The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 16 May 1853

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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

Council Chamber, City Hall,

Thursday evening, 12th May.

George Potter sworn - Was second Mate on board of the steamer Ocean Wave, and was on board of her on the 30th of April, the morning of the accident; she was bound from Cobourg to Kingston; the fire broke out about half-past one o'clock; the Ocean Wave was then between the Ducks and Long Point, about two miles from land; it was a fine morning, with a light breeze off shore; it was witness' watch when the fire broke out; it did not require the Captain to be on watch at that time, as he (witness) was quite capable of managing the vessel; when witness first saw the fire it had the appearance of a light shining or reflecting upon the connecting-rod from under the hurricane deck; witness was forward with the man at the wheel, where he should have been; when he saw the light he said to the man at the wheel, "What light is that?" James Steed, the wheelsman, answered that he did not know; witness immediately ran aft to it, and the fire immediately puffed up from the opening in the hurricane deck, where the connecting rod was working; witness has been nine or ten years on board of steamboats; it is his opinion that the fire originated from the sparks falling from the pipe; witness was present at the examination of the witness last night, and agrees with them in that opinion; about half an hour before witness discovered the fire, sparks were falling pretty thickly, and witness took a walk to see if any lay upon deck; a spark might lodge where the walking-beam was working; it is witness' positive belief that it was caused by a spark from the chimney; when he saw the fire puff up, witness ran to where the buckets were hanging, filled with water, and threw two or three of them upon the fire, but it had no effect in quenching it; witness, on seeing it, blew a couple of puffs of the steam whistle, and ran down to the main deck to arouse the crew to assist him; just as he got down there the men were coming out; had not time to tell the steersman anything when he left the upper deck; witness, on seeing the crew, told them to come along as quick as possible and get out the boats; when they got up to where the boats were they found both of the boats hanging on their davits on fire; this is the ordinary place for putting the boats; in witness's opinion the Ocean Wave was abundantly provided with everything necessary to the safety of those on board, and the boats were large enough to carry all the persons on board; finding that they could not get the boats out, witness climbed over the netting outside and went aft, where he found all the people trying to save themselves; not more than five minutes elapsed from the breaking out of the fire until witness went aft where the people were saving themselves; witness knew the deceased, John Balton; never saw him from the time the alarm of fire was given till he was taken from the wreck; he was clinging to one of the braces on the larboard side; he was nearly the last man taken from the wreck, and probably he suffered more than others in consequence; witness assisted Mrs. Stevenson; when he got down upon the rudder he found several persons on it, he thought too many, and he therefore looked out for another place; being able to swim a little, he went to the starboard-wheel, but in doing so found the water so cold that he thought there was a better chance of safety by staying by the wreck and near the fire as long as possible; witness then got on the buckets of the wheel; he had just secured himself in this position when he saw a female floating in the water apparently nearly exhausted, and making no efforts to save herself; as she floated past the wheel, witness laid hold of her, drew her up, and placed her along side of him on the wheel; witness has been informed since that the lady is Mrs. Stevenson, of Hamilton; after he got her upon the wheel they climbed up upon the top of it and dried themselves, remaining there about an hour, till witness began to think that the wheel would fall out; witness then descended to the surface of the water and got upon the first brace, Mrs. Stevenson still remaining upon the water-wheel; when Mrs. S. missed witness from her side, she shouted to him to save her, and she also descended to the surface of the water; she seemed to be on fire, and cried that she was all on fire and for witness to save her; on descending to the surface of the water she either jumped or fell into the water, which probably put out the fire; witness seeing her floating close to him put out his foot and helped her upon the first brace, and leaving her there sought another for himself; about an hour after this a schooner rounded the bows of the burning wreck, and it gave witness fresh courage; just at this moment the mast-head fell down with the bell on it, and lodged just over witness's head; seeing some chance of saving himself by the mast, witness was moving towards it, when the clapboarding of the wheel fell out into the water, and witness got upon it; seeing a good prospect of safety there, witness pushed it under Mrs. Stevenson and got her upon it; after having secured her upon it, seeing that the chimneys were about to fall, he moved his raft out of the way, and as he passed the bell attached to the mast, it being over his head, witness rang it; shortly after the ringing of the bell a boat from one of the schooners came and took Mrs. Stevenson and witness off the raft; witness does not know to which schooner the boat which saved them belonged; those on board the Ocean Wave saw lights, which they supposed to be those of the Magnet, all night; she (the Magnet) was an hour or something more ahead of them, that would be ten or twelve miles ahead; the sun was about rising when the steamer Scotland came nigh to the schooner on which witness was aboard; the wind was fair, and the schooner was about to make sail for Kingston when the Scotland came up; the schr. had been at anchor, but the anchor was up; witness was on deck at the time the Scotland hailed the schooner; heard somebody, whom witness thinks was the Captain of the Scotland, hail and ask "What vessel is that on fire?" and the Captain of the schooner answered, "The Ocean Wave," that is all witness recollects passing; witness did not hear the person on board the Scotland proffer any assistance, neither did he hear the Captain of the schooner give any directions to the person on board the Scotland to search between the wreck and the shore; witness had an idea that the Scotland should have offered to take them on board and carry them to Kingston; came to Kingston in the schooner; witness does not know anything in the construction of the Ocean Wave that would render her more liable to take fire than any other vessel; considered her better fitted out than most vessels which he had been on, being well provided with fire engines, buckets, etc., etc. - By Mr. Rowlands: Witness was on the bow deck when he discovered the fire within a yard or two of the man at the wheel, whom he asked, "What fire is that?" Witness was not in the wheelhouse with the wheelsman, he was standing outside; can't say that he was at any time within the wheelhouse during his watch that night on deck; about half an hour elapsed from the time the witness called the chief Mate last; the chief Mate had come on deck to look after things half an hour before; witness called him up at about 2 o'clock (sic) in the morning, about half an hour before the fire broke out; the Mate having looked around told witness to keep on their course, and turned in again; it was Mr. Forsyth, the chief Mate's watch below at the time; it was witness's duty to have called the Capt., but he preferred to call Mr. Forsyth, as he did not think it necessary to disturb the Capt. on every trifling occasion; witness does not recollect the hour the Ocean Wave left Cobourg; he came on deck about 8 or 9 o'clock at night, and the fire broke out about half-past 1 o'clock; witness did not remain on the bow deck all his watch; he went over the hurricane deck himself about half an hour before the fire broke out, when he saw a considerable number of sparks, but nothing dangerous; the fire had not broken out in the hurricane deck when witness saw it first; it puffed right out from the hole where the connecting-rod works, and caught the canvas covering the hurricane deck and run along it; it broke out under the saloon deck; the Engineer could not have seen the fire when it first broke out so well as a person in the saloon; from the position of the fire, witness thinks it could have been observed from the saloon if any person had been sitting in the saloon aft; has heard Captain Wright's evidence, and thinks that if the Captain had been sitting where he usually dined, he would not have seen the fire, as that part of it is boxed in with wood; it was not over four or five minutes from the time of witness's discovering the fire till he tried to get out the boats; when he saw the fire shining, it had not broken out above - it puffed up when witness reached the spot; witness engaged in the Ocean Wave this spring; had previously filled the situation of second Mate on the steamer Gildersleeve, but never sailed on the lake till this spring; is more at home on the river; it is the usual practice for the first Mate to take the first watch, and it is usual for the second Mate to consult the Captain on his watch; the second Mate's is the Captain's watch; the Captain is generally supposed to be on watch with the second Mate; Mr. Forsyth, the first Mate, has been on the lake for a great many years; witness was aware that the boat had kindled a short time before, but the fire was put out with a few buckets of water; it was aft the saloon where it kindled; witness does not know of any watch being in the saloon; did not observe the special watchman, but saw the deck watch at their posts; the Engineer usually sits about the engine-room; when witness was down between decks he saw the Engineer sitting in the engine-room; does not think that the fire could have gone so far without his seeing it if the Engineer had been sitting in his room; witness did not see the special watchman about the deck; one of the waiters had charge of the saloon all night; witness saw him giving a lady a cup of tea about 12 o'clock, and did not see him afterwards. - Re-examined by the Coroner: The watches are designated the first and second Mate's watches; it is not usually expected that the second Mate should be quite as experienced as the first Mate, seeing that the Captain is supposed to be in his watch; witness saw the ladies taken off the larboard water-wheel. By the Jury: Witness did not think it necessary to stop the engines, and did not ring the bell; the sparks falling were large, but there was wind enough to blow them clear of the wreck. - By Mr. Rowlands: If a person had been watching in the saloon, walking up and down, he ought to have seen the fire before it got so far; when hard wood is burnt the sparks are far heavier than those from light wood, and some of them might fall straight down, notwithstanding that others may have been carried over the starboard-quarter.

