Photo mosiac by NOAA
On the night of August 9, 1865, METEOR met her running mate, the propeller PEWABIC, off Thunder Bay on Lake Huron around 9 p.m. As the two approached, somehow METOER sheered and struck her sister, sinking the PEWABIC within minutes in 180 feet of water. About 125 people went down with her, and 86 others were saved.
GPS Location: N44°57.890′ W83° 06.236′
Depth: 165 Feet
Wreck Length: 200 Feet Beam: 31 Feet
Gross Tonnage: 979 Cargo: Copper and iron ore, passengers
Launched: 1863 by Peck and Masters at Cleveland, Ohio
Wrecked: August 9, 1865
Description: The Pewabic ran from Cleveland to Lake Superior ports. It was two years old when it sank off Thunder Bay in a collision with the steamer Meteor. Steaming southward, it headed close enough to the Meteor to pass mail and news between the two ships, but the Pewabic unexplainably cut across the Meteor’s bow making a collision unavoidable. The ship suffered a large hole in the port bow and sank within minutes taking at least 33 passengers and crewmen. Several attempts were later made to retrieve the valuable copper cargo, using diving bells, clamshells and dynamite. They left the hull intact, but all of the cabins were destroyed.
PEWABIC Propeller of 738 Tons, built 1863, sunk by collision with propeller METEOR off Thunder Bay, Mich. Lake Huron, Aug. 9, 1865. Vessel a total loss with the loss of 40 lives.
Merchant Steam Vessels of the U. S. A.
Lytle-Holdcamper List 1790 to 1868
. . . . .
F R I G H T F U L C A L A M I T Y
COLLISION ON LAKE HURON….Propellers METEOR and PEWABIC
PEWABIC Sinks in Three Minutes – SEVENTY-FIVE LIVES LOST – Capt. McKay Saved
Rescued Passengers at Detroit
The intelligence received here this morning that the propeller METEOR, upward bound, had run into and sunk the propeller PEWABIC, has sent thrills of indescribable horror to the heart of the whole city. The news yet received is meagre and unsatisfactory, but sufficent to convey the melancholy information that many lives have been lost. The facts so far as we have been able to obtain them are these:–The propeller PEWABIC heavily loaded with ore from the mining region, and with a large load of passengers, downward bound, and due here today was run into by the propeller METEOR, of the same line, upward bound, in the darkness, on Wednesday night, in Thunder Bay, lake Huron. The PEWABIC went down in three minutes, in fifty fathoms of water. The dispatch received states the number of lives lost at seventy-five to one hundred.
A good many of our prominent citizens were on either the PEWABIC or METEOR, but it cannot be determined, in all cases, which, as tickets were issued good for either boat. The Rev. Dr. Goodrich and family took passage on the PEWABIC but nothing of their fate has been learned. The accident occurring in the night when many of the passengers had probably retired to their state rooms, the great freight of ore which caused the boat to sink in three minutes, only adds to the terrible features of the calamity.
Captain McKay of the PEWABIC, was saved, is in Detroit, and will be here tonight. The METEOR went on up the lakes, no doubt after doing all that could be don to save the unfortunate passengers of the ill-fated PEWABIC. (part)
Cleveland Plain Dealer
August 11, 1865
. . . . .
Detroit, Aug. 11.
A collision between PEWABIC and the METEOR occurred at half past 8 o’clock, Wednesday evening, six miles from shore.
The PEWABIC was struck on her port bow just aft the pilot house and sunk in three or four minutes.
The boats were running at full speed and struck with such terrible force as to crush in the entire bow of the PEWABIC.
At the time the accident occurred it was scarcely dark and the boats saw each other six miles apart. When approaching they exchanged signals and the PEWABIC bore off to pass, but the METEOR, for reasons as yet unexplained, turned in the same direction and they struck. A number were killed by the crashing timbers, and a few passengers jumped on board the METEOR before the PEWABIC sunk.
Life boats were immediately lowered from the METEOR and picked up those who were not carried down with the wreck.
There was from 175 to 200 passenger on board the PEWABIC. The names of 75 passengers and 23 of the crew are known. Loss of life cannot be correctly ascertained yet, but will be near one hundred.
The METEOR remained near the scene of the disaster until morning in the hope of picking up any persons that might be still floating on pieces of the wreck, but none were found.
The propeller MOHAWK, passing down, brought the survivors, transferred to her from the METEOR, to this city. The METEOR was but slightly injured and continued her trip to Lake Superior.
