The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 14 May 1853

Full Text

p.2 Investigation into the Circumstances of the Burning of the Steamer Ocean Wave Coroner's Inquest upon the Body of One of the Sufferers

David R. Dulmage, sworn - Is a farmer living in South Bay; it was about 2 o'clock in the morning when he first saw the fire on the Ocean Wave; witness immediately warned a couple of his neighbors, and got ready a boat and went out to attempt to save the people; after they had rowed about a mile and a half or two miles they were hailed by a man in the water, who proved to be Capt. Wright; he was floating upon two barrels and two planks; having taken him in they proceeded to look for others; they hallooed out aloud, as also did Capt. Wright, looking all around at the same time; they were at this time about three quarters of a mile from the wreck; on approaching nearer they rowed round and round, and picked up a man floating on a gang-way plank, whose name is Thomas Berry; they still kept rowing round as Capt. Wright directed, and found another young man floating with a life-preserver; he was alive when they took him into the boat, but died before they got ashore; they now concluded to get those ashore alive if possible, that they might receive assistance, as it was very cold; having taken them ashore, and placed them in the care of persons there, they rowed out again and picked up another man, who proved to be the Mate of the burnt vessel; the sun was quite up when the wreck sunk; the reason that they did not go back to the burning vessel was that they saw the schooners close to her, and the wind was also rising; it was calm near the shore, but a little swell near further out, though nothing to speak of; Philip Dulmage, James Gallagher, and Thomas Wall were the three men who assisted witness to row the boat. - By Mr. O'Reilly: When the steamer approached the wreck the mate was then in the boat, and the other men saved were on shore; the sun was risen at the time; was about 2 miles from shore when he saw the steamer approach the burning vessel, and was pretty near ashore before the steamer got close to the wreck; witness did not see the steamer turn about and follow either of the schooners.

John Rose sworn - Lives in South Bay; witness assisted in taking care of the three persons saved from the wreck; on the morning the Ocean Wave was burnt, witness is positive that the wind was blowing east by north when he came down to the lake shore.

