The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 19 Jul 1856

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p.2 Imports - July 17th - Str. Brantford, Hamilton, 2 boxes goods in Bond, Geo. Madden.

Str. Ontario, Oswego, (gen. cargo).

Schooner Leander, Toledo, 10,920 bushels corn, Walker & Perry.

July 18th - Str. Bay State, Ogdensburgh, (gen. cargo).

Schr. Catharine, Cleveland, 210 tons coal, B.H. Barney.

Schooner George Washington, Chicago, 14,761 bushels corn, Hooker, Pridham & Co.

Schooner R. Parsons, Chicago, 13,958 bushels corn, Hooker, Pridham & Co.

Barque Water Witch, Toledo, 15,000 bushels corn, Walker & Berry.

Schooner W.G. Grant, Chicago, 15,067 bushels corn, Holcomb & Henderson.

Str. Cataract, Oswego, (gen. cargo).


[Buffalo Express]

We published, a few days since, the statement of the recovery of the Express Company's safe which went down on board the steamer Atlantic, on her upward trip from here, during the night of the 19th - or rather morning of the 20th - August, 1852. That statement was embellished, or rather obscured by some fanciful description, which we copied from a Western paper, and all of which it is hardly necessary to say, was manufactured on shore, by a writer sitting in dry boots.

The facts, as we learn them from a gentleman of the Express Company, are as follows: - The diver made his first descent so as to strike the hull of the wreck too far forward; he was in response to his signal drawn up, and again descended, this time landing upon the extreme after part of the wreck. In this way he came to the surface and was lowered down eleven times, when he landed near the state-room in which was deposited the treasure sought. The Express Messenger, Mr. John Murphy, on that trip, occupied what was known as the 'bridal chamber,' state-room on the hurricane deck, just abaft the pilot house. Had the Messenger been below, with his charge, it would not have been practible to rescue the property, without raising the hull entire. The diver, on his eleventh descent, found the safe - or iron box, such as are carried by all the messengers - and making fast to it, the long sought treasure was drawn to the surface. Had the diver searched a little further, he might have found in the corner of the top berth the keys of the safe, left there by the Messenger, when he locked the safe and fled for his life. But all was dark, and the main object had been obtained.

The party concerned in the salvage consisted of four persons, and on forcing open the iron chest, and finding the contents in a condition to be made available, they divided the treasure trove equally. By the law, they ought to have gone before an United States Court, related the case, and taken an order as to the disposition of the money, etc. But this they omitted to do, and the Express Company through their Attorney, represented the case to them, showing them wherein they had erred, and offered them the terms of a compromise, to which the salvors at once acceded. In the fulfilment of this stipulation, the salvors were put in possession of the gold coin recovered, $5,000, and $2,000 in bank notes, making the sum of $7,000 paid over to them by the Company. Besides this sum, there is missing, said to have been lost by carelessness or want of skill in drying and handling the bills recovered, some $2,800, which makes the loss to the Company, about $10,000, in case this last sum should ever turn up; the banks having in their possession the Company's bond of indemnity as collateral security for the bank notes re-issued on the supposed total loss of the money. Should these notes really have been destroyed, the Company's loss will be of course, by the amount of $7,000 paid to the salvors. The total sum in the safe, when the steamer went down, was about $36,000.

We were shown part of the contents, which had lain in the water for nearly four years. The bank notes, most of which were entirely new and some actually in sheets, uncut, look as if they had been slightly stained and dried. The faces of the bills are not injured in the least. The messenger's way-bills are turned completely black, on the outside, but, within, the entries are all perfectly legible, and even the check-marks, in pencil, are as plain as when written. Besides the money, there was a parcel of Michigan State Bonds; a warrant on the United States Treasury, drawn in favor of J.N. Gaines, Paymaster, United States Army, for $10,000, No. 2841, dated August 11th, 1852; four watches and some minor articles. The Treasury warrant will be returned, as it has been re-issued, to government; a suit involving the bonds will be decided by the reappearance of the property at issue, but the watches are valueless, except for their cases.

The recovery of the safe may be deemed a most fortunate occurrence for all concerned; so long as it lay at the bottom of the lake, there was left a chance for raising questions as to the honesty of the messenger, and, indeed, of others, who had more money but no more character than he at stake. The suit concerning the bonds has already led to some expression of wonder that the owner of them should have preferred bringing an action at law, in preference to seeking their reissue from the Michigan State Treasury, and some of the Michigan newspapers have openly raised the question of possible fraud in the premises. The plaintiff in the action is now released from all suspicion of duplicity.

