For a change, we foresake the canallers which have so often been featured in these pages, and look a bit farther back in time. This time around, we have chosen an old wooden steamer and we rather doubt that most of our readers will ever have heard of her or, if they have, we suspect that they thought that there was nothing particularly remarkable about her. This may be so in most respects, but she was lost under rather unusual circumstances and it is the story of her demise rather than of her life that has prompted us to feature her. The narrative is extremely timely, for the loss of this steamer occurred exactly 75 years ago this month.
One of the most renowned shipyards ever to operate on the Great Lakes was that of Frank W. Wheeler and Company at West Bay City, Michigan. In June of 1882, the Wheeler yard launched its Hull 15, a wooden-hulled steam package freighter which was built to the order of Ward's Detroit and Lake Superior Line. She was 183.5 feet in length, 33.9 feet in the beam, and 13.5 feet in depth, with tonnage of 980 Gross and 787 Net. She was equipped with 'tween decks and had cargo ports on each side for the handling of general freight. She was christened OSCEOLA, and was enrolled as U.S.155063.
OSCEOLA was generally typical of wooden package freighters of her day. She was planked all the way up past the 'tween deck to the upper deck, and her high sides were topped with an open wooden rail. Only on the flush forecastle did she carry closed wooden bulwarks. She was probably built with more cabins on the upper deck but, before long, she carried only forward cabins, a doghouse, and an after cabin.
The texas was a small square structure located far forward and, above it, was a full bridge deck which overhung the texas considerably on all sides. On the bridge deck was a small square pilothouse with three round-topped, sectioned windows across its front and with an open bridge on the monkey's island. She may originally have carried the usual ornate octagonal "birdcage" pilothouse that was sported by so many of her contemporaries, but of this we cannot be certain. A tall, heavy mast was fitted immediately abaft the pilothouse, and it was equipped with a boom and with sail for auxiliary power. A doghouse for additional accommodation for the crew was carried midships on the upper deck, and abaft it were the lifeboats, mounted right on deck and with davits provided for lifting the boats over the side. (Strangely enough, however, she had no davit forward for lifting the large stocked anchors which were carried on deck.)
OSCEOLA did not have a boilerhouse aft, and her slightly raked stack, which was of medium height, rose directly out of a squarish after cabin which sported windows and doors in all four sides. Bunker coal was loaded through a hatch in the deck just forward of this cabin. She carried only a very small mainmast (if it could be called that, which we doubt) and this was stepped quite far aft. OSCEOLA had a very heavy counter stern, typical of Wheeler's wooden steamers.
Wooden hulls always posed certain problems for their owners, particularly in larger vessels. With the passage of the years and with differing distributions of cargo weights, wood hulls became "limber" and soft, with the result that they tended to hog (droop at the bow and stern) or sag (dip amidships). Boats of this type were usually strengthened with braces of some sort. On the eastern rivers and Atlantic coast, these often took the form of "hog chains" which ran along a single row of tall, upright poles and, in the case of passenger boats, down to the guards. On the western rivers, such braces usually consisted of a double row of slanted poles, connected by chains and rods which ran lengthways over the poles and down to the guards. On the lakes, where passenger and freight steamers developed somewhat differently than in other areas, such strengthening members usually appeared as arch trusses, large braced wooden beams which rose in a great curve fore-and-aft on either side of the vessel, sometimes soaring high above the upper deck. OSCEOLA evidenced none of these types of hog braces, but it seems likely that she did have arches, although they were probably quite small, built into her sides and not rising above deck level.
In due course of time after her June, 1882, launching, OSCEOLA was completed and entered service for the Ward interests, running, as the name of the line suggested, from Detroit and other lower lake ports to Lake Superior. She appears to have operated successfully, although she was stranded on Lake Huron during the 1888 season. The accident was not as serious as it might have been, however, and OSCEOLA was salvaged, repaired, and placed back on her usual route.
During the 1890 season, OSCEOLA was chartered, as a replacement for the fire-damaged steamer ROANOKE, to the Clover Leaf Steamboat Line. This was a service operated by the Toledo, St. Louis and Kansas City Railroad between Buffalo and Toledo as a connection between its Toledo to St. Louis rail line and several eastern railroads, including the West Shore, the Lehigh Valley, the Erie Railroad, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, and the New York Central. The charter of OSCEOLA was not continued after the close of the 1890 navigation season.