Allison Wright sworn - Was Captain of the steamer Ocean Wave; knew the deceased, John Balton; he was a deck hand on board the Ocean Wave; on the morning of the 30th April, when the vessel took fire, they were bound for Kingston; they left Cobourg at ten minutes past 7 o'clock the evening before; when the boat passed Presque Isle light witness was in bed; he had been up all the two previous nights; when the first alarm of fire was given he was just coming out of his state-room to sit down and read the Toronto Patriot, for he could not sleep; this was about half-past one o'clock in the morning; the fire began in the engine-room; the second Mate discovered the fire first; he ran and blew a short note of the whistle twice, and witness ran up on deck shouting out 'Fire,' the engine room stands right in the centre of the boat; when he (witness) saw the flames burst out, he ran forward to stop the engine; he rang the bell, but the engine did not stop; he then went forward and spoke to the first mate; proposed to run her ashore, and got her head turned towards the shore, but the progress of the fire drove the man from the wheel, and then the boat became unmanageable; at this time the firemen were still firing up below, not being aware that the boat was on fire; witness next went aft and sung out, "For God's sake, men, let us get the boats down!" witness then, when the men went to do so, stept aft the gangway with Mrs. Stevenson, Mrs. French, Captain Kuyer's wife, and Miss Macdonald; witness told them that if they would hold on a little they would get the boats down; witness stood with the ladies there for some time, till at last he got out of patience at the delay; he then climbed up to the upper deck, where the boats were lying upon the davits, so that one man could have thrown them out; there witness found the Purser and crew all trying to get at the boats, but they were in flames; in eight or ten minutes from the discovery of the fire the boats were destroyed; the engine was still going; the Engineer could not stop it although ordered to do so; witness tried to stop it himself, but was unable; witness thinks the fire had already affected the gearing; about two minutes after this the engine stopt of itself; on witness returning on deck, the Purser proposed to make a raft to save the ladies upon; the men on board had seized all the planks, and every man was striving for himself; witness, at the suggestion of Mr. Oliver, turned from him and, with the assistance of the Engineer, rolled the barrels of flour overboard, to get at the plank dunnage below; the first plank got hold of was seized by the ladies' maid, who jumped overboard with it; witness immediately returned to get more planks, and the Purser and ladies were gone; the saloon was now all in flames; witness hearing screams upstairs tried to get up, but was driven back by the flames; having remained till his face, hands, and foot were burnt, he (witness) took a tressel and jumped into the water with it; not a solitary soul was on the afterpart of the boat when witness left her, and he could not have got to the forepart of the vessel without jumping overboard and swimming to it; witness, Mr. Fisk, and the Engineer tried to work the fire-engine, but could not do it; before jumping into the water witness threw the tressel before him, and jumped from the starboard-quarter of the steamer nighest the shore; having got hold of the tressel, he put it across his breast; at this moment the ladies' maid rolled off the plank she was on and sunk; witness got hold of her plank and another one floating near, and with the assistance of it and a couple of barrels of flour he kept afloat till picked up; thinks he was about two hours in the water, and was saved in the manner stated by last witness; it is witness's belief that a spark from the chimney got amongst the machinery; the Ocean Wave was as good a boat as there was upon the lake; she was never, to his knowledge, surveyed and pronounced liable to catch fire; does not know that she was sold to the Railroad Company on account of her liability to catch fire. - By Mr. O'Reilly: Saw the fire first in the fore part of the engine-room, above the cranks; saw the Engineer between 10 and 11 o'clock the evening before the fire; there was not a more careful Engineer on the River St. Lawrence than the Engineer of the Ocean Wave; the wind was blowing north-west, but was veering round to the east; there was only a little ripple upon the water; the wind was at her head, and the flames ran along the canvas like gunpowder; the whole vessel being in flames from stem to stern, it was impossible to remain at either the tiller or the wheel; witness did not notice any lights at all going towards the burning vessel till he was taken out of the water into the boats; witness went to bed at half-past 10 o'clock, as he had been up all the two previous nights, and was coming out of his state-rooms when the fire broke out; it was a schooner's light he saw going to the wreck; witness knows the Magnet's light; the Magnet was far ahead of the Ocean Wave - ten or eleven miles at least; when witness went to bed at half-past ten o'clock she was a little better than an hour ahead of the Ocean Wave; the Ocean Wave when loaded sailed about 9 or 10 miles an hour; she was fully loaded on this occasion; the Magnet must have been between Nine-mile Point and the Ducks when the Ocean Wave took fire; the Magnet passed us at Darlington.- By Mr. Rowlands: Witness went to bed at half-past 10 o'clock; had four men on deck to watch, besides the special watchman; when the alarm was given he ran forward, and saw the flames coming out of the engine-room; ran forward to stop the engine, and thereby stop the draft of the boat; it is customary to ring a small bell to stop the engine; could not get to the alarm-bell; the fire might have entangled the wires of the bell and put it out of order, so that it did not ring; witness was in the front part of the engine-room, and the Engineer was in the after part; the upper part of the engine-room was on fire; witness has had charge of the Ocean Wave ever since she was built; she has been on fire once this year before; she also took fire last year near the pipes forward below; this is the third time she has been on fire; had a fire-engine on board, besides a number of buckets filled with water; had one general watchman; he was below, and the second Mate was on deck; is perfectly satisfied that the Engine was ready, and that the buckets were filled with water; witness can't account for the Engineer not answering the bell; about five minutes or so elapsing between the ringing of the alarm and the desertion of the boats; witness was with the four ladies aft when he climbed up to the upper deck; when he came down again the Purser was with them; at the top of the chimney there were screens, also dampers; to the best of witness's knowledge the fire was occasioned by sparks from the chimney; don't think they could guard against these sparks; a spark may work in and smoulder without being seen, and burst out suddenly. - By the Jury: The fire-engine was on the main deck below; it was about eight minutes after the fire was discovered that an attempt was made to use it; Mrs. Stevenson's children were up in the saloon; all the persons in the saloon were driven down by the flames upon the main deck; Mrs. Stevenson made several attempts to save her children, but was driven back by the fire.