The following named passengers are known to be lost: Miss F.Hosmer and Miss Frank Ryder, Haughton; Miss Tyler, Tiffin, O.; Calvin M. Wright, Detroit; Mrs. Wm. Wells, Ann Arbor; wife and four children of Edward Levan, Canada East; wife son and daughter of Henry Mitchell, Lake Superior; Lewis James, Rockville; Miss Hannah Kelly, Illinois; Wm. Ottrell, Cleveland; Miss Julia Ramsey, Tiffin, O.; Mrs. Hall and two children, Copper Harbor; W. O’Neill, Cleveland; Thos. Blackwell, Ontonagon; John Tracy, Cleveland.
Crew Lost: 1st. Engineer R.G. Jackson and wife, Detroit; 1st. cook Samuel Bowles, Detroit; greaser, Henry Chaler, Cleveland; chambermaid, Mary Cleveland; porter, Big Jones, Cleveland; bartender, Daniel Cares, Marquette.
Passengers Saved: C.J. Porter and wife, Elgin, Ohio; Mrs. Chas. Mills, Elgin, Ohio; A.L. Foster, Churchill, Canada West; Mr. Reno, Canada West; Mr. Levan and three children, Canada East; Henry Whitehall, Lake Superior; Samuel Aubraker, Port Huron; Eugene Peck, Newark, Ohio; A.M. Tilden, Cumberland O.; W. Hatham wife and child, Bridgewater; Mr. L.L. McKnight and wife, Detroit; Mrs. Coll Gardner, Detroit; Miss Ada Brush, Detroit; Master William Whiting, Detroit; Miss Kate C. Jones, New York; Miss Mary M. Fotte, New York; Jefferds, New York; Mrs. Kauffmann, Martina, Ohio; Mrs. G. Honstation, Canada West; J.H. Ashmead, Hartford, Conn.; Frank Mahstadt, Detroit; Louis Shazer, Quebec; John Shields, Portage; Patrick McCunn, Massachusetts; J.D.Baker, Detroit; J.M. Bucklin, Hamblin; J.B. Roberts, Ohio; B. Mercer, Columbus, Ohio; Wm. Morrison, New York; James Drille, Eagle Harbor; John Bushen, Canada; John Blaser, Detroit. W.B. Mackeller, Ohio; John Frazer, Michigan; Daniel Graham, Michigan; Joseph
Montall, Portage; Benjamin Barn, Mich.; Wm. Balto, Canada; Michael Sullivan, Mich.; M. Graham, Marquette; Chas. Labonant, Canada; Michael Doyle, Massachusetts; Jas. Connelly, Eagle Harbor; H.A. Brano, Canada West; W. McLean, Canada; John Jameson, Canada; Henry Knight, Illinois; Theodore G. Lester, Detroit; Wm. E. Hall, Copper Harbor; Dr. M.C. Lewis, Cleveland; Charles Harris, West Hebron, N.Y.; John Brennan, Cleveland; James Rose, Cleveland; Thomas Blair, Cleveland; Andrew Flowers, Cleveland; Michael Sullivan, Cleveland; Thos. Fitzgerald. Phila.; Wm. Reed, Cleveland; Charles Hunt, Toronto; Wm. Keating, Ohio; John Bryant, Ontonagon; H.C. Parks, wife and two children, Hancock; Capt. Wm. Causin, Haughton; H. Russel, Memphis, Tenn.; S.M. Rumsey, Seneca Falls,
N.Y.; Mrs. C.M. Wright, Detroit; Dr. S.H. Douglass, daughter, and two sons, Ann Arbor; J.W. Cherry and wife, Delaware, Ohio; J. Warman, wife and daughter, Troy, Ohio.
Crew Saved: Capt. George McKay, Cleveland; George Cleveland, Cleveland, first mate; second mate, Frank Dugo, Cleveland; lookout, John McKay, Cleveland; clerk, Charles A. Mack, Detroit; secone engineer, Wm. Kennedy, Cleveland; steward, John Lynch, Detroit; porter, John Mooney, Cleveland; second porter, John Miller, Cleveland; deck hand, John Kelley; wheelsman, Edward Mooney, Cleveland.
No further particulars have been received from the scene of the late catastrophe on Lake Huron. Capt. McKay of the PEWABIC, has gone with a small steamer to cruise about the spot where the PEWABIC sunk. It is proposed also to send a diver to the wreck. The books and papers of the ill-fated steamer were lost. It is, therefore, impossible to give a full list of the passengers who were on board, but the list already telegraphed comprise all that were saved.
The PEWABIC was built last year, and she is valued at $100,000. She was insured for $60,000.
Erie Daily Dispatch
Saturday, August 12, 1865
. . . . .