A short time later, OSCEOLA was chartered to the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad for its Lake Michigan break-bulk service. The F.&P.M. was a forerunner of today's Chessie System lake carferry service; in the days before the development of the carferry, the company ran normal passenger and package freight boats across the lake. The term "break-bulk" was invented to describe the operation wherein freight was unloaded from railroad cars on one side of the lake, loaded aboard steamers for the cross-lake trip, and then placed back in railroad cars on the other side for the continuation of its travels.
During the middle and late 1890s, OSCEOLA was chartered to W. H. Botsford and Company of Port Huron, Michigan, for its route between Port Huron and various Lake Superior ports. This was a package freight service which was operated in conjunction with the Grand Trunk Railroad. Then, in the early 1900s, she was owned and operated by the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transportation Company, an enterprise of the famous partnership of Leopold and Austrian.
In 1905, OSCEOLA was purchased from the Hibernian Bank of Chicago (which had probably acquired her through mortgage default) by R. O. and A. B. MacKay of Hamilton. These two gentlemen are no strangers to readers of this journal; they were entrepreneurs par excellence, and we have had much to say in the past concerning their interesting marine ventures and escapades. The MacKays built up one of the largest fleets sailing under the Canadian flag during the early years of the new century and many of their vessels were later to become part of the large fleets which were organized later by James Playfair and by Canada Steamship Lines Ltd.
OSCEOLA was placed on the Canadian register as C. 112204 and she was renamed (b) GOLSPIE in honour of a small town in Sutherlandshire, on the east coast of northern Scotland. That this name was chosen for the steamer is not at all surprising, for it was to Sutherlandshire that the MacKay family traced its roots. In 1906, the MacKays formed the Golspie Steamship Company Ltd. of Hamilton to assume the ownership of GOLSPIE. This company was capitalized at $50,000 and its directors were R. O. MacKay, A. B. MacKay, W. Southam, J. A. Milne and D. Brown.
GOLSPIE, although owned by the MacKays, visited her home port but infrequently, for her owners, soon after purchasing her, chartered her to the Dominion government for use as a lighthouse tender on the upper lakes. She was, nevertheless, destined to operate for only a short period of time in this service, and it is small wonder that we have encountered no good photographs of her as GOLSPIE.
Early in December, 1906, GOLSPIE was sent to Thunder Bay to load a cargo of oats and general cargo for what was intended to be her last trip of the year. It has been reported that her destination was to be Point Edward, Ontario, but, as the following material will reveal, it was also said that this trip was to take her to Owen Sound. Of the two, we would consider Owen Sound to have been the most probable destination of the steamer.
On the way down Lake Superior, GOLSPIE encountered heavy weather and a typical, blinding, late-season snowstorm. The captain, it was reported, lost his bearings, with the result that the steamer went hard aground at Brule Bay, near Michipicoten, Ontario, on Tuesday, December 4th. (Some reports have said that the accident occurred on December 6, but we believe that these can be discounted.)
The captain and five crewmen remained at the wreck and the balance of the crew, under the command of the first mate, set out to row to Michipicoten Harbour. The temperature at the time stood at some 22 degrees below Zero (and that's Fahrenheit, not Celsius), and those in the small boats suffered great hardship. When the news of the vessel's plight was finally received by the authorities, the Reid Wrecking Company was ordered to the scene to see what could be done to save the ship and any survivors still aboard. The master and the remaining five crewmen were rescued by a tug on December 9. The others finally reached Michipicoten after a great deal of suffering from the bitterly cold weather.
Much hard feeling arose after the accident. As a result, Capt. T. Donnelly, the famous salvagemaster from Kingston, was directed by the Department of Marine and Fisheries in Ottawa to take evidence and to report as to the loss of GOLSPIE and the subsequent suffering and treatment of the crew. Evidence was taken at Owen Sound and at Collingwood. A subscription in aid of the wrecked crewmen was taken up and several thousand dollars were raised for their benefit.
It was thought, at first, that GOLSPIE could be salvaged but, after wreckers had taken a look at her where she lay, she was finally given up as a total loss. The steamer had successfully lived through much heavy weather in the past, but she simply could not withstand this major stranding and the pounding that she suffered after she had run ashore.
