The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 1 Jun 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.

Last evening the Jury again assembled in the Council Chamber of the City Hall. The Coroner read over the depositions of Capt. Belyea and his crew, as follows, viz:-

John Belyea, sworn - Witness is Captain of the Schooner Emblem. Remembers the morning of the 30th of April last - was then bound up the lake. When between ten or twelve miles to the westward of the False Ducks, at half past one o'clock, saw a light about four miles to the eastward, and after looking at it for some time, saw it blaze up, and shortly afterwards heard the roar of the steam blow off, and knew then that the fire proceeded from a steamboat. As the wind was blowing fresh from the West North West, and the Emblem was under two-reefed canvass, witness shook out the reefs, and bore away for the fire. - Got to the vicinity of the fire about two o'clock, and heard screeching and screaming in the water between the schooner and the shore; saw a large steamboat on fire, blazing all over, the flames going as high as the trucks of the schooner, and thought it impossible that any person could be about that vessel. Told his men to lower down the boat and go to the assistance of the persons he heard screaming in the water; when all at once, heard screams from the burning wreck, and immediately sent the boat to their aid. When the boat returned there were only two of the sufferers in it, it being impossible for the boat's crew to get more from the burning vessel, the flames raging so furiously. Procured then a heaving line, and sent the boat back again - witness could not leave the Emblem himself, having hove her to, a little to the westward of the wreck, and the schooner being in a perilous position. The boat returned again to the schooner with more of the sufferers. At this time the schooner Georgiana came up to assist, lowered her boat, and contributed to save the people. - Witness' boat saved about ten or eleven persons, and the Georgiana the rest. While the boats of the two schooners were away, saving the sufferers, the Georgiana ran foul of the Emblem, and witness jumping on board the Georgiana, had a conversation with Capt. Henderson of the Georgiana, and agreed to take the sufferers into Kingston, the Emblem being the fastest vessel, and the wind being ahead, North East by East. Witness then received on board the Emblem the persons saved by the Georgiana; - at this time it was past six o'clock. Saw the steamer Scotland come up towards the wreck from Kingston, about half-past five o'clock, as nearly as witness can recollect, - the Emblem was then lying to to the northward of the wreck, between the shore and the wreck, and the Scotland came up between the Emblem and the wreck, and hailed by asking "what wreck was that?" - witness answered the "Ocean Wave." Witness told the person hailing, that he had some of the sufferers on board, and that he thought there were others between the wreck and the shore - witness did not say that he heard screams in shore. Witness thought the Scotland was coming alongside to windward of the schooner, but did not; she slowed her engine, and after saying something which witness did not hear, proceeded on her course. Witness wished the Scotland to have taken the sufferers on board, but did not ask her to do so, as the Scotland passed so quickly, there was no time to do it. Shortly after the Scotland left, another schooner, the Leander, Capt. Wallace, came up, and Capt. Wallace asked whether they could be of any assistance, but witness said no -and then the Leander bore away for the Georgiana - at this time the Georgiana was getting the sufferers into their boat to bring them on board the Emblem, and the Leander towed the boat with the sufferers to the Emblem. When the Leander got nigh enough, witness told Capt. Wallace of the screams he had heard in shore when he first approached the wreck, and requested him to go in that direction - and the Leander bore away for that purpose - but witness has not heard from Capt. Wallace since. At the time the Scotland approached the Emblem and hailed, the sufferers picked up by the Georgiana were not yet on board the Emblem - and the Emblem was not then on her way to Kingston, but was repairing the damages from a collision with the Georgiana. It was past six o'clock when the Emblem stood towards Kingston. Witness had Oswego time. Arrived at Kingston between four and five o'clock in the afternoon - had a head wind till got to the north and eastward of the False Ducks, when the wind became fair for Kingston. Knew the deceased - spoke to him - deceased was very bad, and said he could not live.

