The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Three Saved: Six Drowned
Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), 26 Sep 1916

Full Text
Steamer Roberval Capsized in the Lake.
Bound to the Diamond Match Company with a Cargo of Lumber When the Deckload Shifted and the Little Steamer Turned Turtle in the Gather Gloom of Night

Trapped in thousands of feet of seasoned lumber, five Canadian sailors and a woman were drowned and three survivors washed ashore in a damaged lifeboat when the 278 ton iron barge Roberval, of Ottawa, listed and foundered in a heavy sea nine miles off the Oswego light at 5:30 o’clock last night.

Darkness prevented the crew of the steamer Glen Allen, six miles in the lee, from detecting the ships’s distress and the three survivors were cast about the raging waters until two o’ clock in this morning, when their flooded lifeboat was rowed into the mouth of the Oswego river and the Untied States Coast Guard crew started out into the lake on a futile search for the remainder of the crew. The missing are:
Captain, Peter Eligh, aged sixty eight, married Ottawa Ont.
Second Mate, Joseph Parisien, aged sixty five married Alfred, Ont.
First Fireman, Marcel Messenau aged twenty-one, Hull Ont.
Second Fireman, Henry Seguin, aged twenty-three Hull, Ont.
Deckhand, Theodore Leroy aged twenty six, Hull , Ont.
Cook, Miss Delia Parent, aged Thirty, Ottawa

The survivors are:
Chief Engineer Philip Trottier married Hull
Second Engineer , Ovila Sequin, Hull (No relations to the drowned man)
Wheelsman, Edward Legault, St. Anne Bellevue.

A diligent search of the lake in the vicinity of the place when the Roberval is believed to have foundered revealed no evidence of the distress. Captain E J. Clemens, of the Coast Guard says. The sea ran down during the early hours of the morning and the United States Coast Guard crew patrolled the waters for hours in the powerful surfboat, but no signs of life could be found. All hope of finding more survivors has been abandoned. Before those who were saved left the wreck they saw the deckhand struck on the head with a timber and drowned, as was the second fireman, and it is believed that the remainder met the same fate. The floating lumber prevented the survivors from rescuing their shipmates with their disabled lifeboat, the bow of which was stove in by the sliding lumber before the surfboat could be swung free from the davits.

The steamer Glen Allen which had made the run up the lake from Cape Vincent behind the Roberval, passed the wreck inward bound unaware that the ship was in distress. Captain A. Y. Clark and Mate P. H. Brieult, of the Glen Allen, said that just as the sun sunk on the horizon it reflected on the deckload of white lumber on the Roberval and that was the last glimpse they had of the ship, that was at 6:05 o’clock, a half -hour after the doomed ship had listed and cast the crew into the sea, the rescued men say. At that time the bow of the Roberval, according to the sailors on the Glen Allen, was projecting high in the sea, but this they believed was due to the ballast compartment of the ship, which was designed for salt water service. Captain Clark at that time imagined her stern was a little too low in the water. Darkness set in and the Glen Allen plowed onward for the Oswego light in the darkness, passing within a few miles of the drowning sailors, unaware of their plight.

The Glen Allen arrived in port at 8:30 last night and docked in the river at the foot of West Seneca street. Captain Clark saw a light that an East side dock and thought it the Roberval. He went over and found it to be another vessel. He could find out nothing about the Roberval at the Coast Guard station, but Captain Clemens promised to be on the lookout and informed the lookout to keep a diligent watch on the lake, believing that the Roberval was going to weather the sea running in the lake.

When the three survivors pulled into the mouth of the river at two o’clock they aroused the Coast Guard and the power-boat was launched immediately and a race made for the wreck, which at the time the survivors left was floating, due to the air compartment in the bow of the steamer. The survivors informed the Coast Guard that they believed that the ship was fourteen miles directly off the Oswego light. The life savers have continued the search all day.

A Survivors Tale

By Engineer Trottier:We left the Cape at one o’clock yesterday afternoon, a little ahead of the Glen Allen, and they stayed close by unit we reached the Galloups , when we separated, each of us taking a different passage. Just at dusk the two steamers appeared off this port. The Roberval was hugging the shore and the Glen Allen was seven or eight miles further in the lake.

The Roberval was loaded down heavily, carrying a big deckload of lumber as was the Glen Allen, but the skipper of the Glen Allen kept headed more into the sea instead of swinging along hugging the shore.

About 5:30 o’clock a big sea struck the Roberval on the starboard, side smashing the galley windows and flooding the engine room. The deck load of lumber on the port side fell into the lake. The ship righted with the next heavy smash of the sea, and then turned on the starboard side, carrying away the remainder of the deckload. By this time the tons of water coming through the gangway flooded the engine room and all hands rushed for the lifeboat as the stern settled on the air ballasted bow arose high above the sea, and the remaining timbers on the deck slid aft, one striking LeRoy the deckhand killing him almost instantly and his body was washed into the lake.