Robert L. Forsyth sworn - Was mate of the Ocean Wave; she was coming down the lake on the morning she was burned; left Cobourg on the previous evening, knew the deceased, he was a deck hand on board of the Ocean Wave; the boat was about twelve miles from the Ducks when the fire broke out. Witness was not on deck at the time when the alarm bell rung, he jumped out of his berth and saw the fire. Witness went to bed between eight and nine o'clock at night; the Magnet was then an hour or an hour and a half dead ahead of us. The Captain told me to put the vessel ashore, and directed the steersman to starboard his helm. He then made an attempt to get at the boats, but upon running to them found them in flames. Witness asked the man at the wheel how she was heading, and he answered about North North-East. -When witness made an attempt to get aft, he could not do it for the fire; there was but one passenger forward and three of the crew, five persons altogether including himself, and all these went overboard with planks; witness remained in the water till after sunrise, when he was taken up in the manner related by Mr. Dulmage; witness was mate of the Ocean Wave all this Spring and two months and a half of last Fall, knows of nothing in her construction to render her more liable to catch fire than any other steamer; it could hardly be said she was on fire this season, once a spark set fire to, and burnt a hole in the hurricane deck. It was the rapid progress of the flames which prevented anything being done to save the passengers.

By Mr. O'Reilly - The second mate always keeps the Captain's watch. It is usual for the first mate and Captain to retire to bed at one time. It was (witness) the second mate's watch when the fire broke out. Witness tried to get to the assistance of the people aft but could not reach them. When he was in the water he saw the Ducks light, also the lights on shore, and four vessels approaching the wreck. Saw the two lights of the schooners, a topsail schooner and a fore and aft schooner approaching the wreck; thinks the topsail schooner came near first, saw a steamer also approaching the burning vessel, she was near to the wreck when witness was taken into the boat; they were pretty close to the shore when the steamer got up close to the wreck.

By Mr. Rowlands - On hearing the alarm probably half a minute elapsed before witness got on deck; when he got there, the flames were spread right across the deck, and the boats were both on fire; thinks there was a good and proper look-out kept, as good as on any boat upon the lake. Witness thinks that the fire may have arisen from the friction of the connecting rod; thinks it quite possible for the fire to burst thus suddenly out, and yet a good look out have been kept. All the deck hands of the Ocean Wave slept forward; the deceased John Balton ran aft when the fire broke out.

