Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Columbia (Propeller), sunk, 10 Sep 1881
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      The Steamer COLUMBIA Goes to the Bottom of
      Lake Michigan During Saturday's Gale.
      Carrying With Her Fifteen Souls
Frankfort, Mich. Sept. 12. - The steamer COLUMBIA, of the Northeastern Line, foundered off Frankfort at 11 o'clock Saturday night and fifteen persons were drowned: Captain Malcom; second-mate, Robert Malcom; first engineer, William Crosby; second engineer, William Miffin; fireman, George Benton; William Shannon; Harriet Simmons; Miss Fitzgerald, also a passenger said to be from Chicago and seven other names unknown.
The bodies of the captain, first and second engineers, Miss Fitzgerald and a young man, name unknown, have come ashore. The steamer was bound from Chicago to Collingwood, Canada, grain laden. She shifted her cargo about 10:45 and sank fifteen minutes after. The passengers and crew got away for the vessel in small boats, but the boat containing the captain, engineer, and others, capsized. The following are saved: John Moore; James Wright; Daniel McFee; James Bakie; John Fagan; Thomas Lee; Frank Hanran.
      Cleveland Herald
      Tuesday, September 13, 1881

      . . . . .
Hamilton, Ont., Sept. 12. -- The following is a summary of the information received so far: The steamer COLUMBIA, of the N. E. T. Line, was caught in a gale on Saturday night, and shifted her cargo, and went down in a short time about six miles west of Frankfort, Mich. The passenger and crew got away in the small boats just as the steamer sunk in deep water. A heavy sea was running and some of the boats were swamped. The one containing the captain and engineer was capsized. The following are known to be lost: Captain Malcomson; Robert Malcomson, first mate; Levi N. Crossley, first engineer; William Mepham, second engineer; G. Benten, fireman; Harriet Sims, lady's maid; Miss Fitzgerald, a passenger from Chicago; W.F. Griffith, a passenger from Chicago, and seven others, names unknown. The bodies of the Captain and second engineer, Miss Fitzgerald, and W.F. Griffith have come ashore. The saved are John Moore, James Wright, David McFee, James Beakie, John Fagan, Thomas Lee, and Frank Hanrahan.
Collingwood, Ont., Sept. 12. -- The steamer COLUMBIA, which foundered off Frankfort, Mich., Saturday night, was 629 tons gross, 408 tons register; Length , 137 feet; breadth, 23 feet 6 inches; depth, 13 feet 5 inches. She was built at Hamilton in 1873, and overhauled this spring; classed A 1 and was valued at $25,000. She was owned by John Fairgrieve, of Hamilton. Of those lost Captain J.B. Malcolmson belongs to St. Catharines, and leaves a wife and seven children, four girls and three boys, one of the latter, Robert, was first mate of the ill-fated vessel. Another, George, is Captain of the propeller ARGYLE. First engineer Crossley leaves a wife and one small child. Second engineer Napham leaves a wife and several children. Both belonging to this place.
      The J.W. Hall Great Lakes Marine Scrapbook, June/Sept., 1881

      The storm of Saturday evening proved very disastrous to those who labor on the deep waters, and many crafts have been lost. The steamer COLUMBIA plying between Chicago and Collingwood on account of her cargo of wheat shifting, went down in about 15 minutes off lake Michigan, and 15 persons found a watery grave, four of whom belonged to Collingwood, and have left families to mourn their loss, and to add to the distress, the Captain of the REGINA ( a schooner belonging to Mr. Wm. Foster, of Owen Sound, and which was also lost) leaves a family at that place to mourn his loss. Few places suffer more from marine disasters than does Collingwood and we are sure the afflicted ones have the heartfelt sympathy of our people in this, their time of trouble...
      Meaford 'Monitor'
      Friday, September 16,188I

      . . . . .

