It was 10:00 P.M., May 28, 1892, and John Hurley, together with Tom Robinson had been waiting at Shipman's Coal Dock along the Detroit River for hours for the Hurley owned steamer MAJESTIC to come up river. The WASHBURN, a steam tug owned by Hurley, was waiting at the dock to take the anxious pair to the side of the MAJESTIC. Hurley had some urgent business to discuss with Captain Lawless of the MAJESTIC, and Robinson was to relieve his brother, Bill Robinson as chief engineer. The MAJESTIC was laden with coal for Chicago. Loading, as usual, had taken longer than anticipated. At last, she was sighted but for some reason Robinson could not be found. Hurley was taken to the MAJESTIC and the tug returned to Shipman's for Robinson. At 10:00 P.M., May 28,1892, the D&C steamer CITY OF MACKINAW left her dock at the foot of Wayne Street below Woodward Avenue on her scheduled sailing to MACKINAW. At 10:06 she passed the revenue cutter FESSENDEN which lay 800 feet out into the stream two blocks above Woodward Avenue. As she completed a starboard to starboard passing with a steam barge, the master of the MACKINAW saw lights of a vessel making its way toward the Canadian shore approximately one quarter mile ahead, 2 to 3 points off his port bow.
At 10:02 the WASHBURN again approached the MAJESTIC with Tom Robinson aboard. The tug came along the starboard side of the MAJESTIC when the latter was abreast of the Detroit & Milwaukee elevator. The WASHBURN and MAJESTIC proceeded under a slow check, on a course heading toward the elevator in Walkerville on the Canadian side.
When within two lengths of the lights ahead the master of the CITY OF MACKINAW became concerned as to what that vessel intended to do. He ported his helm and checked his engines. He intended to pass the vessel on her starboard side between her and the Canadian shore. He was not aware of the presence of the tug WASHBURN on her starboard side.
At 10:15 P.M. with John Hurley and Bill Robinson aboard, the WASHBURN cast off, and to avoid the suction from the MAJESTIC's propeller, the master of the tug rang up his engine and moved forward along the MAJESTIC's side until about amidships when she sheered off rapidly to starboard.
While the tug was engaged in freeing itself, and swinging away from the MAJESTIC, the master of the CITY OF MACKINAW, growing more anxious and doubtful ordered his wheel still more aport and stopped his engines. Just then the lookout of the MACKINAW heard the exhaust of the tug. He and the captain and mate of the MACKINAW caught a glimmer of her green light about 75 to 100 feet off the port bow, and heard her blast of two whistles. As soon as the green light was seen, the master of the MACKINAW signaled to reverse his engines. Both vessels were swinging to starboard, but the head reaching of the MACKINAW was sufficient to carry her bow into the starboard side of the hull of the tug through a full bunker of coal against her boiler. She struck the tug a point or two abaft the beam. The collision threw Hurley and Robinson into water, and, before they could be picked up, both were drowned. The tug, after it was released by the backing of the MACKINAW, it's engines and machinery still in operation, ran aground near the Canadian shore and sank. The master of the tug caught the stem of the MACKINAW at the time of the collision and clamored over her bow. The rest of the crew of the vessel were taken off the tug after she went aground on the Canadian shore. The MAJESTIC, after the tug had swung off from her changed her course 2 points to port and proceeded up the river, her officers supposing from the fact that the tug had gone toward the Canadian shore that the collision which they had witnessed had not resulted in serious damage.
The tug had but four men in her crew, though her papers called for five. She had no lookout. Her captain acted as master, wheelsman and lookout. The MACKINAW was properly manned Her captain and mate were on the hurricane deck near the pilot house and she had a lookout forward on the promenade deck "in the eyes of the ship." The captain, mate, and lookout on the MACKINAW stated that they did not see the stern light of the tug at all, although they were watching the MAJESTIC with great care. The captain of the tug stated that he did not see the lights of the MACKINAW at all, but that after he climbed over her bow he investigated and found that her signal lights were burning brightly.
The trial court emphasized the fact that the WASHBURN was insufficiently manned and absolved the CITY OF MACKINAW from liability.
The Appeals Court, however, felt that the MACKINAW was also to blame for not establishing a passing agreement with the MAJESTIC, through whistle signals. Each party was ordered to pay half of the damages.
Undoubtedly the courtroom was not the only 'bar' where this one was argued, over and over.
What do you think?
November-December 1972, pp. 168 - 169