The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Lake Erie (Propeller), C, sunk by collision, 24 Nov 1881

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Chicago Tribune. -- About 6 A. M., Thursday, during a severe and blinding snowstorm, the propeller NORTHERN QUEEN of the New England Transportation Line, collided with the propeller LAKE ERIE, of the same line, off Poverty Island, Lake Michigan. The LAKE ERIE was struck about the after gangway, and sank in an hour and forty minutes after the collision. The crew of the LAKE ERIE was taken on board the NORTHERN QUEEN, when it was found that one of the deck-hands was badly scalded from escaping steam. Captain Cameron immediately headed the NORTHERN QUEEN for Manistique, Mich., for the purpose of obtaining assistance for the unfortunate man, but he died before medical aid could reach him. Both the NORTHERN QUEEN and LAKE ERIE were bound to Collingwood, from this port, with cargoes of corn and sundries. The LAKE ERIE was commanded by Captain J. M. Johnson. This is the second boat the New England Line has lost on Lake Michigan this season, the first being the COLUMBIA, which foundered off Frankfort, Mich., and seventeen people lost their lives. The LAKE ERIE was 390 tons burden, was built in the Welland Canal in May, 1872, rated A 1-1/2, was valued by the Lloyds at $23,400, hailed from Hamilton, Ont., and was owned by the Lake & River Steamship Company, of Canada. The NORTHERN QUEEN suffered slight damage comparatively. Only two steamers are left in the line - the CANADA and the NORTHERN QUEEN.
      Cleveland Herald
      Wednesday, November 30, 1881

      . . . . .
The propeller LAKE ERIE collided with the propeller NORTHERN QUEEN near Poverty Island, Lake Michigan during a snow storm on Thursday last and sunk in one hour and forty minutes. Her crew were taken aboard the NORTHERN QUEEN, but one man was badly scalded and died before reaching Manistique.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Wednesday, November 30, 1881
      . . . . .
On the morning of the 29th inst. the propeller NORTHERN QUEEN struck a bar while entering the harbor at Manistique and soon went to pieces. This is the same boat that sunk the propeller LAKE ERIE last week. Both crews were saved. The same owners have lost 3 propellers since the season opened.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Thursday, December 1, 1881
      Experiences Of The Survivors Of The Poverty Bay Disaster.
Hamilton, Dec. 1.-- Moses Blondin, first engineer, and Joseph Boyd and Robert Johnson, firemen of the steamer LAKE ERIE, recently wrecked together with the steamer NORTHERN QUEEN, at Poverty Bay, Lake Michigan, arrived here early this morning. A reporter gleaned the following details regarding the catastrophe from them:--
      Owing to the lateness of the season it was arranged that the boats should make the run from Chicago to Collingwood in company, so that if one got into trouble the other would be near to afford aid. The wind was blowing from the west, off the shore, and the steamers hugged the west shore of Lake Michigan pretty closely, so as to get the smoothest water. The run was made without anything unusual occurring, the boats sometimes being one mile and sometimes three miles apart, until Thursday morning, at about six o'clock, as the boats were off Poverty Island, when the NORTHERN QUEEN collided with the LAKE ERIE. The latter was struck on the starboard side 10 or 12 feet forward of the after gangway, a large hole being cut in the LAKE ERIE, and the stem of the QUEEN being smashed pretty badly. In two hours the LAKE ERIE had sunk in deep water, in spite of the efforts which had been made to run her into shore, about fifteen miles distant. Her crew, in the meantime, were taken safely on board the NORTHERN QUEEN. At the time of the collision between the boats a fog was arising from the water, and it is supposed that the QUEEN did not notice that the LAKE ERIE had changed course, and thus in the fog the collision occurred.
      After the crew of the ERIE had been taken on board, the QUEEN proceeded north down the lake. On Friday morning a terrific snow storm came on, and Captain Cameron tried to get into Manistique Harbour. The storm had made the water very low, and the boat struck aground going into the piers, and began to fill with water. The sea was so high that nothing could be done with the steamer and she soon went to pieces. The crews, 26 men in all, got off safely to shore. On Saturday morning an attempt was made to get some stuff off the steamer, which was pounding badly, but nothing of any account was accomplished.
