The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 24 Oct 1898

Full Text

p.1 The steamer Armenia is resting snugly in Oswego harbor.


And Her Barges Beached on the Coast.


The Boats Likely To Be A Total Wreck.

Shortly after noon on Sunday a rather incomplete telephone message reached the city from Wellington announcing the sinking of the Montreal transportation company's tug James A. Walker, and the stranding of her two barges, the Kildonan and Hector. The boats had been missing since Thursday night, and considerable anxiety resulted, as heavy gales have since been troubling the waters of the great chain of lakes. The message, though limited in information, caused deep sorrow, for it not only told of the apparent total loss of the boats, but also of the drowning of William Leduc, a deck hand on the barge Hector. The information received was again unsatisfactory, as it left an uncertainty as to the safety of the Walker's crew, nearly all of who are Kingstonians. The substance of the message was that the Walker had filled and sank about two hundred yards off Nicholson's island, which lies about twelve miles south-west of Wellington; that it was supposed her crew had reached the island in safety, and that the two barges, breaking away from their anchorage, drifted ashore about six miles above Wellington and filled with water. These few words told of a probable loss of over $50,000, outside of the irreparable loss of a son. This misfortune, following so closely the mishap to the Rosemount's tow on Lake Superior, gives an instance of how troubles will bunch themselves.

Why The Boats Were There.

When the Walker and her two coal-laden barges left Charlotte for Kingston on Thursday night a fierce gale from the south-east was blowing. This caused Capt. Boyd to strike his course N. by E. 1/4 E., bringing him on a line with Nicholson's island, and giving his boats an easier run in the sea. Evidently he was impressed with the idea that the wind would haul around to the north by the following morning, and he would have a smooth run down along the lee shore. But fall winds are an uncertain quantity, and the most experienced will at times find themselves astray in their calculations. The tow was on the lake all night and reached the island early the next morning, anchoring under the lee of the north-west corner. There the boats rested in safety while the wind continued from the southeast quarter, which it did until Saturday noon. Instead of veering around towards the north, as undoubtedly anticipated, the wind suddenly dropped and came out of the southwest in a heavy gale, and in a short time the shores of the island were swept by tremendous seas. The island afforded no shelter, nor did the nearby shore of Prince Edward county. The sea was too heavy to seek an entrance to the bay of Quinte by Presque isle, and it would have been death to any boat to have attempted to round Long Point in such a sea. The belief was commonly expressed yesterday that the Walker's machinery had become deranged during her run across from Charlotte, leaving the boats fully dependent on their anchors. They failed to withstand the force of the waves, and the seas washing over the tug she filled and sank out of sight something over a stone's throw from the island. The barges dragged their anchors and drifted with the surging seas until they stranded on the windward shore. Filling with water they settled finally on the bottom, but in their exposed position they will suffer severely if the wind and sea continue very long as they are.

To The Scene of the Wreck.

When the information reached the local office of the M.T. company the Donnelly wrecking and salvage company was notified to prepare its wrecking outfit, and word was telegraphed to Capt. John Gaskin, at Alpena overlooking repairs to the Selkirk. In order to get an idea as to the position the stranded boats were in, the tug Active, with a member of the wrecking company, Capt. E. Bennett, and J. Gaskin jr., on board, left at 5:30 o'clock last evening for the scene, but the staunch tug failed to reach her destination. When the lines were cast loose at the start the wind blew lightly from the west, with strong indications that it would pull around into the north. These conditions were favorable toa run up the lake outside although a heavy sea from Saturday's blow continued to run. Passing from the comparitively calm harbor to the outer lake the tug ran into a very heavy swell, which caused her to pitch considerably. When Nine Mile light was passed a bank of leaden clouds with fleecy edge appeared on the windward horizon, which betokened another stiff blow, and when the tug was about fifteen miles out on the lake she was faced with a regular gale from the west. It blew strong, but the staunch little tug mounted the fifteen foot swells with grace and ease to plunge her nose into the one following and send a drenching spray thirty feet high, which soon washed her decks, and moistened the inside of her pilot house. As the False Ducks were approached the sea became heavier, as did also the wind, which indicated a death dealing sea around Long Point, so the Active was headed for the Upper Gap light, as soon as she was high enough to clear the Big Bar shoal. She proceeded to Picton, where the wrecking company's representative and J. Gaskin, jr., were landed in the small boat, the water being too shallow to permit the tug to reach the dock. From there they drove to the beach on which the barges are stranded while the tug returned to port arriving here at 4:30 o'clock this morning.

Nicholson's Island.

