The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 19 Apr 1905

Full Text



Caused Death and Disaster On Tuesday.


What The Crew Have To Relate.

During the filling of buoys, for service on lake and river, an explosion of one of them startled the city and caused death and disaster. The scene of the terrible accident was at the government dock and on the government steamer Scout, and the hour three o'clock on Tuesday. The explosion was terrific, sharp and thrilling in its effects. People who rushed to the windows, along the water front, saw a volume of yellowish smoke, like a huge balloon, sailing in an easterly direction, and quickly divined that a serious concussion had occurred. Then the fire alarm sounded and the department hastened to find the steamer a mass of flames. Men rushed out of the boat with singed hair and burned flesh. The body of mate Fred Mullen, of Welland, was found thirty feet from the boat, his head almost blown off, his brain scattered about and his clothing in shreds. His whole body was blackened, torn and bleeding. His death was quite instantaneous. Capt. Allison, of Morrisburg, was seen aboard and in a dazed condition. He was hurried ashore. His injuries are considered fatal. The crew has so far been accounted for:


Fred Mullen, Welland.

Capt. Allison, Morrisburg.

Evan Guillard, Morrisburg.

Capt. F. Couillard, Montebello.

Shocked and Slightly Burned.

Clifford Tessier, Cornwall, blown into lake; Samuel Delaney, Prescott; Charles Burnett, Farren's Point and William Winter, a Kingston boy, who was on the wharf.

The others of the crew were: George Lessard, engineer, Prescott; T. Macpherson, steward, Kingston; P. Belanger, and H. Smith, Cornwall, firemen; W. Michaud, Prescott; Louis Leblanc, Kingston; Evan Guillard, Morrisburg.

It was also said that the captain of another boat at Prescott was on board but his name cannot be ascertained.

The steamer, with its tanks of acetylene gas, was very dangerous, but, luckily, the gas escaped and added fuel to the flames (sic). The boat's upper works were speedily burned away and soon the inside of the hull was a heated furnace. Chief Elmer and his men worked hard to keep the flames confined to the boat and did so successfully.

Immediately after the finding of the body of Mullen, the telephone called ambulances and medical men and these were on hand. The doctors fixed up the injured men temporarily and had them sent to the General hospital. Four of them, Tessier, Delaney, Burnett and Winters were not much affected beyond shock. Captain Allison is in a serious condition. He was struck by a flying missile and his thighs and groin bear deep and dangerous wounds, while his chest was injured so badly as to cause bleeding of the lungs. He is quite conscious, but too sick to talk. Dr. Anglin, who attended him, asked him as to the cause, but he only said, "I will tell you some other time." Steward Macpherson was away at the time attending a funeral and only learned of the dreadful accident on his return to the city. He was thought, earlier in the afternoon, to have been among the missing.

Part of Mullen's brain and skull were scattered about, many pieces flying over the steamer Avon whose stem was but a few feet from the Scout's stern. One large piece of flesh struck just beyond the steamer Avon's name on her bow, and for hours it remained there as a big period to the name. At 5:30 o'clock a section of Mullen's brain was found and placed with the body. Mullen's mother and brother reside in Kingston. The dead man was married, living at Welland, Ont.

Capt. Allison Dead.

Capt. Allison died at 10:30 o'clock this morning. He was a resident of Morrisburg, and very highly esteemed. A wife and five children survive. His wife and sister arrived during the night, and were with him till the end. Canon Starr administered the last rites of the Church of England, of which Capt. Allison was a devoted member all his life. When told that the end was fast approaching, he stated that he had no fear, but felt keenly the leaving of his wife and children. He was conscious most of the time after the accident.

The remains were taken to Morrisburg at one o'clock.

Every remaining member of the crew expressed the deepest regret when informed of the death of Capt. Allison. "He was one fine man." "He was the best captain I ever sailed under." "He was a perfect gentleman," were some of the expressions made use of, intermingled with sympathetic remarks.

