The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily News (Kingston, ON), 14 Sep 1889

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The Fatal Collision And Sinking Of Two Steamers.

The season of 1889 will long be remembered as one of the most disastrous in the annals of shipping on the river St. Lawrence. The first serious affair was the loss of the Armstrong on the 20th June, when, without almost a moment's warning, she filled with water and went to the bottom of the river, where she still lies. This was quickly followed by the sinking of the Algerian at Farran's Point. Then came several serious accidents to steam-yachts, notably that to the Sport, followed by the stranding of the St. Lawrence off Grindstone Island, some three or four miles from Gananoque, and later the breaking of her walking-beam when entering Kingston harbor on Saturday last. This would seem to be record enough for one season. But there was bad luck in the air, and the Rothesay was fated to disaster also. During the past season this fine steamer has been doing an excellent business under the efficient management of Mr. John Finucan, who has had control of her several years past. But on Thursday she made her last trip for this season at least. In the morning she ran an excursion from Ogdensburg, Prescott and Brockville to the Gananoque fair. She reached Brockville on her return trip about 7:30 p.m., and having disembarked her passengers, started for Prescott. Everything went well until about half a mile west of Prescott, and when immediately opposite the toll gate, there was a terrible crash. It was soon discovered by those on board that there had been a collision with another craft, and that the best thing for everybody to do was to look out for themselves. The tug Myra had run foul of the Rothesay, and both boats were in great danger of going to the bottom and that before long. So soon as the Rothesay got free from the Myra, the latter sank, and the former was run towards the shore as quickly as possible, where she went down, about forty rods from land in ten feet of water at the bow and fourteen at the stern. Just at the moment of collision there was considerable confusion and excitement among the passengers on board, but their fears were soon calmed by the assurance of the captain and other officers of the boat that there was no danger and that they would all safely reach shore.

There were some sixty-five passengers on board, of whom six belonged to Prescott, five or six to Gananoque, and the balance were from Ogdensburg. The life boats were lowered and the life preservers made use of, so that life was not at any time much endangered. It was not long till a large number of people were attracted towards the scene of the disaster, who lent willing assistance to the ship-wrecked passengers and crew of the Rothesay. But a sadder tale has to be told in connection with the tug Myra. The Rothesay struck her amidships and almost cut her in two causing the death of both the 2nd engineer and fireman. The Myra sank to the bottom immediately in about 30 feet of water.

Capt. Cameron,

commander of the Rothesay, states that from Brockville to Prescott the boat was in charge of the mate, John Lasha, of Gananoque, and he, with Sam Finucan, brother of Manager Finucan, was at the wheel. He (Capt. Cameron) was in the cabin inquiring of the Ogdensburg passengers at which dock they would prefer to be landed. He had just got a reply from them that Plumb's wharf would suit them best, when he heard three "mixed" whistles, one from some other boat and two from the Rothesay. He at once suspected from the character of the whistles that a collision was imminent, and hurried on deck. Reaching there, the first thing he saw was the tug Myra, owned by Mr. Hannon, right under her bow. The Myra was running in a north-westerly direction, while the course of the Rothesay was north-easterly. The Rothesay's course was from Murdock's Point to Buckley's dock at Prescott. The tug's course was about two hundred feet out from where she was, and she would have missed the Rothesay if she had kept to it. Instead of doing so, the wheelsman of the Myra ported his helm, which caused the tug to swing right under the Rothesay's bow. This happened when between 50 and 100 feet from the bow of the Rothesay. The Rothesay was running at the rate of about 16 miles an hour.

As has been already stated the Rothesay struck the Myra amidships, and the crash must have resulted in the instantaneous death of the engineer and fireman. The Rothesay cut into the Myra so deep, that when the Rothesay backed up she stuck to her bow, and when she broke away she sunk at once. The tug was almost forced out of sight by the force of the collision. The barge which she had in tow struck the Rothesay forward of the paddlebox. Had the tow rope been cut in time it is thought that the barge would have drifted clear of the Rothesay. The survivors on the Myra say that the whistle on the tug blew three different times but only the last one was responded to by the Rothesay. On the other hand the officers of the Rothesay say they never heard but one whistle, which they answered, and at which time the tug was right under her bow.

