Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Empress of India (Steamboat), C72998, went over dam, 22 May 1878
Full Text

      A Pleasure Steamer Lost With Eighteen Persons On Board.
Toronto, May 22. -- The pleasure steamer EMPRESS OF INDIA, with a part of about eighteen persons on board, became unmanageable and capsized over a dam on the Grand River at Galt, Ont., tonight. All the passengers plunged in the river below. As yet only one body has been recovered, that of Harry Jaffray, of Galt, a reporter on a newspaper. Among the missing are Edward Wren, Thomas Elliott, Fred Kane, John Frazer, James Montgomery, one of the proprietors of the boat, Andrew Jackson, and David Scott. The excitement through the town in intense, little reliable information can be obtained. Diligent search is being made at and below the scene of the disaster.
      Cleveland Herald
      May 23, 1878

      Toronto, May 23. -- The little steamer IMPRESS OF INDIA, which was carried over Blaine's Dam, in Grand River, last night, had seventeen passengers on board, of whom nine were rescued. The names of the lost are: H.J. Jaffray, proprietor of the Galt Reporter; James Montgomery; Ed. Wren; Andrew Jackson; John Frazer; Frederick Cane; Robert Elliott and David Scott. Up to the present only Mr. Jaffray's body has been recovered.
      Cleveland Herald
      May 24, 1878

      A Pleasure Steamboat Goes Over The Mill Dam -- 8 Drowned
May 23, Galt. --The little steamer EMPRESS OF INDIA, which had been placed on the Grand River, and which on Monday last commenced its trips for the season on Blain's Dam, to all appearance was perfectly safe for the business required of it, and the calamity which has overtaken it was totally unlooked for.
      Last evening about eight o'clock a party of some fifteen young men and two young women embarked on the vessel for a sail up the river. As the boat was crossing the dam something appeared to go wrong with the rudder, and the head of the boat could not be turned sufficiently up the stream to enable it to counteract the effects of the current caused by the flow over the dam. The west side of the dam was reached without mishap, however, but the point where the boat would have touched being rough and rocky, an order was given to reverse the engine, which was done. The boat again getting out into the stream, an effort was made to turn the bow up the stream but again it seemed as if the rudder would not work, and when at last it did, it unfortunately was turned the wrong way, and the boat headed directly for the fall, and before those on board could realize their position the steamer drifted broadside to the fall, and in a moment went crashing over into the boiling water beneath. Before it took it's final leap, however, two of it's occupants, John and William Ovens, jumped into the water, and the latter, in an almost miraculous manner, managed to obtain a foothold on the very edge and to resist the current until he reached the shore. His brother John was not so fortunate, being carried over the faIl, but he was event ually taken out of the river some distance below in an insensible condition.
Of those who went over with the boat, eight were lost, the rest having in various ways managed to reach shore. Both of the young women were saved, one, Miss Landreth, having had an escape that was perfectly miraculous, she floated down the stream until she struck the western pier of the upper bridge, against which the water pressed her so tightly that parties were enabled to get ropes and rescue her.
      The following is a complete list of the drowned:-
Jas. Montgomery (engineer and owner), Edward Wren, Andrew Jackson; John Fraser; Frederick Cane; H. J. Jaffray (of the Galt reporter); Thomas Elliott and David Scott. The body of Mr. H. J. Jaffray was taken out of the water within a short time of the accident, but the most unremitting exertions on the part of the medical men present failed to restore life. It is the general impression, that when the boat went over the fall he must have been struck and stunned.
      Efforts to recovers of the bodies were made during the night but without success. This morning the boat was turned over where she lay below the falls, t being supposed that some of the bodies must be entangled in the wreck, but none were discovered. The dam is about ten or twelve feet high, with about a foot of water flowing over the fall. The depth of water above the fall is from fifteen to eighteen feet
      Meaford Monitor
      Friday, May 31, 1878

Paddle wheel steamer EMPRESS OF INDIA. Official Canada No. 72998. Of 579 tons gross; 336 tons reg. Built Mill Point, Ont., 1876. Home port, Toronto, Ont. 170.0 x 26.0 x 8.5 Owned by A.W. Hepburn, Picton, Ont.
      List of Vessels on the Registry Books of the
      Dominion of Canada on December 31, 1886
NOTE: -- renamed ARGYLE 1902 and FRONTIER, 1912


Item Type
Reason: went over dam
Lives: 8
Date of Original
Local identifier
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.3668 Longitude: -80.31637
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Empress of India (Steamboat), C72998, went over dam, 22 May 1878