The late Capt. Allison was a native of New York state, but lived most of his life in Canada. He was aged fifty-eight years, and is survived by his wife and five children. At one time and another he commanded some well-known lake steamers, among them being propellers Arctic and Eureka. He also ran the ferry steamer at Morrisburg, and for several years was employed on the steamer Alert, the steamer used by the chief engineer of the Cornwall canal. Four years ago he assumed command of the steamer Scout. The late Capt. Allison is spoken of by mariners as being a careful mariner, a man of many superior qualities, and a perfect gentleman. Deep regret is expressed in marine circles at his sad end. At his bedside when death came were his wife and sister Mary, his brother T.M. Allison of Cardinal; and W.J. Logan, Morrisburg, a cousin.

Rev. Mr. Anderson, of Morrisburg, sent a letter to Canon Starr, in which he spoke of the good qualities of Capt. Allison. "He was one of the finest men I have ever known, one of nature's noblemen," is the opinion of the deceased held by Mr. Anderson.

What Was The Cause.

The cause of the accident is attributed to too high pressure of the acetylene gas. This has not been proven, but that is the general opinion among those who know about acetylene. Another statement is that there was not sufficient asbestos lining in the interior of the buoys. A government investigation will determine all this.

Was Nearly Drowned.

C. Tessier, who was blown into the water, had a narrow escape from being drowned. His comrade, Samuel Delaney, jumped after him and made heroic efforts to save him, but became nigh exhausted. Thomas Sughrue, of this city, wheelman on the steamer Avon, which was close by, came along in a small boat, and got Delaney in, and then made for Tessier. The latter was murmuring a good-bye to his family and had thrown up his hands just before sinking. Mr. Sughrue had just time to grab him by the shoulders and hang on, finally succeeding in hauling him into the boat. Tessier had got caught in a lot of ice which was floating about.

Fighting The Flames.

When the fire brigade arrived on the scene two streams were attached. Then both the Chatham and the Merryweather engines were called, and in a short time five streams were playing into the burning boat which was blazing from stem to stern. The acetylene oil burned on top of the water, and there was no chance of it being extinguished. It simply had to be allowed to burn out. At 5:20 o'clock the Scout was towed around the corner of the wharf into the Kingston Foundry slip. There it finally sank in fourteen feet of water. The firemen remained at work till 11:30 o'clock, and went back at four o'clock this morning. The firemen were in constant fear lest the five tanks of acetylene oil in the hold would explode, but after the boat sank, this danger was over.

The whole upper works are destroyed and much of the starboard side. The port side is scarcely harmed. The machinery will likely be useless. The vessel will no doubt soon be raised and rebuilt. The Scout left her winter quarters at Prescott on the 14th. Yesterday she came from Gananoque. There were two explosions, the second being very dull, and not being heard beyond a couple of hundred yards distance.

Parts of Bodies Found.

For a radius of many yards around the wharf where the explosion took place, parts of bodies have been found. These are thought to be parts of the bodies of the two men who were engaged in painting the buoys. Near the bow of the steamer Avon which was lying at the adjacent dock, where the steamer's name is painted, there is a huge blotch of blood, looking as if a section of a body had been thrown against the steamer, and had then fallen into the water.

Many narrow escapes have been reported. Michael Muchmore, a young man who lives on Bagot street, was leaving the steamer Avon, and was intending to go over and ask the late Capt. Allison of the Scout for a position on that boat. He started to walk around the slip, and was knocked down by the force of the shock. He states that he saw two men working at painting the buoy.

Fred. Rees, master of the dock, had a very narrow escape. He had delivered a letter to Evan Guilllard, one of the members of the crew, who is now missing, and had then returned to the office. About a minute after he left the explosion occurred.

Thomas Sughrue, wheelsman of the steamer Avon, found a heart, liver and other pieces of flesh on the deck of the Avon.

The Crew Of The Scout.