      The Chicago Tribune contains the following account of the foundering of the propeller COLUMBIA off Frankfort on Saturday last: When the gale first struck the steamer on Saturday she labored heavily in the tremendous seas, and soon shifted her cargo, causing her to careen over on one side and labor still heavier. Her brave commander Captain James B. Malcomson, made every effort to keep her trimmed, but without avail, and about 10:45 P. M. the whole cargo went out of place, rendering the unfortunate vessel helpless. The heavy seas broke clear over her, and shortly after the last shifting of her cargo a trial at the pumps revealed the fact that she was fast filling with water. Captain Malcomson headed the COLUMBIA for land, but the water continued to gain despite the efforts of the crew, and shortly after 11 o'clock her fires were put out. The only alternative was to take the boat and attempt to reach Frankfort. The boats were successfully lowered and filled with the passengers and crew, but only one reached shore safely, those containing the officers and passengers being swamped immediately after pushing away from the sinking craft. There were twenty-three people on board the steamer, sixteen of whom were drowned, including Captain Malcomson; First Mate Robert Malcomson; Engineers Crosby and Mippen; Harriet Sims, a cabin maid; George Bunton, a fireman; Shannon and Dowane, deck-hands; Miss Fanny Fitzgerald and William Griffith, the only passengers, and five of the crew whose names are unknown.
      The propeller COLUMBIA was built at Hamilton, Ont., in 1873, by A. M. Robertson, measured 400 tons, rated A 1-1/2, and was valued at $24,000. She ran in connection with the New England Line of steamers, but was owned by the Lake & River Navigation Company of Montreal. She had on board a cargo of corn valued at $14,000, which was insured for its full value in the Aetna Insurance Company of Hartford.
      Captain Malcomson was about fifty-five years of age and was an experienced navigator. All the officers have families.
      The body of Robert Malcomson has been found. The body of Miss Fitzgerald was sent to Chicago today in a metallic coffin. The Columbia's piano was washed ashore today with other debris.
      A Milwaukee Sentinel reporter interview Captain Gilman, of the propeller CITY OF LUDINGTON, Tuesday, and he stated that the town of Frankfort is in a state of excitement never before witnessed. Business is entirely suspended for the time being, and the beach is daily thronged with the inhabitants of the place with a view to picking up whatever wreckage of value washes ashore, and also to secure pieces of the boat for mementos of the appalling disaster. Bodies of persons who met watery graves are continually coming ashore, and are picked up by men engaged to patrol the beach, who bury all that are not claimed or identified.
      Cleveland Herald
      September 16, 1881
      . . . . .
The steamer COLUMBIA foundered at Frankfort last Saturday night and 15 persons were drowned.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Saturday, September 17, 1881
      . . . . .

      Bodies Recovered From The "COLUMBIA" Wreck Brought Home.
Sarnia. Sept. I9. -- The United States revenue cutter "ANDREW JOHNSON", Commanded by Captain A. B. Davie, arrived here this morning having on board Captain Jas.White and the bodies of five of those who were drowned by the foundering of the ill-fated steamer COLUMBIA, sunk off Frankfort, Mich. in the gale of the IOth.. inst.
The dead are Captain J. S. Malcomson, Master of the COLUMBIA; Robert Malcomson, first mate; Wm. Crossley, engineer; John Mafin, second engineer; and Mr. Fred Griffith, a passenger. These were all the bodies recovered from the wreck, except that of a lady passenger, Miss Fritzgerald, whose remains were forwarded to her friends in Chicago. The bodies were enclosed in metallic coffins, and were landed at the Great Western dock, whence they were shipped by the 11:20 train, those of the Malcomson, father and son, to St. Catherines; that of Griffiths to Hamilton; and those of Crossley and Mafin to Collingwood, Captain White, who had charge of the bodies, is profuse in his praise of the Captain of the ANDREW JOHNSON for his great kindness in carrying the dead bodies from Frankfort to here, and for his hospitable treatment of himself and men during the passage. but for the generosity of the Captain of the ANDREW JOHNSON it might have been impossible to secure transportation for the bodies to their friends for burial.
      Captain White also says the people of Frankfort behaved nobly towards them, the survivors, who were cast upon their shore naked and penniless, feeding, sheltering, and clothing them without the expectation of remuneration or reward...
      Meaford 'Monitor'
      Friday, September 23, 1881

      . . . . .

A fisherman at Frankfort, Mich., has found the lost steamer COLUMBIA. His net fouled, and on investigation he discovered them entangled in wreckage of the propeller. She lies three miles west of Frankfort, in twenty fathoms of water.
      Cleveland Herald
      Monday, October 31, 1881

The steamer COLUMBIA, of Montreal, eight years old and 408 tons register, foundered in Lake Miching on the 16th. of September last, while on a voyage from Chicago to Collingwood with a cargo of corn. By this casualty 16 lives were lost. The vessel was classed in Inland Lloyds, and was valued at $24,000. She was owned by Mr. John E. Fairgrieve, of Hamilton; the cargo was valued at $11,000.
      Canadian Steamboat Inspection Report
      Canada Sessional Papers, No. 5. A 1882

Media Type
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Reason: sunk
Lives: 15
Freight: grain
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original
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Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 44.63361 Longitude: -86.23454
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Columbia (Propeller), sunk, 10 Sep 1881