Thomas Oliver sworn - Was Purser on board of the Ocean Wave, and was on board at the time she was burned; witness was sitting in his office at the time the fire broke out, it was a quarter past one o'clock by his witness' time. James Turnbull the Engineer alarmed him first, he ran into witness, and called out that the boat was on fire, witness ran into the room where the Engineer sits to guide the boat and looking up, saw the fire coming down amongst the machinery, as if it was following the oil. The Engine room on the main deck was not on fire at this time; witness cannot say what was the cause of the fire, would suppose that it was a spark from the chimney which had lodged between the hurricane deck and the casing around the machinery. Witness immediately ran to the Saloon to alarm the passengers, but could not get in for the fire, then returned down stairs and climbed over the netting outside to the hurricane deck and got alongside of the larboard boat; the second mate had hold of it, and the captain was also running towards it, the side of the boat was in flames. Finding they could not get this boat out, they thought to get the starboard one out, but witness had only time to look in the direction of it, when the whole hurricane deck broke into a flame, from stem to stern. Witness then descended to the main deck and saw the ladies standing there. On Capt. Wright's coming down, witness proposed to him to save the ladies, as he has stated in his evidence. Witness knew the deceased but did not know anything of him, till he saw him on the schooner. Witness was standing on the larboard gangway with Mrs. Stevenson, who had her child in her arms, when the door of the Saloon was burned off and fell down stairs. Mrs. Stevenson was next to the stairs on witness' right hand; the flames caught her night dress, and burned it a little; witness put it out with his hands. Mrs. Stevenson then asked witness to throw her child into the water, as she would rather see it drowned than burned; witness replied that he would not; she then said will you jump overboard with me and I replied yes, and we sprang off together, with hold of each others hands, she having the child in her arms. When she struck the water she gave a start and the child fell out of her arms. Some person at this moment threw a plank out of the port, which struck witness and separated him from Mrs. Stevenson, it knocked witness under the water, and on coming up he struck his head upon the plank a second time, and went down again. Witness saw Mrs. Stevenson no more after this till he saw her on board of the schooner. Has a faint recollection of seeing a female floating or struggling towards the wheel; thinks the fire broke out a quarter or half-past one o'clock. When he was on the rudder, witness looked at his watch, when it wanted five minutes to 2 o'clock; witness should think he was upon the rudder post about two and a half hours; the boats of the schooner came to us about a quarter or half-past 4 o'clock. Witness was taken on board the Georgina; when he got on board of her the day was just beginning to break; he was shifted to the Emblem about day-break. It was arranged between the two Captains that the Emblem should bring the people to Kingston. Witness saw the Scotland; he was on board the Emblem when the hailing between the two vessels took place; the first question came from the steamer; the person on board of the Scotland asked, "what vessel is that burning;" the answer from the Emblem was, "the Ocean Wave;" witness heard Captain Belyea say to the person who was hailing from the Scotland, that he had some of the passengers and part of the crew of the burned vessel on board; did not hear any other question put by the person on board of the Scotland. Captain Belyea said, "stand in towards the shore, as I have heard cries, and you may pick up some person." He (Capt. Belyea) did not speak this in a tone of voice which witness thought could be heard by the Captain of the Scotland, and he, witness, mentioned this to Captain Belyea at the time, who coincided with him in that opinion. Witness came to Kingston in the schooner Emblem.

By Mr. O'Reilly - When the Scotland came up, the Emblem was within a quarter of a mile of the wreck; she was making preparations to leave, and might have been on her course; heard cries of distress after he, witness, got on board of the Georgina; heard Captain Belyea say that he also heard cries of distress from the shore. They were a good while occupied in shifting passengers before they set sail for Kingston. There was nothing that witness knew to prevent small boats examining the shore, but witness is no seaman and knows nothing about nautical matters.

By Mr. Rowlands - The hurricane deck was supplied with buckets, filled with water; they had got an additional supply of buckets that trip. The second mate made an attempt to put the fire out on the hurricane deck by throwing water on it. Witness knows that if a spark fell on deck and burned through, it might easily spread underneath; witness put out the previous fire himself with a pail of water - it happened about one o'clock; witness' opinion of the men leads him to feel confident that they would attend to their duty. When he saw the fire first it came down from above, seemingly from the casing about the machinery.

By a Juror - Witness did not see the Scotland turn back to follow the Emblem from the wreck. (to be continued)

The Inquest sat again on Thursday Evening, and other Witnesses were examined, whose evidence will appear in due time. The Inquest now stands adjourned until Thursday, May 19th, then to meet pro forma, to appoint a day for the termination of the Investigation; on which occasion the attendance of Capt. Belyea, of the Emblem, and that of the Captain of the Georgina may be expected. Captain Weatherly attended on both occasions, to watch the proceedings on the part of certain Insurance Companies, and Mr. Rowlands also, on behalf of some other party. The Council Chamber was crowded on both evenings.

-The Atlantic - Ogdensburgh Collision Case [Ohio Statesman]

News from Montreal - A subscription has been started at Kingston, to reward the officers and crew of the schooners and 2nd Mate and the Purser of the Ocean Wave, with some testimonial of their brave exertions, to save the lives of the passengers and crew of the latter vessel. [Gazette]

-Launch - of schooner John Hisman, built for Mr. Myers of Trent; for lumber trade, 110 1/2' keel, 120' overall, 25' 6" beam, 10' 3" hold, 310 tons [News]

-Imports - 12 13; Exports - 12.

Media Type:
Item Type:
Date of Publication:
14 May 1853
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
Creative Commons licence:
pd [more details]
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
WWW address
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.

Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 14 May 1853