The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Advertiser (Owen Sound, ON), September 23, 1882

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THE Frances Smith arrived here on her up trip Tuesday morning and left in the afternoon with a fair load of freight.

THE NELLIE SHERWOOD - Not the slightest doubt now remains that this vessel foundered with all hands in the storm of the 14th inst. One of the bodies that of the Captain's son, has been found near Griffith's Light house.

WANT OF CONFIDENCE IN THE COLLINGWOOD LINE - We are informed on unquestionable authority that when the Emerald of the Collingwood local line arrived down at this port at 1:20 a.m. on Thursday last, quite a number of through passengers by her remained here, and although they had paid their fares to Toronto via Northern they preferred rather to pay their fares over the Toronto, Grey & Bruce than to sail any further on the Emerald. We hope soon to see another boat on the line from here in connection with the popular steamer Africa. We understand that efforts are being made to get the side wheel iron steamer Magnet, and that she will probably be on the route very soon. So good an opportunity has never presented itself to concentrate the Georgian Bay trade here, and we trust no efforts will be spared to accomplish so desirable a result.

WRECK OF THE PICTON - The side-wheel steamer Picton which had been chartered to run in conjunction with the Africa in connection with Toronto, Grey & Bruce railway between this port and Sault Ste. Marie, while on her..ran on the rocks at Ron... Point, Lake...Thursday night. Capt. E. De... of this town was in the ship's con...going wrong ...points that was the cause of the disaster. The Picton was we believe a sta... vessel, and had for the last five years plying between Toronto and Port Dalhousie. She was to have commenced trips from this port on Monday day last. .. was owned by the Bay of Quinte...ver St Lawrence Navigation Company...was valued at $25, 000 and was insured $15, 000. When she went ashore ..a cargo of twenty-five tons of...a good part of it being the property ...Owen Sound merchants which we believe is covered by insurance.

On the question of telegraph connection the Manitoulin Expositor of the 23rd says;

The loss of the Asia illustrates the need of a telegraph line along the North Shore. At present a steamer might be ashore or lost for days without its being known; where as if we had telegraph facilities her course could be watched from one port to another, and in case of disaster any point along the route called for assistance.

ACCIDENT TO THE NORTHERN BELLE - On Saturday last, while the Northern Belle was on her way between Algoma Mills and Blind River on her trip she ran on a reef and in going over broke her wheel, and a piece of the shaft went with the wheel. When the Africa passed Algoma Mills on her down trip the Belle was lying there waiting for a tug to tow her here. The accident will cause great loss to the Great Northern Transit Co., as since the loss of the Asia they will now have only one boat, the Emerald on the route until the Belle is repaired..

THE ASIA A CORRECTION - In the Mail of Tuesday last we see that the statement made by Mr. Thomas Shipp, regarding a conversation said to have taken place between the Captain of the Asia and the Steamboat Inspector has been repeated. We quote the following from the statement of the man Bowes, whose statement is given to corroborate that of Shipp;-

"Shortly after we got to Owen Sound I went on to the wharf to take a stroll and see if I could meet anyone I know, and on coming back to the Asia I saw two men standing at the gangway, one being the captain, and the other I took to be an inspector. The latter was a stout, broad-shouldered man, of medium height, and dressed, as near as I can judge, in a dark blue suit, with a flat, peaked cap on his head. My attention was arrested by hearing the one I took to be the inspector say in an angry tone, "What about this boat?" and the captain replied, "I don't know this-she won't go out of here to night, for if she does, she won't reach French River, "The captain said, "If you toll her, I'll risk her, and the inspector answered, "Well, I'll toll her if you risk her, but she'll never reach French River the way she is strained."

He explanation of the above is as follows; A sail boat, too large to be taken on board, and belonging to a lumberman at French River, was in tow of the Asia the owner of the boat also being along with it as a passenger on the Asia Captain Campbell, who had just come from Toronto by the late train, went on the dock and seeing the fish-boat in tow of the Asia said "What about this boat" and made use of language indicating his belief that the fish boat would not reach French River safely if followed by the Asia as the weather then looked bad. The owner of the boat then said If you tow her, I'll risk her" We make this explanation because we think use has been made of the above statement to injure the reputation of the Company unjustly. The truth is bad enough, but let that only be told. We trust our contemporaries will make the explanation as a matter of simple justice, as this story of Shipp and Bowes more than anything else that has happened in the papers has been calculated to do needless damage, as it goes to show that the Asia sailed in direct opposition to the wishes of the Steam boat Inspector. We may say also in this connection that although one of the Steamboat Inspectors was here during the week the Asia was lost, that he did not arrive here till Friday, two days after the Asia had sailed.


