John Finley, at present assistant engineer at the Buffalo Water Works, was born at Buffalo October 7, 1856, and received his education in the public schools of that city. He is a son of John and Anne (Martin) Finley, the former of whom, a a[sic] millwright by trade, was at one time in the elevator business in Buffalo. Mr. Finley has an uncle, James Finley, who is superintendent of the Dakota and Sturges elevators.
John Finley, the subject of this sketch learned the trade as machinist at the King Iron Works, where he was employed continuously for five years after he left school. In 1877 he began life on the lakes as second engineer of the steamer Juniata, of the Anchor line, remaining on her at that capacity two consecutive seasons. The season of 1879 he was second engineer on the India, of the same line, and in 1880 he was promoted to the position of chief engineer on the propeller China, taking the place of John Wise. The first part of the season of 1881 Mr. Finley worked in the King Iron Works, and in June was made chief engineer of the steamer John B. Lyon, remaining with her to the end. For the seasons of 1884-85-86 he was second and chief, respectively, on the Nyack, Russell Sage and Parnell, one season each. For the following three seasons he was chief of the John B. Lyon, and for the years 1890 and 1891 he was assistant chief engineer of the Thompson & Houston electric light plant at Buffalo. From 1892 until March, 1895, inclusive, he was chief engineer of the steamer North Wind, of the Northern Steamship Company, and then became chief engineer of the "Niagara Hotel," on Porter avenue, Buffalo. On June 3, 1896, Mr. Finley was appointed assistant engineer at the Buffalo Water Works, and still retains that position.
Thomas Finley, an only brother of John Finley, was on the lakes in various capacities up to second engineer for about fifteen years, and at the age of thirty-five years was lost by the foundering of the steamer W. A. Gilcher in Lake Michigan, near the North Manitou islands, October 18, 1892, on her second trip out. John Finley was in all probability within thirty miles of the Gilcher when she went down, but did not learn of her loss until his arrival in Buffalo. He immediately left his steamer and took a train at midnight for the immediate vicinity of the wreck, arriving there about four o'clock in the afternoon of the following day, which was Saturday. He was carried to North Manitou island by the life-saving crew, and there found some of the upper works of the Gilcher and quantities of the wreckage on the shore. He also found fifteen life preservers with the straps broken and the bodies of Greene, the steward, and Williams, the fireman, which had drifted ashore buoyed by the life preservers, and that of another member of the crew so black that it was not recognizable. This body had a life preserver on with the initials W. H. G. upon it, and it was subsequently buried on the island. Mr. Finley learned while there that Charles Rowe, of Harbor Springs, Mich., while sailing in the vicinity of the wreck, had picked up the midship spar of the Gilcher about twelve miles northeast from South Fox Island light, and towed it to that island. This spar was split, undoubtedly because the vessel broke in two before going down, it being evident from the appearance of the spar that it had been held by the stays. Another evidence that the vessel was lost in that manner was furnished by the fact that No. 6 (center) hatch cover was also broken across the middle. This was also seen by Mr. Finley. He spent about fifteen days in the hopeless search for his brother's remains, and finally had to abandon it. Before leaving, however, he learned that about twenty-four hours before the loss of the Gilcher the crew of a small schooner, while on her course, had passed the Gilcher so closely that they signaled to her to change her direction, but no attention was paid to them. When passing they were near enough to observe that no man was to be seen above decks, and that the wheel of the Gilcher was turning very slowly, something evidently being wrong at the time. Sidney B. Jones, of Marine City, was chief engineer of the Gilcher, and she was mastered by Captain Wick, of Huron, Michigan.
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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.