James Graham sworn - Was wheelsman on board the Ocean Wave; was not on duty at the time that the Ocean Wave took fire, was asleep in his berth. When the alarm was given witness ran out and saw the Captain exerting himself; witness ran to warn his brother who was on board, and after he got him, he proceeded to save a female acquaintance of his who was nurse to Mrs. Stevenson's children, but when he reached the Saloon, he could not get to the young woman for the fire; he saw the head waiter in the Saloon all covered with blood. Witness then went over the stern with his brother, thinks this was about a quarter to two o'clock. When he was taken on board the schooner, he looked at the time and it was then just a quarter to five. It was near six o'clock when the steamer Scotland came up to the schooner; when witness went on board the Georgina she was at anchor; when the Scotland came alongside the Emblem witness was on deck. Some person on the deck of the Scotland asked what vessel that was that was burning; the Captain of the Emblem answered the Ocean Wave; it was broad daylight at the time and they could see all around. The Captain also told the Scotland that they had picked up the sufferers, but witness has no exact recollection of the conversation which took place between the two Captains. All the officers and crew of the Scotland were on deck looking very anxious and eager for information; witness did not hear the Captain of the Emblem say to the Captain of the Scotland that there were persons floating between the wreck and the shore; there was no high wind that morning. When the Scotland hailed the Emblem, the latter was preparing her sails, but she was not under weigh. Is not aware that the Scotland reversed her wheels and returned to the wreck; the Scotland came up too late to save any of the passengers, there was nothing left for her to do when she came up. The persons on board the Scotland exhibited great anxiety to render the sufferers assistance; witness thinks that what was said by those on board of the Emblem, was such as to lead the Scotland to suppose that all was done which could be done, and that there was nothing left for them to do. John Balton was the last man taken from the wreck; witness got himself slightly burned taking him off the wreck; deceased's clothes were on fire from the sparks, and he was so exhausted that he could not extinguish them; witness heard him screaming and backed his boat under the wreck where the deceased was and told him to drop into it. He was a frightful spectacle, his shoulders and neck were all covered with melted lead and his clothes were on fire, he was in a dreadfully exhausted and suffering condition.

