The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 22 Nov 1856

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The Steamer Superior a Total Wreck!


[Lake Superior Journal Nov. 8th]

Hitherto Lake Superior has been devoid of those dire calamities, which have been the terror of the lower lakes, but we are at last called upon to record the loss of one of our noble steamers, together with the cargo and most of the passengers and crew. The steamer Superior left Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday the 29th ult., and soon after entering the Lake the wind commenced blowing fresh from the Northwest raising a heavy sea. The boat was weathering the storm bravely and making for Grand Island where she could lie in safety. She had nearly reached the Island when her rudder parted, and she was left to the mercy of the waves.

The engine was kept at work with the hope that she might make the lee of the Island, and thus be saved. But she soon swung round into the trough of the sea, which rendered her still more unmanageable and racked her timber so that she soon sprang a leak. The engines were still kept at work until the water put the fires out. In the meantime the boat drifted towards shore, and about 3 o'clock, she struck on the mainland a little East of Grand Island, off "Pictured Rocks," at the place known as the big cave.

The anchors were thrown over some time before, with the hope that they would touch bottom and hold her, but the water is very deep at this place, and they did not take hold until just before she struck. The first sea that came up after she struck parted her anchor chain and carried her further on the rock, the second sea swept her cabin off, and the third one dashed her to pieces. All this occupied less time than it has taken us to relate it. By the aid of the boats, and fragments of the wreck, a small portion of the passengers and crew were saved. They speak in high terms of the efforts made by Capt. Jones to save the boat, and attribute her loss solely to the giving way of the rudder.


The snow was falling fast during the night, rendering it intensely cold and slippery upon the deck, and so dark that it was impossible to discern anything. Capt. Jones in ascending the pilot house slipped and fell, bruising himself severely, yet he relaxed not hios efforts in the least. At another time, while standing near the gangway, a heavy sea swept him overboard, but fortunately it returned and brought him back, but at length he met a watery grave. His body was found by the survivors at daylight, having been washed ashore before the other bodies were. From this fact it was thought that he must have nearly reached it alive.

Mr. Ernst, the porter, informs us that Capt. Jones came into the cabin where he was sitting and said: "Boys, I want you to stick to the boat as long as there is anything left of her, this is the fourth boat I have lost but I shall not probably lose another. If any of you get ashore I want you to go and tell my mother that I done all I could to save the boat." That he did do all he could there is no doubt.

The 1st engineer Mr. Stephen Coolahan, to whom we are indebted for most of the particulars given, informs us that it was with difficulty that he was saved. He went from the deck, through the cabin, and met the chambermaid, who asked him if he could not save her; he said he would see. They went aft the wheel house to the yawl boat in which were seated two ladies. They managed to get it afloat, but it soon capsized in the surf, and all were lost except himself, and he hardly knew how he came on shore. Chas. Ernst, the porter, attempted to swim ashore but was much bruised by the floating timbers, and at last the life boat struck him on the head, injuring him severely but he managed to grasp the boat, and was washed ashore with several others.

The next morning nothing was visible but the wheels, which being strongly made and anchored fast by the engine and heavy machinery, had not been swept away. Up on these were seen clinging the bodies of seven men, among them the two clerks and the 1st saloon keeper. As they were but three or four rods from above, their cries could be heard distinctly calling to those on shore to come with the boats and save them, but this was impossible as the surf beating on the rocks would have swamped a good boat almost instantly, and those that were washed ashore were almost like the steamer, a wreck.

One by one they dropped off into the water until all were gone. The scene is described as painful beyond description, as the survivors were within speaking distance yet without the power to render assistance. The saved suffered extremely from cold, and were more or less bruised. Three days they were weather bound, and not only this but rock bound too, as the bluff at this point rises nearly three hundred feet and almost perpendicular, presenting an impossible barrier.

At this time the sea subsided sufficiently for them to reach Grand Island. They patched up the boats and started, going part of the way on land, and part on water. Two boys died on the way from exposure. The saved were obliged to subsist during this time upon such articles as chance threw on shore - raw vegetables, raisins and flour being the principle articles.

The number of saved was sixteen and the following are the saved as far as we have been able to obtain them: Joseph Davis, 1st mate; Stephen Coolahan, 1st engineer; John Butcher, ___, firemen; Jos. Dennis, passenger; Geo. Pifer, David Corbit, Chas. Ernst, porter; Augustus Kenge.

It is certain that the number of the lost is 42, and it is more likely that there are others that our informant is not aware of, that would swell the number to 50.


Goderich, Nov. 18th - The Fashion (tug steamer) which ran into Bayfield, Lake Huron, under stress of weather, a few days ago, and struck on a sand bar, is now being stripped. No hopes of getting her off. Has a large hole in the bottom. The schooner St. Antony, for which the tug was brought from Detroit, is still aground at Four Mile Point, near here. Her cargo of wheat has all run out through the bottom. Some hopes of getting her off.

p.3 Imports - Nov. 19th - Str. Ontario, Oswego, (gen. cargo).

Nov. 20th - Str. St. Lawrence, Montreal, (gen. cargo).

Str. Whitby, Montreal, (gen. cargo).

Nov. 21st - Schooner Hannah, Oswego, 500 barrels water lime, Holcomb & Henderson.

Schooner America, do., 50 bbls. plaster, G.M. Kinghorn.

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

Exports - Nov. 20th - Propeller Oliver Cromwell, Detroit, 18 casks, 2 crates crockery, 5 casks liquor.

Public Works - Notice is hereby given, that the Light Ship at Long Point, on Lake Erie, will be withdrawn from that station, for the purpose of being repaired, on the 20th instant, and that no Light will be exhibited until the commencement of Navigation, 1857.

By order, Thomas A. Begly, Secretary

Deptartment of Public Works Nov. 11th, 1856

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22 Nov 1856
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 22 Nov 1856