Sam Finucan, who was at the wheel with the mate, says he only heard one whistle. When he first saw the light on the Myra, he judged the distance to be too great for a collision to occur.

John Lasha,

the mate, saw only a green light on the Myra. She seemed to be steering straight up the river. The courses of the two boats were about two hundred feet apart. When about that distance away she gave one whistle and ported. The Rothesay answered with two whistles, signifying that she could not change her course, and at the same time reversed her engines. A few seconds after the collision occurred with the result as above stated.

The Killed.

Samuel Jarden, of Waddington, N.Y., second engineer of the Myra, who was killed, was a married man, but leaves no children.

Wm. Sullivan, the fireman, who was also killed, belonged to Ogdensburg.


The barge escaped without any damage.

The Rothesay is in from ten to fifteen feet of water and the Myra sank in about thirty.

It was about fifteen minutes from the time the Rothesay struck the tug until she was beached and sank.

The position of the Myra is indicated by her ice-box floating on the surface, being held there in some way or other.

The disaster has caused great excitement all along the river front, where the Rothesay was well and favorably known to everybody.

The bodies of the two men, who lost their lives, have not yet been recovered. They are no doubt entangled in the wreck of the Myra.

Mother Barnes, the well-known wizard of Plum Hollow, prophesied that the Rothesay would go down this summer. The old lady prophesied correctly for once, anyway.

The Rothesay was valued at from $20,000 to $25,000. She belongs to ex-Governor Smith, of Vermont, whose home is in St. Albans. Mr. Finucan had her under lease since the middle of July.

Will Finucan, son of the manager of the Rothesay, was on board and deserves great credit for his coolness and bravery in assisting passengers from the wrecked boat. He stood to his post like a hero and supplied every one who came along with life-preservers.

The Rothesay was insured for $10,000, and the Myra for $6,300, both in the Buffalo Marine Insurance Company, for which J.Z. Chapin, of Ogdensburg, is agent.

There is always a ridiculous side even under the most serious circumstances. On the Rothesay on Thursday there was one woman on whom a life-preserver had to be placed half a dozen times before she would submit to its being allowed to remain. In another ...(remainder of article at bottom of page is missing)


The tug Harris coaled at Swift's wharf today.

The Rideau Belle left at 11 a.m. for Smith's Falls.

The following are unloading at Portsmouth: Huron, railway iron, and Lark, cement.

The steel steamer America is bound down from Chicago with 108,000 bushels of corn.

The Corsican, from Toronto, and Passport, from Montreal, called at Swift's wharf today.

The barge Iowa has been hauled out, and is being rebuilt on the M.T. Company's ways.

There is a big hole in the Rothesay's bow, so that one can see clear through her from side to side.

On account of the easterly wind and low water, two of the M.T. Co.'s tows were delayed yesterday at Prescott.

The ruling rates from Chicago to Buffalo are 2 7/8 cents for wheat, 2 5/8 cents for corn, and 2 1/4 cents for oats. Corn to Ogdensburg is quoted at 5 1/2 cents.

The beautiful steamyacht Peerless, of Cleveland, is on her way down the lakes. She will call at Kingston before going down the St. Lawrence. Her destination is the West Indies, where she will winter.

John Lasha, mate on the Rothesay, is one of the most experienced navigators on the river. In 1883 he was on the Norseman running across Lake Ontario and from Port Hope to Charlotte. He was acting mate first on the Puritan, and afterwards mate and pilot on the Deseronto, running between Gananoque and Clayton, for two seasons. Last year he was mate on the Quinte, plying between Picton and Trenton. He came on the Rothesay last fall as first mate and continued with her this season. He got his papers as first mate in March, 1888.

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14 Sep 1889
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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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Daily News (Kingston, ON), 14 Sep 1889