Steamboat Desasters


EXPLOSION OF THE MOSELLE, NEAR CINCINNATI, OHIO, APRIL 25, 1838.

We are now about to relate the particulars of an event which seemed for a time to shroud the whole country in mourning; an event which is still believed to be almost without a parallel in the annals of steam­boat calamities. The Moselle was regarded as the very paragon of western steamboats; she was perfect in form and construction, elegant and superb in all her equipments, and enjoyed a reputation for speed which admitted of no rivalship. Her commander and proprietor, Capt. Perrin, was a young gentleman of great ambition and enterprise, who prided himself, above all things, in that celebrity which his boat had acquired, and who resolved to maintain, at all hazards, the char­acter of the Moselle as "the swiftest steamboat in America." This character she unquestionably deserved; for her "quick trips" were without competition at that time, and are rarely equalled at the present day. To give two examples :-her first voyage from Portsmouth to Cincinnati, a distance of one hundred and ten miles, was made in seven hours and fifty-five minutes; and her last trip, from St. Louis to Cincinnati, seven hundred and fifty-miles, was performed in two days and sixteen hours; the quickest trip, by several hours, that had ever been made between the two places.

On the afternoon of April 25, 1838, between four and five o'clock, the Moselle left the landing at Cincinnati, bound for St. Louis, with an unusually large number of passengers, supposed to be not less than two hundred and eighty, or, according to some accounts, three hundred. It was a pleasant afternoon, and all on board probably anticipated a delightful voyage. Passengers continued to crowd in up to the mo­ment of departure, for the superior accommodations of this steamer, and her renown as the finest and swiftest boat on the river, were great attractions for the travelling public, with whom safety is too ofteu but a secondary consideration. The Moselle proceeded about a mile up the river to take on some German emigrants. At this time, it was ob­served by an experienced engineer on board that the steam had been raised to an unusual height; and when the boat stopped for the pur­pose just mentioned, it was reported that one man, who was appre­hensive of danger, went ashore, after protesting against the injudicious management of the steam apparatus. When the object for which the Mosellc had landed was accomplished, the bow of the boat was shoved from the shore, and at that instant the explosion took place. The whole of the vessel forward of the wheels was blown to splinters; every timber, (as an eye witness declares,) "appeared to be twisted, as trees sometimes are when struck by lightning." As soon as the accident occurred, the boat floated down the stream for about one hundred yards, where she sunk, leaving the upper part of the cabin out of the water, and the baggage, together with many struggling human beings, floating on the surface of the river.

It was remarked that the force of the explosion was unprecedented in the history of steam; its effect was like that of a uiine of gunpowder. All the boilers, four in number, burst simultaneously; the deck was blown into the air, and the human beings who crowded it were doomed

to instant destruction. Fragments of the boiler and of human bodies were thrown both to the Kentucky and Ohio shores, although the dis­tance to the former was a quarter of a mile. Captain Perrin, master of the Moselle, at the time of the accident was standing on the deck, above the boiler, in conversation with another person. He was thrown to a considerable height on the steep emnbankment of the river and killed, while his companion was merely prostrated on the deck, and escaped without injury. Another person was blown to the distance of a hundred yards, with such force, according to the report of a reliable witness, that his head and a part of his body penetrated the roof of a house. Some of the passengers who were in the after part of the boat, and who were uninjured by the explosion, jumped overboard. An eye-witness says that he saw sixty or seventy in the water at one time, of whom not a dozen reached the shore.

It happened, unfortunately, that the larger number of the passengers were collected on the upper deck, to which the balmy air and delicious weather seemed to invite them in order to expose them to more certain destruction. It was understood, too, that the captain of this ill-fated steamer had expressed his determination to outstrip an opposition boat which had just started; the people on shore were cheering the Moselle in anticipation of her success in the race, and the passengers and crew on the upper deck responded to these aeclamations, which were soon changed to sounds of mourning and distress.

Intelligence of the awful calamity spread rapidly through the city; thousands rushed to the spot, and the most benevolent aid was promptly extended to the sufferers, or, as we should rather say, to such as were within the reach of human assistance, for the majority had perished. A gentleman who was among those who hastened to the wreck, declares that he witnessed a scene so sad and distressing that no language can depict it with fidelity. On the shore lay twenty or thirty mangled and still bleeding corpses; while many persons were engaged in drag­ging others of the dead or wounded from the wreck or the water. But, says the same witness, the survivors presented the most touching objects of distress, as their mental anguish seemed more insupportable than the most intense bodily suffering. Death had torn asunder the most tender ties; but the rupture had been so sudden and violent that none knew certainly who had been taken or who had been spared. Fathers were distractedly inquiring for children, children for parents, husbands and wives for each other. One man had saved a son, but lost a wife and five children. A father, partially demented by gief, lay with a wounded child on one side, his dead daughter on the other,

and his expiring wife at his feet. One gentleman sought his wife and children, who were as eagerly seeking him in the same crowd. They met, and were re-united!