By Mr. O'Reilly - Was under double reefed canvass, when witness first saw the fire - when he approached the wreck, got within a hundred yards to windward of the wreck, with the wind abeam. Hove the Emblem to, but the Emblem was in no particular danger, there was but little wind then, and a short jobbing sea. It was about three o'clock when the Georgiana ran into the Emblem. The way of the collision was, that the Georgiana had been hove to, but being desirous of approaching near the wreck, rounded to under the Emblem's lee, and ran into the Emblem, through the mainsail. Witness could have anchored, as the water was not more than 10 1/2 fathoms deep, but the burning wreck drifted so much, that anchoring would have created too great a distance for the boats to traverse. The reason why witness did not did not go in shore with the schooner to look for the persons whose cries he heard, after he had sent his boat to the wreck for the sufferers there, was, that had he done so, those in the boat must have perished, and it would have been of no use, as with a vessel of the Emblem's size, he could not have saved any persons in the water without a boat - it was quite dark and hazy - he did not hear the screams in the water for more than half an hour after he got to the wreck. - Had only one light hoisted, and that on the bowsprit; could not see any persons in the water at more than twenty-five yards off, the jobbing sea preventing it. The schooner's boat could hold five persons besides three hands to manage her. At the time the Scotland came up, the sun had risen - it was blowing a moderate breeze, a four knot breeze, and the weather clear. The Scotland came within eighty feet of the Emblem when she hailed. Witness did not see the Scotland reverse her engines - that might have been done, but her headway was not stopped. Witness's hands were all employed, from the time when he first got to the wreck, until he stood towards Kingston. Witness thinks that the person who hailed from the Scotland did not hear all he said, for he could not hear all that was said to him. The reason why witness, after he had got all the sufferers on board the Emblem, did not proceed in search of the persons in shore whose cries he had heard, was, that he was anxious to get to Kingston with those on board. The wind was then dead ahead, North East by East. The Emblem was then within seven miles of the False Ducks Island, and about three miles from the land - and about five miles from South Bay. It was of no use to go to South Bay, for no assistance could be had there. Witness knows nothing of Wellington, and he preferred to come to Kingston, as he thought he could make it sooner than any other place. When the Scotland came up witness had no desire to keep the persons saved on board the Emblem, but would willingly have transferred them to the Scotland, and thinks that had he asked the Scotland to do it, it would have been done - knows Capt. Patterson, and has no doubt of it. When the Scotland came up, the Emblem was about seventy yards from the wreck. At this time there was no person on the wreck, and no person could be seen floating in the water; and three hours and a half had elapsed since the cries in the water were heard. The Scotland could have been of no use or assistance about the wreck at this time.

John Belyea.

Archibald Pichard, Sworn - is a hand on board the Emblem. Has heard the evidence of Capt. Belyea, and coincides in it, word for word.

By Mr. O'Reilly - There was no danger of approaching the wreck on the weather side, but considerable danger on the lee side. The instructions from Capt. Belyea were positive to use the greatest exertions to save all they could. When the Scotland approached, the Emblem's people were hoisting the boat to go to the Georgiana. Within half an hour after the Scotland had passed onwards, the Leander came up. The Mate, Henry Wilson, Charles Ribble and witness were the boat's crew, and they were occupied all the while in saving the sufferers, from the time the boat was first lowered in the water, until it was hoisted, just as the Scotland came up - four hours.

Archibald Pichard.

Andrew Williams and Charles Ribble, Sworn - Are hands on board the schooner Emblem. Have heard the evidence of Capt. Belyea and that of Archibald Pichard. Witnesses coincide in it, with the exception, that they think it was half past two o'clock when the Emblem first approached the wreck.

Charles Ribble & Andrew Williams.

Council Chamber, City Hall,

Tuesday Evening, 31st May, 1853.

John Johnston, sworn - Was on board the Lord Elgin propeller on the evening of the 29th of April. Woke about half-past 7 o'clock in the morning. Witness was intoxicated the day he left, and did not know what he said when he circulated stories regarding the men on the steamer Lord Elgin, having entreated the Captain to go to the assistance of the people on board the Ocean Wave. Such statements were holly untrue.

The Coroner admonished this witness on the heinousness of his conduct in thus circulating false and slanderous statements to the injury of the Captain and Officers of the propeller Lord Elgin, thereby exciting a great prejudice against all on board that vessel in the public mind. It was for their exoneration that the Coroner considered it his duty to examine witness publicly, and receive an acknowledgement of his falsehood upon oath. He (the Coroner) hoped that this would be a warning to witness in future, and make him more careful of trifling with the truth, more especially in matters of such serious importance as the subject he had chosen for his fabulous stories.

The Coroner next read to the Jury the evidence of Captain Belyea and three of his men, taken since they last met; also a letter from Captain Weatherly, suggesting that Mr. Richardson, the Sailing-master of the Ocean Wave, should be examined.

Hugh Richardson sworn - Was Sailing-master of the Ocean Wave in 1852, and helped to fit her up. Knows nothing in the construction of the vessel different from other vessels of her class, except in putting felt around the steam-drum and over the boiler. Never saw this on board any other boat. The Ocean Wave caught fire during the time witness was Sailing-master. It was on her first trip up last year. She caught fire round the casing of the steam-drum on the main deck. Witness was standing on the main deck at the time the alarm was given, and promptly had fifty or sixty buckets of water poured upon the flames. The fire was very alarming. Had to cut away the casing; and if it had not been done promptly, considers the danger would have been great to the boat. Mr. Molson, the owner, was on board at the time. Emptied all the water which they had upon the deck on the flames, and by the assistance of a fire company on board, who tore away the felt around the casing, the fire was subdued. Witness' opinion is that the fire took place by a spark. Witness has frequently observed the sparks coming out from the hand-hold door used for cleaning the boiler, and thought to himself that they would have a brush some day for it. The chimneys of the Ocean Wave throw a great many sparks about. If the watch had been regularly kept, witness don't think that the fire could have got so far advanced before it was discovered.