The Mate of the PEWABIC Acquitted.– On Tuesday last Geo. F. Cleveland, Mate, who had charge of the Propeller PEWABIC when that vessel was sunk by collision with the METEOR, in August last, was arrainged in court at Detroit charged with neglect and misconduct on the night of the disaster.- The case was given to the jury on Thursday, who soon returned a verdict of not guilty. The verdict is said to have given universal satisfaction.
April 9, 1866
. . . . .
We made a brief notice of the dreadful accident by which from 70 to 100 persons their lives by a collision of two steamers at Thunder Bay. The telegraph, as usual, was not correct, the locality of the accident being a long distance from Detroit. We are able to give further particulars. It seems, from an account in the Detroit Tribune, that the evening was a tolerably clear one, although it had been somewhat rainy, and the lights of each steamer were discernable by the other at a distance of 6 miles. A moderate breeze prevailed and the water was rough. The course of the PEWABIC was on the side towards the shore, and that of the METEOR on the opposite tack, by which they would steer clear of each other. The movement of each steamer was plainly observed by the crew as well as passengers upon the other, and the fact of their coming together under such circumstances cannot be explained except on the hypothesis of an almost unaccountable blunder on the part of some one. When Captain McKay saw that a collision appeared inevitable, he blew his whistle as a signal to the other boat to keep out of the way, which signal, so far as it is known, was not
responded to. He then ordered his wheel to be put to starboard, which would tend to put her out of danger by taking his boat farther in towards shore. From all we can gather, it is rendered probable that the wheelsman of the METEOR, not having properly understood his orders, or by mistake of some kind put his wheel to port, instead of the contrary direction, which he ought to have taken. He thus brought his bows in a direct line with the port side of the PEWABIC, and the fact of striking the steamer so squarely in the side would seem to confirm this theory of the cause of the catastrophe; although it is possible that a full
investigation may present the affair in a different phase so far as some particulars are concerned. The bows of the METEOR, which are long and sharp, struck the PEWABIC almost at right angles under the pilot house, opening her to the width of twelve or fifteen feet, and cutting her down to the water’s edge.
There were probably at least 150 persons on board, including the crew, and consternation and dismay fell like palsy upon hearts which only a few brief moments before overflowed with mirth and gladness. The scene was one which beggars description, but was soon over. Within four minutes of the collision the PEWABIC sunk, carrying down with her from 70 to 100 persons, as nearly as the number can be estimated. Many of those on the bows of the ill fated steamer had the presence of mind to jump on the deck of the METEOR; others were saved from drowning by the heroic exertions of friends, and many were subsequently
picked up by the boats of the METEOR.
The survivors held a meeting on the METEOR and the Secretary makes the following statement:
At about 8:30 on Wednesday evening, 9th. inst., the propeller PEWABIC, Capt. McKay, on her down trip, about 8 miles from shore, came in collision with the METEOR, Capt. Wilson, on her upward voyage. The METEOR struck the PEWABIC just under the pilot house, literally smashing her bow. The boats were running at a rate of about 12 miles an hour, and the crash was awful, causing the PEWABIC to go down in the short space of 3 or 4 minutes. A number were killed by the crashing timbers. But few of the passengers of the PEWABIC had time to jump from her decks upon those of the METEOR, ere the wreck of the PEWABIC sunk entirely out of sight beneath the seething waters. The sight was terrible and heart-rending as the cries and groans of the unfortunate passengers rose upon
the rolling swells of the surging billows. The life boats of the METEOR were lowered in due time and a number saved from untimely and watery graves.
Mr. Jackson, the engineer, was a trusty man, and was well calculated for the position. He stood manfully at his post, and, with his wife, went down with the boat. The tear, that silent tribute, will often be shed in honor of his valorous deed.
Several noble and heroic incidents occurred worthy of mention, one or two in particular. The most memorable of which was performed by Miss Eda Bush, (a daughter of E.A. Bush, Esq., of this city.) This lady, by her cool and determined efforts, not only saved her own life by expert swimming, but that of Mrs. C.M. Wright, whose husband was drowned with a lady clinging to his neck.
Miss Bush saw Mrs. Wright struggling in the water some distance from her, and with great presence of mind she swam to her rescue, pushed a floating spar up to her, and thus saved her from the terrible fate of her beloved husband. The manifestation of such fortitude on the part of this lady will be ever remembered by those who were witnesses of the terrible catastrophe. Mrs. L. McKnight, of this city, and others whose names have not come to hand, also displayed a spirit of determination seldom witnessed.
Capt. McKay was one of the last upon the wreck, and upon leaving the sinking vessel, of which he was so proud, he saved the life of Miss James, of New York. Mr. Cleveland, the mate, worked to the last, and cut loose one of the life-boat just as the ill-fated PEWABIC went down. He was also one of the last on board.
