Accident to the Steamer Ploughboy
(Special Correspondence of the Colonist) Toronto July 4, 1859
(We have only given a part of the correspondence, the omitted portion being to some extent a repetition of what we gave last week Ed. Advance)
From Collingwood to Owen Sound there was nothing noticeable in the passage with the exception of a severe thunder storm, which however, discomposed no one very seriously, and when, on leaving the Sound for Sault, the party sat down to breakfast, nothing had occurred in the slightest degree to damp the spirits of the passengers, but every one seeing before him the prospect of a pleasant holiday, determined to make the most of it, by extracting from the trip whatever of pleasure or romance it could afford. In this humour and condition, with some exceptional cases of squeamishness, we coasted along the far-famed Indian Peninsula, where wild farm lots were sold three years ago at from six to eighteen dollars an acre, and a savage looking place it seems from the shore. As you go north wards, the ground becomes more broken and precipitous. Rocks glare upon you from the centre ridge which stretches over a great portion of the peninsula, in naked , barren grimness, and only hee and there, even in the southern most portion of it, can you discern the first sign of arable land; but these are indistinguishable from the coast. The most striking feature , however of these seventy miles of coast is the endless succession of headlands, which form an inconceivably short intervals perhaps the best series of natural harbors on this Continent; and which when the vast fishery resources of the Upper Lakes are properly developed, will give a value to the peninsula, altogether irrespective of its agriculture, of which strangers can form no conception.
Along this wonderfully indented coast, then we passed - not only without accident, but even in high spirits, in spite of a head wind, by no means propitious for our journey, nor exactly agreeable to the more squeamish section of the landsmen on board. By two o'clock we had made Cabot's Head - the sharp pointed Cape which marks at once the termination of the peninsular main-land and the entrance to lake Huron proper. At this point, it was our business to strike out from the coast in the direction of the Manitoulin Islands, in a direction north by north-east. In making the Manitoulins, we were to pass on our left a forlorn place, well named Lonely Island and although this was our only shelter from the full sweep of the great waves of the Lake proper, we still made fair headway, and began to look with satisfaction at the prospect of a calm and beautiful journey. We had made within not more than six miles of Lonely Island, Cape Cabot being probably left twelve miles behind us, when it appeared to a few of the unsophisticated passengers who were enjoying the view from the upper deck hear the engine, that thee was an unnatural escape of steam. Some said it was a common occurrence - the result of putting on more steam than could properly be used, and for the moment there was no alarm expressed. A few minutes, however, began to develop a serious state of affairs; the engineer at once put off steam, and the engine stopped just in time to show that the connecting rod was broken in two, and that another stroke of the piston might have gone through the bottom of the boat while nearly every soul on board must have instantly perished. Such were the starting disclosures which at once met us. Everyone could see the fearful risk we had run; every one was sensible of the danger escaped; and for the time the feeling among the passengers generally was rather one of relief at the thought of what had been escaped, than fear as to the circumstances before us. It was soon seen first of all, that we had lost our motive power; that in fact the danger to the engine was irreparable where we were. Then there came to light the fact, which any one might have before observed, hat we had nothing in the shape of a mast, or so much as half a dozen yards of canvas to enable us to use the wheels of the boat. The wind was not boisterous; still there was a moderate north-west gale, blowing from the direction of Lonely Island, our nearest land. To send a small boat there would have been and probably a would have been a fruitless and probably a perilous task. Our passengers could not have been conveyed thither in twenty-four hours, and , when there, they must have been completely helpless. Cabot's Head, as a landing point, was equally out of the question, and the next subject of thought was how to procure help from land. At this point of the deliberations, Mr. Sheriff Smith bravely volunteered to take command of a small boat, and with three companions, make for Owen sound. It was soon seen that his suggestion was the best that could be adopted. An extempore sail therefore, was got ready, and a little before six o'clock on Saturday evening the Owen Sound voyagers started under a brisk gale, which bid fair every moment to increase and even, perchance, to blow a hurricane before midnight. The brave Sheriff, however, seemed to have no fear, and his men were the best that the boat could supply. We could only, then give them three cheers as they left us, and bid them God-speed on their journey. Before nightfall we had seen with satisfaction that they had rounded Cabot's Head and that, unless the wind changed, they would have the protection of the land against any gale that might blow. But our satisfaction soon began to give place to a different feeling. For we found, first that the gale was not only increasing and the Lake rising at an alarming rate, but that the direction of the wind was rapidly changing, to the most unwelcome quarter, both for ourselves and for Sheriff Smith and his crew. So long as the wind kept to the north-west it was perfectly clear that we should be able to pass Cabot's Head, and in that case there was no danger of our drifting ashore. But now, at nine o'clock, it was clear we were to have a shift north-ester for the night - which would not prevent our passing Cabot's Head in the Georgian Bay, but would drive us on to the iron-bound shores west of the Point. Every moment made this danger more apparent. At our present