Another Body Found

In consequence of the reticence of the agents of the Great Northern Transit Company in furnishing anything like a satisfactory statement in regard to the number of passengers on board the Asia when she foundered, and with a view to ascertaining something like a correct estimate of the number of lives lost on the ill fated steamer, your correspondent interviewed Mr, Tinkiss, the only male survivor of the catastrophe, on the arrival of the Northern Belle at this port Wednesday evening of last week. The following is Mr. Tinkiss' statement:

"When my uncle and I took passage on the Asia at Owen Sound we applied for a stateroom and were informed by the Steward that there were more cabin passengers than there were berths, for every stateroom being filled to its fullest capacity. But that he would manage to get us a room as we were doing business on the route if we did not object to a third person sharing with us. We were accordingly given a room in company with another gentleman. There is no doubt but the Steward told the truth, as there were several passengers who slept in the cabin on lounges and chairs.

In reference to the strength of the steamer and the launching of the life-boats, Mr. Tinkiss said:

Had it not been for the cabin washing off with the boats when the steamer settled down before sinking not one of us would have been saved, as the boats were on the upper deck and all the passengers who could had climbed up there. When the upper works came off the boats were released from their fastenings and launched themselves. You can judge from this whether the steamer was well put together or not. If all the staterooms were filled there must have been over one hundred cabin passengers on board."

The tug Mary Ann called here on Thursday evening last on her way to the scene of the late disaster, having been dispatched from Collingwood with a view of finding some of the bodies if possible, having on board Mrs Parkhill, M. P. P. Bledsoe, Dundas and Stewart, with Capt. Campbell in command. After cruising around the scene of the disaster for some time, and while going along at the rate of 10 miles an hour, and all were in the cabin with the exception of Mr. Parkhill and Mr. Behdsoe, who were on deck talking, the latter suddenly cried, "What is that floating yonder?" This exclamation brought Mr. Parkhill to his feet, and the others soon crowded on deck, when each gave their opinions as to what the object could be. Some thought it a barrel, others a trunk, ... one or two gave it as their opinion ... it was a floating life-preserver. The once headed about and brought ...side the object, which proved to ...body of a man with a life preserver on... the preserver was all that could...above the surface of the water his...having dropped down into ...his arms were extended at ..his body , which seemed to sho... The struggle ..breathed his last...waves The corpse had a full suit of clothes, though the pants were torn below the knee as though struck by some piece of wreckage, and strange to say, still wore his hat. From the general appearance of the corpse it was evident that the work of decomposition had set in some days previous. In the pockets were found two tickets for the Asia, a gold watch, a ring with the name A. Duncan inscribed on it, a small memorandum book containing his name, two coins, a commercial traveller's ticket, and $53 in bills. The watch had stopped at 11:45, which corresponds with the survivors story of the shipwreck it was also about this hour that Robert Sparks' watch stopped. This was all that was left of Mr. Duncan, the strong healthy merchant who had left home full of life and hope without the slightest fear of ever perishing in the waters of Georgian Bay . The captain assisted by the others constructed a rude box, and placing the body in it packed it with ice so that... would take place.

After continuing the search until Sunday they left for Collingwood ... arrived Monday ...

About Lake Steamers

It may seem presumptuous on the part of those outside the sphere of boat-builders and boat-owners to criticise the general; build of our lake steamers and the principles on which they are loaded and managed. A little common sense , however , cannot be very far astray, even if applied to so technical an art as the building, loading and management of steamers. In deed, the failure of the owners of these boats to ensure even reasonable safety to those taking passage on them as is evidenced by the disastrous loss of the Waubuno, Jane Miller, Queen, Simcoe, Manitoulin, Asia and a number of others, carrying to the bottom with them within the last few years so many precious lives and bringing heart-rendering and misery to so many families, goes far towards saying that there is something radically wrong somewhere and leaves the whole business open to criticism. If those who have the management of these boats and are entrusted with so many valuable lives cannot do better than this, then the public, who are compelled to place their lives in their hands and to run such dreadful risks in doing so, have a perfect right not only to suggest improvements but, through their representatives, to compel these improvements to be carried out. If lake travel cannot be made any more safe than it has been for the last few years, then it is a failure, and no one can help it; but if it can, then our ship-owners are criminally responsible for the loss of so many of the lives entrusted to them, and our Governments criminally negligent so long as they permit the present evil to exist. As disaster after disaster takes place, strong representations are made by the public and through the press in favour of a complete overhauling of the law relating to steamboats with a view to making it so strigent to reduce these dreadful accidents to a minimum, but after a few weeks discussion the thing goes on just as before and nothing is done till the country is again astounded by the news of a hundred or so more lives being swallowed up by the collapse of some unshapely craft that has been badly inspected or, is likely as not, has been allowed to run in defiance of even what law there is.