The cause of the catastrophe would seem to be criminal carelessness on the part of the pilot of the METEOR, as that boat, in passing the PEWABIC, does not appear to have conformed to the law regulating such cases, which the PEWABIC did.
Erie Daily Dispatch
Tuesday, August 15, 1865
. . . . .
The loss in property by the dreadful accident on Lake Huron is very great. The cargo of the PEWABIC was a very valuable one. The Detroit Tribune says:
The estimated value of the copper is about $130,000. We have no particulars as to the insurance of the cargo, but, as is customary, it is no doubt fully insured.
The “Lake Superior Express Company” had about $55,000 in cash in their safe which they will make an effort to recover. We understand they are about to make arrangements through the Home Insurance Company for the services of their diver who was to have started for Buffalo last night to procure some extra air pipes.
Messrs. J.T. Whiting & Co. have despatched Capt. McKay, late of the PEWABIC with a number of men, on board the propeller SKYLARK, to cruise about the spot at which the PEWABIC was sunk, for the purpose of recovering any bodies and property that may come to the surface. They also, as we understand, propose to send a diver to the wreck as soon as one can be obtained for the purpose.
Erie Daily Dispatch
Wednesday, August 16, 1865
. . . . .
An effort is to be made to reach the sunk steamer PEWABIC by means of diving bells to secure the treasure that went down and any bodies that may be in the wreck. In the safe of this ill-fated steamer there is an immense amount of money belonging to the Express Companies, commercial men and passengers, and next week an effort will be made to reach it. The wrecking steamer MAGNET, of the Home Insurance Company, will be brought into requisition, and Mr. Pike, of Buffalo, will do what can be done as sub-marine diver. He has gone to Detroit, and will commence operations at once, and continue them as long at practicable. The water is thought to be about 180 feet deep where the steamer went down, and Mr. Pike has operated successfully at a depth of 200 feet. To reach the safe of the PEWABIC, he will be compelled to cut his way through two decks.
Erie Daily Dispatch
Saturday, August 26, 1865
. . . . .
The Detroit Tribune says: There is every indication that the authorities are determined to fully probe the affair of the late collision, and not only place the blame where it properly belongs, but take the proper steps to secure the punishment of the culpable parties. On Saturday George Cleveland, mate of the PEWABIC, was arrested by the marshal on a warrant issued by the District Court, and lodged in jail. As the accused will be compelled to undergo an examination we will not at this time dwell upon the affair at length. The penalty, in case of conviction, will be imprisonment in the State Prison.
Erie Daily Dispatch
Friday, September 1, 1865
. . . . .
THE PEWEBIC. – The search for the steamer PEWABIC has proved unsuccessful. A life boat and the buoys carried off by the economical tug captain are all that have been or will be recovered. The diver went down 147 feet, and remained under water twenty minutes at a time. So intense was the cold at that depth that he nearly froze to death. Trees of immense size, apparently petrified, were found lying on the bottom, but no trace of the steamer.
According to the decision of the Board of Inspectors in Detroit, the responsibility for the collision between the PEWABIC and the METEOR rests wholly upon the captain and first mate of the PEWABIC. George Cleveland, the mate, has given $3,000 bonds to appear at the next term of the U.S. Court at Detroit. We have seen no account of the captain having been arrested.
Erie Daily Dispatch
Thursday, September 7, 1865
. . . . .
VESSELS LOST IN DETROIT DISTRICT IN 1865.
Stmr. CANADA, wrecked on Bar Point, Lake Erie. Her machinery was taken out and the hull abandoned.
Steamer TRAVELLER, wrecked on a rock on Lake Superior. Her engine and machinery have since been recovered.
*Propeller PEWABIC, sunk by collision with propeller METEOR, in Lake Huron. Several attempts have been made to raise her, but without success.
Propeller STOCKMAN, burned at Bear Creek, Canada.
Tug PILOT, burned at Algonac, on St. Clair River.
Steamer WINDSOR, burned in Detroit River on the night of the disastrous confragration of the Detroit & Milwaukee Depot.
Brig ROBERT HOLLISTER, wrecked on Lake Michigan.
Schr. H.H. BROWN, wrecked on Sandusky Bar.
Schr. L.D. COMAN, lost near Erie, Pa.
Schr. E.C. BLISH, wrecked on Lake Michigan.
Schr. K.L. LANSING, wrecked on Lake Michigan.
Schr. ILLINOIS, not certain as to this vessel, but think she foundered on Lake Michigan with a cargo of stone. – Detroit Free Press, 21.
Buffalo Daily Courier
August 23, 1866
. . . . .
