The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Wiarton Echo (Wiarton, ON), Friday December 9, 1881

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The Propeller Jane Miller

Founders in Colpoy's Bay,


The Calamity Involved in Mystery

Faint Hope of Finding the Wreck or

Recovering the Bodies.

What was foreshadowed in these columns last week has now become an absolute certainty; the propeller Jane Miller has gone down with every soul on board, leaving nothing behind to mark te spot where the dreadful calamity befell her, and only a meagre remnant has been given up by the cruel treacherous deep to proclaim the awful tidings of the hapless steamer's fate. A broken flag-staff, four or five caps belonging to the crew, some parts of the hurricane deck, a few pieces of freight and four oars identified as belonging to the ill-fated steamer are all that have been found. Though the amount of wreckage this far discovered has been small , yet the fact that the steamer has entirely disappeared, and no human eye has seen her since the night the dreadful disaster is supposed to have happened, leaves not a single doubt in the minds of all that there is one more vessel to be added to the list of mysterious disappearances and that the waters of Georgian Bay have engulfed another ill-fated Waubuno and twenty-eight unfortunate human beings.

Information concerning the time the steamer left Owen Sound is not very satisfactory but enough has been ascertained to sho that she departed from there on the 25th of November for Meaford. It is stated that she then had a very heavy load of freight-all she could safely carry-and at Meaford she took on thirty tons more. She left Meaford on the afternoon of that day for Wiarton, and the last positive intelligence we have of her is from Big Bay, where she arrived about 8:30 p.m. After taking on a small quantity of wood she cast off her lines, with the intention it is stated of calling at Spencer's Landing to "wood up" We have heard that while laying at Big Bay dock Captain Richard D. Port ordered the steamer to start immediately as he said they would require to blow water out of her and it is further stated she was rolling very heavily and that is all . On that particular night there was a heavy gale from the south-west in progress accompanied by a blinding snow storm, which made it impossible to see any great distance. As an indication of the ferocity of the gale we are informed that propellor City of Owen Sound during a trip from Collingwood to Owen Sound had her anchors ready to let go at any moment, and her captain said it was the wildest night he ever experienced on the Georgian Bay. We know that the steamer left Big Bay wharf, but excepting the statement made by Mr. R .Cameron, given elsewhere, and the fact of finding the wreckage described above, we have no further accurate knowledge of the luckless propellor. The rest is only conjecture. But the events thrown together point to a very definite conclusion, -that is the Jane Miller foundered on the near neighbourhood of Spencer's Landing, in that fatal night, and now lies in over two hundred feet of water not half a mile from shore. It is surmised, and we think correctly, that after taking in the extra freight at Meaford the steamer became top-heavy, and the fact that nearly all , if not all of her load was in the main deck, (part of the hold having been reserved for, the fuel she was to take on at Spencer's) there being no ballast and has simply rolled over without a moments warning, gives ample ground for such a conclusion. That not one of the victims of the dreadful disaster has been found need not be wondered at when it is considered that the strong gale and snow storm which was raging at the time no doubt compelled every gangway and other avenue of escape to be closed against the elements without. Thus completely penned in and before the slightest effort could be made to save themselves, twenty-eight souls were hurled into eternity without time to utter a prayer. The awful scene, as the helpless despairing victims were ruthlessly carried to their doom, no pen can adequately portray. But their agony must necessarily have been brief, and "The stout limbs yield for their strength is past" The trembling hands on the deep are cast. Their white brown gleam a moment more. Then slowly sinks-the struggle is o'er!" The disaster is all the more mysterious ...the fact that although a hurricane from the south west might sweep the point... the accident is supposed to have occurred it could not create waves sufficiently strong but that a skiff might pass along in comparative safety as it would be blowing directly off the land. The steamer too was a new and strongly built, and that hardly a vestige of her has been found fully justifies the statement That she has gone to the bottom with her precious freight of human lives is beyond peradventure, and it is saddening indeed to think that almost within her haven and within sight of the homes of many of those on board the catastrophe should have occurred .A watery grave deep and dreadful has been their fate, and we know of no more fitting requiem then the following, by Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"Well may the eternal waters be
Their broad, unsculptur'd tomb!
The wind that rings along the wave,
The clear, unshadow'd sun,
Are torch and trumpet o'er the brave, -
Their last green wreath is won!
No stranger-hand their banners furl'd,
No victor's shout they heard,
Unseen, above them ocean curl'd,
Save by its own pale bird;
The gnashing billows heavy'd and fell
Wild shriek'd the midnight gale;
Far, far beneath the morning swell
Were pennant, spar, and sail!"

