The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 25 Jan 1902

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Into The Marine City Disaster.

The investigation into the death of four Kingstonians, seamen of the steamer India, off Goderich, on November 14th last, was opened at the city hall this morning. The investigation committee is as follows: Commander Spain, R.N., chairman; E. Adams, chairman of the board of steamboat inspectors, and P. Harty, lighthouse inspector. The chairman read the charge and declared the court to be open.

G.M. Macdonell, who appeared on behalf of the relatives of the deceased seamen, summoned, as the first witness, Capt. Malone, who commanded the steamer India of whose crew the four seamen belonged. He testified that there were two seaworthy life boats and about sixteen life preservers on board the steamer Marine City, by whose foundering the four men were lost.

"Tell us what happened," said commander Spain, to which Capt. Malone replied:

"We were coming down Lake Huron on Wednesday, November 13th, when we saw this boat directly in front of us. The boat was fairly in front of us, and when we came alongside, the second watchman said, we'll go and have a look at this thing and see what's the matter. He called some of the men, while I stayed forward. I instructed him to lower the boat. He did so. The first mate and three men got into the boat. The second mate wanted to get in, but was put aside by the first mate. There was no wind, but a dead roll of the sea. When the mate got aboard I asked him to see if there was any water in her. He replied there was not, so I ordered the boat to be taken in tow. Then the yawl was brought back. The tow line was a good one; it was the best rope they had. The Marine City, about 135 feet long, carried a cargo of spruce pulp wood.

Mr. Adams - "Did you order the men to go aboard?"

"I did not," replied Capt. Malone. "The second mate went forward and routed out one of the fellows. The fact of it was, they all thought there was money in it, and they wanted to go. It was a mutual agreement, they all volunteered to go of their own free will"

"How did you come to lose the boat?" inquired Mr. Adams.

The captain recounted the sixty or seventy mile trip to Goderich with the derelict. There a snow storm set in. The harbor could not be seen, and the range lights were not visible. Had he seen the range lights he would probably have gone in. Then he dropped anchor, the wind came up during the night, the line broke, and the Marine City broke away. The captain blew the whistle to give them warning. The men on the Marine City dropped their anchor, and evidently stopped about a mile away. "The gale increased all night, and in the morning the boat was almost dead astern," continued the captain. "We drifted down upon her. Then I let go my second anchor, and tried to get alongside her. The engineer at this juncture then came to me and stated that our own boat had sprung a leak. When I got the leak stopped it was beginning to grow dark. The Marine City was within 300 or 400 yards of us all of this time. We got everything ready to throw them a line. She got in the troughs of the seas, and we saw the waves wash over her. I was as close to the derelict as I could go with safety to my own boat. Nobody thought there any danger of life. We saw the four men on the Marine City beckoning to us, but did not hear them shout. I supposed they wanted to get on board the India, and I was working to that end. The sea was too heavy to lower a life boat and go to their rescue. I did not consult with the mate on this matter. I did all I possibly could, or that I think anybody could. To lower our boat and man it would have been risking the lives of the seamen. I wouldn't have asked them, and they wouldn't have gone if I had asked them. Some time in the early part of the evening the Marine City disappeared. I was on deck all the time, keeping a watch on her. At one time I went down below to see after a leak; I might have been there half an hour. Meanwhile, however, all hands were on deck."

Commander Spain emphasized the point that there were four of the India's crew on the Marine City, that a fierce gale was blowing, but that for half an hour Capt. Malone went below and left no one in charge to watch the disabled vessel. The fact remained that no one was specially told off for this purpose.

"I didn't do anything; it was impossible to do anything." replied Capt. Malone. "The weather hindered us. The India might have stood against the wind, but could not have turned around. After midnight the wind began to moderate, and twelve hours after the doomed vessel disappeared, or at daylight, we were able to handle our own boat. I then ran into Goderich. I went to the telegraph office to telegraph along the shore, and also visited the docks. I felt sure the Marine City was ashore somewhere. I did not go after her with my boat, because she drew fifteen feet of water and could not have gone along the shore. Besides this, the wind began to blow a gale again. A man I sent down the shore came back on Saturday evening, saying that he had found pieces of wreckage and pulpwood strewn on the beach. Then I came to the conclusion that the men were lost. I shipped four new men and went back to Fort William."

In reply to a question by commander Spain, Capt. Malone said the wind was not blowing so fierce, but that they could have made sail when he first lost sight of them.

"Is it possible that these fellows could have been swept off the deck?" asked Mr. Spain.

"Hardly, unless the boat went to pieces," was the reply. "They were a mile and a half or two miles from the shore, and they may have shipped their anchor, set their jib and put for the shore."

"I thought of leaving them a boat," said Capt. Malone, when questioned by Mr. Spain, "but one of the davits was broken, and, anyway, a boat would have been no more use to them than a birch-bark canoe."

The Marine City had a flag of distress up all day, but the line boat, at Goderich, made no effort to come out to her rescue.

"I want to find out why the lifeboat men in Goderich harbor did not respond to the call," said Mr. Harty.

"I could see the lighthouse on the shore," replied the captain, "and I think they should have seen the flag of distress. It was the life-boat captain who went down the shore with a waggon, when notified of the loss."

The captain was next cross-examined by G.M. Macdonnell, bringing out few additional facts. Witness considered the tow line good enough to tow the Marine City; he had no doubt about that line. Counsel was off on marine matters, but commander Spain came to the rescue and gave him some instructions.

Captain Malone testified that he did not believe second mate Lawrence could have taken the boat into the harbor, partly because of incompetency and partly because he could not see the range lights. It would have been impossible for the men at the life-saving station to have heard a whistle, had one been blown.

At 12:40 p.m. the court adjourned to meet again at 2 p.m.

The court met again at 2 o'clock this afternoon, when Capt. Malone was further examined. J.L. Whiting, K.C., and Dr. Walkem, K.C., appeared for the defendants, and G.M. Macdonnell, K.C, and T.J. Rigney for the plaintiffs. Commander Spain showed himself to be a most capable chairman, as well as a man having a most thorough knowledge of marine affairs.

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25 Jan 1902
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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.
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), 25 Jan 1902