The steamer H.A. ROOT, which was last season chartered to the American Wrecking & Salvage Co. of Milwaukee, for the purpose of recovering the copper cargo on the sunken steamer PEWABIC, arrived in port Saturday. The ROOT was fitted out with a dynamo, complete wrecking outfit and a diving bell, invented by a Milwaukee man. She has been chartered for this season to recover the PEWABIC’s cargo. It is expected that the ROOT will leave for Lake Huron in a week.
Detroit Free Press
June 1, 1897 10-2
. . . . .
NEW FACTS ABOUT AN OLD WRECK.
The correspondent of the Evening Wisconsin at Alpena has the following to say regarding the old wreck of the PEWABIC: “Although the PEWABIC has been sunk in Lake Huron for 27 years, in 26 fathoms of water, yet, like some ghosts we read of, she will not remain quiet, and thus stories about her come to light every few weeks. In a recent interview with Capt. Ripley, a well known citizen of this city, concerning the ill-fated steamer, was learned some new facts in regard to the vessel. At the time of the disaster Capt. Ripley was in the
employ of the company that owned the PEWABIC, and with others was sent with a wrecking vessel to discover where the PEWABIC lay, and to endeavor to raise her if possible. The wrecking party soon found where the vessel was laying on the bottom of the lake by means of grappling irons. While at work their grappling iron got foul of some obstruction near the wreck and when the obstruction had been brought to the surface, the wreckers found they had brought up a yawl and the crane to which it had been fastened. On the stern of the yawl was the name PEWABIC. She was lying in 26 fathoms of water, about 6 miles southeast of
Thunder Bay Island Light. A trunk belonging to the mate of the PEWABIC was also found. The pilot house of the PEWABIC came to the surface and held to the wreck by a chain and served as a buoy to locate the place where she lay until a storm tore it loose from its fastenings. The three sunken vessels, mentioned by Capt. Quinn, of Detroit, do not lie in that vicinity. As regards the copper, said the Captain, it will be found at the bow of the PEWABIC, as the steamer went down head first, Her engines were going at the time she took her last plunge. As the stern rose out of the water the propeller wheel revolved with great rapidity, and as soon as it struck the water again, it must have assisted greatly in
speeding the steamer, head first to the bottom, and all the copper could not help but slide to the bow. Capt. Ripley thinks that the vessel found by the PELKY last summer is the PEWABIC.”
Buffalo Daily Courier
April 4, 1892
. . . . .
WENT TO THE BOTTOM.
Women In A Diving Bell See The PEWABIC On The Floor Of The Lake.
Alpena, Mich., July 14. – Captain and Mrs. Parsons of Thunder Bay Island and Mr. and Mrs. Case of Alpena went down to the steamer PEWABIC wreck in the Smith diving bell, remaining an hour and a half. These are probably the only women who ever went down in 160 feet of water and came up alive. A good view was had of the steamer and the party experienced no inconvenience.
Buffalo Evening News
Wednesday, July 14, 1897 4 – 4
. . . . .
From the Engineer of the METEOR
Editor Marine Review:—In your issue of July 15 a Detroit correspondent gives an account of the memorable collision between the steamers PEWABIC and METEOR. The account is pronounced interesting, but it is incorrect in particulars. I I chief engineer of the METEOR for nine years, and as I was in charge of her engines at the time of the collision, I feel that I should know something of facts pertaining to the sad affair. The METEOR and PEWABIC were built in Cleveland in 1863 by the late Capt. E. M. Peck for J. T. Whiting & Co. Members of this company were the late J.T. Whiting, W.D. Walbridge and L. McKnight. These vessels were first-class freight and passenger propellers of about 850 tons, elegantly fitted out, and they were speedy for those days, as they made 11 1/2 miles an hour regularly, and could be forced to a speed of 15 miles. They were two of the finest boats then afloat on the lakes. Their officers were as follows: METEOR—Captain, Thomas Wilson; mate, Byron Mills; purser, Charles Atwood; steward, Thomas Ryan; chief-engineer, John M. Cronenweth; second-engineer, Thomas Bucanan. PEWABIC. Captain, Geo. P. McKay, mate, George Cleveland; purser, Charles A. Mack, steward, John Lynch; chief-engineer, Charles R. Jackson; second-engineer, Wm. Kennedy.