To the people of this village the realization of the dreadful calamity that has befallen the Jane Miller, her unhappy officers and all on board has come with startling effect, and awakening the deepest sorrow. She was a Wiarton steamer, and Captain Port's family reside here. Last Tuesday evening a public meeting was held and a search party organized. The tug Tommy Wright has made one trip to the scene of the accident, with the party on board and we give below Mr. Wm. Bull's statement of the result of their search:

"Yesterday morning the tug Tommy Wright in charge of Mr. James Inksetter and Hugh Boyd-with Messrs .D. G. Miller, Samuel Parke and the writer provided with ropes, grappling hooks, and a long lead line, went down the Bay as far as Spencer's wharf. Where we prepared to commence dragging. While this was going on I took soundings and got 33 fathoms about 50 rods from the end of the dock, we dragged with one grapnel out for several hours, and then proceeded to White Cloud Island to see if anything more had drifted ashore, Though we made no definite discovery we gained information which indicates that the vessel has foundered about half a mile from Spencer's wharf. I give the facts that seem to point to this-that on the evening when the Jane Miller was last seen she left Big Bay between 8 and 9 o'clock on Friday evening with the intention of calling at Spencer's dock to take in wood and then proceed to Wiarton. That same evening Mr. Roderick Cameron and family expected their son from Owen Sound by the Wiarton Belle, and were looking out for her. They saw the lights of a steamer pass their place in a snow storm about nine o'clock or a little after, and watched her till she appeared to be nearly up to Spencer's dock, which is within two miles. She then appeared to be stationery. She never reached Spencer's dock as there was no wood taken. On Sunday last, (being a calm day) Mr. McGregor and two young men started from near Spencer's dock to go to the Island to see if they could find any indication of the missing steamer, and in rowing straight for a bay on the island, they saw some air bubbles rise to the surface of the water, and the water itself slightly discoloured at a particular spot Mr. McGregor roughly took the bearings from certain objects on the shore and proceeded to the Island where, in the bay they found a number of articles belong to the steamer, viz., a bucket rack, cradles of her boats, an oar with the name ofJane Miller on it, her flagstaff, broken off, and two caps that have been identified and a number of other articles. These were all found within a short distance of each other. On returning from the Island yesterday, in the Tommy Wright; Mr. McGregor showed me the bearings of the spot where he had seen the baubles rise. And I found that this spot was about half a mile from the end of Spencer's wharf, in a north-easterly direction. The spot where the articles were found on he island was also in a direct line with this, and the wind was south-west that night. This is about the place where Mr. Cameron and his son could have last seen the boat on her way up the Bay. All the indications point to this spot and we can locate it, I think within a circuit of a quarter of a mile. Besides the soundings I took about half a mile above the spot Mr. Inksetter sounded about half a mile below it, getting about the same depth, so that we conclude she is lying in about 200 feet of water.

The search will be continued until all hope of discovering the wreck is lost. Meaford will send a tug to co-operate with the party here.

As far as has been ascertained the following are the names of the lost. A Port, owner, R. D. Port, captain, .F. Port purser, all of Wiarton. J Christison engineer Red Bay; Alex. Scales, wheelsman Keppel; Gilbert Corbet, fireman, Owen Sound; four deck hands, names unknown, J. Jestin Port Elgin; J. Holeek, S. Thompson, of ... Meaford, I Hutshart and wife, Tobermorry. R Gillespie; Jas Hope, Sydenham; Capt. M. McLeod, Goderich; Mr. Hill, Collingwood Township. The names of the others are not known but they were a number of labourers engaged in work at Watt's mill, Lion's Head and McLandress shanty Tobermorry.