Investigations made this morning, indicated that two more men are likely to have been blown to pieces by the explosion of the two buoys, as all the other members of the crew have been accounted for. Peter Belanger, fireman on the tug, was asleep in his bunk at the time of the explosion. He was awakened by the report and claims that he heard a second explosion after he was awakened. He escaped without injury of any kind. He states that the crew numbered thirteen, and he accounts for that number in this way: Frederick Mullen, first mate, killed; Evan Guillard, Morrisburg, painting one buoy and Frederick Couillard, a new hand from Monticello, painting the other buoy, missing, and supposed to have been blown to pieces. The remainder of the crew were: Capt. Allison, Morrisburg, seriously injured; George H. Smith, a fireman, was coming out of the fire-hole door and had both hands badly cut; William Micheau, second cook, Prescott, slightly injured; C. Tessier, deckhand, Cornwall, who was stirring carbide in the generator, was thrown into the water, but escaped serious injury; George Lassard, Charles Brunette, Louis Lalonde, Thomas McPherson, Samuel Delaney, Peter Belanger, escaped without injury; William Winters, a boy on the dock, somewhat badly injured.

Saw Three Men Blown Away.

A party at the Royal Military Cottage, who was in the city last evening, stated that at the time of the explosion he was looking out of a window towards the city, and saw three men blown into the air from the steamer Scout. One was blown quite a distance out, and the other two not so far. The latter, he says, fell into the water about thirty feet apart. Two of these are, no doubt, Gillard and Couillard, who are missing.

Captain Augustus' Story.

Captain Webster Augustus, marine inspector of Inland Lloyd's was on the dry dock premises at the time of the explosion yesterday. He had been talking to Capt. Allison and Fred. Mullen, standing on the dock at which the Scout was laying. He started to walk away to see a man further up the dock, and had not been gone two minutes, when he heard the report, and was staggered by the concussion. His back was turned, and he saw nothing of the explosion or of how it took place. Immediately after he saw where the trouble was, and hastened to the end of the wharf where he found the one body decapitated and several of the other wounded. According to his story there were three large gas buoys on the end of the wharf which were being filled with acetylene gas, generated on the tug. Two red buoys had been charged with the acetylene and the third, the large black one, which remains, was being filled at the time of the explosion. Capt. Augustus claims that the two red buoys which had been charged, were being painted by two painters at the time of the explosion, and he considers that these men were blown to atoms. Another man was mixing the carbide and water from which the gas was generated, although Capt. Augustus did not know his name. Capt. Augustus states that when talking to Fred. Mullen a few minutes before the explosion, the latter referred to the red buoys, and he mentioned the extremely high pressure of gas to which they were subjected.

The Investigation.

This morning Coroner Mundell began a preliminary enquiry into the cause of the explosion of the two gas buoys, which was responsible for at least four deaths. The first man examined was George Lessard, found in bed at the Anglo-American hotel. He was uninjured, but suffers from shock, being quite unnerved.

George Lessard, chief engineer of the steamer Scout, testified that he was taking care of the gas compression, ie. the pump that forced the gas into the tank. It was located on the port side of the steamer. While at work, and carrying on a conversation with Henry Smith, fireman, he heard an explosion. Smith was blown towards the stern, while witness was thrown down the firehold. He saw a large blaze, volume of dense smoke and a lot of steam. Upon gaining his feet he looked around to see if there was any valve which he could shut off, thinking a steam pipe had burst. He groped his way to the deck and found William Michaud, Charles Burnette and Peter Belanger on the deck. Advised them to creep ashore on the line and they did so. Last time witness saw Gillard he was on top of the black buoy, fitting the lamp to the buoy. The lamp was unlighted when he saw it last. Last time he saw Mullen he was working around one of the buoys. Saw Cuillard painting one of the buoys. Could not say which buoy first exploded.

