The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 9 Nov 1895

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A few days ago there appeared in a Toronto paper a paragraph stating that Capt. Jackman and a force of workmen have been engaged since early last fall in the work of raising the boilers of the old steamer Monarch, which went ashore and was broken up by the waves in 1854, a short distance from where the eastern gap which leads into Toronto harbor from the lake now is.

It will be forty years next month since the Monarch met her fate in a terrific snow storm amid the Stygian darkness of a winter night and the roar and dash of breaking waves; her requiem sung by the shrieking of icy winds and the circling gulls as they wheeled their ceaseless flight round her devoted form.

The majority of those who composed her crew, and were passengers aboard her, have since gone to their eternal rest. But in our midst today there lives today, hale and stout, and hearty, one who battled against the fury of the elements and endured the terrors of that awful night - one to whose untiring and gallant efforts, and cool, steady nerve, amidst the crash of breaking spars, the creaking and groaning of straining timbers, the thunder of the huge, white-crested waves, as they rushed, roaring, upon their prey, and the weird whistling of the wintry winds, many of the passengers owed their lives. He is getting "up in years" now, and it is long since he braved the dangers of the deep, but the memory of that black and horrible night stands out amidst the recollections of a lifetime, a vivid, awful and ineffaceable memory. He is none other than George S. Fenwick, our respected fellow citizen, senior partner in the wholesale firm of Fenwick, Hendry & Co., and he was the purser of the Monarch during her brief career on the great lakes.

To a Whig reporter, yesterday, Mr. Fenwick told the story of the wreck, modestly omitting all mention of his own name in the work of looking after the terrified passengers, subduing the mutinous crew, and transferring both passengers and sailors from the vessel to the shore. The story of the disaster, as he told it, is substantially as follows:

The Unlucky Start.

The Monarch was a new vessel. She had been running only about three months when she was wrecked, and when she was placed in commission there was still a certain amount of work to be done on her. It was intended to put the finishing touches on her the next spring, and had the intention been carried out she would have been one of the most magnificent boats on the lakes. She was built at Three Rivers, Que. for A. & D. Shaw, wholesale dry goods merchants, of this city, one of whom was instrumental in getting the Wolfe Island canal dug to shorten the route to Cape Vincent. Her boilers were taken out of the steamer John Counter, built to navigate the Wolfe Island canal, as they were, on account of the special purpose for which the John Counter was intended, much more powerful than the ordinary.

The firm of A. & D. Shaw, at this time, was in financial difficulties. Mr. Fenwick was a salesman in the employ of the house, and when the Monarch was put on her route he was asked by one of her partners if he would consent to act as her purser, the man whom it had been intended to place in that position having forfeited the confidence of his employers. The young salesman agreed to accept the berth, and his duties as purser began soon after.

The Monarch was the last boat to leave Montreal for Toronto that fall. The Calvin company's boats were tied up in the Cornwall canal, and the Monarch's pilot advised the captain not to attempt to make the trip, but to tie up there too. But his advice was disregarded, as it was intended that that should be her last trip that season. She would have made the voyage successfully had it not been for an accident that she met with at the entrance to the Beauharnois canal, where she ran upon the rocks and broke her "fore foot." She was towed off the rocks by one of the Calvin company's boats, and returned to Montreal where the damage was partially repaired.

She made the second start, after a tedious delay, and although she was heavily laden with freight, made very satisfactory progress at first. Shortly before she reached the neighborhood of Kingston, however, a heavy snowstorm sprang up. No call was made at this port, but the freight for this city was landed at Garden Island, as the vessel was in debt, and creditors were waiting at the dock here to seize her. From Garden Island to Port Hope the vessel made her way bravely against the howling storm. The wind blew at a terrific rate, the waves washed over the decks and the air was thick with snow. The cold was intense, and grew more and more bitter as the hours wore on.

A Cowardly Pilot.

Port Hope was reached at last. The lights of the little town and the powerful lamps in the lighthouse could be seen only for a short distance from the pier, so thick was the blackness of the night and so heavy the blinding snow.

