Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Hippocampus (Propeller), U11819, aground, 7 Sep 1868
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      &C. &C. &C.
      Chicago, Sept. 9
      The Hippocampus, a propeller of ninety tons burther, plying between St. Joseph, Michigan, and Chicago in the peach trade, left St. Joseph Monday night with about thirty passengers and a full crew, since which time nothing has been heard of her. As she was due here yesterday morning, it is feared that she foundered in the storm of Monday night, and all on board were lost.
      The following is a partial list of passengers known to have taken passage on her: Alvin M. Palmer, James M. Sartore, James Trimble, W. Burridge, John Burridge, Wm. Vaughan, W. Hathaway, C. C. Sutton, B. C. Lewis and Joseph Riford, all of Benton Harbor, Michigan; E. M. Hatch of St. Joseph, and C. Shum, of Bainbridge, Michigan; Joseph Higbee, W. S. Watson and A. P. Whitney, of Chicago. The crew consisted of Capt. H. M. Brown, Mate Robert Richardson, Clerk J. P. Bloom of St. Joseph; Engineer Richard Eustis, of Chicago; Wheelsman Charles
Morrison, of St. Joseph, and five deckhands, names unknown. Tugs have been sent from her to search for the wreck.
      A dispatch from Benton Harbor, Michigan, this evening, says the cargo of the propeller Hippocampus consisted of eight thousand baskets of peaches, mostly on the main and hurricane decks. The theory is that being top heavy from the extra weight on her upper decks, she capsized during the squall. The propeller Comet, which left St. Joseph the same night, reports having experienced heavy weather. The Hippocampus was valued at $23,000 and insured for $12,000.
      Detroit Free Press
      Thursday, September 10, 1868

      . . . . .

      None Of The Passengers Or Crew Saved
There occurred on Tuesday last, on the waters of Lake Michigan, another steamboat disaster, involving as great a loss of life as the burning of the SEA BIRD, which preceded it by exactly five months, but which is rendered more terrible by the fact that, as far as heard from not one man survives.
This disaster, to a far greater extent than most of those which have sorrowfully distinguished Lake Michigan, seems to be the direct result of the wanton carelessness or avarice of the owners or freighters in sending to sea an old vessel so manifestly overloaded that it was noticed by indifferent observers.
In order to ship to market a few thousand boxes of peaches, the life of nearly a hundred men were deliberately imperilled, and were probably destroyed. There are floating fragments of the wreck drifting to and fro upon the restless waters of the lake, but as yet no man has been found clinging to any of them.
Since probably, none remains, it is impossible to give many details concerning the loss of the vessel. There is a blank between the time she was last seen and the time the pieces of her were discovered, that will never be filled up. All the facts relating to her that can be learned are given below. The greater number of those lost lived in Benton, and that little place, now the abode of sorrow and desolation. The anxiety which began to creep over the friends and relatives of the lost ones yesterday, has now changed into the profoundest
sorrow and desolation.
The propeller HIPPOCAMPUS, left Benton Harbor, which is about a mile and a half inland from St. Joseph ,Michigan, about half past ten o'clock on Monday night, having on board about fifty-five living souls all told, with a cargo of fruit and sundries sufficiently heavy to fill
the main and hurricane decks, and to cause the boat herself to settle down in the water. She was towed down the Canal by the tug DAISY LEE. The men on the tug remarked that the propeller was heavily laden, and saw that she rolled somewhat unsteadily. But overhead the sky was clear, the day had been fair and calm, and no one had a suspicion of a terrible fate towards which the unfortunate vessel, with her still more unfortunate passengers and crew, was then so surely moving.
As if it had been a warning, the propeller after reaching St. Joseph, ran aground. A tow-line was made fast to her stern, and after considerable detention the boat was drawn off, her head was put right, and she slowly and steadily steamed on the voyage of death.
The HIPPOCAMPUS was due in this city at three o'clock on Tuesday morning. The BENTON which left St. Joseph about the same time as the HIPPOCAMPUS, arrived here on time. When the missing boat had not been seen or heard from at daylight, it was feared that some accident had happened to her, and the DUNBAR was at once sent out to ascertain something of her whereabouts and fate. The DUMBAR steamed down the lake to St. Joseph, and back without seeing anything either of boat, cargo or crew.
Meanwhile at this port, all was anxlety, and those who had friends or property on board, hurried hither and thither, or sent dispatches after dispatches to St. Joseph to learn whether anything of the missing boat had been seen or heard. Sailing vessels, whose course lay near to that to which the HIPPOCAIAPUS should have pursued arrived in port, one after the other, but no one brought tidings of her. Tuesday night closed in, a night of wakeful anxiety and dread to many, both here and opposite, across the lake.
Early yesterday morning there came the following dispatch, making doubt, a certainty: BENTON HARBOR, Mich., Sept .9
To A. Burridge:
HIPPOCAMPUS left here Monday night, 10:30 o'clock. Not heard from since.
On board J. Riford; A. Burridge; Wm. Watrous; A. Palmer; J. K. Burridge; W. Hughes and several other (singed) Ira B. Riford
The most natural supposition is that the boat, carrying nearly 20 tons more cargo than on any previous trip, and with the entire weight of her cargo disposed on or about her main deck, was capsized in a squall. If the disaster occurred in this manner she must have sunk
immediately, and the fate of the passengers was a speedy one.
On Tuesday morning about 1 o'clock there was a heavy squall, and this, it is supposed decided the fate of the unfortunate boat and of those on board. This squall was so violent that a number of vessels on the lake were damaged, among others, the steamer COMET, which from the shifting of her cargo, was partially disabled, one wheel being useless for the remaining twenty-one hours of her trip.
The HIPPOCAMPUS had a crew of about thirty, most of them being colored men. None of the employes on the boat were female, although a number of women are supposed to have been on board. The following is a list of the Officers of the boat so far as known;-
Captain, H. W. Brown, St. Joseph
First-mate, Robert Richardson, St. Joseph
Clerk, John P. Bloom, St. Joseph
Stewart ,Wallace Hanson, Benton Harbor
First Engineer, Eugene Eustice, Chicago
Second Engineer, William Brown, Chicago
Cook, ---- Morris, Chicago
Wheelsman, Charles Morrison, St .Joseph
Porter, Cyrus Rittenhouse, St. Joseph
There were five deck hands, whose names are not known.
The HIPPOCAMPUS was a comparatively new boat. She was built two years ago this summer, and this was consequently her second season. She was a screw propeller and measured 82 feet keel or 91 feet over-all, Her breadth of beam was 17 feet and her depth of hold 8 feet. She was fitted with a hurricane deck and had about 12 staterooms. She
registered but 90 tons and was owned by Messrs A. Bronson, Morrison, Houghton and other gentlemen of Benton Harbor. She was built at a cost of $23,000 and was insured to the extent of $12,000 mostly in Chicago Companies.
LATER.-- The WRECK DISC0VERED. -- The steamer C0MET has just arrived from Chicago and reports having fallen in with part of the wreck of the ill-fated steamer HIPPOCAMPUS. The propeller DUNBAR is also just in bringing the news of the loss of the HIPPOCAMPUS and part of her cabin and a lounge on board which was found about 20 miles from Benton Harbor, the DUMBAR looked for over an hour but found no bodies. ----- (article condensed)
      Chicago Tribune
      Thursday, September10, 1868