On the night of the collision the METEOR was bound up Lake Huron with a full load of passengers and the PEWABIC was bound down. The weather with us (on the METEOR) had been very fine up to the time of the collision, but officers of the PEWABIC reported that they had for some time been running in mist and rain. It was quite plain to my mind that the main cause of the collision was the deceiving weather, mist, rain and some fog. On both boats the mates were on watch when the collision occurred. The mate of our vessel, the METEOR, said that he saw the white and green lights of the PEWABIC two points off our starboard bow about three minutes before the boats came together, and it was claimed that if the PEWABIC had kept her course the boats would have passed each other in safety; but it was held by this same source of evidence that all at once the PEWABIC shut out his green light and showed his red light. The METEOR’s wheel was put hard aport and one blast of her whistle sounded, but it was too late. A mistake had been made, and in a few seconds the METEOR crashed into the PEWABIC, cutting her about two-thirds in two It has always been my opinion that the mate of the PEWABIC was deceived by the condition of weather ‘end had misjudged the distance between the two vessels. He thought he had plenty of time to pass to starboard. Many of the passengers who were saved jumped aboard the METEOR while the boats were wedged one into the other. About three minutes after separating, the PEWABIC went down bow first. The pitiful cries of the drowning, struggling for help, are still in my memory, and will remain with me while memory lasts. Both crews did all they could to save life, but it was difficult to find people in the water. On account of the mist and rain the rescuers could be guided only by the cries for help. Your Detroit correspondent says he saw the lights of the PEWABIC an hour before the collision. This is ridiculous, as two boats running at a speed of 11 1/2 miles would have covered together a distance of 23 miles in an hour, and every sailor knows that a boat’s lights cannot be seen for quarter of that distance. He says further that after the collision the METEOR began to fill very rapidly, that all of the mattresses and blankets were taken to fill up the hole, and that he, with most of the other passengers, was kept at the pumps the greater part of the night to keep the vessel from sinking. All this is wrong. As a matter of fact there was not a hand pump on the METEOR. Immediately after the collision I connected up the steam pumps, with which the METEOR was well supplied. She had one 8-inch pump worked from the main engine, three 8-inch pumps worked by the hoisting engine, two 3-inch syphons and a boiler pony, piped to pump bilge water. All were started, but it was soon found that two pumps were sufficient to keep her free. A hole in the bow of the METEOR was large enough to drive a horse through it, and it extended down to within 18 inches of the water, but we got the foresail around the bow and remained in the vicinity of the wreck until daylight.
“As there was nothing to be seen in the morning, we went on to the Sault, arriving there about noon. We made temporary repairs and were intending to proceed on our voyage up Lake Superior, but while going through the lock, about 7 AM., we discovered fire working through the forward hatch. The passengers took their effects and went ashore. The METEOR was hurried into the guard lock and every effort made to put out the fire, but as we had made no headway up to after noon, I opened all the seacocks and allowed the vessel to fill with water. With the boat sunk to her deck the fire was soon extinguished. We then closed the upper guard gate and let the water out of the canal. The vessel was, of course, cleared of water at the same time. After closing the valves and opening gates to let water into the canal again, the vessel was soon floated. We fired up, relieved her of such water as remained, and were again at a dock discharging cargo. A hurried run was made to Detroit for repairs, and we were soon in Cleveland again, ready to take our regular time for the next trip. But in Cleveland the METEOR was libeled by underwriters for $200,000. Her owners refused to furnish bonds and she remained out of commission for the balance of the season.
Among officers of the PEWABIC who were lost was Mr. Jackson, the chief engineer. His young wife, who was making a trip with him, was also lost. He was a noble fellow, a good engineer, and he had many friends. No doubt, he might have saved himself had he made the effort, but he stood at his post of duty like a true “knight of the throttle,” and went down with the ship, his wife with him. He died as he had lived unselfish to the end. In early days of steamboats on the lakes it was customary, when boats were meeting in the day time (not at night) to check down and pass close together, so as to give an opportunity to throw a bundle of newspapers from one vessel to the other. At this particular period, during the late internal war, passengers were particularly anxious to get war news from the papers. There were no railroads and no telegraph connections, even with the upper Michigan peninsula Your Detroit correspondent says that these two vessels were trying to pass close to each other in order to exchange papers. This is another mistake. We did not know what boat we were making until after the collision. He says further that we sent for a tug from Alpena to take the PEWABIC’s passengers to Port Huron. In this he is also mistaken, as it was the propeller Mohawk that was hailed to take the rescued passengers to Detroit. George Cleveland, mate of the PEWABIC, who was in charge of her at the time of the collision, was arrested and tried for manslaughter before Judge Wilkins of the United States district court. The present Justice Brown of the United States supreme court was then prosecuting attorney, and Wm. A. Moore of Detroit defended Mr. Cleveland. A number of captains from Cleveland came to Detroit to give testimony in the mate’s behalf, among them Capt. Benjamin Sweet Capt. Edward Turner, Capt. John Spaulding and others. They vouched for his ability, trust worthiness, etc., and they agreed that he acted according to his best udgment under the circumstances, which were of a deceiving nature. He was promptly acquitted.