Michipicoten, Saturday, December 8, 1906: (Great Northwest Press Dispatch)
During a fierce northeast gale and blinding snowstorm, the steamer GOLSPIE was stranded in Brule Bay, south of this point. The vessel is lying broadside on a gravel beach, broadside to the sea, and is out two feet forward. The ship's captain says that the boat can be saved if a wrecking outfit can be sent at once to her assistance. The Reid Wrecking Company has been ordered to send tugs and wrecking apparatus. The GOLSPIE was formerly the American steamer OSCEOLA. She had on board a cargo of oats, mill stuff and general freight, and was bound from Fort William to Owen Sound. It was a wooden vessel registering 980 tons and was built in 1882. It had a 183 foot keel and 33 foot beam. The GOLSPIE has been wrecked and saved as often as any boat in the Register. (We do not know to what the writer of the latter comment was referring; it sounds as if GOLSPIE/OSCEOLA had been involved in a succession of accidents, but we have no record of them.)
Hamilton, Sunday, December 9, 1906:
Word was received this morning by R.O. and A.B. MacKay, owners of the steamer GOLSPIE, lighthouse tender, that she had been wrecked and was a total loss. Captain Bault wired from Michipicoten that the boat was wrecked on the shore of Brule Bay on the north shore of Lake Superior and that five of the sailors were so badly frozen whilst going across the trail to Michipicoten that they had to be hospitalized. The crew of the GOLSPIE comprised twenty men, most of whom were from Collingwood.
THE WRECK OF THE GOLSPIE WAS A HORRIBLE AFFAIR!
FIVE OF THE CREW HAVE HAD THEIR FEET CUT OFF!
THE SORE PRICE OF OBSTINACY!
Victims Refused to Go On with Other Members of the Crew!
Failure to send relief promptly greatly increased the suffering of the men who did not reach the hospital for eight days after their mis-adventure.
Sarnia, Sunday, December 16, 1906:
Joseph Monaghan and Amos Warwick of the crew of the wrecked steamer GOLSPIE have arrived here, and from them information has been received as to the circumstances under which five members of the crew had their feet so badly frozen that amputation was necessary at the Sault Ste. Marie hospital. The GOLSPIE was wrecked on Tuesday, December the Fourth at Brule Bay on the north shore of Lake Superior. There were twenty persons in the crew and the stock of provisions saved was very scanty. At the scene of the wrecked steamer, Captain Bault and five of the men remained.
They had an abandoned pulpwood cutter's shack for shelter. The provisions were divided, the smaller portion being left with the captain's party and the larger portion going with the mate's party which, taking the lifeboat, set out to row for Michipicoten harbour.
Mate MacLeod found it necessary to abandon the boat on Wednesday and start to walk through the woods to try and make it overland. The whole party camped together that night. Green, Thorburn, MacDonald, Donnelly and Keeling were in a very discontented frame of mind, according to the story of Monaghan and Warwick.
Refused to Proceed!
They refused to proceed on Thursday morning and declared their intention of going back to the boat. MacLeod pleaded with them to push on but they said they preferred to take their chance in the boat. They were given an axe and a lamp and some provisions and then left. They had not gone very far when they lost the axe and then became hopelessly lost in the woods, and as the weather was considerably below Zero, they suffered terribly. Now, in the meantime, mate MacLeod's party had reached Michipicoten Mission overland late on Thursday and set about the work of rescue. On Friday morning, four Indian trackers were sent out and located the five lost sailors but they were so helpless that they could not be brought in. The Indians made them as comfortable as possible and on Saturday a party went out and brought them in.
All this time, Captain Bault and his companions remained at the ship, decidedly short of food but nevertheless sheltered from the cold. It was not until Sunday that he was relieved and the final word from his owners was that GOLSPIE was abandoned to the underwriters. Here the story of the members of the crew ends.
There is another side of this terrible tale, however. Vesselmen here are saying hard things of the MacKays of Hamilton, owners of the GOLSPIE. Captain Sinclair of Detroit, the underwriters' representative, writes: "It was a pitiful sight to see the five frozen men carried aboard the tug. It was ten days after the wreck before the men reached the hospital. Two or three of them had no feeling at all in their feet, and the members were as black as your hat". It is reliably reported that the temperature was somewhat below Forty-five degrees below Zero when the vessel was wrecked.
