE GOULD from Port Huron tonight. The wheat on the FLORIDA was insured in the British & Foreign Export policies.
The FLORIDA was a steamer of 1835 net tons measurement, had an A 1* rating and in last season's Inland Lloyds register was valued at $100,000. She was built at Buffalo in 1889 by Robert Mills for himself, P.P. Miller and James Donaldson, Mr. Miller being the managing owner. For several seasons after her advent the FLORIDA was operated in the Western Transit line, and at the termination of this contract, entered the Lackawanna line, in which she continued to the end. She was commanded by Capt. Henry Murphy.
      Milwaukee Library Scrapbook
      May 21, 1897

      . . . . .

Capt. Murphy of the lost steamer FLORIDA will not arrive in Buffalo until tonight or tomorrow morning, according to the statement of a Red Star Line official. The story of the wreck, however, has been pretty fully covered and the insurance fight is now on in earnest.
The FLORIDA was one of a few of the larger steamers that had not adopted pole spars. Her three tall sticks, with topmasts and black crosstrees, made her easily distinguishable.
      Buffalo Evening News
      Saturday, May 22, 1897

      . . . . .

Owners of the steamer ROBY, which sank the FLORIDA in collision on Lake Huron a few days ago, will be more interested in the outcome of the legal action than might be expected from reading the newspaper dispatches. Their insurance policy is of the fake kind, and if their vessel should be held responsible for the collision they would be called upon to bear a considerable part of the loss.
      The Marin Review
      May 27, 1897

In a libel against the steamer ROBY and her consort, the W. D. Becker, filed in the United States district court at Detroit, the owners and underwriters interested in the sunken steamer FLORIDA claim damages aggregating $172,400. This includes the value of freight list and the crew's effects. The papers assert that at 8:45 in the morning of May 20, the time of the collision, the FLORIDA was in every particular obeying the rules of navigation; that she was in nowise at fault; that a heavy fog was on; that after passing Presque Isle the FLORIDA took a course a little to the east of the chart course, changing it only on receiving a signal from the ROBY that the FLORIDA proceeded on the course under a slow, checked speed, continually sounding the fog signals as required by law, with a close watch maintained; that a passing signal of two whistles was heard from the ROBY seeming to come from a little forward and a little to the starboard of the FLORIDA, and not far away. The FLORIDA put her wheel to starboard and answered with two whistles, which was answered by the ROBY Soon thereafter a checking signal and a reversing signal in quick succession were heard from the ROBY as the latter came into view through the fog. The ROBY was then close to the FLORIDA, going at apparently full speed and heading to the starboard side of the latter. The FLORIDA had commenced to swing under a starboard helm immediately after the first exchange of signals, and continued to so swing until struck by the ROBY but the latter, as she came into view of those on the FLORIDA, was not swinging under such helm, and evidently had not altered her course as required under her starboard signal. The ROBY was hailed to starboard her helm, but instead of doing so she came on at great speed, and crashed stem on into the starboard side of the FLORIDA, striking the latter a little abaft of amidships and causing her to sink within a short time. The FLORIDA's owners claim that at no time were any fog signals heard from a bell, as is required from schooners being towed; that prior to the collision no fog signals of any kind - so that the location and course of such tow could not be calculated and determined - were hoard from either the steamer or her consort; that the fog and passing signals of the FLORIDA were all given by loud and distinct blasts of a good and sufficient steam whistle; that a watch on the ROBY should have heard the FLORIDA's fog whistles and thus have located her a long time prior to the time they blew their first two blast signal on the FLORIDA; that though it was thick and foggy at the time the conditions were favorable for sounds to be heard a long distance.
      The Marine Review
      June 3, 1897

      . . . . .

The last trip of the package freighter S. S. FLORIDA began like many others. After taking on a cargo of manufactured goods, flour, syrup and barrels of whiskey in Chicago, she made her way up Lake Michigan and through the Straits of Mackinac under excellent weather conditions. Upon entering the northern end of Lake Huron she was greeted by an early morning fog, a mix up in signals with the steamer GEORGE W. ROBY and a quick demise in over 250 feet of water. Approximately a hundred years later (1994) she was discovered by Captain Ed Ellison with her fully loaded cargo, including floating barrels of flour and whiskey in her holds.
      NOTE :- the above article ( 1994) is missing the document source ?

Steam screw FLORIDA. U. S. No. 120753. Of 2103.36 tons gross; 1834.65, Built Buffalo, N.Y., 1889. Home port, Buffalo, N.Y. 270.8 x 40.2 x 15.4
      Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1891

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: sunk by collision
Lives: nil
Freight: wheat
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 45.19251 Longitude: -83.3272
William R. McNeil
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Florida (Propeller), U120753, sunk by collision, 20 May 1897