J.T. Whiting & Co. were among pioneers in vessel business of Lake Superior In the early sixties they controlled about two-thirds of this trade In those days all contracts ended on the first of October, and for the balance of the fall vessels could charge what they saw fit. I have seen $22 a ton paid for carrying copper from Ontonagon to Detroit and $6 a ton paid as freight on pig iron from Marquette to Detroit. On our way up the estimated value of every square foot of room was $1, and there was always enough freight left on dock when we were leaving to load another boat. Often the mate would have a $10 bill slipped into his hand by an anxious shipper who wanted a jag of freight moved at once and would not wait for the next boat. But the ups and downs of life were with us then as now, and the steamboat business lacked stability. Take the case of J. T. Whiting & Co. In the spring of 1864 they owned seven boats, namely, the steamer ILLINOIS, and propellers METEOR, PEWABIC DETROIT, MINERAL ROCK, GEN. TAYLOR and SKYLARK. Not needing all of them, they sold the DETROIT, GEN. TAYLOR and SKYLARK, and during the summer they laid up the MINERAL ROCK for a rebuild. A short time before the METEOR-PEWABIC collision, the ILLINOIS broke down and made a complete wreck of her engine. Then, with the PEWABIC sunk and the METEOR tied up, the company was without a single vessel. They were forced to charter vessels to fulfill their contracts, and as a result of the collision the firm was practically ruined.
Detroit, August 10, 1897. JOHN M. CRONEWETH,
588 East Fort Street.
August 12, 1897
. . . . .
BOTH MEN DROWNED.
Fatality While Men Were at the Sunken Wreck of the Old PEWABIC.
Milwaukee, Wis., June 20. – Word was received here last night of the drowning of George Campbell and Peter Olsen at Thunder Bay while engaged at work in a diving bell recovering the cargo of the sunken steamer PEWABIC, which was lost about 20 years ago. Campbell was the founder of the famous diving bell and a son of Gardiner Campbell, founder of the centennial bell. When the bell was raised it was found both men had been drowned as they were working, by water which burst through one of the glass windows.
Buffalo Evening News
Monday, June 20, 1898
. . . . .
Alpena, Mich., May 26. – The wrecker MARY MILLS, with the Smith diving bell, arrived from Milwaukee this morning to begin work on the PEWABIC for the season. It is expected that much of the vessel’s copper cargo will be recovered this year.
May 27, 1900
. . . . .
The MARY MILLS, which recently added another to the long list of the futile attempts to recover the copper cargo of the lost PEWABIC, has given up wrecking and was at Milwaukee Monday with a load of lumber which she brought from Marquette.
July 12, 1900
. . . . .
Among the older vessel men, the sinking of the propeller PEWABIC in collision with the propeller METEOR, off Thunder Bay island, Lake Huron is not forgotten. The great loss of life the number was never definitely ascertained-made it a memorable event in lake history. Two veterans in lake navigation and men widely known, Captains George P. McKay and Thomas Wilson, were masters of the boats, the former in the PEWABIC and the latter in the METEOR. Captains George Cleveland and Byron Mills, two men still in active service, were the mates in charge when tile collision occurred. Interest in the disaster is now revived through the efforts of C. A. Coon and others of Duluth to locate the sunken PEWABIC and secure her cargo. Visionary stories have been told of the value of the cargo, one rumor saying the boat went down with $20,000 in gold aboard, but it is not probable that the Duluth parties have undertaken the work of raising the boat or portions of her cargo with any thought of fabulous wealth in store for them, as they are preceding in a sensible way. They are now at Alpena with the steamer EMERALD, which they chartered from W.R. Durfee of Ashland, and have written Capt. McKay for information that will assist them in locating the wreck and also for a statement of the boat’s cargo. The cargo consisted of 270 tons of copper, 17.5 tons of pig iron, 200 sheep skins, sixty-seven rolls of leather and other merchandise less valuable. The boat is in 128 feet of water and on this account it has been thought impossible to raise her, or even secure any portion of her cargo, but the wreckers now at Alpena claim to have diving appliances specially suited to work in deep water. It is said that they propose to use a sheet iron armor of some kind for the diver going into the water at such great depth, but they are not giving out much information regarding their plans.
The Marine Review
October 29, 1891
. . . . .
The MARY MILLS, which recently added another to the long list of the futile attempts to recover the copper cargo of the lost PEWABIC, has given up wrecking and was at Milwaukee monday with a load of lumber which she brought from Matinette
July 12, 1900
. . . . .
