The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 2 Nov 1891

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The storm on the lake Saturday night was something terrific. The wind blew a regular hurricane and the sea rolled mountains high. The prop. Alma Munro, with a general cargo from Montreal, left Swift's dock about nine o'clock Saturday morning, and made a fine run up the lake during the day, doing from seven to eight miles per hour. Towards evening the captain became aware of a storm coming, and ordered the fire in the stove in the cabin put out. About seven o'clock the wind blew stronger, but no fears were entertained until about an hour afterwards, when the engineer sent word to the captain that he would have to check her speed, as the stern of the steamer was so high above water that the wheel was of service only at intervals. Speed being slackened the steamer labored heavily in the storm, and shortly after, to make matters worse, the wind, which was in the south west, suddenly shifted to the west, the rudder failed to do its duty and, with a lurch, the vessel swung sideways and was caught in the trough of the sea. It was at this juncture that the captain's "hair stood on end." He was standing at his post near the pilot house and says his escape from being thrown overboard was miraculous. He clambered down to the lower deck as best he could, where a fierce conflagration was in progress. Several lamps had been dashed to the deck, and the oil becoming ignited the fire spread rapidly. Luckily, however, all hands were on deck and the blaze was soon smothered. The captain's next thought was of the cabin, and rushing up the stairs he found the lady's maid, Miss Nellie Gray, Hamilton, battling bravely with the flames. The lamps had all been smashed and the furniture strewn over the floor. Two fires were burning fiercely in either end of the cabin. The captain's call for help was quickly responded to by the men below, and after a vigorous fight the flames were finally extinguished. The blaze in the lower end had spread under the door of one of the staterooms but with the exception of a bad scorching, damage sustained was light. The steamer was now at the mercy of the waves and in great danger of being capsized. The wheel failed to take hold and the engines were stopped. There was then no alternative but to raise the canvas and it was not until after great peril had been experienced by Capt. Brown and his men that this was effected. The propellor was finally got in course and after a night of indescribable misery to the crew she arrived in port about 6:30 yesterday morning.

Miss Nellie Gray, the lady's maid, was the only lady on board the steamer. She had retired for the night shortly before nine o'clock but was roused half an hour later by the cries of fire, coming from the lower deck. She emerged from her room a few minutes later to find everything in the cabin topsy-turvy, and the carpet in several places on fire. Grabbing a table-cloth she succeeded in preventing the spread of the flames until joined by the captain. In attempting to save two of the hanging lamps Miss Grey was thrown against the stove and another lurch of the vessel dashed her against the side of the cabin, inflicting a painful injury to her right shoulder.

"You should have come in here at seven o'clock this morning," she said to a reporter. "You would have seen a sight not soon to be forgotten. The cabin was in a sad plight."

"Were you not frightened at the time of the fire?"

"Oh, no - just a little. I have been sailing now about 5 years and am getting used to rough weather."

In a conversation with Capt. Brown it was learned that during the whole night the steamer never shipped a drop of water. When caught in the trough of the sea the cargo, which consisted largely of kegs of nails and wire, was thrown from one side to the other and considerably damaged but none of the freight was lost overboard. A barrel of coal oil belonging to the boat was lost and two barrels of chloride lime were smashed. In the pantry and kitchen over $100 worth of dishes were destroyed, while the furniture in the cabin was all more or less damaged.

With an experience on the water of twenty-four years, Capt. Brown never saw the sea roil as it did Saturday night. The crew, eighteen in all, were all up with the exception of the second cook. "He was the wisest man on board," said the captain laughingly. "He would rather lie in his bed like a man than get up and work like a dog." Continuing in the same jovial strain, "Oh why did my mother let me go sailing." Though experiencing a very rough and dangerous voyage the crew all escaped injury with the exception of the watchman, Wm. Reid, who had his left leg badly jammed.

A large family bible, presented by Miss Alma Munro at the christening of the steamer, still adorns a table in the cabin and the captain claims was repeatedly referred to by Miss Grey during the night, while the second cook could be heard at intervals offering prayer in his room.

One of the shutters in the stern of the boat was broken and swept away and considerable of the steamer's coal was lost overboard. It is at present impossible to estimate the damage to freight, but it is believed the loss will be heavy.

The Alma Munro was built by shipbuilder Andrews at Port Dalhousie in 1873, and has sailed between Chicago and Montreal ever since. She was rebuilt and lengthened in 1884, and is now owned by Graham & Co., Port Stanley. This is Capt. Brown's first year in command. After taking on more coal the propellor cleared for Chicago about six o'clock last night.

Capt. Brown commenced his sea-faring life as mess boy on the steamer Corinthian, the first steel plate vessel that ran on the lakes, and by his integrity and attentiveness to duty has attained the acme of his ambition, and is now one of the most popular captains sailing the lakes. The captain tells some interesting tales of his experience but claims he has had only one real mishap in his life which occurred some years ago, when in company with engineer McGillvrary, of Kingston, he was stranded on the rocks in one of the great lakes and lost everything he possessed.


Arrivals: Eliza White, Colborne, barley and peas; schr. Snow Bird, Consecon, 6,000 bush. barley; schr. Maggie L., Long Island, peas; str. Persia, Montreal; prop. Canada, Montreal, general cargo.

The prop. McVeittie was compelled to turn back at Long Point yesterday on account of the gale and arrived in port about five o'clock yesterday afternoon. She took on coal and left for Chicago at twelve o'clock last night.

Clearances: tug Active, with two barges, Montreal; schr. O. Mowat, Oswego, coal (sic); schr. Echo, Bay of Quinte, to load barley; schr. Dudley, Oswego, rye; schr. B.W. Folger, Oswego, barley; barge Montreal, Montreal, peas; schr. Grantham is loading stone for Oswego; schr. Kate, Oswego, peas; schr. Collier, Oswego, barley; schr. White Oak, Oswego, buckwheat.

A collision occurred in the harbor yesterday morning. The schr. Collier was lying at anchor about fifty yards south of the G.T.R. wharf with her signal light in her forestays. Upon entering the harbor the captain of the str. Ocean thought the light was on the jibboom and as the wind was high and the dock difficult to make intended to give the schooner a close berth. The steamer struck the schooner and carried away her bowsprit and jibboom. The Ocean was damaged to the extent of $50.


The old subject of the rebate on grain coming through the Canadian canal, transhipped at Ogdensburg, but for export via Montreal, is likely again to be called to the attention of the government. This spring the government decided that the rebate should not be paid on grain transhipped at Ogdensburg, the rule being made at the instance of the Canadian marine association, who claimed that the grain going to Ogdensburg for transhipment to Montreal Canadian bottoms were barred out of the trade, as the grain shipped was American grain. The Ogdensburg transit company, which has had the handling of all the grain, is preparing to push its case against the Canadian government before the commission on reciprocal trade between the United States and Canada. The grievance of the Ogdensburg transit company is the alleged discrimination in collecting canal tolls on grain destined for export via Montreal, which is transhipped from lake vessels to river barges at Ogdensburg, while no tolls are exacted where the grain is transhipped at Kingston. The re-opening of the question is of great interest to grain men and shippers here, and the Kingston & Montreal forwarding company is specially interested. That company does a great deal of the freighting for the Ogdensburg transit company. Fully one million bushels of grain have been exported from Montreal this season, which were transhipped at Ogdensburg, and this grain has had to pay the full tolls through the Welland and St. Lawrence canals. The rebates of tolls on this grain would amount to fully $40,000, and these rebates the government has been asked to allow.

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Date of Publication:
2 Nov 1891
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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), 2 Nov 1891