Wreck of the Lady Elgin. - One of the greatest marine horrors on record was the loss of the steamboat Lady Elgin, on Lake Michigan, September 8, 1860. She was struck by the schooner Augusta, and sank in twenty minutes in 300 feet of water. She had on board 300 excursionists, 50 ordinary passengers, and a crew of 35 officers and men, a total of 385. Of these only 98 were saved. Among the lost was Herbert Ingram, of the "Illustrated London News".
The steamer Lady Elgin had left Milwaukee early Friday morning September 7, for Chicago with 300 excursionists, largely members of the Independent Union Guards, and their friends. She left Chicago in the evening between 10 and 11 o'clock on her regular trip to Lake Superior, taking about 50 passengers for Mackinaw and other northern points in addition to the 300 Milwaukee excursionists. The evening set in with a wind moderately high. A heavy thunder storm came up about midnight, and the wind grew to a perfect gale. The sea ran high and so continued throughout the night and Saturday.
At the time of the collision the Lady Elgin was steaming northward against the wind. The Augusta was sailing south by east under all sail except the gaff topsail. The steamer had all her lights set, the schooner had none. A half hour before the collision the second mate of the Augusta, on watch, saw the steamer's lights, and for 20 minutes no orders were given. Evidence taken before the coroner's inquest showed that the captain of the Augusta, who had come forward, seemed bent on passing to the starboard of the Lady Elgin instead of on the larboard side, according to rule. Shortly before the collision he ordered his helm head up, but she came straight on the steamer's larboard side, knocking a hole in her side.
It was about 2:30 o'clock on Saturday morning when the collision occurred. The Lady Elgin was about 10 miles from shore, off Winetka, 16 miles north of Chicago. The schooner struck the steamer at the midships gangway on the larboard side, tearing off the wheel, cutting through the guards and into the cabin and hull. The two separated instantly, and the Augusta drifted by in the darkness. At the moment of collision there was dancing in the forward cabin, but most of the passengers had retired for the night. In an instant all was still. Captain Wilson ordered a lifeboat to be lowered on the starboard side, to be rowed around and discover the extent of the injury. It dropped astern and did not regain the steamer. The latter was headed west in order to reach shore if possible. But the vessel began to fill rapidly and to list. Freight was rolled to starboard and passengers were provided with life-preservers. The Elgin began to settle and reel, and many passengers threw themselves overboard. Just when the vessel took the final plunge, a sea struck her upper works and they parted from the hull and floated off in several pieces. The night was intensely dark, lighted up at intervals by flashes of vivid lightning, and wreckage was scattered about profusely.
Two boats had been lowered, and in these 18 persons reached shore. Fourteen were saved on a large raft, and many others on parts of wreckage. It was estimated that 393 (another statement says 385) souls were aboard the vessel, and of these 98 were reported saved.
A survivor named Bellman, after describing how he and others with the captain got upon a raft, says: "On this extempore raft not less than 300 persons were collected, the majority of whom clung to their places until nearly daylight. The raft was mostly under water from the weight of its living burden, and very few who clung to it but were above the waist in the turbulent sea. The captain was constantly on his feet, encouraging the crowd, and seems to have been the only man who dared to stir from his recumbent position, which was necessary to keep a secure hold upon the precarious raft. He carried a child which he found in the arms of an exhausted and submerged woman, to an elevated portion of the raft, and left it in charge of a woman, when it was soon lost. He constantly exhorted the crowd to keep silent, and not only to make no noise, but to refrain from moving, in order that the frail framework might last the longer." Bellman further states that during the time which elapsed while the raft kept together there was scarcely a sound from man, woman or child. They clung to their places in silent terror, and neither groans nor prayers were audible; no voice, save that of the captain raised aloud in encouragement and good cheer, being heard amidst the roar of the wind and the ceaseless splash of the combing waves. Finally the constant action of the water broke up the raft, and large parties floated off on detached pieces, and gradually the multitude melted away by couples and solitary individuals until but a tithe of the whole number remained. The swell tumbled the light rafts about like feather-weights, and a weary struggle the hopeless survivors had during the long drift of ten miles intervening to the shore. Bellman was ten hours on his raft, and says that he was capsized and thrown into the sea, with his two companions, every third minute. When they reached the shore they were dashed about hopelessly in the surf, and more fortunate than their companions, were lifted upon the beach by the breakers and rescued. The heroic captain was among the lost.
