The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Matilda (Schooner), sunk, 13 Oct 1866

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MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT.- A melancholy accident occurred last Saturday evening on Lake Simcoe, by which four persons lost their lives. George Dolittle, with his wife and two children and a young man named Alexander, were in the schooner "MATILDA," making for Bell Ewart. When off Fox Island, Mr. Dolittle steering, the boat was found to be sinking. Mrs. Dolittle brought the youngest child to her husband and ran back to the cabin for the other. Meantime, Mr. Dolittle was bringing a small boat, which was towing behind, alongside,
but before the mother got back the schooner went down.
Something, probably the mainsail, struck Mr. Dolittle and knocked the child from his arms. He got into the boat and endeavoured to save the others, but could see nothing of them. Alexander was walking aft when the vessel went down, and was heard to cry out; the mother and eldest child probably went down in the cabin.
      Dolittle gained Snake Island by using a small piece of board he found in the boat. On Sunday morning the body of one of the children, a boy of three years, drifted on shore
      from Toronto GLOBE
      October 22,1866

      . . . . .
      We are informed that on Saturday, 13 inst., a melancholy accident occurred about three quarters of a mile N.W. of Fox Island, and N. of Snake Island, off Sandy Cove, and about the steamboat channel, causing the loss of four lives.
      The particulars of the catastrophe are as follows:- A man named Doolittle, living in the vicinity of Orillia, who wishing to move his family to Sutton, or some place in that neighbourhood, called upon Mrs. Thomas McCullough, wife of the owner of the MATILDA, and requested the use of the vessel to carry his family across the Lake to Sutton. She refused without a written order from her husband. Doolittle stated that he had instructions from Capt. McCullough to take the MATILDA. Mrs. McCullough then informed him that on no account should he have her. The fellow watched his opportunity, and took away the sloop despite the
remonstrances of the Captain's wife, taking on board his wife, two children and another individual by the name of Alex. Birch, supposed to be a son of the widow Green, of this town, and steered away for his intended destination.
      It will be fresh in the remembrance of our readers that the MATILDA was the cause of a law suit during the past summer. The EMILY MAY and her collided in the narrows, and she has been considered unseaworthy
ever since that accident. At the time Doolittle took her she was lying at anchor, close to the wharf at Orillia, and was in a very leaky condition, and laden with stone, no repairs having been done since the collision took place.
      How she was lost remains a mystery. Doolittle, the husband of the unfortunate woman, who with her two children were hurried into eternity, together with a man named Birch, tells the following tale:- That the first thing unusual he noticed was the hatches floating off. He called to his wife who was in the cabin at the time, that she was sinking. Mrs. Doolittle handed him one of the children, and went into the cabin to get the other, who was sleeping in the bunk. He held the child and the mainsail jib knocked the little thing out of his arms. He further states that he saw Birch jump from the bow, and afterwards saw him lying across the bow of the skiff which floated behind the MATILDA. How Doolittle contrived to effect his escape is a puzzle; he tells so many different stories respecting the accident. In a letter to Capt. McCullough, he made a statement to the effect that his wife threw him one of the children, but he was unable to save it, being busily engaged in trying to unloosen the rope by which the skiff was attached to the vessel. The inference is that he was bent on saving his own precious life. Doolittle has been a resident in the vicinity of Orillia, and his name is no way misplaced but in perfect keeping with the man a shiftless kind of fellow, never caring to work if he could by any means avoid it.
      The whole affair is enveloped in mystery and foul play is suspected. The Matilda is not in sight, though some of the Indians assert that they saw the top of her mast about three feet under water. Since writing the
above we learn that the body of one of the children has been found, and an inquest has been held, result not known, and also that Doolittle has made some kind of a declaration before a magistrate.
The whole affair should be strictly investigated, as the circumstances look rather gloomy and suspicious.
      Barrie Northern Advance
      Wednesday, October 24, 1866

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Reason: sunk
Lives: 4
Remarks: Total loss
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.335555 Longitude: -79.489722
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Matilda (Schooner), sunk, 13 Oct 1866