      On Sunday, Wm. Forbes, who died on Thursday from the effects of a scalding received at the time of the collision, was buried in the churchyard at Manistique.
      On Sunday Forbes was buried, and on Monday morning early the crews started in sleighs for Day's River, on the Chicago and North-Western Railway, 60 miles distant. After going about 20 miles the snow disappeared, and the men were obliged to walk the remainder of the distance, leaving the horses and one sleigh to carry the baggage. The party arrived in Chicago and, as before mentioned, three of them reached Hamilton this morning. The Captains remained in Chicago to settle up insurance matters. Mr. Blomdin stated that he had never thought he could stand such a forced march as that taken through the woods from Manistique to Day's River, especially after the exciting and exhausting scenes he had just passed through. The people of Manistique were very kind to the shipwrecked mariners, as also were the inhabitants of Day's River.
      The J.W. Hall Great Lakes Marine Scrapbook, December 1881

      . . . . .
      [heading missing from copy]
      The crew of the wrecked propellers LAKE ERIE and NORTHERN QUEEN arrived in this city, via the Northwestern Railway, from Day's River, Northern Michigan, early yesterday morning, vivid as was the information of their escape imparted in yesterday's issue of the Inter Ocean, the actual narrative of the occurrences at the point of wreck, of their escape from a fierce sea, of their walk through a great woods beset by hungry wolves, is thrilling beyond imagination.
      "I shall never navigate the lakes again," was the first greeting of captain J.M. Johnson, of the LAKE ERIE, yesterday, and probably he never will. Two weeks ago he was in this port, the jolliest and newsiest of Canadian captains. Yesterday his thin countenance, worn look, and the absence of his hale and hearty manner told, more than words, the effect of the miraculous escape from an awful death had upon him.
The following narrative from captain Johnson's own lips is the true story of the wrecks of the propellers:
      " We left Chicago on the evening of Nov. 22, after the utmost precaution had been taken for our safety. The wind was blowing hard from the southwest, and we kept under the lea of the west shore. When off Twin River Point, on Wednesday night, it began to snow, and a northwest gale prevailed. Along towards Thursday morning we were nearing Point Aux Barques. It was a horrible night. It snowed and rained together, and the air was permeated with mists and smoke so that the ships lights were hardly distinguishable. The LAKE ERIE was ahead, and I on deck. I blew the whistle to indicate a change in our course towards Beaver Islands. No response came -- the sound had no chance in that gale. I gave the order to port the wheel. Observing that the QUEEN did not respond, I ordered the mate to starboard the wheel. The second change of course was fatal. The QUEEN bore down upon us. She gave two warnings whistles and there was a sudden crash, shaking the ship from stem to stern. The LAKE ERIE was struck twelve feet forward of the aft gangway at 5 a. m. In an instant all hands were on deck. I sounded the water forward and found four inches, but aft it had crept above the fire hold of the floor.
      "Five minutes later the fires were out. An examination showed that the steampipe was broken, the machinery useless, and we were at the mercy of the waves. There was a tremendous sea on, but the queen came alongside and took us on board, and among others Wm. Forbes, of Hamilton, who was severely scalded. There was not even time to get our personal effects, nor anything except our money and the ship's books. We tried to get a line out to the ERIE and tow her into shallow water, but the sea would not permit. She kept rapidly filling up until of a sudden she rose on her keel, the main mast crashing down, and sunk out of sight stern first. I shall never forget that instant, nor the pang of horror that thrilled me when I saw her disappear. Had her machinery not been disabled we might have made shallow water, twelve miles distant, in the two hours she remained above. We sounded where she went down but found no bottom.
      "An examination of the NORTHERN QUEEN showed that her stem was broken. She did not take in much water until we put her head to the sea. It now blowed and snowed so that we could not see the length of the boat, although day had dawned -- Thanksgiving Day at that.
