The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 4 Oct 1856

Full Text


Particulars of the Burning of the Steamer Niagara of the Collingwood Line

Seventy-Five to One Hundred Lives Lost

The news of the burning of the steamer Niagara, of the Collingwood line, on her way to this city, Wednesday afternoon at 5 o'clock, reached town yesterday morning, and created the most painful excitement.

Shortly after the reception of the telegraph report, the steamer Traveller, from Sheboygan, reached this city, and the following particulars of the melancholy disaster were gleaned from her passengers.

The regular boat, the Key Stone State, did not leave Collingwood as usual, owing to her having been badly damaged by the storm. The Niagara took her place, and left last Monday, at 2 o'clock, with from 150 to 175 passengers. She proceeded as far as Sheboygan, and left there about 25 passengers, principally steerage.

The boat left Sheboygan at about 2 o'clock, and about two hours afterwards, while four or five miles off Port Washington, fire was discovered by passengers in the cabin, proceeding from the engine room. The alarm was instantly given by the passengers, but such consternation seized every one, that no effort seemed to be made to stay the conflagration. In a very few moments the cabin was in flames. Capt. Miller was asleep at the time in his cabin, having been up all the night before. He was immediately awakened, and rushed out on deck. Attempts were made to use the hose, but it was found to be useless. Several of the passengers, after recovering their presence of mind somewhat, began to break down the doors and other wooden work and to throw it overboard. The two boats upon the hurricane deck were immediately ordered to be lowered, but in the excitement and confusion, they were thrown overboard and immediately capsized, and were rendered useless.

The stern and quarter boats were lowered, and all capsized but one, into which about 20 passengers got in and were saved. Large numbers of the passengers, paralyzed with fear at the first announcement of the fire, jumped overboard and were drowned instantly. Mothers threw their children overboard and then wildly jumped themselves. Every one seemed perfectly insane with fear, and threw themselves over without the slightest attempts to save themselves. Our informant states that he jumped overboard and swam under the wheel, where he found the Captain and five others clinging to it. The Traveler was about ten miles distant, and upon the discovery of the fire immediately put off to their rescue. She succeeded after much efforts in rescuing thirty of the passengers. All the saved give him great credit for his noble conduct. The Traveler towed the Niagara some distance, but was unable to bring her into shoal water, and so left her.

Capt. Miller stopped at Port Washington to take care of those who were saved. A majority of the passengers were women and children. The plank life-preservers were all thrown overboard, and many were found clinging to them. At the time of the fire there was a heavy ground swell, but it was not very rough. The wind blew very cold.

Various rumors are afoat in regard to the origin of the fire. Some of them are of a painful character.

C.C. Wheeler, Esq., Clerk of the Traveller, also furnishes the following statement:

The propeller Illinois picked up about thirty passengers and landed them at Fort Washington. When we left it was impossible to get their names. Several sail vessels came promptly to the assistance of the Niagara, and did good service in saving life. The life-boat from Port Washington was promptly on hand and rendered timely aid. It is impossible to tell how the fire originated. When first discovered by the officers of the Traveler, she was completely enveloped in a cloud of smoke. The fire appeared to burst out forward of the wheel on the starboard side. It is supposed that it first broke out near the engine-room. The first engineer eas not on board. From all the facts that could be learned most of the crew were saved.

Among the saved was one old lady who was found clinging to a plank life-preserver nearly exhausted, with her shawl wrapped round her, binding her to it, and actually holding on by her teeth. She was restored by the active exertions of those on board the Traveler, and is now nearly restored to her usual health.

Mr. Geo. Haley, it is feared, is among the lost. He has been clerk of the Niagara ever since she has run. He was well known in this city, and was greatly respected by all who knew him. His son was second clerk, and was saved.

Two brothers from Waterbury, Vt., were among the saved, who had come on here to seek their fortunes. One was found upon the wheel and the other was picked up senseless about half a mile from the boat, clinging to a ladder. After nearly two hours work, he was recovered.

It gives us pleasure to chronicle the act of Mr. A.H. McGaffey, of Toronto, who went down to the Traveler this morning, and seeing the destitution of the sufferers, gave $100 towards their comfort.