Capt. Andrew Port was one of our most respected citizens and his genial and kindly presence will be greatly missed from among us. He was a god sailor and on the fatal night when he met his death, if any act of heroism had been required of him, he would not have been found wanting. He had often braved greater dangers than his last voyage appeared to portend. He came to Wiarton in September, 1878, and , with the tug Prince Alfred; plied between Wiarton, Owen Sound and Lion's Head until the Jane Miller came on the route. It was in the Prince Alfred that Captain Port attempted his memorable trip to Michael's Bay with r. A, Lyon, M. P. P. And party in the winter of 1880, and after being driven back to Tobermorry and getting frozen in there for a month, he, in endeavouring to return to this port, got fast in ice, and for two weeks, without rudder or fuel, drifted about in Georgian Bay, finally arriving in safety. He has made his last voyage, however, and a widow, two grown-up sons and daughter mourn his untimely fate.

Capt. Richard Dawson Port was the eldest son, aged 24, and a young man of more than usual promise in his calling. He commanded the ill-fated steamer. He will be sadly missed by his many friends here, by whom he was held in high esteem.

Charles Frederick Port, purser, was the youngest of Capt. Port's family. This was his first season. He was a steady promising young man and respected by all his fellows. He was only 15 years of age.

James Christison, of Red Bay was a practical engineer, and held first class papers. He lived in this vicinity upwards of three years, and was greatly respected by all who knew him. He leaves a widow, and four children to mourn his loss.

Alexander Scales the wheelsman was the eldest son of Mr. Alex. Scales of Keppel, and we understand, a steady, industrious young man.

The Jane Miller was built at Little Current, Manitoulin Island, by James Miller & Sons, and launched in 1879, she was 150 tons, classed A21/2. Capt. Port purchased her in June, 1880, and employed her on the route from Wiarton, Meaford, Owen Sound, and the south shore of Manitoulin Island. We understand she is insured for $6, 000.

In Georgian Bay, by the foundering
of the Propeller Jane Miller, on
the night of November 25, 1881
ANDREW PORT, aged 52,
RICHARD D. PORT, aged 24,
aged 15 years
JAS.CHRISTISON, age not given,
Together with twenty-four others
of their fellow beings, who went down to death on that
awful night.

The above announcement speaks for itself, and tells to our readers that all hope that this unfortunate vessel might have reached a safe haven is now at an end and there is no room for doubt that she lies at the bottom of the Georgian Bay, having carried down with her at least 28 human being. The calamity, viewed in any light is an appalling one; but the fact that the ill-fated boat went down almost, we may say, within sight of Wiarton adds more poignancy to the sorrow which all must feel at the immense sacrifice of life which has taken place. The Jane Miller was a new boat, having been built in 1879 at Little Current on the Manitoulin Island, 160 tons burden, classed A21/2, and purchased by Capt. Port in 1880. The pecuniary loss which will be very large falls heavily on his unfortunate family. We have no certain information as to the cause of this disaster, and can only conjecture that it was occasioned by the overloading of the boat, and the shifting of the cargo when she came broadside to the storm. There is no doubt that the Jane Miller was a good staunch, boat, and this is endorsed by the fact that with the exception of the few loose articles which have been picked up , not a vestige of the ill-fated vessel has risen to the surface. Had the contrary been the fact the rush of the waters as she made the fatal plunge would have broken her to pieces ere she reached the bottom. That she lies within a short distance of Spencer's dock, in about two hundred feet of water, now is all but definitely ascertained. The tug Tommy Wright has been out trying to locate the exact position of the sunken vessel, as yet without success. A tug from Meaford is expected to co-operate with the Tommy Wright in the search, and we sincerely trust they may be successful in their endeavours. Captain Port was a thorough and experienced seaman and perfectly well acquainted with the waters of Georgian Bay, and we feel quite sure that all that good seamanship and pluck could do, on his part and on the part of his officers was done to save his steamer with its precious freight of human lives. The sympathy of the whole community is extended to the families of all the unfortunate men in their heavy affiliation...

...the bereaved families , and if necessary by substantial aid, try and alleviate the distress that must invariably follow to those families who have by this sad calamity been deprived of the support of their bread-winners. The affliction falls very heavily on the family of Capt. Port, but more particularly so on that of Mr. Christison, of Red Bay, the engineer, who are left, in a measure unprovided for. We trust that the committee appointed at the public meeting held last Tuesday evening will, if they find it necessary to call upon the people for aid to the distressed family of this unfortunate man, meet with a ready and cheerful response to their appeal, and though we were powerless to avert the disaster we can, by our sympathy and aid, soften the affliction.

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Date of Original:
Friday December 9, 1881
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Bill Hester
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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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Wiarton Echo (Wiarton, ON), Friday December 9, 1881