The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
W. L. Wetmore (Propeller), U80196, aground, 29 Nov 1901

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November 20, 1901. -- Steamer W. L. WETMORE, lumber-laden, totally wrecked on Rabbit Island, Georgian Bay.
      Wrecks on the Great Lakes
      Casualty List for 1901
      Marine Record
      January 11, 1902
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      Early Friday morning the steamer W. L. WETMORE and consorts BRUNETTE and KING, all three loaded with lumber from Parry Sound for Tonawanda, ran ashore on Rabbit Island in georgian bay, two miles from Tobermory. A heavy wind and snow storm prevailed at the time. Tugs were sent to the assistance of the vessels as soon as news of the mishap reached Tobermory.
      Duluth News Tribune
      December 2, 1901
      Steamer WETMORE and two consorts Breaking to Pieces in Georgian Bay.
Detroit, Mich., December 3. -- News of disaster to the steamer WETMORE and her consorts, the BRUNETTE and KING, was brought here by members of the crew of the wrecked boats. All three seem to be total losses. The WETMORE, which was towing the other two boats, tried to make Tobermory harbor in Georgian Bay in a heavy gale and snow storm last Friday. The steamer missed the harbor and went ashore in an uninhabited part of the rocky Georgian bay shore. The BRUNETTE and KING soon after followed the steamer in going on the rocks. The steamer's wheel was broken and the boats began pounding. As it seemed dangerous to remain on board the crews took to their lifeboats and reached land at Babbitt Island.[sic] There they spent the night. The following morning they were rescued from the island and taken to Wiarton. The men say the WETMORE was breaking up the last time they saw her. The barges were in a dangerous position. All three boats were loaded with lumber at Parry Sound for Buffalo.
      Milwaukee Sentinel
      December 4, 1901

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Some of the crew of the steamer WETMORE and her consorts BRUNETTE and KING, reached here on Tuesday and reported the loss of the vessels near Tobermorey, Georgian Bay, on Friday last, during a heavy gale and snow storm. No lives were lost but the vessels with their lumber cargoes are considered to be total losses.
      Marine Record
      December 5, 1901
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      Buffalo, N. Y., Dec. 12. -- Capt. Adam Hartman of Tonawanda, owner of the steamer W. L. WETMORE and barges BRUNETTE and KING, which recently stranded in Georgian Bay near Tobermory, have been advised that the WETMORE and KING are total losses, the destruction of the KING being mainly due to fire. The destruction of the steamer was caused by a terrific storm which swept over the Georgian Bay on Tuesday. The deckload of the WETMORE and part of the deckload of the KING were removed upon lighters. The lumber in the holds of the vessels can be saved perhaps, but the work will cost considerable money. The tugs sent to the stranded fleet succeeded in floating the BRUNETTE, and she is to be placed in drydock at Collingwood for repairs. The WETMORE was valued at $20,000 and uninsured. She came out in 1871 and had a gross measurement of 819 tons. The G. C. KING was worth probably $5,000. She came out in 1870 and measured gross 487 tons.
      Duluth news-Tribune
      December 12, 1901

The steamer WEMORE which went ashore near Tobermory two weeks ago pounded to pieces during the terrific storm which swept over Georgian Bay Tuesday. She was owned by by Capt. Adam Hartman and others of Tonawanda.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Friday, December 13, 1901
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The steamer W. L. WETMORE, which was at one time owned by the late Thomas Axworthy and which for many years hailed from this port, has been added to the list of total losses for the season of 1901.
      The WETMORE was built by Quayle in this city and came out in 1871. She had a gross measurement of 819 tons. Capt. George L. DeWolf, local inspector of steamboats, sailed the WETMORE for a number of seasons. - Cleveland report.
      Marine Record
      December 19, 1901

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The disastrous trip of the WETMORE tow to Georgian Bay adds also to the generally high lumber losses of the season. With the WETMORE and the KING lost and from 25 to 55 per cent of their cargoes with them, the entire loss is heavy. About 200,000 feet of lumber was
burned with the KING. (part extracted)
      Marine Record
      January 2, 1902