Nicholson's island lies out some miles from the mainland and in shape is an irregular oval, tapering to a point at both ends and broad in the middle. It is a rather small island with a dangerous rock-bound shore, and very difficult to reach in stormy weather. It affords little shelter, and only from a sea rolling directly in from the lake. Mariners as a rule avoid the spot, and this leads many to believe that the Walker's machinery met with some accident, which compelled the captain to run in there. The shore along Prince Edward county is also rocky in that neighborhood, making a rather uncomfortable place for the two barges.

Situation of the Crews.

Capt. T. Hebert, captain of the barge Hector, who remained ashore this last trip, telephoned yesterday to Capt. C. LaFrance, who informed him that the crews of the barges were safe at Wellington, with the exception of W. Leduc, one of the Hector's crew. When the barges neared the shore a few of the men jumped overboard and swam in. Leduc, a young man, eighteen years of age, attempted the same trick and was engulfed by the huge seas. He hails from Valleyfield, Que., and was a bright boy, and hard worker. His father, M. Leduc, sailed on the Kildonan, the Hector's sister barge, in distress. The unfortunate young man's body was washed ashore. The rest of the men are safe.

The Walker's crew reached Nicholson's Island in safety, that information being signalled across to the opposite shore. The tug's crew include Capt. John Boyd, George Boyd, first engineer, James Evans, second engineer, all of this city; Xavier Lafrance, St. Louis, Que., mate; E. McLaughlin, Barriefield, wheelsman; W. Goodman, fireman; and Mrs. McGowan, cook, also of this city. Another wheelsman, a fireman and two deck hands were on board the Walker but their names are not at hand. It is understood the crew were obliged to leave all their clothes, etc., on board the boat.

Capt. Lafrance took charge of the barge Hector to relieve Capt. Hebert, and this was his first trip across this season. The reports yesterday had it that he was drowned, but fortunately the report was a misrepresentation of the facts. He has been engaged as teamster around the M.T. comopany's wharves since he left the steamer Tilley, when she was in the dry-dock here this summer. About three weeks ago his wife and family came to the city from Valleyfield and took up residence.

The Boats Were Built Here.

Some hopes are entertained of raising the tug Walker, even though she lies in a dangerous spot, exposed to all the seas from the lake. Calm weather will be a necessary attribute to bringing her to the surface. She now lies in forty-five feet of water, but is a comparatively light boat. The Walker was built on the M.T. company's wharf, foot of Queen street, in 1887, by the late James Rooney. She was turned out as a lake tug with a prominent high bow to withstand the seas, and with closed-in cabins. Subsequently she was cut down and altered for the river trade, and was a very strong tug. Not long ago she blew out her cylinder head while crossing from Oswego, which laid her aside for three weeks and involved much expense in the repairs. This second and probably disastrous accident in one season strikes home rather hard. Her listed value is about $20,000 with no insurance. It is understood the M.T. company carries no insurance on their river boats.

The barge Hector, formerly the Glenora, was built in Kingston in 1882, and has had a chequered career. While the Glenora she broke away twice from the tugs towing her, once on Lake Superior when in command of Capt. Smith, and once on Lake Ontario, when commanded by Capt. M. Patterson, now sailing the schooner Two Brothers. Her experience in the Lake Ontario break away will long be remembered, not only by the crew but by all interested in marine in the city. For two or three days she rolled about the lake in a tremendous sea, with only a small scrap of a sail to steady her. When she was given up as lost, word was sent from South Bay that she reached there after a hard and bitter experience. Each member of the crew was well rewarded by Capt. Gaskin when they reached the city. The Glenora was overhauled a few years ago and renamed the Hector. She is valued at $10,000 and is not insured. Her cargo consisted of 800 tons of coal, consigned to the company, which is well covered by insurance.

The Kildonan was built here by David Ainslie in 1888 and is yet a staunch boat. She was engaged first in the lake traffic, and a few years ago was placed on the river. She has now a cargo of 900 tons of coal. Her value is placed at $18,000, with no insurance. If this weather continues it is thought the barges will go to pieces as the shore is very rocky and well exposed.

The Crew Homeward Bound.

A telephone message from Wellington at eleven o'clock this morning stated that the Walker's crew was safe in Wellington and would leave for Kingston by first train. When it was seen that the tug would swamp, Capt. Boyd ordered a life-boat to be lowered and the men reached the island uninjured, but minus any of their belongings. Five minutes after they left the tug she was seen to lurch and go down. Capt. Boyd's story of the wreck is as follows: When the gale sprung up from the south-west the sea arose with wonderful rapidity. We raised our anchors to leave the island when two heavy seas washed over the Walker, and finding entrance to the hold quenched the fires. Thus we were forced to drop anchors again, which failed to hold our boats. The Walker, getting into the trough of the sea, rolled sufficient to throw everything off her decks, and shipping a few more seas, she sank. Her pilot house was washed away and drifted ashore. The tug's machinery was in perfect order. The sea came up quickly. The crew was taken from the island in a fisherman's boat.