When the Monarch made fast her lines at the dock, pilot Macdonald landed, declaring that he would not go a mile further that night. Remonstrance was in vain. Macdonald was determined not to sail in the terrible storm, and he carried out his resolution to leave the vessel. He urged Capt. Sinclair to remain in port until the storm abated, but the captain was just as strong-willed as was the pilot, and he was resolved to continue the voyage. From Port Hope to Toronto the trip was a continual battle. The sea rolled "mountains high" and the waves swept over the decks at frequent intervals, the bitter wind whirled the thickly-descending snow into the faces of the crew, blinding them, and making the performance of their duties no easy task. And it was cold - bitter cold. The spray dashed into the faces of the men, as the wind whipped the sea over the decks, froze on hair and whiskers, the deck, bulwarks, and cordage were sheeted in ice, and the falling snow and flying spray combined soon clothed in an icy sheath every man on deck.

And yet, there was no thought of disaster in the breast of anyone on board. The passengers, who were few in number, retired to their berths, and the crew wished for the end of the trip. The purser had done a heavy day's work, and had retired to snatch a few hours' sleep before Toronto was reached. The engines throbbed and labored and the gallant ship breasted the storm nobly.

But another enemy had joined forces with the powers of air and water. Pieces of floating ice broken off from near shore, where the water had frozen, began to crash against the vessel's sides, as Toronto Island was neared. So large and heavy were these miniature icebergs, that err long they had smashed the buckets of the wheels to an injurious extent. This was the immediate cause of the catastrophe, for as Capt. Sinclair altered his course to round the head of the island, the boat failed to respond fully to her rudder, and the turn taken, so far from being great enough to clear the island led the Monarch on to the sand, at about the middle of the shoreline. There was a grind as the keel grated on the sand, then a crash, and a shiver through all her timbers, as the boat brought up on the shore, at the mercy of the breakers.

At The Waves' Mercy.

It would be impossible to describe the scene on board the luckless vessel, when the crew realized that she had gone ashore. The waves battered her in quick succession, and the twisting and straining of her timbers could be easily seen, as each fresh wave dealt its heavy blow. The captain was in despair. The crew were sullen and dogged, and the passengers were trembling in the jaws of death.

Purser Fenwick was asleep in his berth when the vessel struck. The shock did not awaken him, but shortly afterwards a huge wave smashed in the bulwarks and the side of his berth and flowing over him, brought him with a spring to the floor, upon which the water lay to a depth of several inches. He had lain down in his clothes and now catching a pair of slippers that were floating about, he pulled them on and went on deck. The captain had forgotten his very existence.

By this time all the boats except one had been washed away. The one that remained was lowered and manned by sailors, who were given one end of a rope in the hope that they could make their way to shore, attach the rope to a tree and so provide a means whereby the lives of the passengers and crew might be saved. The men in the boat found rowing against the waves heavy work, however, and they brutally and like the cowards that they were, cut the rope that connected them with the Monarch, and went off, leaving their companions to perish. The sailors left on board, seeing their comrades going off and leave them, chose a time when the captain and purser were together in their cabin, and demanded their wages. The purser had not the money to give them, and at any rate that was no time for such a transaction, so the cabin door was barricaded, and purser Fenwick, with a pistol in his hand, and Capt. Sinclair, armed with a long knife, stood on their defence. The mutineers broke in the door, but seeing that the officers were armed, they beat a hasty retreat.

Purser Fenwick saved most of his books, etc. at the risk of his life, crawling down to the cabin for them, when such an act was one of the utmost danger.

When day broke those on the doomed boat could see the island fishermen making preparations for the rescue. A boat was launched again and again by the hardy islanders, and again and again it was beaten back. All morning the fishermen worked, and at length, in the course of the afternoon, they succeeded, after a hard day's work -those on the boat tried to make a Newfoundland dog that was on board, and about whose neck the end of a rope was tied, to swim ashore, but without success - in reaching the Monarch. A rope was stretched between the land and the boat, the land end fastened to a tree, and was connected with the vessel by a pulley. By this means the passengers and the crew were safely transferred to shore, and on the little boat's last trip Capt. Sinclair and purser Fenwick crossed to safety, having been the last to leave the Monarch.