The Detroit News printed copies of telegrams that passed between Captain Bault and the owners asking for a tug; the owners replied that the tug was busy on the Soo River and to bring the men in overland. As this would mean bringing the injured men sixty miles over extremely rough territory, and considering the extreme condition of the men, it was decided to wait for the tug. The tug reached Michipicoten ten days after the wreck and hurried the men to the hospital at the Soo. It is generally believed that skilled medical attention earlier would have saved their limbs.
The sailors tell a story that reflects considerably on the owners. They allege that, in the first place, the GOLSPIE left Fort William short-provisioned, and that it was not necessary to get as far off course as Brule Bay near Michipicoten.
After landing, the crew found shelter, then divided into two parties; one party, including the injured men, left for Michipicoten. The five sailors say that they lost their way and returned to the camp. They say that, on their return to the camp, they were refused admission to the shelter and so set out again for Michipicoten, got lost in the woods and wandered for three days. They say that they lost the head off the axe and their lantern, and that their matches became wet and useless. Next day, some Indians found them and rendered services which undoubtedly saved their lives. The names of the unfortunate men are as follows: Alfred Green of London, England; John Keeling of Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England; John Donnelly of Belfast, Ireland; James Thorburn of Glasgow, Scotland; and William MacDonald of Glasgow, Scotland. (He says that MacDonald is not his real name but that it is Niel.) He lost both his hands and feet and later succumbed from shock.
Feeling is running high in this town among the citizens over the horrible fate of the five sailors from the steamer GOLSPIE. A delegation has approached the mayor demanding that he ask Ottawa to make a full and complete investigation of the whole matter.
Wednesday, December 19, 1906:
THE GOLSPIE IN PARLIAMENT!
Mr. Boyce Attacks the Marine Department! Neglect Somewhere!
Mr. Brodeur Explains that a Full and Complete Investigation Will Be Held!
The terrible sufferings of the crew of the steamer GOLSPIE formed a topic of discussion which afforded Mr. Boyce an opportunity to make a somewhat heated attack upon the Department of Marine and Fisheries. Mr. Brodeur, in a temperate speech, assured the House that an investigation had already been ordered and that it would be searching and comprehensive. And, despite the heated attack, there was no proof that the vessel was registered in Canada at all. (Ed. Note: This last comment seems strange indeed!)
Owners Did Not Know!
To The Editor of The Globe: Our attention has been drawn to an article which appeared in your issue of yesterday, and an article which appeared today in the form of an editorial, on the wreck of the steamer GOLSPIE.
No one can deplore more than we do the misfortune which happened to some of the unfortunate sailors who were employed on the steamer. We feel that a government enquiry would be our justification. The first word received by us of the accident to the boat gave us the information that the crew were all safe. This fact you omitted from your telegram published and referred to by you today. The first intimation to us that any of the crew were frostbitten or had been injured in any way was contained in the same telegram that came stating that these men were in hospital. Since then we have done everything in our power to relieve them by telegraphing monies, and furnishing them with medical attendance, etc. The Globe, we consider, are very damaging to us and are not justified in the facts. The Golspie Steamship Company Limited, R.O. and A.B. MacKay, Managers. Hamilton, December 18th, 1906.
Wednesday, December 19th 1906: Report to Parliament.
The wreck of the steamer GOLSPIE came up in a closed session of Parliament today, the main topic being the enquiry into the disaster and the fate of the five crewmen. The enquiry was a closed affair and the results will not be made public.
Hamilton, Thursday, December 27, 1906:
Action Entered Against the Paper by R.O. and A.B. MacKay!
R.O. and A.B. MacKay of Hamilton, owners of the ill-fated GOLSPIE, have made known through their solicitors that they have entered a suit for damages against the owners of The Globe newspaper of Toronto, claiming that the said paper libelled them in its reports of the wreck carried in its paper.
Unfortunately, we are not aware of the results either of the closed investigation into the wreck and its aftermath, or of the litigation involving the MacKays and "The Globe", but it seems certain that the matter would have remained in contention for a considerable period of time. It is regrettable that the poor old GOLSPIE met her end amid such an atmosphere of argument and recrimination.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.