A female deck passenger who had been saved, seemed inconsolable for the loss of her relatives. Her constant exclamations were, "Oh, my father! my mother! my sisters !" A little boy, about five years 01(1, whose head was much bruised, appeared to be regardless of his wounds, and cried continually for a lost father; while another lad, a little older, was weeping for his whole family.

One venerable looking man wept for the loss of a wife and five chil­dren. Another was bereft of his whole family, consisting of nine per­sons. A touching display of maternal affection was evinced by a lady, who, on being brought to the shore, clasped her hands and exclaimed, "Thank God, I am safe !" but instantly recollecting herself, she ejaculated in a voice of piercing agony, "Where is my child ?" The infant, which had also been saved, was brought to her, and she fainted at the sight of it.

Many of the passengers who entered the boat at Cincinnati had not registered their names; but the lowest estimated number of persons on board was two hundred and eighty; of these, eighty-one were known to be killed, fifty-five were missing, and thirteen badly wounded. It re­mains for us to give the names of the sufferers, as far as they could be ascertained; but this list, although we have searched every record of the accident, for reasons which have already been explained is still

•far from complete.

KILLED.-Elijah North, of Alton, Illinois; Miss Mary Parker, (drowned,) and B. Furmon, merchant, Micidletown, Ohio; Job Jones, of Loudon County, Virginia; B. Mitchell, barkeeper, of Cincinnati; Capt. Perrin, master of the Moselle; J. Chapman, second clerk; T. C. Powell, of Louisville, Kentucky; H. B. Casey, of Cincinnati; James Barnet, of Missouri; Calvin R. Stone, of Shrewsbury, Massa­chusetts; James Douglass, of Fort Madison, Wisconsin; J. Williams, colored; Henry Stokes, second steward; Holly Dillon, fireman; J. Madder, first engineer; Robert Watt, deck hand; R Dunn, chamber­maid; James B. McFarland, Knox County, Ohio; Miss Dunham; J. M. Watkins, of Virginia; M. Thomas, first mate; A. Burns, of Phila­delphia, Pennsylvania; Halsey Williams, second engineer; a child of P. Troutman; G. Kramer's wife and five children; J. Fleming, pilot, (body blown to the opposite side of the river,) and J. Dillon. Many whose names are inserted under the head of "missing" may properly be added to this list. A large number of those who perished were Irish and German emigrants, whose names are unknown.

BADLY WOUNDED.-William H. Inskeep, St. Clairsville, Ohio; Mr. Sherwood, of Cincinnati; Benjamin Bowman, first clerk; James Tyr­roll, deck hand; - De Jaune, fireman; Stephen Bailey, carpenter; Isaac Van Hook; a brother of Capt. Perrin; D. Higbee, of Caynga County, New York; Edward Sexton; Mr. Teed, of Worcester, Mas­sachusetts; - Franklin, second cook; James Fry, third cook.

MISSING.-Lieut. Cot. Fowl, U. S. A; two children of George Kra­mer; Wm. Parker's wife and two children, Dr. H. Huey, U. S. A.; Joseph Swift, Buffalo, N. Y.; Joseph Fotler, Filbain Fotler, Grechan Fotler, and Jacob Fotler, of Boston, Mass.; John Beaver, Joseph Bea­ver, Eva Beaver, Mary Beaver, Jacob Beaver, and several children of Joseph and Eva Beaver; a child of Peter Trautman, aged two and a half years; Thomas Watt, a deck hand; Michael Kennedy's wife and two children; D. Higbee's wife and two children; E. Raymond, wife and child, of Baltimore, Md.; John Endig and John Leim, and the wife and child of each; John Tyree, St. Louis; Payton Bird, fireman; John Anderson; Mr. Wcbcr and three children; J. Weaver, St. Louis; Wilson Burrows, deck hand; Mr. Fox, first clerk; J. Duncan, wife and two children; M. Manning and J. Lander, from Ireland; Wm. Dough­erty, U. Weaver, D. Brackwell.

On the day after the accident a public meeting was called at Cincin­nati, at which the Mayor presided, when the facts of this melancholy occurrence were discussed, and among other resolutions passed was one deprecating "the great and increasing carelessness in the navigation of steam vessels," and urging this subject upon the consideration of Con­gress. No one denied that this sad event, which caused so much con­sternation, suffering, and sorrow, was the result of a reckless and criminal inattention to their duty on the part of those who had the management of the Moselle, nor was there any attempt to palliate their conduct.

The Moselle was built at Cincinnati, and she reflected great credit on the mechanical genius of that city, as she was truly a superior boat, and, under more favorable auspices, might have been the pride of the waters for many years. She was quite a new boat, having been begun on the 1st of December, 1838, and finished on the 81st of March, less than one month before the time of her destruction.


 
© Copyright by Franz Neumeier