Captain Eligh’s first thought was to save the young woman cook as he has three daughters of his own. He took hold of her and jumped into the lake and pushed her aboard of an improvised raft. The first mate was clinging to a stick of timber all alone, and the two firemen were fighting their way in the water through the lumber endeavoring to get to the lifeboat which was being buffeted on the davits by the sea tossed lumber.

"As I fought my way forward I assisted Seguin, the second engineer, who was losing heart and came within an ace of going over as we fought our way up the slippery inclined deck of the sinking ship, with the timber whizzing by us. The wheelsman, Edward Legault , was struggling to release the lifeboat, and with our assistance it was launched, but not until the bow had been smashed in. In the meantime the second fireman was struck with a timber and drowned.

As we pushed ourselves adrift we made strenuous efforts to rescue our shipmates but we could not reach them as the sea was a mass of floating timbers and impassable. We were all separated in the dankness and after rowing a few hours we finally sighted the Oswego light. We each took turns at the oars and it seemed that every wave that struck us meant our last, but after eight hours of a battle for life we reached the shore exhausted. The Roberval was afloat when we last saw her in the gathering darkness, but was settling slowly as the water was making its way into the manhole leading to the ballast compartment in the bow. I have no hopes for my shipmates, it was beyond human endurance to live in those turbulent waters, buffeted about by the heavy sea and tossing timbers. It is a wonder we ever reached shore in that disabled lifeboat. I prayed and rowed, rowed and prayed, and thought of my unfortunate shipmates out in those darkened waters, doomed to die. The accident happened so that it was impossible to show a torch or send up rockets of distress.

The other sailors were too overcome with grief to tell much about their experiences. After the men had been given warm drinks by the Coast Guard crew, Captain Clark came over to the station and took them to his ship, the Glen Allen which is now lying at the Diamond Match Company’s dock, and provided them with dry clothing and gave them something to eat. He will bring the survivors back to Ottawa, which is also his home port.

The Roberval was built by the Polson Iron Works, Toronto, ten years ago, and was owned by Captain Eligh and Captain Hall, of Ottawa. She had a registered capacity of 278 net tons and was valued at $20,000. She had a cargo of 248,000 feet of timber aboard for the Diamond Match Company. The cargo was insured, but whether the boat was insured is not known. The Roberval was known here as one of the staunchest steel boats of her inches coming into this port. She was built for salt water trade, but has been on the lakes for years carrying lumber between Ottawa and Oswego, and taking coal back from this port to Canada.

Captain Peter Eligh, master and part owner of the Roberval, who went down with his ship, is a resident of Ottawa and hid sailed the lakes for many years. He resided at No. 16 Sweetland avenue, Ottawa, is sixty eight years of age and leaves a big family, three daughters at home two married and a wife and son.

Second Mate Joseph Parisien was sixty five year of age and leaves a family of seven besides his wife. His eldest son, Wilfred Parisien, was ordained to the priesthood on June 25th of this year and has a parish at Matabalo, on the Ottawa river. He is a native of Alfred.

Miss Delia Parent, the young cook had only been aboard the steamer two months, this being her first season on the lakes. She was a native of Ottawa and a friend of Captain Eligh’s family.

The two firemen Henri Seguin, Marcel Messenau and the deckhand Theodore Le Roy, were also Hull boys and friends of the chief engineer, who is a native of this place.

Still Searching the Lakes

At four o’clock this afternoon the Coast Guard lifeboat was out in the lake making search for survivors. She came in this morning at nine o’clock the men had breakfast and at 10:30 she was in the lake again.

The steamer Packer came up the lake this afternoon but reported no wreckage in sight.

The steamer Jeska was behind the Roberval when she went down, but she knew nothing of the wreck until arriving here.

The steamer Oceanica from Deseronto, Captain O’ Hagan arrived this afternoon and reported seeing small fish boat on the North Shore containing two men who looked like fisherman, but no wreckage.

Media Type:
Item Type:
Date of Publication:
26 Sep 1916
Personal Name(s):
Eligh, Peter ; Parisien, Joseph ; Messenau, Marcel ; Seguin, Henry ; Leroy, Theodore ; Parent, Delia ; Trottier, Philip ; Seguin, Ovila ; Legault, Edward ; Clemens, E. J. ; Clark, A. Y. ; Brieult, P. H. ; Hall, Captain ; Parisien, Wilfred ; O'Hagan, Captain
Corporate Name(s):
Polson Iron Works
Richard Palmer
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.6208384878489 Longitude: -76.60916828125
Creative Commons licence:
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Three Saved: Six Drowned