Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Comet (Steamboat), sunk by collision, 21 May 1861
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Steamer COMET, (C), sunk by collision with the Schooner EXCHANGE, off the Ducks, Lake Ontario. Total loss with three lives.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      January 22, 1862. (Casualty List, 1861)

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DISASTROUS COLLISION -- THREE LIVES LOST. -- Capt. Dorr received the following dispatch from Kingston this morning:
      The schooner EXCHANGE, with a cargo of wheat from Chicago, collided with the steamer COMET, last night, off the Duck. The COMET is a total loss. Three men also lost. The EXCHANGE is badly injured, and is making water. She arrived here this morning. ---- Joseph Doyle
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      May 15, 1861

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      (From the Kingston News.)
      The steamer COMET, Capt. F. Patterson, left Kingston port for Toronto and Hamilton shortly after eight o'clock on Tuesday night. After clearing Nine-mile Point, she headed for Timber Island, to avoid the track of a number of vessels which were coming down the lake. When about ten miles from the Point she came in collision with the schooner EXCHANGE, of Cleveland; and subsequently sunk in deep water, the topmast alone being visible. The wind was blowing fresh from the south-west, and the schooner when seen from the COMET was running before the wind. The schooner was running for Kingston and carried a bright light forward.
Capt. Patterson bore the steamer up a point, in order to give the schooner a wide berth; but the schooner heading across the COMET's bow, as is stated, the two came in collision. The COMET struck the schooner's starboard side with her stern, springing the steamer's planks and opening her to the sea. The captain changed the steamer's course and bore after the schooner, they having hailed, that they thought they were sinking and to keep close to bear a hand, but running past with the wind she got out of hailing distance. Meanwhile the pumps were worked and the fires kept up for the purpose of making shore, the steamer at the time of the being about ten miles above Nine-mile Point. The firemen, waist-deep in water, did not abandon their task until the fires were drowned; and if steam had held out ten minutes longer, much would have been gained towards raising the steamer. During this time the life-boat was swung out, with three lady passengers, one gentleman, and the lady's maid, and brought round to leeward, and as many of the crew put into it as the captain deemed consistent with safety. These made for shore, but at the same time the large yawl was out towing astern and taking in water. Two hands, John Blake and John McCurthy, the former from the neighborhood of Kingston Mills, and the latter a salt-water boy from Dublin, Ireland, got out to bail her, but while about to do so, she struck against the steamer's guards, thus throwing the men off their balance into the lake. Going down Blake cried out to his brother, a deck hand "Good-bye Jim," and the "saltie," "Good-bye boys," and thus they bade them farewell. The Captain, at this time, was busily engaged in the endeavor to run the steamer ashore, but finding it fruitless, had the small yawl put out with some thirteen men, and made for shore under a heavy sea. To add to their peril all oars but one were lost in getting the boat out, but reduced to this and four or five cedar life-floats, they made their way ashore to the Point: Filled beyond her capacity, a distance of another quarter of a mile would have swamped the boat and compelled them to swim. Mr. Ellerbeck, the purser, the men say, was cheerily cool, having remarked, while handling his clumsy float, that it was very useful, but would be much handier if he could only get a minute to whittle it down, so that he could hold it better. Indeed the Captain says every man did his duty, and those who have any knowledge of the trying circumstances in which he himself was placed, can imagine how he fulfilled his part. The steamer went down about a mile and a half, nearly west of Nine-Mile Point lighthouse, in sixty feet of water. Several ship joiners, who were at work on her fittings, lost their tools, and the hands their clothing. But little freight was on board.
At day-breaking yesterday (Wednesday), the steamer PIERREPONT went up the Batteau Channel, and took up the crew on the South shore of Simcoe Island, and those at the Lighthouse. Some had lighted a fire, and were warming themselves on shore, while those at the Lighthouse found good quarters there. One of the ship joiners was badly hurt, from being struck in the back by the surging of the small yawl against the steamer's side. It is supposed that the vessel's cabins will be destroyed from the elevating action of the water during the descent. It is possible, however, the actual damage to her hull and machinery will not be very large, especially if the weather should prove favorable for a few days. It is doubtful whether an attempt will be made to raise her. The steamer was insured in Montreal, but we have not learned the amount.
      Port Hope Weekly Guide
      Saturday, May 25, 1861

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Item Type
Reason: sunk by collision
Lives: 3
Hull damage: $12,000
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original
Local identifier
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.151388 Longitude: -76.555277
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Comet (Steamboat), sunk by collision, 21 May 1861