The Lady Elgin was rated a first-class steamer, and had been a favorite with the traveling public. She was built in Buffalo in 1851 by Bidwell & Banta at a cost of $96,000. For several years she ran between Buffalo and Chicago, then between Chicago and Collingwood, but for many seasons had constituted the line between Chicago and other Lake Michigan ports and Lake Superior. The Augusta was owned by Capt. G. W. Bissell, of Detroit, who not long after had her name changed to Col. Cook. She was the second vessel of that name, the first Col. Cook having been wrecked in the St. Lawrence.
Total Loss of the Dacotah. - The season of 1860, as regards the loss of life and property was the most disastrous on record, and the loss of life the most deplorable since known. During the terrific gale in November, occurred the destruction of the propeller Dacotah, Capt. William Cross, on Sturgeon Point in Lake Erie, with 24 lives, not a soul being saved. It was a fearful night, and the suffering among vessels was above description. The Dacotah was 688 tons burden, and had been but three years in commission. She left Buffalo in the evening freighted with merchandise for Chicago, with no passengers. Nothing but fragments were ever seen afterward, so complete was her destruction. She was built by Luther Moses at Cleveland, and was valued at $33,600. She was owned by James F. Clark, of the New York Central railroad.
Jersey City Meets Her Fate. - In the same storm the propeller Jersey City met her fate on Long Point, Lake Erie, with 19 lives, and freighted from Cleveland with a miscellaneous cargo. She was of 633 tons burden, and commanded by Captain Monroe, a man of large experience on the lakes. Portions of her cargo drifted ashore on the south shore of the lake, and her lifeboat was found near Buffalo.
Hurricane Goes Down. - In the same storm the schooner Hurricane, with a cargo of rye, foundered in Lake Michigan with nine lives. The bodies all drifted ashore near St. Joseph. She was sailed by Capt. William Welch, who resided in Buffalo. She was owned by Sears & Clark, of that city.
The Sault Canal. - A writer describing a trip made up the lakes in 1860, thus speaks of the Sault: "We reached the Sault Saint Marie about 4 P.M. of the 2d of August. Here the river St. Mary on the eastern outlet of Lake Superior, after a wide course of fifty miles, gathers the multitude of its waters into a narrow channel of less than a mile in width and length, of swift and impassable rapids.
"The grand ship canal, with its stone banks of about 80 feet width, and three locks, transports the largest tonnage around these rapids. This great work was completed in 1857 by the contractors Erastus Corning, of New York, Fairbanks and others, for a contract price of 750,000 acres of land, chiefly mineral, in the State of Michigan. During our steamer's canal passage of about two hours, we were interested by the picturesque scenery, untenanted save by the wigwam and the bark canoe. As usual, upon the arrival of the steamer, the long canoe, steadily held by a single boy and paddle in a current swift as the Niagara, shoots out into the Sault, while the Indian, standing erect in the canoe, posing his harpoon and scrap net, strikes or swoops in the large and delicious white fish, assured of a capacious basketful and more, before the steamer leaves the canal."