The witness said that acetylene gas was manufactured aboard the steamer with which the buoys are filled (sic). The captain, mate or Gillard looked after the guage on the buoy, and when the tank was full the man watching it signalled to shut off the supply; a second guage on the pump kept the chief engineer informed of the pressure. The tank which was being loaded was only about half full; it had six atmospheres in it, and to fill it would require twelve atmospheres. The first tank was filled at one o'clock, and at about three o'clock work was begun on the third. The last buoy had been filled twenty or thirty minutes before the explosion occurred. The captain instructed witness to put twelve pressure in the buoys, which had been in use three years.

Continuing, witness said it was the duty of Gillard to connect and disconnect the rubber hose leading leading from the pump to the tank. Gillard did not smoke at any time. Acetylene gas coming into contact with cold air will ignite. Witness examined the first and second tanks after they had been filled and found the connections were properly made. The captain ordered Mate Mullen to procure a bowl of soapy water to make a test of the pressure in the second tank; that was the last time witness was near the buoys, and a minute or two later the explosion occurred.

William Michaud, second cook, was engaged in tacking oil cloth on the table in the officer's mess room when he heard the explosion. Was knocked down, and upon gaining his feet found his face bleeding. Gained the deck and saw the boat wrapped in flame, and full of escaping steam. Belanger came up from below, attired only in his shirt. Followed the chief engineer's advice and crawled ashore on the line.

Peter Belanger, fireman, was in bed when the accident occurred. Was awakened by the first explosion, and as he was getting up heard the second explosion. He ran up to the deck and found the stern of the steamer aflame. Borrowed a pair of trousers and crawled ashore on the rope. Went to bed about half past one o'clock, and did not known what work Gillard was employed at.

Charles Burnett, Ferran's Point, employed as gas generator on the steamer, was found in bed at the General Hospital, where he was conveyed in an ambulance after the explosion. At the time of the accident he was engaged in working alongside the generator. The force of the explosion threw him down stairs, through the centre hatch. He crawled up to the bow of the steamer, and got ashore on the line. There was only three pounds pressure in the generator at the time the buoy exploded.

Samuel Delaney, also a patient in the General Hospital, occupying a second bed in the room with Burnett, was employed on the Scout as an extra man. He was working in front of the boiler at the time of the explosion, and was thrown down and severely bruised his head and ears being cut and bruised. He crawled to the deck, jumped into the ship's yawl and rescued Tessier, who had been blown into the water. Delaney was also injured about the lower part of his body.

Notes Of The Catastrophe.

The Canadian government will pay all damages.

There was no second explosion from the other buoy as was feared.

The glaziers will have work enough to keep them busy for a long time.

The danger of being on an acetylene gas buoy steamer is evidently as dangerous as being a soldier in war time.

A boat must be got to replace the Scout so that the buoys in this section may be placed as soon as possible.

The accident is the first of its kind to happen since acetylene gas was introduced several years ago for Canadian buoys.

Windows were broken in the Royal Military College. Officers of that institution thought at first a powder magazine near by had exploded.

Exactly 180 window panes in the steamer New York, lying near by, were broken. All the glass in the water works' pump house is gone.

A large piece of one of the buoys was blown through the gas generator on the steamer. The escaping gas ignited and aided in the destruction of the boat.

People in the vicinity who had no glass in their houses broken were very lucky. One house would be visited and a number of others around it untouched.

This morning Constable Craig put men to work with grappling hooks, dragging the water in the vicinity of the accident, in the hope of finding at least parts of the bodies of the missing men.

Police Constable Craig has been detailed to assist Coroner Mundell. The constable has a small fragment of cloth, which members of the crew recognize as being part of the trousers worn by Guillard.

Tessier, who was blown into the water, was too severely injured to be disturbed this morning by Coroner Mundell. His examination was postponed until such time as he may be considered out of danger.

A piece of the gas tank, in its course through the air, came into contact with the roof of a tool house on the dry dock premises, and cut out a piece as cleanly as though the work had been done by skilled workmen.

