The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 16 Mar 1874

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The Burning of the Bavarian.


We have received a copy of Mr. Risley's report in reference to the burning of the Bavarian. The larger portion of it is taken up with a resume of the evidence given during the investigation. All that was urged about the want of any examination to test the practical seamanship of the captain and mate and the utter absence of discipline among the crew, is confirmed by the positive statements of Mr. Risley. The captains are selected from the pursers, and may, up to the time of their appointment, have been nothing more than smart and active clerks, with no knowledge of the practical handling of a vessel, and no faculty for maintaining order in times of difficulty or danger. There is no examination required, and no certificate of competency except in the case of the engineers. The captain is not necessarily a seaman at all, and the first shadow of nautical discipline is not maintained on board, and indeed, as things go, cannot be. The Bavarian is stated to have been provided with more lifeboats than the law required, and yet, Mr. Risley testifies, could not in any case have accommodated one third of the passengers often on board. It is said to have been "injudicious" to have transferred the old beam of the Kingston to the Bavarian, after it had been subjected to the strong fire by which the former vessel was destroyed. We should just think it was "injudicious!" The word is an exceedingly mild one.

It is recommended that the law should be changed, so as to secure discipline and competency on board; the storage of inflammabe substances in place of safety; a large and fully equipped assortment of boats, with regular drill of the crew in lowering and working them. There ought to have been added that a legal limit should be put to the number of passengers carried on each steamer, according to her tonnage and the number and capacity of her boats. The passengers ought surely to have some little chance for their lives in case of any untoward occurrence, and as things are at present, that chance is at the very best exceedingly small. With every state-room occupied, and every sofa and every chair; with the floor also of the saloon pretty well covered, as it sometimes is, and a miscellaneous mass of deck passengers among the luggage, one can scarcely think of a crowd of human beings in a more deplorabe and more helpless condition than such a boat load on our lakes, if any accident should take place which would render it necessary for all to leave the vessel. Yet every season, most of us at one time or other are exposed to such a danger, with no protection and apparently no remedy.

The pilot Dufour is in this case condemned for cowardice and discipline. We presume, of course, that he has been dismissed, but what of that if nothing more is done to prevent a recurrence of a similar catastrophe? All the passengers and crew of the Bavarian, we are assured, might have been saved had ordinary discipline been maintained and ordinary manhood been displayed. Yet there has been no prosecution instituted, though practically murder was committed. Is it to come to this - that for all this frightful bungling and cowardice, which are surely equivalent to crime, there is no punishment, except, perhaps, the suspension of a pilot's certificate? If so, the sooner there is a thorough and radical change of the law so much the better.

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16 Mar 1874
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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pd [more details]
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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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British Whig (Kingston, ON), 16 Mar 1874