" We worked landward in order to procure a doctor for the mained man, and arrived at an unknown place two miles south of Manistique. We laid there during Thursday, but the man died before the physician arrived. We tried to get a pilot to convey us to Beaver Islands, but failed. The wind changed to the south, and in making out to sea the QUEEN shipped so much water that we put in to Manistique. We got the length of the boat into the piers, when we struck a bar. With tug and hawser we tried to tie up to the west pier, but broke all the piles. Between the strong current setting out and the gale and sea running in, the QUEEN whirled twice around, the stern striking the end of the pier. great swells dashed over her and as she was pounding to pieces, the Captain scuttled her to save at least a remnant. The sea broke in her windows and carried away her cabins.
      " Now came the struggle for life. The tug was unable to take us off, nor could we get on the pier. We launched the yawl and in an instant were driven out into the surf. By a great effort a line was thrown us and we were drawn in, drenched to the skin. We were cared for by the inhabitants, buried our dead, and on Monday started out by sleighs on our sixty-mile trip to civilization. We traveled twenty-three miles, when the snow disappeared. Night had arrived and we were in the midst of a great forest. Procuring a guide we started out on the remaining distance on foot. Wolves and wild animals beset us on all sides, but our force was large, and they dared not attack us. Over the rough roads and through the gloom we fought until Day's River was reached, and we were at a railway station at last."
      "The machinery of the NORTHERN QUEEN and some of her hull may be saved in the spring, but it is doubtful.
      o the credit of the New England Transportation Company it should be said that it did everything in its power for the comfort of the shipwrecked thirty-six, and transported them by rail around the lake home.
      The J.W. Hall Great Lakes Marine Scrapbook, December, 1881.
      . . . . .
Some further particulars of the loss of the propellers LAKE ERIE and NORTHERN QUEEN are as follows: The cargoes of the propellers consisted of 15,000 bushels of corn each for Gooderham & Worts, of Toronto, consigned by Wm. Young & Co., Chicago; 50 barrels of cornmeal for C. Stevens & Co., Collingwood, consigned by David Oliver; 50 barrels of pork to T. Long & Bros., Collingwood, by the Armours, and other sundries. The cargoes are insured by Elphicke, in the Chicago Pool, and the British Association for $10,700. The hulls were insured in the Canadian Pool for $18,000 each, of which the Phoenix held $5,000 on each vessel.
The LAKE ERIE belonged to the Lake and River Steamship Company, of Hamilton, Ontario, valued at $23,000. She was commanded by Captain J.M. Johnson, of Collingwood, and had a crew of 19 men.
      The NORTHERN QUEEN belongs to Charles Cameron and Thomas Long, Collingwood. Her insurance, value and number of crew were the same. Her Captain was A.C. Cameron, of Collingwood.
this line has lost within two months, for, though belonging to different parties, they are run by the same line. The COLUMBIA was wrecked off Frankfort. The total loss to the line, minus the insurance on the three boats, is fully $76,000. There is now but one propeller left to it, if it may still be called a line, and this is the CANADA, now shelved at Collingwood.
      The J.W. Hall Great Lakes Marine Scrapbook, December 1881
      Port No. 82
Name - - - - LAKE ERIE
Type - - - Propeller
Port - - - Hamilton
Tonnage - - 367 tons. Remeasured as 464.01 tons, June 1877.
      When built - 1873
      Where built St. Catharines
      Builders name & date of certificate: J. Simpson, May 26, 1873
      Description og vessel - Surveyor, J.B. Benson
      Length - - - 136 feet
      Breadth - - - 23 feet & four tenths
      Depth of hold - 7 feet & four tenths
      decks - - - Two
      Masts - - - One
      Bowsprit - - None
      Stern - - - Round
      Figure-head - Without
      How rigged - Propeller - Carvel built
      Master's name - J. Peritt [?]
      Subscribing owners - - Lake & River Steamship Navigation Company
      Registers Note: -- FOUNDERED ON LAKE MICHIGAN ON THE 24th. NOV, 1881
      Certificate Cancelled - Register


Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: sunk by collision
Lives: 1
Remarks: Total loss
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 45.52749 Longitude: -86.66457
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Lake Erie (Propeller), C, sunk by collision, 24 Nov 1881