Other Events of 1860. -- March 23: Channel staked out at The Flats; 26, C. J. Kershaw, in command of Captain Mayne, sails for Constantinople. Navigation of 1860 opened at Buffalo on April 17, the propeller Equinox being the first boat to leave, followed the same day by the propeller Araxes. The Straits were open April 12, the propeller Buckeye being the first craft through, bound east. Steamers on Lake Superior passed through the Sault canal May 11, the propeller Fountain City, Capt. E. M. Peck, being the first boat through. The Erie canal opened April 15, and closed December 12. May: Bark American Republic abandoned. Cleveland brig, J. G. Deshler, sails for Liverpool. Schooner Fidelity abandoned. Steamer Prairie State sunk in the Straits of Mackinac. Steamer Arctic is wrecked on Huron island, Lake Superior; total loss. June: Schooner Rebecca sunk near Detour. Propeller Portsmouth disabled. Boiler of propeller Kenosha exploded in Sheboygan; clerk and engineer killed. Boiler of propeller R. H. Foss exploded. July: Steamer Ohio, of Reid's line, towed to Buffalo and burned for her iron. The schooner Washington Irving lost between Erie and Buffalo; six lives lost. August: During 36 hours, 100 sail vessels passed Detroit, besides 17 propellers and several steamers, carrying cargoes valued at a quarter of a million dollars. Schooner Wyandotte damaged on Lake Michigan by lightning. Price on wheat from Chicago to Kingston, 15 cents per bushel; from Chicago to Buffalo, 10 cents. September: Schooner A. L. Hazelton, of Buffalo, capsized on Lake Erie; crew rescued by propeller Marquette. The Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Victoria, arrived in Toronto from Cobourg on the steamer Kingston. Canadian schooner W. H. Davis sunk in storm on Lake Erie. Steamer Gazelle, of Detroit, lost on Lake Superior near Eagle harbor. Schooner A. E. Marsilliot, of Cleveland, capsized off Port Bruce; Captain Burger drowned. Schooner Silas Wright wrecked near Dunkirk; total loss. During the latter part of September, a severe storm occurred on Lake Erie, which caused the loss of a number of vessels, among them the schooner Champion, of Oakville; the brig Ocean, of Chatham; the Antelope, of Morpeth, and the J. G. Scott, of Port Burwell. The captains of the Ocean and the Antelope were also lost besides many others. October: Propeller Mt. Vernon sunk at Point Pelee from explosion, and two lives lost. Scow Ottaca sunk in Point Pelee passage. November: Brig J. G. Deshler sunk in Sheboygan river; bark T. F. Park, bound for Europe, ran ashore at Stony island; propeller Mohawk, of Western Transportation Co., exploded on St. Clair flats, two firemen killed; propeller Globe exploded at Chicago, 16 men killed; steamer Chippewa Valley sunk near Trempealeau, Wis.; schooner Kyle Spangler sunk off Presque Isle, Lake Huron; scow E. S. Taylor goes to pieces near the mouth of the Detroit river; schooner Industry goes to pieces; schooner Zadoc Pratt sunk in Point Pelee passage on the wreck of the propeller Mt. Vernon; propeller Wabash Valley, valued at $28,000, wrecked at Muskegon; propeller Dacotah lost with crew; schooner Hurricane goes ashore and all hands lost. December: Bark T. F. Park sails for Europe; brig John H. Harmon, recently wrecked, raised and sold to parties in Prince Edward Island.
The following craft also passed out of existence in 1860: Steamer Troy during a freshet drifted out of Goderich and sunk. Steamer John Owen burned at Port Huron. Steamer Hendrick Hudson burned at Cleveland; $10,000. Steamer Jacques Cartier sunk by steamer Magnet in St. Lawrence. Propeller Globe exploded at Chicago and 16 lives lost. Tug A. S. Fields exploded at Detroit and five lives were lost. Bark Superior wrecked at Gull bar, Lake Ontario. Brig St. Louis lost near Erie, Lake Erie. Brig Belle wrecked near Bailey's Harbor. Brig Clarion lost on Lake Michigan. Brig Mineral wrecked near Oswego. Schooner Mary lost near Cleveland with three lives.
The following named were all schooners: Gertrude wrecked near Manitowoc. W. H. Davey sunk near Middle Sister. T. P. Handy lost near Kenosha, Lake Michigan. St. Mary foundered in Lake Michigan and seven lives lost. Rocket sunk off Point aux Barques. Circassian lost near Mackinaw. Spartan lost near St. Joseph. Total amount of losses, $1,156,015; loss of life, 578; number of disasters, 382.
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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.