      . . . . .

      THE HIPPOCAMPUS DISASTER. - The arrival of the morning boats form St. Joseph and Benton Harbor elicited nothing new concerning twenty-six passengers and crew of the ill-fated propeller Hippocampus who remained unaccounted for. Not a single survivor, except the fifteen who reached home on Friday last, has made an appearance, and there is now no longer room for hope that any of the twenty-six have been saved.
      The insurance upon the hull of the Hippocampus, instead of being wholly in the Aetna, as at first reported, was divided as follows: Home, of New York, $3,000; Security, of New York, $3,000; Aetna, of Hartford, $3,000, and $3,000 in a Detroit company. It is said that the payment of the loss by the insurance companies will probably be contested, on the ground that the vessel was both overloaded and improperly loaded; and in this connection a
circumstance is alleged - not hitherto made public - that, on the night of her leaving Benton Harbor, an unusually large consignment of peaches were awaiting shipment in the warehouse of the owners of the Hippocampus; and that an effort was made to secure the transportation of 1,000 packages upon another steamer, but without success, and, rather than allow the extra 1,000 packages to be spoiled by laying twenty-four hours in the
warehouse, they were added to the already large load of the vessel. On that night, it was generally understood in Benton Harbor that the vessel took 8,000 packages, but this is now denied by Capt. Brown and her owners, who affirm that 7,001 packages comprised her cargo. As before stated, a sworn statement had been executed by the owners, Capt. Brown, and others, setting forth that the vessel was not freighted beyond the limits of safety, nor
was she improperly loaded. The matter doubtless will come before the courts. [Chicago Times.
      Detroit Free Press,
      Wednesday, September 16, 1868

      . . . . .
The clerk of the propeller MESSENGER reports that a day or two since, while the owners of a fishing snack were dragging for nets at a point about twenty miles off St. Joseph, they came across what is supposed to be the wreck of the propeller HIPPOCAMPUS, which was lost several years ago.
      Cleveland Herald
      April 16, 1877
A few days since the wreck of the propeller HIPPOCAMPUS was found in about 100 feet of water near St. Joseph. She was lost several years since, being overloaded with peaches, all on board going down with her.
      Detroit Tribune
      Tuesday, May 1, 1877

The HIPPOCAMPUS is to be raised. She sank several years ago between Chicago and St. Joseph, and her whereabouts have been discovered
      Detroit Tribune
      Friday, May 4, 1877
      A verdict in favor of the plaintiff was rendered by the U.S. Court at Grand Rapids, Lake Huron. The plaintiff was owner of the propeller HIPPOCAMPUS which went down on Lake Michigan, September 8, 1868 with 36 out of 41 passengers.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Monday, November 10, 1884
      Benton Harbor, Jan. 24 - Twenty five years ago a terrible calamity befel this community. This city was a burg of 200 or 300 souls, when the stm. HIPPOCAMPUS went to the bottom of the lake while steaming for Chicago with 40 souls, principally because she was too heavily loaded with peaches, which were then the only product of this district. She was at best unseaworthy. Many who intended to cross the lake on her that night disliked the heavy loading and discarded their trip tickets and boarded the cars.
About 10 years later the ALPENA, from South Haven to Chicago, went down with several souls aboard in a terrible storm, worse than the CHICORA was expected to breast.
Eight years ago the schr. MYOSOTIS went down 4 miles down the lake with a load of iron ore. She had a milder storm, but was driven aground and pounded to pieces, but every man of the crew was saved through the efforts of Capt. Robbins.
      Sailors remember no storm so severe or as long as that now prevailing.
      Detroit News
      January 24, 1895

      . . . . .

Steam screw HIPPOCAMPUS. U. S. No. 11819. Of 152.91 tons. Home port, St. Joseph, Mich. Of 150 nominal horsepower.
      Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1869
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Reason: aground
Lives: 26
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original
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Geographic Coverage
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 42.10976 Longitude: -86.48002
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Hippocampus (Propeller), U11819, aground, 7 Sep 1868