By Mr. Rowlands - The first fire broke out on the first trip - the fire broke out in the casing of the steam drums. Witness noticed the fire around the chimneys first. -Witness was the Sailing-master of the Ocean Wave. Witness spoke to the young man Mr. Molson, about the fire, and advised him to remove the felt, and it would prevent the boat being burnt at a future time - the felting remained till witness left the vessel, which was about three months after - this was the only serious fire which occurred while witness was on board; the Ocean Wave threw an immense number of sparks. The fire which destroyed the Ocean Wave might have been occasioned by the sparks from the furnace carried aft by the draft. The steamer Queen took fire from carelessness in throwing the pokers down, and the strong draft carrying the sparks aft in a similar manner. Had a good look out been kept, in the opinion of witness, it would have been impossible for the fire to progress so far without discovery as to wrap the whole vessel in flames and destroy the boats within five minutes. When witness was on board the Ocean Wave had always two men watching on the lower deck and one on the upper deck, and there was always a waiter up all night long in the Saloon - such is the usage on all lake boats. A light proceeding up the aperture from the connecting-rod, would have been seen from the Saloon by the watch walking up and down there. Witness never gave up his duty to the Captain, except when about the wharves and in harbor, when witness would take rest. The two Mates each take a watch - the second Mate takes the Captain's watch, and usually consults the Captain. On the whole, witness thinks there must have been a bad look out, or the fire could not have progressed so far before it was discovered.

Hugh Richardson.

Here the Coroner (Dr. Barker) informed the Jury that he had completed all the evidence which it had been in his power to obtain. He then proceeded to charge the Jury:- Gentlemen, we have all of us been long engaged in investigating the causes which have led to this man's death, and it is time that your verdict should be rendered. In giving it, it is not only your duty to say, how the deceased came to his death, but it lies within your legitimate province to give your deliberate opinion on all the facts connected with his death. The evidence is very voluminous, but fortunately for all of us, it has been published, with the exception of what you have heard this evening, and by reading it over carefully, you will be able to refresh your memory, as to the particular facts elicited, as well as where assumed facts clash with one another. As to the immediate cause of the deceased's death, I think you will have no difficulty in finding, that it was occasioned by injuries received on the morning the Ocean Wave took fire; but it will be your duty to say also, whether or not his death was caused by culpable negligence on the part of the Captain of the steamer, or on the part of any person or persons of the crew of that vessel. And in case you find that no culpable negligence, which would in law amount to the crime of manslaughter, occasioned his death, you will still have it in your power to give your opinion whether any other species of negligence, carelessness, indiscretion, or bad construction of vessel had ought to do in this sad and melancholy catastrophe. The Engineer and the Watchman who could have given important testimony have both perished, but you have had before you the Captain, 1st Mate, 2nd Mate and Purser, and you are enabled to come to some conclusion on this very important point. It is of the greatest consequence in steamboats carrying passengers, vessels so liable to take fire, that the strictest watch should be maintained on board, and it is for you to say, whether such watch was so maintained on board the Ocean Wave at the time she took fire. The evidence of Captain Twohy, and that of Mr. Malcolmson will aid you very materially in coming to a decision. And that of Mr. Hugh Richardson will also assist you. As this investigation has assumed the character of a Court of Inquiry into matters connected with the rescue of the sufferers, as well as into the cause of the deceased's death, I wish to direct your attention to the conduct of Capt. Wright, the late master of the Ocean Wave, who has been represented in the public prints, as being the first man to leave his vessel. And if you believe, so far from this being the case, that in fact he was the last man to quit the steamer, and that he was found floating on two planks, because he would not deprive any of his fellow sufferers of their slender hope of safety by clinging to the rudder post and chain, you will in simple justice to this unfortunate gentleman, say so. This verdict of yours will be made public, and it may serve to repair the injury the Press has done him. You can also express your opinion, if you think proper, of the conduct of the other Officers of the steamer, particularly if any particular portion of it should strike you as meritorious or otherwise.

Of the witness Dulmage, and of his three confederates, who in their fishing-boat saved the lives of three persons, and almost that of another, you will be pleased to declare your opinion of their gallant behavior. Such opinion will be grateful to them, and it may also have the effect of inducing others to act in a like praiseworthy manner.