The wrecking company's representative stated that the barges were resting easily, and will not suffer from the present blow. When the gale moderates the tug Active and schooner Grantham, with pumps and wrecking outfit, will go to their assistance. The drowning of Master Leduc was due to lack of thought in the excitement of the moment. When the Hector neared the shore a yawl boat was lowered and the crew jumped into it to reach land. The small craft was immediately upset by the sea, and Leduc was drowned in the surf. The rest struggled safely into shore. The cargoes of coal are valued at about $6,000, and those will be saved. Whether the Walker can be raised or not this fall is a matter for after consideration.


The Schooner All Right.

Grave fears were entertained for the safety of the schooner Augustus, which broke away from the steamer Armenia on Friday last. The schooner came to anchor under the protection of the Scotch Bonnet, near Wellington, and as soon as the wind subsided sails were bent and she sailed for Garden Island, arriving safely on Saturday.

Meanwhile the steamer Parthia went up to look for the missing schooner, going by way of the Bay of Quinte. Arriving at the place where it was expected the schooner would be found, the rescuers were unable to obtain a glimpse of her, telegraphing to this effect to Garden Island.

To Add Improvements.

The steamers of the American line are to have numbers of additions in their accommodations during the coming winter. B.H. Carnovsky has been engaged by the year to act as marine architect and superintend the joiner work on this line of boats. More stateroom accommodation, gents' smoking room and other modern conveniences are to be added. When the boats are ready for commission in the spring there will be no handsomer or more luxurious steamers of their size on inland waters.

The Burial of the Puritan - The old barge Puritan lies at the bottom of the Bay, midway between the Rathbun company's dock and Forrester's island, with about 150 tons of iron ore in her hold. She was lightering the monster steam barge Sequin from Marquette, on Monday, to permit of her landing at the Deseronto iron works dock with her cargo of iron ore. The ore proved too much for the Puritan and she sank in about 22' of water. Her masts are visible above the water and an attempt will be made to raise her. Failing this, a charge of dynamite will likely remove this impediment to Bay navigation. [Napanee Express]

p.6 General Paragraphs - The schooner Valencia, of the Calvin company's fleet, has been chartered by the Rathbun company to lighten the boats at Deseronto of iron ore. The shallow water prevents them reaching the docks.

The S.S. Rosemount, with consorts Selkirk and Melrose, was to leave Alpena yesterday morning for this port, the repairs to the Selkirk having been completed.

The steamer Parthia arrived at Garden Island last night after spending two days in searching for the schooner Augustus.

The schooner Fabiola is wind bound at Oswego.


The following telegram was received last Saturday evening by Thomas Mills, from the captain of the schooner Blake which recently went ashore: "Blake burned; on my way home." Capt. Sidley lives in Belleville and will be home tomorrow.

The Donnelly wrecking company has closed a contract with the Rathbun company, Deseronto, to raise the barge Puritan, sunk in the channel abreast of Capt. John's Island, Bay of Quinte.

The schooner Ash, 2,300 tons, and the barge Verona, American boats for ocean trade, were successfully taken down the rapids of the St. Lawrence river Saturday. The schooner Ash is the largest vessel that has ever gone down the rapids.

Aids to Navigation - Col. W. P. Anderson, chief engineer of the marine department, Ottawa, and J.F. Fraser, arrived in the city Monday afternoon to look over the harbor with the view of marking out the north channel leading in from the lake, and fixing on better aids to navigation. One point to receive attention is Snake Island shoal. The Four Mile red light now stands some rods west of the eastern end of the reef, on which there is very little water, and frequently boats have grounded on the edge, being misled by the location of the light. As the channel to the east of the light was not the same depth of water that is found in that to the west, large steamers prefer coming in by the latter, the old ship channel. One obstruction, however, is met with in this course, in a shoal known as the Middle Ground, lying about one half a mile south-west of the light. It will be proposed to Col. Anderson that gas buoys be located to mark the passage way between these two shoals, one on the western edge of the reef and one on the eastern edge of the middle ground. Steamers then taking a north course between the lights with their sterns on Nine Mile Light, will have a safe passage in to meet the channel running parallel with the main shore.

The Churchill Sank On the Lake - Buffalo, N.Y., Oct. 24th - The steamer Majestic arrived in port Saturday night, pounded by a gale through which she ran on Lake Michigan. She lost her consort the Churchill. The Churchill was swept from stem to stern by heavy surf and when she sank blew up, the captain and one sailor going down with her. Capt. McIntosh, of the Majestic, rescued five of the Churchill's crew by skilful manoeuvering.

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24 Oct 1898
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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), 24 Oct 1898