The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Times (Orillia, ON), May 25, 1882

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The Manitoulin


The sad news of the burning of the Steamer Manitoulin of the Georgian Bay line off Manitowaning, Manitoulin Island on Thursday last, is more than confirmed by later intelligence of the disaster. It is now believed that upwards of twenty person- men women and children- either perished in the flames or were drowned in their attempt to save themselves; the particulars of the death of 8 at least are known. There names are however not yet given. There are said to have been about 200 passengers on board. A person who was a passenger by the Francis Smith which passed within a few miles of the wreck the night after the disaster, and arrived at Collingwood on Saturday afternoon, brings the following account of the catastrophe, as told him by an eye-witness of the burning steamer who also worked in the running of the vessel in recovering the dead and saving property;- The passengers of the ill- fated vessel were seated at dinner when the dread cry of "Fire" rang through the boat. The fire was discovered to be near the smokestack and the centre of the boat was speedily one mass of flames. There was no fire appliances on board and their only hope was to reach land which was about a mile distant, or escape by the small boats. All steam was at once put on and the steamer headed for the shore at the rate of 15 knots pe hour. For a time the beast of order prevailed but presently several timid persons became terror stricken and the feeling being conveyed to others, a panic ensued and a rush was made for the boats. These latter were barely on a level with the deck when crowds defying restraint poured into them and the rope from the davits to the bow of one of the boats breaking its occupants were precipitated headlong into the lake and a number of them found a watery grave. One elderly man weighing about 260 pounds who had thus been thrown into the water was seen to strike for shore and swim for a considerable distance but on being passed by a young man in the same predicament who proceed to be a stronger swimmer and ultimately succeeded in reaching the shore, apparently gave up hope and exclaiming , " God have mercy on my soul" sank to rise no more. The decease is said to have been Mr. Robert Henry of Gore Bay a wealthy lumberman and highly respected. A little girl was thrown into the unlucky life boat by her mother with the hope of saving her, but unfortunately, the child got her foot caught in the bottom of the boat and before she could be extricated was drowned, the distressed mother was then hurriedly pushed from the sad point to the fore part of the vessel where most of the passengers and crew took refuge from the flames. It is said that only four and a half minutes elapsed from the time the alarm was given till the vessel was beached, and so great was the speed at which she ran, that fully one half of her length was run up on dry ground. Yet in that short space of time the iron ladder leading to the wheel house became red hot, so intense was the heat. The flames quickly spread fore and aft driving the people before them, and the sufferings and danger of those in the bow of the boat were further increased by the smoke and flames being driven by the wind in that direction . One newly married couple are said to have fallen a prey to the devouring flames. The husband in the first excitement had rushed to the bow, leaving his wife in danger behind him .Missing her he frantically returned to her rescue when they both perished. The eye witness further relates that there are two children on the Island who are so small as to be unable to talk and whose parents are supposed to have been lost in the catastrophe He also told our informant that one man - a survivor - who was almost frantic with grief declared to him that he had killed his wife and child in attempting to save them. The child he dropped into one of the small boats and it was killed by its head striking on the gun-whale and his wife, strange to say, came to her death in an exactly similar manner. Residents of Killarney states that 20 corpses have been discovered, among which are two of the crew.

Reports were somewhat contradictory as to the origin of the fire; some say it was caused by the journals being heated and ignited the adjoining wood-work; others say that it was due to the incompetency of the engineer. The eye witness referred to , however, stated positively to our informant that it originated from a defect in the smokestack which was encased with wood and no sooner was it discovered than the whole centre of the boat was enveloped in flames. The smoke -stack being closer to the stern than to the bow of the boat the latter place was the safest retreat.

Mr. Geo. Sullivan of this town, and his eldest daughter were among the passengers, and it is not known whether they are lost or not, although strong hopes of their safety are entertained. Mr. Sullivan's family have the sympathy of the entire community in the dread suspense in which they are kept.

As soon as news of the disaster reached Collingwood "The Bell" with a party on board set out for the scene of the disaster for the purpose of rescuing the survivors, and it is probable before we go to press, further particulars of the sad calamity will be known.

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May 25, 1882
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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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Times (Orillia, ON), May 25, 1882