Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Ontario's Record For Lost Vessels
Cape Vincent Eagle (Cape Vincent, NY), 20 Nov 1919
Full Text
Ontario's Record For Lost Vessels
Many Ships Have Mysteriously Disappeared Beneath the Waters of This Lake

(Toronto Telegram) Did the "Homer Warren," wallowing the welter of sulky slumbering seas as she pushed her way homeward just a a week ago' tonight hear the throb of the "Ontario's" long lost drum?

King George had a sloop, of war on this lake while the Thirteen Colonies were fighting the War of Independence. She was the flagship of the fleet, and mounted 22 guns. Commodore Andrews commanded her. In the year 1780 she took on board a detachment of the Eighth King's Regiment under Colonel Burton, at Niagara, and .sailed for Oswego—at that time a British, port. A tremendous storm rose at night, and the "Ontario" and the 172 seamen and soldiers who embarked in her were 'never seen again. The only trace of her was the drum of the Eighth King's Regiment, tossing among the breakers under the hill that overlooks Oswego harbor.

The king's schooner "Speedy" sailed from Toronto on the 7th of October, 1804, with the most notable company on board that had yet voyaged out of the undeveloped harbor of York. It included Mr. Justice Cochrane, chief justice of the province of Upper Canada; Mr. Robert J.D.Gray, solicitor general; Mr. Angus McDonnell, advocate, and member of the House of Assembly; - Mr. John Fiske, high constable of York and Mr. George Cowan, Indian agent. There was also on board an Indian named Ogetonlcut, held for the murder of John Sharpe, of the Queen's Rangers.

The Indian was being taken to, Presqu'isle for trial. The voyage was to effect the inaugration of Presqu'isle the capital of the new district of Newcastle. Had the trial proceeded Presqu'ile - now a summer resort, near the Bay of Quinte would possibly have become the capital of the province. But a northeast gale arose the beacon fire blazed on Presqu'isle Point in vain, and the "Speedy" and all her company—20 souls—disappeared in the darkness, till the sea gives up its dead.

Still on stormy nights old sailors listen for the throb of "Ontario's" drum, and the booming of the "Speedy's" minute-gun; but many a good ship has gone down since then in the same lake leaving even less trace.

A Lake of Riddles

The stranger, even the landsman dwelling on its placid shores cannot realize the irresistible fury of Lake Ontario aroused. It is just a little lake, smallest of the five sisters—Ontario, Erie, Huron, Superior, Michigan. Two hundred miles long from end to end. Fifty miles wide at its widest. Girded by towns and cities within an hour's run of each other, all the way round, by train or trolley. It. has been crossed by a tiny sailboat with bows rising only six inches above the water level. Only three months ago canoeists paddled across without mishap. And yet the "Homer Warren" is only one of hundreds of ships that have been engulfed in Ontario's raging waters mysteriously since they closed on the "Ontario" and the "Speedy" more than a century ago.

Sheltered city dwellers, for whom the "Homer Warren" was bringing winter coal, would be incredulous over the length of voyage cargo vessels have to make on Lake Ontario— the length, that is, in time, rather than distance.

The schooner "S. H. Dunn" left Toronto one November for hard coal. Oswego is only 150 miles from Toronto, diagonally across the lake, in a southeasterly direction, and the "Dunn" had to get her coal at Fair Haven, which is 15 miles from Oswego. She left Toronto on the 7th of November. Within three hours' sail of Fair Haven she had to put into Charlotte for shelter. She lay there for a week, with a mixture of rain, snow and wind for weather. At last she reached Fair Haven, loaded her coal and started homewards.

She got as far as Charlotte again and again had to put in to the Genesee river mouth. There we lay day after day, week after week, praying for a favoring "slant." Sometimes it was blowing a gale, sometimes it was just sulking. Usually the wind was dead ahead, but even when it would come 'fair" for home it would threaten to chop round ere Toronto light could be picked up.

Voyage of 171 Days

Finally the schooner was frozen in. The crew stripped her for the winter and came home by train, arriving in Toronto on Christmas Day. They went bade-for the "Dunn" and sailed her up the following April, completing a round voyage of 270 miles in 171 days.

And were the owners angry ? They should not have been. At the end of the 171 days they had their schooner and their coal. The owners of the schooner "Queen of the Lakes," which loaded coal in Charlotte while the "Dunn" lay there had neither. The "Queen" waited three weeks, for favorable weather, she was bound for Kingston, and the western winds. which held the "Dunn," were home winds for her. One morning in December, with a bright sky and soaring clouds, she made a start. She slipped out of the river under half sail. Before they got the mizzen hoisted hoisted on her the wind freshened to a gale, She fled before it, reducing her already small canvas as she ran. Thirty miles from Charlotte, and eight miles off shore, she went to the bottom.

No one has ever found out what happened the Toronto schooner "Emerald." She left Charlotte home ward bound, with a fair wind. The steam barge "Van Allen" passed in the dusk. "'She was well on her way, and the two saluted, for the lake is a lonely place in the fall of the year and "last trippers" are .more kindly to one another than when the summer brings out crowds of traffik'ers.

The "Van Allen" arrived in Toronto next morning without anything happening. The "Emerald" should have come in that night, or the next day at the latest, but she never came. And no one knows why. Did she, too, hear the throbbing of the drum of the long drowned "Ontario?"

Item Type
Date of Publication
20 Nov 1919
Richard Palmer Collection
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.4639619620828 Longitude: -76.5146298411128
Copyright Statement
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Ontario's Record For Lost Vessels