The General Hospital also suffered from the shock, several windows being broken. A plate glass window in the Beaupre House, corner Princess and Clergy streets, was smashed. Windows in residences on King street west were likewise broken.

A marine man stated last night the action of the tug's crew in charging the buoys on the dock was contrary to marine laws. He stated that the buoys are according to regulations, to be first placed in position in the water and then charged with the acetylene.

The report of the explosion was heard at Cape Vincent, and so intense was it that the villagers were led to believe that all Kingston had been blown up. Two minutes after the report was heard Cape Vincent was in telephonic communication with Kingston, enquiring as to the cause of the explosion and extent of the damage; the enquirer said he had been doubtful about being able to get into communication with this city, as he thought the entire place had been blown up.

Last night large crowds of people visited the scene of the accident and many wild and lurid stories were put in circulation as to the number of men killed and missing. The members of the Scout's crew who escaped practically unhurt physically, were suffering from the shock and reaction and could give no clear details of the accident. The patients at the general hospital were progressing favorably, although suffering from the effects of the shock.

Coroner Mundell took charge of the supposed remains of Fred. Mullen, first mate, which were at James Reid's undertaking establishment. It was not considered, last night, that the body had been identified by the relatives of Fred. Mullen in the city. The body was decapitated, the head being destroyed beyond recognition. It was said, last night, that a tattoo mark on the arm of the body found, made the first mate's relatives here think that the remains were not of him, as they had known of no such marks. Under these circumstances, Coroner Mundell considered that steps must be taken to establish the identity of the body found. The clothing on the body had also been destroyed almost entirely, the burning cloth having been cut off by the men who found the body.

Col. Gourdeau, deputy minister of marine and fisheries, and Frank Fraser, assistant to the chief engineer of the department, called up the Whig office by telephone, after the accident, word having been wired to the department of the sad affair. These officials desired full information concerning the catastrophe, hence their call on the Whig. Mr. Fraser said he was coming up to Kingston at once to look after the steamer and the comfort of the injured. Col. Gourdeau was greatly distressed by news of the accident.



The steamer Avon will clear for upper lake ports, as soon as the weather moderates. She had to move out of the way of the fire on the steamer Scout.

It took the steamer New Island Wanderer three hours to get through the ice from the head of Carleton Island to Cape Vincent, yesterday. She left for the Cape again this morning at eight o'clock.

Capt. William Manson, buried, on Tuesday, at Port Hope, was born in Staxigoe, Caithness, Scotland, in 1821, coming to Kingston in 1847, where he did a good deal of shipbuilding. He went to Port Hope, and has been one of the best known captains on the lakes. He is survived by three daughters and two sons, one of the latter, William, being captain of the Argyle.

Completely encircled with pack ice, the steamer New Island Wanderer, of the St. Lawrence River Steamboat company was held up a mile off port. She started this morning for Cape Vincent, got out to a point off Fort Frederick, and was fastened in by the ice, which came down in great quantities, with a south westerly wind. At 10:15 the tug Emerson went to her rescue, and brought her back to port.


Captain Frank Dana Dead - died at Alexandria Bay Saturday night; born April 6th, 1840; after fighting in civil war, started trading on St. Lawrence with sloops; one of his first boats was the Dolphin; bought a steam yacht to pull scows, then bought steamer Guide, sold her about 18 years ago and bought Massena; after it burned about three years ago he purchased the Riverside, but had to retire because of ill health after one year; last year his only son, Capt. John Dana, ran it. [Ogdensburg Journal]

p.8 The tug Emerson towed the steamer New Island Wanderer through to clear water down the river. The Wanderer reached Cape Vincent at one o'clock without much trouble, and was expected back at five o'clock.