The last act of the messenger, Mr. Murphy, before he sought safety for himself, while the water was gurgling about his feet, and he was unable to apparel himself, except in his trowsers, was to take out the money packets from the safe with the hope of saving this large amount of treasure. Thinking, however, that he might not himself be rescued, and that the locked safe would at least contain, for centuries, all that was put in it, he returned the money, locked the safe, threw the keys upon the bed in the topmost berth, and groped his way out of the steamer, whence after hanging for about fifteen minutes by the gunwale, he was taken off by the propeller. He has since felt anxious and unhappy lest he might be accused of having robbed himself and defrauded his employers, and we venture to say that none of the parties interested in this resurrection feels more gratified with the result, than does the faithful messenger.


The particulars of this sad calamity are difficult to obtain correctly, the city being filled with stories and rumors, each more horrible than the other. A small party of the survivors are stopping at Mr. Fenwick's Hotel, from one of whom, Mr. Alexander Cameron, we have got the following facts:

The vessel caught fire at ten o'clock, about five miles to the westward of Long Island Lighthouse; in less than twenty minutes, she was in flames and abandoned. The fire was first seen to have come from the Air Pipe, and is believed to have caught at the back of the boiler. There were 32 souls on board, of whom 14 only are accounted for. The Captain, Mr. Patrick Campbell, and the Engineer, (part owner,) are among the missing. The Purser, Mr. Handiside, is saved. There was but one boat on board, into which four women and three children were put, but a parcel of men jumping on board the boat, she upset, and the women and children were drowned. Two schooners, one the Flying Cloud, and the other, name forgotten, saved part of those saved, and a Mr. A. Adams, in a skiff from Long Island, saved the others - five in number. Those saved were more than an hour in the water, and held on to various floating articles. There was no time to stop the engine, and it was impossible to steer the vessel. She floated past the city, mid channel, at half-past three o'clock, in full blaze, and went on shore at Cedar Island opposite Fort Henry. There was little or no freight on board, but an over large quantity of wood. The vessel's other boats were left behind at Toronto. The Tinto is of the largest size of Propellers, and was on her third trip down.

The following account we take from the Commercial Advertiser:-

Between one and two o'clock this morning the fire bells awoke our citizens to view one of the most fearful scenes which which can happen upon the water, namely, the destruction of a steamboat by fire. When first discovered the burning mass was drifting slowly down the bay, and for many hours much anxiety was felt as to what boat it was, many being of opinion that it was the Arabian, which left last evening with over 300 emmigrants on board besides a large number of passengers. By the arrival in the city this morning of the survivors, however, it was ascertained to be the steam propeller Tinto belonging to Messrs. Gibb & Ross, of Montreal and Toronto; a new vessel built at Sorel this spring, which was on her upward trip to Toronto, being only her fourth voyage. For the following account of the disaster we are indebted to Mr. J.J. Whitehead, the wharfinger, who received his information from the purser and other survivors, consequently it may be depended upon.

The steam propeller Tinto on her upward trip from Montreal with 37 souls on board including passengers and crew, had reached three miles above the nine mile lighthouse about 10 o'clock last (Thursday) evening, when flames were suddenly seen to burst from the interior of the vessel, apparently from the cabin. Most of the passengers and such of the officers and crew as were not on duty on deck had retired to rest, and so rapid was the progress of the flames that some of them it is supposed were unable to escape from their berths and none had time to put on their clothes.

From the interior of the vessel the flames soon spread out to all parts of the deck, leaving no refuge but the water to the unfortunate crew and passengers. Including the crew there were 37 persons on board, amongst the passengers being several women and children. The unfortunate women and children, as is generally the case in similar circumstnances, were all either burned or drowned - 13 were lost and 24 saved, the latter being rescued after remaining sometime in the water hanging on to portions of the wreck, by a fisherman's boat from the Island. All the boats belonging to the vessel were swamped by the rush of people into them when they were launched, and it was here that most of the women and children were lost, they having been first placed in the boat with a view to their safety. About a quarter past eleven o'clock when near Snake Island an explosion took place on board the burning wreck supposed to be the collapsing of her boiler. After the sufferers were taken from the wreck it continued to drift down the bay with the current until it grounded on Cedar Island where it burnt to the water's edge. We understand the vessel was only insured a few days ago. The purser says that he first discovered the flames proceeding in a body from the Cabin which appeared all in flames and that he had only time to jump into the water when the whole boat was a mass of fire. He swam to the rudder to which he clung until assistance arrived. The Pilot saved himself by throwing a plank into the water, to which he swam and held on to until picked up. The most heart-rendering portion of the catastrophe is the loss of the women and children. A poor fellow said to be connected with one of the Railroads West, had his wife and three children on board all of whom perished. His certainly is a case deserving of the deepest sympathy.

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19 Jul 1856
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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pd [more details]
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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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Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 19 Jul 1856