The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Post and Tribune (Detroit, MI), Sat., April 24, 1880

Full Text
Lake Marine
Terrible Tale of Disaster From Lake Huron
Drowning of a Life-Saving Crew While Attempting the Rescue of a Disabled Craft
Of Seven Men but One Left to Tell the Story of Their Fate
The Gale Swept Lakes

Special Dispatch to the Post and Tribune


Huron City, April 23. - A vessel, name unknown, laden with lumber, went ashore four miles below this place last night, and Capt. J. G. Kiah, of Point aux Barques station and a lifesaving crew started at 8 o'clock this morning to remove the crew of the vessel, and when a mile from shore the surf-boat filled, and all but Capt. Kiah perished from exposure. The names of the drowned are Robert Morrision of Caseville, Wm. Sayres of Port Austin, Jas. Pottinger of Huron City, Walter Petherbridge and Jas. Nautan of Walkerville, and Dennis Degan of Grindstone City.

The fishing tug Grayling has gone to the vessel's assistance.


Capt. Kiah, after his rescue, proceeded to Huron City, where he was interviewed last night by a correspondent of The Post and Tribune, to whom he made the following statement of the disaster: Capt. Kiah said a scow appeared about two and a half miles east of the station and one mile from land at daylight this morning. She raised a signal of distress and her colors were at half mast. The lifesaving crew attempted to answer by going out to them with their surf boat. After the surf boat swamped Capt. Kiah tried to cheer the crew as long as possible, but the water was piercing cold and they soon gave way one by one and perished. They were well-supplied with life preservers and their bodies washed ashore as soon as they let go. Capt. Kiah is a brave and competent officer and was almost overcome with the cold when the boat washed ashore. A farmer named Samuel McFarlane passing nearby heard the captain's faint cries for help and supposed it to be sea gulls. But it sounded so unusual that he went to the shore of the lake and discovered the horrible situation of the crew and immediately notified Andrew Shaw, the keeper of Pte Aux Barques lighthouse, and together they procured assistance and took the bodies to the station. The vessel is believed to have got off by throwing the deckload overboard and went on her way. The whole community mourn the loss of the unfortunate crew, four of whom were old residents of Huron county.

[News of the drowning of the crew was received here yesterday afternoon by Capt. Joseph Sawyer, superintendent of the 8th district, United States lifesaving department. He promptly notified the chief of the department in Washington of the sad occurrence and left on the steamer Saginaw last night for the scene of the disaster. - Ed. Post and Tribune]


Special Dispatch to The Post and Tribune

Port Huron, April 23. - Life saving station No. 2, Point au Barques, was the scene of a sad calamity to-day. About sunrise a scow was seen two and a half or three miles east of the station, showing a signal of distress, with flag at half mast. The surf boat was launched, and the crew of six, under Capt. J. G. Kiah, started to go to the scow's assistance. They got to within one quarter of a mile from the scow and a mile from the nearest point of land, the wind about east, and a heavy sea, which they were rowing against, when a tremendous sea filled the boat, which remained right side up for three minutes. The oars were nearly all lost and the boat was soon in the trough of the sea, and turned over. The men turned it back again and got into it, but it was soon capsized again. This was repeated several more times until the men gave up. About three quarters of a hour after she filled, the first man, James Pottinger, gave up without a word. The men held on to the midlines until, in about one and a quarter hours, all had let go except Capt. Kiah. The men were overcome by the coldness of the water, and became insensible while floating on the water, held up by the cork jackets. The boat, with Capt. Kiah still clinging to it in an almost exhausted condition, came ashore about 9:30 o'clock. The bodies all came ashore before 2 p.m. Efforts were made to resuscitate Deegan and Nattau, who were the last to let go, but they were unavailing. The six bodies were laid out in the station house that they so lately left. Morrison, Pottinger and Deegan have families. The scow set sail after the accident.

Media Type:
Item Type:
This story of the loss of the Pte aux Barques (Lake Huron) lifesaving crew has been published many times before, but another retelling would not be too many. Capt. Jerome Kiah received a gold lifesaving medal for his efforts in attempting to save his crew. The event, the man and the medal are still commemorated on the U. S. Coast Guard website. Click here to see it.
This was the first fatal lifesaving accident for the U. S. Lifesaving Service on the Great Lakes. Kiah was later a District Superintendent for the Life-Saving Service, ironically after the current superintendent died in the USLSS's second lakes accident later the same year. Kiah soon took steps to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again ( click here for article ).
Date of Original:
Sat., April 24, 1880
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Dave Swayze
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Post and Tribune (Detroit, MI), Sat., April 24, 1880