Green moss covers the rotting white oak timbers of a ghost ship at the bottom of Thunder Bay, seven miles off Thunder Bay Island and abreast of Alpena…. Although the passenger list was lost with the ship, it is believed nearly 100 persons perished. The bodies of only two were recovered. And in later years 10 died in efforts to recover the ship’s cargo valued at $600,000. The Pewabic went down into some 180 feet of water in a collision with a sister ship, the Meteor, on Aug. 9, 1865.
The ships, owned by the Pioneer Lake Superior Line, were two of the finest and newest vessels on the Great Lakes. Their captains were eager to outdo each other and, as is the custom whenever the ships met on the Great Lakes, greetings were exchanged and packages and messages were thrown from one ship to the other as passengers and crews crowded the rails. The Pewabic passed through the Soo Locks and headed down Lake Huron. Aboard were soldiers from the Mackinac Island garrison, having been relieved of duty as the Civil War had ended just a few months earlier.
There was a slight fog and mist but the lake was not rough. The Meteor was sighted coming up the lake from Detroit. The two ships exchanged signals. A dance was in progress on the Meteor and preparations were being made for a dance aboard the Pezvabic as dinner had been just completed.
When the ships were only 20 feet apart, an officer on the Pewabic became confused and gave the wrong order to the wheelsman who swung the ship directly into the path of the Meteor. The Meteor’s prow crashed into the Pewabic about 20 feet aft of the bow, directly under the pilot house, and nearly cut the ship in two. The Pewabic rolled away from the Meteor, exposing the large hole in her side. She sank in five minutes as a heavy copper and iron cargo pulled her down. Although badly damaged, the Meteor stayed afloat and its crew was able to save many from the Pewabic.
There were many acts of heroism. One man aboard the Pewabic picked up his child in nightclothes and handed her over the rail to the Meteor as her prow clung to the hole in the Pewabic He turned back to save his wife in the same manner but they were both drowned. Captain Thomas Wilson of the Meteor later adopted the child, never learning her real name. Some passengers were thrown from the decks into the water and were dragged under by others trying to get help. Many were trapped below decks and never had an opportunity to escape. The lifesaving station at Thunder Bay Island effected some rescues, picking up chiefly members of the crew.
Pewabic Captain George McKay was one of the last to escape the sinking ship. As the water reached the deck where he was trying to help passengers to safety, he grabbed a rope thrown from the Meteor. As the ship sank beneath him, Captain McKay was hoisted to the deck of the Meteor.
Passengers picked up by the Meteor still were not safe. A fire broke out in her cargo and pumps were going all night to keep her afloat. At daybreak, the Meteor Burned Over all the rescued and some of her own passengers to the passing propeller steamer Mohawk which was downbound to Detroit.
The Meteor continued on to the Soo and there at the dock the fire got out of hand. The ship years later was converted to a barge.
The memory of the disaster might have faded if it had not carried a valuable cargo. Lost treasure exercises a strange fascination over men’s minds and the Pewabic was no exception. Her $600,000 cargo, including more than 250 tons of pure copper and $40,000 in a strongbox, was a lure that some could not resist.
Ten divers in all went to their deaths in efforts to salvage the cargo. Famous diver Billy Pike was the first victim, in late 1865. He was brought up dead from the terrific pressure. Several expeditions between 1880 and 1884 were unsuccessful and three divers were killed. The next effort was in 1891, when a party from Ashland, Wis. made repeated attempts to reach the wreck with divers. One did, but he died in the depths.
Captain John Persons of Alpena, who was a boy of 14 living on Thunder Bay Island when the Pewabic sank, helped Worden G. Smith locate the wreck in 1895. Smith, of the American Wrecking and Salvage Company, invented a new type of diving bell capable of holding several men and permitting considerable movement. Five men in the bell were killed attempting to reach the Pewabic in her grave and the company gave up its efforts. Into the 20th century the Pewabic lay untouched, far beneath the currents and agitation of the great storms. Then in 1917, B. F. Leavitt of Toledo arrived with a new type diving suit, capable of descending to a depth of 300 feet. His diver found the Pewabic’s rigging and structure still intact. Skeletons were found in the cabins, trunks open and the garments of the 1860’s hanging on the bulkheads. The pure cold water had preserved all but the bodies. Cheese and quarters of beef were in the steward’s pantry.
From the staterooms and saloons he brought up souvenirs that brought high prices on the Alpena shore. There were rings, watches, an ancient revolver, gold coins and walking sticks. The safe was recovered but of its $40,000 content only one $5 bill and one $1 bill remained intact. In all, between 70 and 72 tons of copper were raised and 40 to 50 tons of iron ore. Overall value is placed at $40,000.
In recent years, skin divers have been active near the wreckage. But most are content to let the Pewabic lie untouched. The ghost ship of Thunder Bay has suffered enough.
The Alpena News
August 7, 1965