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      Insurance agents are making another effort to fix up the fire loss on the steamer WETMORE and tow, which were left in such bad shape on Georgian Bay last fall. James T. Hurd, one of the lumbermen interested in the cargo of the barge KING has gone to the boats, accompanied by a member of the insurance office of Smith & Wilcox, to make a bid on the entire lot of lumber. It is mostly in shape to sell, as the cargo of the steamer and the consort KING are ashore -- what was left of it by the fire which is thought to be about four fifths of the whole. The cargo of the BRUNETTE is all on board of her except about 100,000 feet that was taken to Bay City on a small steamer that was sent up from there to lighter her off.
The trip to the boats, especially in winter, is a very hard one, as it is sixty miles beyond a railroad, and though there is a stage line the roads are in fearful condition at any time of the year. Tobermory Harbor is a mere hamlet of a dozen houses,with two sawmilL
      Marine Record
      January 30, 1902
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Adam Hartman,of Tonawanda, has bought the remaining half of the schooner SAVELAND of C. H. Ripson of Oswego. The Holland Syndicate to which Capt.Hartman belongs, owns half of the SAVELAND. She has been obtained in order to tow behind the steamer KITTY FORBES with the BRUNETTE. ---- Buffalo Report.
      Marine Record
      February 20, 1902
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Capt. Playfair of Owen Sound, has been in Buffalo obtaining a final settlement for the work he did as a wrecker in trying to save the stranded WETMORE and tow. He considers the task a very difficult one, and says it would have been impossible to save all the vessels.
      Marine Record
      February 27, 1902
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      The lumber fleet under the management of John J. Boland will consist of eleven vessels, the KITTY M. FORBES and consorts SAVELAND and BRUNETTE ; JOHN PRIDGEON Jr. and consort D. P. RHODES ; GARDEN CITY with two consorts not yet selected. S. E. SHELDON and consort NEGAUNEE, and the schooner JOHN MAGEE, which will sail as usual. The FORBES and PRIDGEON tows are charted for lumber from Duluth to Tonawanda, for White, Gratwick & Co. the entire season. A special trip will be made to Georgian Bay for the BRUNETTE, which will bring down a cargo from Little Current to Tonawanda.
Appointment of masters:- BRUNETTE- Capt. Hugh O'Hagen
      Marine Record
      March 20, 1902

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The barge BRUNETTE, which stranded in Georgian Bay late last fall, and has just been thoroughly repaired at Tonawanda, will hereafter be known as the BUFFALO. The stern has been shortened fifteen feet and made square.
      Marine Record
      July 3, 1902
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Fred A. Gilbert, first mate on the propeller W. L. WETMORE, commited suicide by jumping overboard while passing Bailey's Harbor at 11 o'clock Sunday morning. He was 52 years of age and single. His home is at Memphis, Mich. Capt. DeWolf lowered a boat, but could
not see anything of him. He sank in about two minutes.
      Marine Record
      September I8, I884
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The steamer W. L. WETMORE has just been supplied with a new Sheriff's wheel.
      Marine Record
      June 6, 1895

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      Afterward, people marveled that all 27 sailors on the three wrecked lumber boats escaped alive. The steam barge W.L. WETMORE and the two consorts in tow, the JAMES C. KING and BRUNETTE, collided with the side of Rabbit Island near the tip of Ontario's Bruce Peninsula during a blinding snowstorm on Nov. 29, 1901.
Detroit sailors Albert Drager and John Halloran told in a Free Press story how the sailors survived the shipwreck. swam a dangerous halfmile stretch to the island, and then battled a snow storm and severe cold for 36 hours until help arrived. They said everybody made it because of teamwork. The stronger swimmers helped the others make it to shore. Once they were on land, everybody worked together to find shelter and keep each other warm.
Sailor John Flannigan suffered a broken leg and was lifted off the deck of the BRUNETTE by rope to the only available lifeboat. Lifeboats on the WETMORE and KING were swept away by the storm. Drager and Halloran said the swim to the island was the worst part of their ordeal. They said they thought cheers from the others gave them the strength to continue swimming until their feet touched solid ground. After that the survivors found what shelter they could and built a large bonfire to keep themselves warm.
The three boats were hauling lumber on the first leg of a trip from Parry Sound to Buffalo when the storm caught them on Georgian Bay. They were driven aground after Capt. John O'Hagan steered the WETMORE toward shelter at Tobermory but lost his bearings. He said the storm made it impossible to see the lighthouse lamp at Tobermory. O'Hagan's first indication that the ship was off course came unexpectedly at about 2 a.m. There was an ominous thump as the steamer's wooden hull passed over a submerged rock. Before the engines could be stopped the WETMORE hit the rock and the ship's propeller blades were stripped. After that the boat drifted out of control until it hit the island.
The barges, which were in tow behind the steamer, followed it to destruction. During the excitement. Flannigan got his leg caught in the tow line to the BRUNETTE. The line had to be cut to get the sailor free. This probably saved the BRUNETTE. The barge blew off to another area and grounded in soft mud. It was later salvaged.
The WETMORE and KING struck a rocky coast and broke up in the storm. The wrecks are still there here. Both are favorite haunts for sport divers visiting Ontario's Fathom Five Provincial Park off Tobermory.
The Fishing tug GLUCUS saw the bonfire the next day and rescued the stranded sailors. (Author James Donahue's shipwreck columns appears each week in the Huron Daily Tribune)
      Port Huron Daily Tribune
      September 16, 1996

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      Steam screw W.L. WETMORE. U. S. No. 80196 Of 1216 gross tons. Built Cleveland, Ohio, 1871 by Quayle & Martin. 213.7 x 33.4 x 12.6 Wrecked Rabbit Island, Georgian Bay November 29, 1901
      Herman Runge List

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Reason: aground
Lives: nil
Remarks: Total loss
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 45.265277 Longitude: -81.696944
William R. McNeil
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W. L. Wetmore (Propeller), U80196, aground, 29 Nov 1901