Of the conduct of Captains Belyea, Henderson and Wallace, of the schooners Emblem, Georgiana and Leander, and of their several crews, you will also express your opinion. You have only the evidence of Capt. Belyea and his men, but they state sufficient of what Captains Henderson and Wallace did to enable you to form a judgement. I regret exceedingly that I have been unable to procure the attendance of Capt. Wallace, because I am informed that as late as half-past nine o'clock in the morning he discovered one man floating in the water on the spear of the Ocean Wave, which man he strove to pick up, but who unfortunately slipped off and was drowned in the endeavor to save him. This however is but hearsay evidence, and should have no weight with you.

I now approach a very difficult subject of my charge, but one that I shall not avoid - I allude to the conduct of the steamer Scotland in this unfortunate business. Captain George Patterson, of this vessel, has been held up in some of the newspapers, not only of Canada, but also of the United States, as a monster unfit to live. Some of these accusations have been so brutally infamous, that although a newspaper man, and often guilty of error myself, I should be pleased to see the writers severely punished; for without the smallest proof, and without waiting for evidence that might reasonably have been anticipated, they have condemned this man unheard. You, Gentlemen, have had the advantage of having before you several of the crew of the Scotland, and also of hearing Mr. O'Reilly cross-examine them; and it is for you to say in your verdict, how far their shameful assertions are justified. The Press is a powerful engine, and capable of doing much mischief, but there is a higher exhibit of public opinion, to which the Press must bend, and that through you I trust will be expressed. It must be confessed there is some discrepancy in Captain Belyea's testimony from that of the evidence of the crew of the Scotland, and to you I leave the task of reconciling it; but allowing the former to be wholly correct, nothing further can fairly be alleged against the Scotland, than that she did not bring the sufferers to Kingston, and the reason given is, that the Scotland did not desire, having come up too late to be of real service in saving life, to take away from the Emblem the honor of bringing the sufferers into port. Gentlemen, if you conceive that the conduct of Capt. Patterson was wholly blameless, you will please say so in your verdict; and if you think that he was wholly or partially to blame, you will also say what you think - you have a duty to do, which however disagreeable, must be done by you like honest men. But should it so happen, that after due deliberation, you can not come to a decision on this matter, you may leave it unnoticed; because although it is to be desired, that such an expression should come from a Jury, acquainted with all the facts, yet Capt. Patterson's conduct, good or ill, not being directly connected with the death of the deceased, your verdict can be received without it.

The value of hearsay testimony in cases of this description you have had an example in what the witness Johnson has stated; and it is to be regretted that a man so young, without an object of any kind, could have invented so cruel a calumny - I hope the lesson he has received will be a caution to him in future.

Gentlemen, I shall now leave you with the printed and manuscript evidence in your hands, simply observing that should you desire my assistance on any point, it shall be willingly afforded. One word further - in laying before the Provincial Secretary the results of our labors, I will represent to him the time which you have expended in this inquiry, which to most of you, being mechanics and artisans, is doubtless valuable, and it will afford me much gratification, should the Government allot you a proportionate remuneration.

It was past nine o'clock when the Coroner got through his brief charge, and the Jury were then given in charge to the Constable. They remained in deliberation upwards of two hours, when they came unanimously to one conclusion and returned the following


1stly - The Jury find the death of John Balton was caused by injuries received on board the Ocean Wave on the morning she took fire, viz: April 30th last.

2ndly - That the Fire on board the Ocean Wave was caused by a spark or sparks from the chimney of the steamer.

3rdly - That had a proper look out been maintained on board said steamer the fire could not have made so rapid a progress in so short a time.

4thly - That instead of any blame being attached to Captain Wright, the jury consider that he exerted himself as much as lay in his power for the protection of all on board.

5thly - That the conduct of Mr. Potter, 2nd Mate, in saving the life of Mrs. Stevenson was very praiseworthy; and also, that Mr. Oliver, the Purser acted very handsomely throughout the trying scene.

6thly - That the gallant behaviour of Mr. Dulmage, and that of his three assistants was highly commendable, and should not be forgotten.

7thly - That Captains Belyea and Henderson, and the crews of the schooners Emblem and Georgiana, are worthy of the highest praise.

8thly, and Finally - The Jury wholly exculpate Capt. Patterson and crew of the steamer Scotland from any blame whatsoever, as the Jury cannot see what more they could have done. And so say we all.

Edward John Barker, Coroner.

Wm. Robinson, Foreman.

Edward McManus Thomas Ward

Henry Dunbar Charles Robinson

Thos. Mulholland John O'Connor

George Smith John Moses

J. Connell John Wright

Patrick Cullen

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1 Jun 1853
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    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 1 Jun 1853