rate of drifting we were making two miles an hour. To the far west we could see a revolving light-house, but not in the direction where we were surely and steadily tending, without power to move- without the remotest device for ultimate safety, -a company, in fact, so far as any human help could go-apparently doomed to sudden and inevitable death. Terrible as Erebus was the gulf before us; the keenest eye could not penetrate it; and each moment, for hours, seemed to be the last with the ill-fated boat; for lying as we were in the trough of the sea, each succeeding wave struck with the roar of cannon, and appeared to have engulfed the vessel. What terrible hours were those from midnight till the dawn of Sunday morning! Who shall ever describe them? And yet there was no noise among the passengers. Every soul was subdued. Strong men found themselves children in their weakness, and looked around on those they would have died to save, with the terrible silence of despair. No one murmured, however-no one screamed. In the twelve long hours of our trouble no-one gave any outward symptom of craven-heartedness; and what when the last moment came as it appeared, either to go down with the boat or to be dashed against the rocks-when the women and children were taken from their berths to stand by those they loved, there was no noises, nor rushing, r clamouring, or bustle. And how fortunate was this, none can tell who were not there. Had the small boat been touched with a view to landing , every one that entered it must have perished. Our resolution, therefore, was wisely formed, not to stand by the Ploughboy to the last, but to prevent, if necessary , a single man, seaman or other, from laying hands on the small boat
For probably five miles we had dragged both anchors, not with much hope of finding bottom but with a view to stay our coastward progress; and at half-past two o'clock on Sunday morning the end of these miles was reached, and we were as near a precipice one hundred and fifty feet high as one side of King-street is to the other. In the grim dawn we could see the breakers dashing half way to the top of this tremendous cliff. And now it seemed surely the last moment. Another sea against the boat's side and every soul must be engulfed. With what feelings, then, can any one conceive did we find , are that wave had reached us, that the boat was suddenly checked; that the bow began to turn suddenly to seaward, and that with a firm anchorage we were still half the length of the boat from shore! No one can picture the sensation; but as each one turned to those he loved to whisper the thrilling news, there was an almost painful sensation of deep unfathomable relief and gratitude. We were saved. Danger there was still, no doubt; but we were not powerless so long as we had our anchor. And the ground was evidently good. A hundred yards from shore we had found nearly two hundred feet of water; our anchor, therefore, must have caught on the abrupt ledge of under-water rocks which joined with the coasts, and nothing but a storm, even more terrible than which we had passed through, could dislodge us-at least, for many hours.
However, we deemed it wise to see, in case of accidents, what chance there was of landing, after the storm had partially subsided. One unsuccessful attempt was made early in the day, at a point half a mile west of us. For the perilous adventure, Mr. Sydney and Mr. Angus Morrison volunteered along with the Captain and two of his men. They worked hard, but were obliged to return without accomplishing their object. The prospect of a landing, however, seemed to grow brighter every hour, and in the meantime we felt, one and all, that now was the time for common devotions. Mr. Cameron, therefore, was requested to lead the services; and although the sacred words came from the mouth of a layman, there was not probably on that Sabbath day in all the churches of Christendom so fervent a congregation of grateful worshippers.
With the afternoon came a renewed and successful attempt to land. The same gentlemen again volunteered, and two of the number were driven, or pushed, or washed ashore through the surf, for the purpose of lighting a camp fire and preparing for the disembarkation of the ladies and children. Some of the strongest of the passengers were then detailed for the duty of assisting to land the feebler portion of the company, and at this arduous task, wading and struggling in the surf for four hours, Mr. Rose, Mr.Smith, Mr. Read, and others, continued with truly heroic courage, until the last passenger was safely landed on the beach. Provisions were subsequently procured from the boat, and in case of a long sojourn, enough could have been rescued in the shape of food to sustain the unfortunate party for weeks. Our camp fire began to blaze bright and high. Extempore apartments for the women and children were prepared by means of branches, sheets, blankets, and matrasses, and we were not at all afraid to put in the night, even on this most desolate and uninviting of coast. But as Providence willed it, we were better provided for. At about the hour when your evening church bells would be tolling for the evening service, we discovered a boat making for us, under steam, from the direction of Cabot's head. It was clearly the Canadian from Owen Sound - the result of Sheriff Smith's noble and adventurous expedition. So , at once we re-embarked and were ready all again on board the Ploughboy by the time the Canadian came alongside. We now learned that Sheriff Smith, like ourselves, had passed a dangerous night; but had made the Sound by ten o'clock on Sunday. Here he found Captain Smith of the Canadian, ready at once to come to our rescue. Unfortunately, however, his men, with the exception of the engineer, were out of town for the day. A crew of volunteers in this emergency was found, and the result was our relief.
Votes of thanks were of course, passed to those who had so nobly helped us, and these will, no doubt, take a more tangible shape at an early day. In one parting word, let me mention how zealously, constantly and wisely Mr. McLeod worked for his friends through the whole of the trying emergency, and how fully every one felt his kindness and generosity.