In the first place, common sense teaches us that our lake steamers are built too top heavy. The portion of them under water is so insignificant compared with the portion of them above it that it is a wonder that more of them do not topple over than do. When one looks at the enormous bulk of them above the water-line with their storey on top of storey of decks running skywards, and is informed that there is only from seven to ten feet of them under water to balance this enormous top weight, he can only wonder that they are able to weather even a moderate gale. Add to this that the bulk of the cargo is very frequently carried above the water-line and that a very insufficient quantity of ballast is as frequently carried below, and one begins to realize how these structures must act in a storm. Their enormous top-weight causes them to roll and tumble from side to side; wave after wave lashes against them, and over their decks; the passengers and crew rush to the upper decks, thus increasing the top-weight; until one wave stronger than another carries the swinging structure over, and it is swallowed up by the waters, carrying to the bottom with its cargo of precious human lives, and spreading heart-rending. Lamentation and misery from one end of the land to the other. Such is the story of the majority of steamboat disasters on our lake waters.

From this crowing defect, which is due to the desire to accommodate these vessels to our canals and shallow harbors, and at the same time make room in them to carry as much freight as possible, flow nearly all the other defects connected with them. From this flows the lack of room below to hold a sufficient bulk to balance them; the piling of freight on the main deck above the water-line; the rearing of cabins high over the main deck; the piling of hurricane decks and wheel-house over these; and the placing of large portions of the machinery in the upper parts of the boat, or at least above the level of the water. Structures built after this principle may float steadily enough on ordinarily smooth water, but in such tempestuous storms as visit our treacherous inland seas it is almost impossible that they should not be forced over by their enormous top weight. The opinions of the majority of captains and experienced sailors, as given in recent interviews with reporters of the daily papers, ascribe the greater proportion of our lake disasters to this defect of building our steamers too top-heavy.

If this is the case, then, the remedy is obvious. If the steamers cannot be built so as to draw water their upper works should be built in proportion to that part of them which is below. The height of them should be cut down and the top weight thereby reduced. The great bulk of the cargo should be placed below the water-line. There should always be abundance of ballast carried to keep the boat steady. The medium-sized boats should be built so as to draw a good deal more water than they do.

There are other matters that should be strictly looked after. Old hulls should be thoroughly inspected and condemned when found defective. There should be inspectors at all the leading ports to see that boats, and especially passenger boats, are properly loaded. Boats should not be allowed to leave the harbors when certain storm signals are raised. The names of all persons taking passage should be left at the ports at which they embark. The examination of captains and mates should be more rigid.

We venture to say that the steamboat company that constructs and manages their boats after some such principles as these will be most heartily welcomed and as liberally supported.

Chatsworth Items

The remains of Mr. John McDonald, the unfortunate mate of the ill fated steamer... resulted more from the blows inflicted by the boat than from exhaustion. The deceased was well known around here, and especially so in that part of Sullivan lying between Desero and Keady, where his father and mother, sister and two brothers reside. He was a fine, clever young man, and his kindly, cheerful man , made him a favorite with all who knew him. He was very kind to his parents, and never failed to visit them when he got an opportunity, the last of such visits being made in the harvest, when he remained home a couple of days assisting them, while the boat made a run to Collingwood. He was 28 years of age and had been sailing eleven years, five of which he was mate. Last season he was mate on the Emerald. This season he was engaged to go on the Sovereign, which was to run between Sarnia and Duluth, and actually went down to Sarnia last spring with Messrs. M. McNabb, A. McNabb, and G, McKay, of Sydenham, the former of whom (M. McNabb) was to have been Captain. From some cause or other, however , the Sovereign was not put on the route in time, and after the Manitoulin was burned last spring the Northern Transit Company engaged the Asia, which was then aground on the St Clair Flats, and all with the exception of Mr. M. McNab took positions on her, which they held till the fatal day on which she went down. The deceased had his life insured last winter for $2, 000. The other two young men already mentioned who perished with him were well known in Sydenham, and were highly spoken of by all who knew them. Mr. McKay had been sailing two years, and Mr. McNab some time longer. The fathers of both are dead, and much sympathy is felt their mothers and other relatives in their deep affliction.

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Date of Original:
September 23, 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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Advertiser (Owen Sound, ON), September 23, 1882