City Hall, May 13th, 1853.

Henry Twohy sworn - Is a Master Mariner in command of the steamer Passport; has been a seaman since 1819; witness has commanded a sailing vessel on this lake; he has been master of a steamboat since 1839. The crews on board steamers are divided into two watches, distinguished as the Captain's and Mate's watches, or starboard and larboard watches. These are understood to be kept by the Captain and Chief Mate, but as the Captain's duties are general, his watch is delegated to the second Mate in fine weather, or where there is no particular risk. In foggy weather or during snow storms, in dark and tempestuous nights, thinks the Captain should be on deck, but during fine nights or when it is clear, calm and moon light nights, witness does not consider it necessary for the Captain to be on deck. It is always considered that the second mate who keeps the Captain's watch, is a trusty and experienced man, and that the place where the Capt. sleeps should be at hand or convenient, in case he should be wanted. Witness has been on board of the Ocean Wave, and knows nothing in her construction that would make her more liable to catch fire than any other vessel of her size and build.

By Captain Weatherly - Thinks that when a second mate has been only one or two trips upon the lake, that the Captain should have been on deck during his watch, when approaching the eastern end of the lake. It has been the practice on all steamers which witness has commanded, to have a waiter walking about the Saloon all night. Thinks that it would be impossible for a spark of fire to fall down the opening where the funnel is inserted, when the wind is blowing fresh off the land and the vessel is going at the rate of ten miles an hour. Witness knows the steamer Magnet and is of opinion that if the Magnet left Cobourg an hour before the Ocean Wave in the evening, that her lights could not have been seen aboard the Ocean Wave, if she took fire at half-past one the following morning; thinks that the Magnet's lights could not have been visible on ordinary occasions at a distance of more than eight miles; thinks that the Magnet from her position, if she were 12 miles ahead, and the Ocean Wave taking fire five or six miles above the Ducks light house, the Magnet could not be seen on board the Ocean Wave on account of the Ducks' Island and Cape Traverse intervening.

By Mr. Rowlands - Thinks that had a proper look-out been kept on board the Ocean Wave, that a fire originating from a spark on the hurricane deck could not have progressed so far as to have envelloped the vessel in flames from side to side, and rendered all escape by boats hopeless.

(to be continued)

The Ocean Wave Disaster - We are patiently awaiting the publication of the evidence and verdicts in the case of the unfortunate passengers who lost their lives by the burning of the Ocean Wave. The local papers have yet supplied no evidence whatever given before the coroner's juries. This is very extraordinary; seeing that nearly a fortnight has elapsed since the catastrophe. The public feels the greatest anxiety to learn to who the blame, if blame there were, of the disaster is chargeable. It is to be hoped the whole matter will be thoroughly investigated and the evidence made public. [Toronto North American]

* It was announced in the local papers that a thorough investigation would take place, and the North American need not be in such a hurry to condemn. One Coroner's Jury has sat in public four times, each sitting occupying several hours. Two if not three more sittings will be had, ere the verdict will be received. A great portion of the evidence has been published, and the rest will appear as soon as it is delivered. It is no easy task to assemble in Kingston so many witnesses as are needed, all of whom reside in distant parts of the Province and the United States. Peace Growler!

-Imports - 13 14; Exports - 13 14.

-ad for Bay of Quinte Royal Mail Line - steamers Bay of Quinte and Canadian with timetable.

-ads for Magnet, St. Lawrence, Bay of Quinte, Cataract, Bay State, Lady of the Lake, Champion, Beaver.

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16 May 1853
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 16 May 1853