The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Satellite (Propeller), U22404, sunk, 24 Jun 1879

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The Detroit tug SATELLITE, bound for Duluth with five schooner, the MONTCALM, MOUNT BLANC, MONTICELLO, REINDEER and MONTMORENCY in tow, sprang a leak when off Whitefish Point about 10 o'clock Saturday night and sunk in 15 fathoms of water. All the crew were saved. She was built by Quayle & Martin in Cleveland in 1864.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Tuesday, June 24, 1879

      . . . . .

      Shortly after noon yesterday the startling report that the well known river tug SATELLITE had sunk in Lake Superior was started on the docks and spread like wildfire. Proceeding to the office of the line in the Trowbridge block, a Post & Tribune reporter was shown the following dispatch received by Mr. Gillet:

      Marquette, Mich., June 23 -- 10 a.m.
To John R. Gillet, Detroit, Mich.
      SATELLITE sunk 15 miles off land on Lake Superior in 20 fathoms
      Joshua B. Markee.

That was all. But the captain's name was at the bottom and there could be no mistake. At that particular moment one of the best known tugs, belonging to the Detroit fleet lay at the bottom of lake Superior, 120 feet from the surface. Not a line about the crew, not a word concerning the cause -- the mere fact remained that she had gone down 15 miles from land somewhere along the confines of the lake. The only good news relating to the disaster was that her master was safe, a face evidenced by his sending the dispatch. Later in the afternoon the report gained credence that she sunk 15 miles above White Fish Point on Sunday morning early. If the latter report is true, Capt. Markee must have been assisted to Marquette by some passing craft. The SATELLITE left Detroit on Sunday, June 15, with five of the vessels of the Reindeer Fleet (Messrs. Merick, Fowler and Esseltyn's) in tow, the schooners MONTGOMERY, MONTCALM, MONTICELLO, MONT BLANC and REINDEER, all coal laden, and which she was to tow through to Duluth and back. On Monday following, she lay at Lambton, St. Clair river, wind-bound. On Tuesday the tow passed Port Huron, since when the tidings of the disaster are the first that have been received. She was in good condition, and what could have caused her to sink is all guess work. Any number of theories are advanced, but talk is cheap.
      The SATELLITE was built by Quayle & Martin, at Cleveland, in 1864, for H.M. Strong, of Detroit, since deceased, and the settlement of whose estate is now in the hands of Mr. Thomas Pitts, while the tugs are controlled by Mr. John R. Gillet. When she came out, she was an open tug, after the style of the QUAYLE, BROCKWAY, and others of that class. In 1871 misfortune overtook her and a collision with the schooner J.C. KING on Lake Huron was upset and everything above her main deck swept away. Then she was brought to Detroit and the winter following, under the direction of Cash P. Taylor, now Deputy United States marshal, then managing Mr. Strong's fleet, she was housed in as she has been so familiar since, and as she appeared when she left Detroit on this, her last and fatal trip. It is said that her cabin and upper works were the most elaborate ever put upon a craft of her kind. Last spring her rate was fixed by the insurance companies as B 1, and her valuation at $10,000, but that sum could not have bought her. She was insured for $8,000 as follows: Phoenix of Brooklyn, $4,000; Detroit Fire & Marine, $4,000. It is understood, however, that the latter company reinsured one-half its risk in the North Western National. One-fifth of the boat was owned by Mr. Gillet. An eccentricity concerning the vessels of Mr. Strong, or those built expressly for him, was that all their names began with S and the SATELLITE shared the peculiarity. Others that can now be called to mind are the tug STRANGER and SWEEPSTAKES, and the schooners SUNNYSIDE and SWEETHEART. As near as could be learned yesterday, the SATELLITE has never had any rebuild to her hull, and no change in machinery or boiler. The following composed her crew:
      Captain --- Joshua B. Markee, Port Huron
      Mate --- Douglas Dana, Algonac
      Engineer - Daniel Donovan, Detroit
      Second Engineer - Charles Converse, Detroit
      Lookout -- Frank Dana, Algonac
      Wheelsmen - Alex Cameron; Frank Morris, residence unknown.
      Detroit Post & Tribune
      Tuesday, June 24, 1879

      . . . . .

Yesterday morning Mr. John Gillet received a letter from Capt. Markee of the lost tug SATELLITE, which details some of the circumstances connected with the disaster. The letter reads as follows:
      Marquette, June 23, 1879
Mr. Gillet:
      Dear Sir -- We were towing along as usual working about 17 inches when we heard something break aft, and stopped her engine, and she commenced filling. We commenced bailing and pumping and trying to stop the leak, but it was no use. She gained on us an inch a minute. We kept her afloat two hours. She went down at 10:30 P. M., on June 21, about 30 miles west of White Fish Point, and 15 miles north of Two Heart river, on Lake Superior. We could not tell what was the matter. Our stern pipe was all right inside, and the water came in above the shaft and below the shaft under the ceiling where we could not get at it. Everybody was saved. There are five of us here, and the rest are on the schooners. We five are going down on barges. We did not touch anything in Sault River nor outside, because I had a good pilot, and there was no logs or anything else in Lake Superior the way we came. We think it was her stern pipe. The outer end must have broken and let the wheel down on the shoe, for we could not work the engine either way.
      Respectfully Yours
      Joshua B. Markee
      Special Dispatch to the Post & Tribune, Sault Ste. Marie, June 25. -- The engineer of the tug SATELLITE passed through here today on the steam-barge SUPERIOR, and from him it was learned that on Sunday evening last, when about 15 miles above White Fish Point steaming out on Lake Superior with five coal-laden vessels in tow, the engine suddenly stopped and water commenced to rush in around the stern bearings. The lake was perfectly calm. The engineer could not work the engine and it was impossible to beach the boat. Pumps were set at work and men were called from the vessels to assist, and by Herculean exertions they managed to keep her afloat for about two hours. The water all this while continued to gain rapidly. The leak could not be found, and at 10 o'clock in the evening (Saturday) the crew and those who came on board from the schooners left her in yawls, taking her books, papers and all available articles that could be carried. In a very few minutes afterwards the tug went down in over 100 feet of water and is a total loss. No explanation can be given for the nature of the disaster; the boat simply filled and sunk. The crew are all saved and are on there way back to Detroit.
      There will always be the same mystery surrounding the sinking of the SATELLITE that attended the Commercial Line propeller JAVA on Lake Michigan last summer. In the latter instance the most available theory, and the one that has generally obtained, was that the wheel in some manner came in contact with the iron plating forming the hull, and knocking a hole through, and that in consequence the craft went down. In connection therewith it has been argued that had the vessel been wood, this could not have happened. There was not a few in the city of Detroit who claim the SATELLITE sunk in the same way. It is possible that when the officers and crew of the tug are pinned down to the close questioning necessary when a protest is written, some new and important facts may come to the surface. They will all be here today or tomorrow.
      Detroit Post & Tribune
      June 26, 1879

Steam screw SATELLITE. U. S. No. 22404. Of 209.42 tons. Home port, Detroit, Mich. Of 440 horsepower. [nominal]
      Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1871

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Reason: sunk
Lives: nil
Remarks: Total loss
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 46.76947 Longitude: -84.95258
William R. McNeil
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Satellite (Propeller), U22404, sunk, 24 Jun 1879