Captain Robert J. McMurray
Captain Robert J. McMurray, of the Grand Trunk tug International, is widely known in Buffalo, having for the most part been reared on the Niagara River. His father, Capt. Alexander McMurray, has been connected with the traffic of the river during the greater part of his life as a boat owner, and the son Robert was brought up on his father's boats.
Robert J. McMurray was born at Black Creek, Canada, in June, 1852, and received his common-school education in Buffalo and Grand Island. His first experience in handling a steamboat was in 1867, when he was but fifteen years of age. During the season of that year he was master of the steamyacht Jerome C. Keyes, which made daily trips from Buffalo to Grand Island, and continued aboard her in that capacity for the season of 1868. In 1869 he was master of the Undine, owned by C. T. S. Thomas, for the season, and in 1870 he was master of the Maggie Wilson. In 1871 he was ashore managing the farm interests of his father at Grand Island. In 1872 he was managing excursion and pleasure boats during the summer, and in the fall engaged in the fruit trade between La Salle and Buffalo, which he continued until the spring of 1879. At that time he entered the employ of the New York Central Railroad Company as clerk in their freight offices at Buffalo, and remained with them about two years.
On May 1, 1880, he was appointed mate of the old tug International, and continued in that berth until shortly after the new International came out in 1884, when he was promoted to master's berth. He still retains that position with great credit to himself. It requires a man of prompt and decisive action for master of the International, when the duties and purposes of the tug are fully understood. She is owned by the Inter- national Bridge Company, which is controlled by the Grand Trunk Railway Company. In accordance with the provisions of the charter of the Bridge Company, she is in duty bound to render all assistance necessary in getting crafts of all kinds through the drawbridge, without charge, and she not only performs this service, but goes to the assistance of any damaged or sinking craft in her vicinity, and also to the aid of drowning persons. Captain McMurray has rendered gratuitous service both to vessels and individuals without number, and many persons owe their lives to him. The work is very difficult, as the current of the river is quite rapid, and quick action is absolutely necessary. An instance of this is furnished in the particulars of the loss of the steamyacht Dixie on the memorable Saturday of July 17, 1892. She was an excursion boat, plying between Buffalo and Navy Island, and usually on pleasant days carried from fifty to one hundred people at least. On this occasion, however, and it was a singular coincidence, she had only fourteen passengers all told, as she left the dock at Buffalo. This state of things proved exceedingly fortunate, for had there been the usual number most of them would certainly have been lost. On the Saturday above mentioned, about three o'clock in the afternoon, the Dixie left the dock at Buffalo just about the time the steamer Pilgrim was coming up to it. The Pilgrim blew two whistles, a signal for the Dixie to take the starboard side. The master of the Dixie answered with two whistles, but for some unaccountable reason did not obey, and when near the Pilgrim changed his course and started to take the port side. This action, together with the rapid current, brought the boats together shortly, although the engines of both boats were reversed and every effort made to avoid a collision. The Pilgrim, being much larger than the Dixie, was consequently not easily stopped, and she struck the Dixie aft of midships on the port side, making a large hole through which the water rushed rapidly. In the excitement the passengers all hastened to reach for life preservers, and the engineer of the Dixie was signalled to go ahead strong, pointing the boat for the Canadian shore, where the captain hoped to reach shallow water. Captain McMurray, of the International, was standing on the dock at the time of the departure of the Dixie. Immediately following the giving of the signals he noticed the complicated state of affairs, and, scenting danger, ran to his pilot-house to be in readiness for whatever emergency might arise. After the collision had taken place, as above narrated, he put out from the dock and started in pursuit of the sinking boat, and when he reached her the passengers and crew were on the rails and decks, the water up to their necks. The passengers and crew were picked up by Captain McMurray and saved. The boat was slowly going down and sank immediately afterward about five hundred yards from shore. The Pilgrim was uninjured, and after the excitement was all over proceeded on her course down the river. The engines and boilers of the Dixie are still lying in the river, but it is supposed that the hull has passed down and over the Falls, as it has never been seen since the accident.
The new International, which figured in the scene above mentioned, was built by the Globe Ship Building Company, of Cleveland, Ohio, and came out in June, 1884. She is the counterpart of the tug Record, built by the same company, and takes the place of the old International, which was sold. She cost $15,000, measures seventy-six feet over all, seventeen-foot beam, nine foot depth of hold, and has a speed of twelve miles an hour. She has a high-pressure cylinder, 20x20, and is allowed 150 pounds steam pressure. Her hull, deck and house are all of iron, and she has water-tight compart- ments forward. She is manned by a master, mate, engineer, fireman and watchman. Captain McMurray has had twenty-one issues of master's papers, and has held engineer's papers as well. He has been a member of the Masters and Pilots Association for four years, of the Royal Arcanum seven years, and is also a member of the Forresters.
In April, 1892, the Captain was married at Buffalo to Miss Flora Parmelee, daughter of Albert Parmelee, who is one of the oldest residents of Buffalo, having settled there in 1839-40. He operated the first street-car line in that city, and subsequently engaged in the sawmill and lumber business. Mrs. Parmelee is a sister of E. K. and B. F. Bruce, formerly large vessel owners at Buffalo, the former of whom died in 1895, the latter on June 13, 1898; E. K. Bruce was at one time a large grain dealer on the Chicago Board of Trade.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.