This afternoon Coroner Mundell continued his investigation into the sad accident on the premises of the dry dock. Capt. Augustus, inspector of Inland Lloyds, gave evidence to the effect that he had gone down to the steamer Scout on business in connection with the tug Rescue. He was there about fifteen minutes, during which time he saw Mullen working around the buoys. A man was working on top of one of the buoys, on what is known as the "cage"; he had left the boat and gone to work on top of the cage while Capt. Augustus was present. The last named saw him descend from the buoy and show a brass tube to Capt. Allison, who nodded his head, and thus assured the man returned to the top of the tank. Two men were engaged in painting one of the buoys. Capt. Augustus left, and had reached the east pier of the dry dock when the explosion occurred; he saw a great brilliant flash of flame, like a ball of fire, and heard a loud report. He ran back to the boat and found a man's body without a head, some distance from where the buoys had been.

Coroner Mundell will submit the evidence he collected to the county crown attorney, who may order an inquest. In Coroner Mundell's opinion such a proceeding is unnecessary, as those who might have thrown light upon the unfortunate affair were removed by death. The coroner thinks the explosion was caused by the man who was working on top of the tank, but exactly how it occurred, or to what circumstances it was due will never be known.

Glaziers were besieged today, with rush orders by those whose property suffered from the force of the explosion. Every window in the rear of the railway cottages was smashed. Thousands of panes of glass in the machine shop of the locomotive works suffered likewise.

J.F. Fraser, Ottawa, assistant to the chief engineer of the department of marine and fisheries, reached the city at an early hour this morning and at once began an investigation into the cause of the terrible accident. While he formed an opinion as to the cause, he considered that it would be injudicious to make it known before reporting to the department, which has ordered an official investigation, those comprising the board being Edward Adams, Ottawa, chairman of the board of steamboat inspectors, John Dodds, Toronto, government inspector of hulls, at that port, and Mr. Fraser. A thorough enquiry will be made with a view to establishing responsibility. The investigation will be held tomorrow.

An official well-informed upon such matters, but who does not wish his name made known until after the investigation, stated this afternoon that in his opinion the explosion was due to a defective weld in the tank, and in support of this contention cites the fact that the tank had been filled for at least a half hour before it exploded; had it been due to overpressure it would have given way while in process of filling, or at the moment the pressure had reached the point beyond which there was no resistance. A jar or shock or the moving of the tank would cause the defective weld to give way, and the explosion would follow. These tanks have all along been filled to a pressure of twelve atmospheres, equal to 180 pounds, and those filled here Tuesday, were given that amount of gas. The tanks, however, were originally tested to a much greater pressure. They are made of three-quarter inch mild steel, and have all along been considered safe to use at 180 pounds pressure.

Capt. Couillard, whose body is missing, commanded the government steamer Maissoneuve, which is employed in the lighthouse service in Quebec province. He was sent here for instruction, prior to resuming his duties later on the steamer he was to command for the season.

Last autumn Capt. Allison was sent to Boston by the dominion government to investigate the workings of gas buoys along the Atlantic coast, and acquired an extensive knowledge of these appliances.

The grappling for the remnants of the two men, supposed to have been blown to pieces, had to be stopped as there is too much floating ice to render it at all successful.

Will Be An Inquest.

Dr. Mundell, coroner, in consulting with Crown Attorney Whiting, has decided to hold an inquest. It will open tonight in James Reid's undertaking rooms.

Feeling In Ottawa.

Ottawa, April 19th - The news of the explosion on the government steamer Scout, at Kingston, was received with great regret here. Mr. Prefontaine will immediately send an officer to investigate into the cause of the accident. Beyond the mere placing of culpability for the unfortunate occurrence upon the proper shoulders, a certain responsibility rests upon the government. Three or four years ago, when Mr. Sutherland was minister of marine, acetylene gas was substituted for coal oil or Pintsch gas for many lighthouses and gas buoys. There is a large establishment in Ottawa for the manufacture of calcium carbide, from which acetylene is generated, and the government has a large generator at Prescott, where the gas was manufactured.

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19 Apr 1905
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), 19 Apr 1905