It is impossible, at the present time, to get a list of those lost, inasmuch as the passenger list and books of the boat were lost.

The following is a list of the passengers who were saved and brought in by the Traveller, as furnished by C.C. Wheeler, Esq., Clerk.

Passengers - Harvey Ainsworth, Regatta, Vermont; J.B. Custis, Steuben Co., N.Y.; H. Lock, Washington Co., Vt.; William Hoag, Buffalo, N.Y.; John Hill, Collingwood, C.W.; H. Chambers and lady, Hamilton, N.B.; Sales Lock, Waterbury, Vt.; Henry Lock, Waterbury, Vt.; Lewis Hart, Utica, N.Y.; J.P. Kennedy, Minnesota Territory; Hugh Kennedy, St. Lawrence County, N.Y.; Miss Julia Kennedy, do.; C.D. Westbrook, Green Bay, Wisconsin; Dr. J.H. Allen, Concord, N.H.; James Robinson, Knox Co., Illinois.

Crew - Capt. F.S. Miller, Master; W.J. Thoubon, waiter; E. McKennan, third engineer; Daniel Osborn, waiter; A. Snider, fireman; Carney, fireman; John Gordon, do.; Amos Adell, do.; Robert Gillespie, do. The Mate was saved. James Clark, the steward, was also saved.

The Milwaukee Sentinel, extra, puts down the loss of life on the Niagara, at one hundred !

Hugh Kennedy lost his wife and daughter.

Three dead bodies, all ladies, are lying at Port Washington. One of the ladies wore a ring marked Z.D.G.

The Niagara was loaded very heavily with freight. It was stored wherever a spot could be found to place it in, not a pound of which was saved.

The water was so exceedingly cold that no one could live in it.

It is reported that the Hon. John B. Macy, late member of Congress from Wisconsin is among the lost.

We are indebted to Mr. Farquhar, of the Collingwood line office in this city, for the following additional particulars:

The Traveller was at Fort Ulee, about to take on wood, when C.C. Wheeler discovered the smoke from the Niagara. The Traveller was then 11 miles from the burning boat, but reached her before any others. Before she reached the Niagara the entire upper works were destroyed. When the boat took fire the wind was south east, but changed to south west, a short time after the Traveller reached her. The plank life preservers were the only ones used. Capt. Miller told Mr. Wheeler there were from 75 to 80 cabin passengers on board, and the cabin and steerage passengers and crew could not amount to less than 150. The whole baggage and freight are an entire loss.

The propeller Illinois reached the Niagara half an hour after the Traveller, or at half-past five.

Hon. John B. Macy, late member of Congress from Wisconsin, took passage on board the Niagara at Mackinac, and is lost.

The crew obeyed orders unto the last word of command, and were mostly saved.

John Leonard, the first engineer, was not on board.

From all accounts old Mr. P.W. Healy, the Clerk, is lost. He was last seen on the burning boat with a roll of papers and money in his hands. His son, the assistant clerk, was saved, but it is feared his mind is impaired by the shock.

Mr. Clark, the steward, is also numbered among the lost.

The Niagara was regarded by almost every sailor, as the safest and best built steamer that ever floated on the inland lakes. She was built eleven years ago, and never met with the slightest accident by wind or fire. The remark has often been made by passengers who knew her capacities that they regarded themselves as safe on her as in a church. She has rode out the most severe gales, and never sprung as much as a cabin door. This is the third season that Captain Miller has commanded her. Mr. Healy and Mr. Leonard have held their respective offices on her ever since she was built. When left by the Traveller the hull was drifting outward, and would probably sink in an hour. There is no probability that any exertions will be made to raise the wreck. [Chicago Democrat]

In the gale of Thursday last, a fine active young man named Charles Robertson, a hand on the schooner Kate Robinson, was killed off Port Dalhousie by the fall of the main boom. He lingered only a few minutes after the accident. His remains were interred in the churchyard at the Port.

Media Type:
Item Type:
Date of Publication:
4 Oct 1856
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), 4 Oct 1856