The steamer E.K. Collins burned in the Detroit river, a short distance below Malden, on the night of October 8. Ten passengers and thirteen of the crew perished in the flames or were drowned in the river. The E.K. Collins was a new steamer, owned by the Wards, of Detroit, and had come out the previous autumn at Newport, now Marine City. She was bound from the Sault for Cleveland. The fire originated on the boiler deck, and was supposed to have been caused by the steerage passengers emptying their pipes, filled with burning tobacco in the light wood work of the deck. It spread with great rapidity. The fire engines were in readiness, the hose was quickly screwed on, but the smoke and fire drove every person from the engines. Within two minutes, it was stated, the whole boat was aflame. An attempt was made to launch the lifeboats, but the flames forbade. There was an abundance of life preservers and floats, but in their fright many persons jumped into the river without any support. The vessel was turned toward the shore, and her headway beached her. There she burned to the water's edge. The propeller Fintry, Captain Langley, arrived at a timely moment and saved a number who were struggling in the water. The Collins had 24 passengers aboard, and her crew numbered 43. She cost $103,000.
Gradual Change in Lake Craft. - There were in 1854 few side-wheel steamers on the lakes in comparison with former times, while the class of vessels known as barks and brigs had almost entirely passed out, and were known only in history. Propellers in the meantime had largely increased, and were doing the great bulk of freighting business on the lakes, being better adapted for that service.
Chicago Harbor Dredged. - The Chicago harbor was dredged during the season to 12 feet, deep enough for the safe passage of any sail vessel not more than 800 tons, and any steamer not over 1,500 tons, which placed it in better condition than for the past ten years. At this time Chicago had no lifeboat, but was obliged to depend, in the time of storm, when vessels were grounded on the bar and the lives of the crews in peril, upon such boats as steamers or propellers then in the harbor might be able to send out.
Other Events of 1854 - Navigation commenced at Buffalo April 2, the steamer Buckeye State, Capt. Jacob Imson, being the first to depart, and the straits of Mackinac opened April 25, the brig Globe being the first to pass through, bound west. April 18: Propeller Forest Queen ashore near Thunder Bay; schooner Samuel Strong damaged by lightning on Lake Michigan; 29, propeller Paugassett ashore near Grand River. May 1: The following boats wrecked on Lake Michigan: Olive Richmond, Rocky Mountain, Merchant, Arrow, P. Hayden, Lizzie Throop and Maine. May: Schooner Tom Corwin sunk by collision with the piers at Cleveland; brig Globe damaged by lightning at Chicago; contract for making the "straight cut" at Milwaukee let for $48,000; schooner Buttles sunk in Detroit river; steamer Garden City wrecked on a reef near Mackinac; propeller H.A. Kent burned on Lake Erie; cargo valued at $200,000; steamer Detroit sunk in Saginaw bay by collision with the brig Nucleus. June: Scow Juno sunk at Cleveland. Schooner Australia damaged by lightning near Turtle island. July 29: Schooner Lapwing goes ashore near St. Joseph; propeller Boston sunk by collision off Oak Orchard. August: Steamer Alabama sunk near Buffalo. Steamer Lady Elgin sunk at the pier at Manitowoc. September: Schooner Navigator sunk at Michigan Harbor; schooner E.C. Williams sunk by collision with the Western World at Buffalo; 19, schooner Isabella ashore near Dunkirk; 28, schooner A. Buckingham ashore at Long Point; 23, steamer Lady Elgin and the Baltic ashore at the Flats; steamer Saratoga sold as she lay sunk in the harbor at Port Burwell, Canada, to William H. Scott for $4,000. October 1: Propeller Westmoreland ashore at Windmill Point; propeller Troy damaged by explosion of her boiler near Chicago; steamer Fashion sunk at Kewaunee; 8, steamer E.K. Collins burned at Malden, owned by Capt. E.B. Ward; 10, bark France ashore near Goderich; bark Fame wrecked on Lake Huron; schooner W.W. Brigham sunk in Dunkirk harbor; schooner Ocean burned at Port Dalhousie; schooner Alwilda burned; 22, schooner Virginia Purdy ashore at Milwaukee; schooner Waterwitch ashore at Kincardine; schooner Defiance sunk by collision with brig Audubon near Port aux Barques. November: Schooner Mary Margaret capsized off Milwaukee; crew rescued by the schooner Magic. Propeller Bucephalus sunk in Saginaw bay; ten lives lost. Schooner Little Belle ashore at Grand River, Canada. British bark Globe ashore at Port Burwell. Schooners Wm. Black and Forwarder ashore at Port Burwell. Schooner Josephine Lawrence sunk in Detroit river. Propeller Saginaw on the rocks at Gilbraltar. The O.Q. Melzar ashore near Shushwaw point. Propeller Edith collides with the schooner Charley Hibbard off Long Point. Brig Northampton ashore total loss at Thunder Bay. Schooners Lizzie Throop, Twin Brothers, Ino and Ellen Stewart ashore near Grand River. Bark Utica sunk at Buffalo. Steamer May Queen collides with the Wm. Buckley on Lake Erie, resulting in sinking the latter. Steamer Mayflower wrecked on a reef near Point Pelee; loss $40,000. December: Over 50 vessels aground at the St. Clair flats. Schooner Omah, laden with salt, wrecked at Cleveland; three lives lost. Bark Wm. Sturgess ashore at Black River. Propeller Paugassett sunk at Cleveland from injuries sustained while rescuing the crew of the Omah. Schooner Virginia ashore near the Omah. Steamer Fremont frozen in at Sandusky bay. Schooner Ireland, aground near Windmill point, goes to pieces. Schooner Florence wrecked near Kelley's island. Schooner Franklin Pierce wrecked near Duck Pond. Steamer Albion frozen in at the mouth of Clinton river. Schooner Suffolk ashore near Port Burwell. Propeller Westmoreland sunk near Sleeping Bear, Lake Michigan; 17 lives lost. Schooner Western Star wrecked near Goderich, Ontario.