Mr. Fenwick was kept busy for some hours arranging for the comfort of the passengers, but this at length was done, and wreckers were sent for to Ogdensburg. They arrived next day, but were too late, for the hungry waves had left no trace of the stately boat except a piece of floating timber, bobbing in and out of sight here and there on the water. The boilers alone remained on the sand, and there they remained until removed several hundred yards inland. In time the water crept up to them, crept round and over them, and hid them from sight. Now that they are being raised it has been found that the wreck of another boat - the schooner Highland Chief - had found a resting place upon them.

Feared He is Drowned - Tober Moray, Ont., Nov. 9th - A. Davis, lighthouse keeper at Tobermoray, went out to wrecks of Owen Sound and Worts in skiff, now missing.

Marine Paragraphs - The steamer Niagara cleared today for Oswego to load coal for upper lake ports. She will return here with a cargo of grain.

The str. Armenia is doing the Hero's route until that steamer has been repaired. She will be in service again by the latter part of this week.


This morning James Richardson & Sons received a telegram from Harvey's marine bureau stating that the str. D.D. Calvin with consorts Ceylon and Augusta were aground at Sailors' Encampment, five miles east of Sault Ste. Marie. The Augusta has two and a half feet of water in her hold and a good portion of her cargo of wheat is damaged. The Ceylon and Calvin are also aground, but their cargoes are not damaged. The telegram stated it was expected the stranded boats would be lightened today, when they would be reloaded and proceed on their course to this city. They are bound from Fort William to Kingston with wheat. The schooner Augusta is ladened with 57,000 bushels for J. Richardson & Sons. The three boats are owned by the Calvin Co., of Garden Island. Reports from Toronto say the accident is due to a collision, but does not state the name of the other boat. These reports are not credited here. It is thought the grounding is the result of a fog or snow storm.

The Calvin company's steambarge Jack got into trouble again last night in the Cornwall canal. She was on her way home from Montreal with a tow of barges, and in the canal, in attempting to pass one of Gilbert's dredges, she ran into the latter and sunk it. The Jack herself is not thought to be seriously damaged. This narrowness of the canal is said to have been the cause of the accident.

The Hero Hauled Up - The steamer Hero has been hauled up near Deseronto and will resume her regular trips next week. The damages sustained by her in the collision with the steambarge Nile on Thursday, is estimated at about $150. Her cargo was not damaged. The Hero was struck on her starboard bow just forward of the hatchway, her planks being crushed in but she was not damaged below the waterline. The Nile was struck fair on the bow, which was completely smashed in. She will not be able to continue her trips this fall, and it will be quite a length of time before the necessary repairs are complete.

Are Badly Damaged - The damage to the prop. Owen Sound and consort, the schr. Worts, turns out to be greater than at first reported. The cargoes of both boats are total losses and neither of the stranded craft have yet been floated. William Lesslie is at the wreck and is directing the efforts of the men engaged in the work of raising the boats.



The Steamer Missoula Was Wrecked Near Cariboo Island.

Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Nov. 9th - News of the missing steamer Missoula, seven days overdue, was received last night, when four of her crew arrived here and told the story of the wreck. The vessel foundered off Cariboo Island on the north shore. The foundering was caused by the breaking of the outboard shaft. When it was found that it would be impossible to save the steamer, Capt. Wilson gave orders to abandon her, and all the crew escaped safely in small boats. Four were picked up by a down-bound steamer and brought here. The others are now on the north shore, 100 miles from here. A tug will leave for them in the morning. The Missoula was owned by Capt. Thomas Wilson, of Cleveland, and was valued at $80,000. Her cargo consisted of 70,000 bushels of wheat and valued at $50,000. She had been in the wheat carrying trade between the head of the lakes and Buffalo for several seasons. Three of the crew live at Superior and the rest at points down the lakes, principally at Cleveland.

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9 Nov 1895
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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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), 9 Nov 1895