Other Disasters of the Season. - The following steamers and sail vessels passed out of existence in 1854: Steamer America wrecked at Point Pelee, Lake Erie; steamer Garden City wrecked near Detour, Lake Erie; steamer Detroit sunk by bark Nucleus in Saginaw bay; steamer General Harrison wrecked near Chicago.
The schooner K. R. Johnson, laden with wheat, foundered with all hands off Fairport. Captain Snell, who commanded her, was seen in the rigging by his wife on shore, waving his coat, but finally fell off in sight of home and friends, and was drowned. The vessel was owned by Solomon Snell, brother of the captain; the schooner Ontario, with 200 tons of merchandise, was wrecked on Nicholas island, Lake Ontario; steamer Alabama sprung a leak and sunk near Buffalo; steamer E.H. Collins burned at the mouth of Detroit river with loss of 23 lives; steamer Bruce Mines foundered in Lake Huron; steamer Mayflower wrecked on Point Pelee; propeller Princeton sunk by ice off Gravelly Bay, Lake Erie; propeller H.A. Kent burned off Gravelly Bay, Lake Erie; propeller Boston sunk by collision in Lake Ontario; propeller Bucephalus foundered in Saginaw bay, ten lives lost; propeller International burned a the head of the Niagara river; propeller Westmoreland foundered near the Manitous, seventeen lives lost; bark Utica wrecked on Buffalo breakwater; bark Trade Wind sunk by brig Sir C. Napier in Lake Erie; bark Globe (C) wrecked at Point Bruce, Lake Erie; brig O. Richmond wrecked near Chicago; brig Wm. Monteith wrecked at Fairport; brig Audubon sunk by schooner Difiance in Lake Huron; brig Ashland wrecked on Long Point, Lake Erie; brig Burlington wrecked at Port Bruce, Lake Erie; brig Odd Fellow wrecked near Mackinaw; brig Halifax wrecked on Lake Ontario; Adelia foundered in Lake Ontario with loss of five lives. The following named were all schooners: Robert Wood lost off Dunkirk, Lake Erie; Petrel lost on Lake Michigan, with four lives; Duke sunk in Lake Ontario and four lives lost; Hudson sunk off Conneaut, Lake Erie; Navigator wrecked near St. Joseph, Lake Michigan; Roanoke wrecked near Muskegon, Lake Michigan and four lives lost; Nautilus wrecked near Chicago; Sophia wrecked in Georgian Bay; Energy wrecked in Traverse bay; J.B. Wright wrecked on east shore of Lake Michigan; Ocean burned at Port Dalhousie, Lake Ontario; Defiance sunk by brig Audubon in Lake Huron; Cayuga wrecked on Lake Ontario; Western Star wrecked near Goderich, Ont.; Luther Wright wrecked at Gravelly Bay; Norfolk wrecked on Lake Ontario with two lives; Ocean wrecked at Cleveland, four lives lost; Birmingham wrecked near Buffalo; R.R. Johnson wrecked at Fairport, eight lives lost; Conductor wrecked at Long Point; Lewis Cass wrecked at Conneaut; Wing and Wing wrecked at Michigan City; Convoy foundered in Lake Erie and eight lives lost; Florence wrecked at Kelley's island; Mansfield wrecked at Euclid, Lake Erie; Mary Margaret wrecked on Lake Michigan.
Of the 384 disasters in 1854 one occurred in January, 46 in April, 25 in May, 11 in June, 14 in July, 21 in August, 58 in September, 61 in October, 83 in November and 64 in December. Eight steamers, six propellers, three barks, eight brigs and 30 schooners passed out of existence during the season. Owing to the sudden closing up of the season a number of vessels, with cargoes on board, were frozen up outside, sustaining more or less damages, which could not at that time be included in the above amount. The season closed December 10; number of lives lost during the year, 119; amount of loss by jettison, $78,550; loss by collision, $270,000; loss by fire, $264,000; total loss of property by steamboats, $1,143,500; loss of property by sail vessels, $1,046,325.
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.