Algoma Shipwreck | November 7th, 1885 | Passengers and Crew

near Mott Island, Isle Royale, Lake Superior, Michigan
by Barbara Lewellen (c) 2009

One of the greatest loss of lives occurred on Lake Superior, November 7, 1885.  The steamer Algomastruck a reef near Greenstone Point, Isle Royale, Lake Erie, during a storm. The ship, tossed about like a bobbing cork by the mountainous waves, slammed down on the reef early Saturday morning at approximately 4:15 a. m. 

“Just as they were about to lower the life-boats, the steamer slipped off the reef and disappeared with an angry roar.  The water was covered with the struggling men and women swept from the deck, and then, for most of them, all was over.”

Steamer Algoma
Owned by Canadian Pacific Railway Company
Photo courtesy of Brian Stephens, Kamloops, British Columbia

The Algoma, a Clyde steel steamer built by “Aitken & Mansell,” of Kelvinhaugh, Scotland, was launched 31 July 1883, along with sister ships, “Athabasca,” and “Alberta.”  The British Whig newspaper of Kingston, Ontario, reported on February 22, 1884, “The Captains of the steamers running on the upper lakes are: Commodore Anderson, late of the Campana, will sail the Athabasca; Captain Moore, late of the Quebec, will sail the Algoma; and Captain Foote, late of the Emerald will command the Alberta.”

Two hundred seventy feet in length, and 38 feet in breadth, the Algoma had a gross tonnage of 1,773.  Lighted by electricity, the Algoma was a luxurious ocean steamer, costing $450,000 to build.  The three ships, named after geographical names in western Canada, built for the Canadian Pacific Railroad company in 1883, were based in Owen Sound. 

Thursday, November 5, 1885


May 1, 1884-Railway Merger
Service to Owen Sound

Canadian Pacific Railway manager Van Horn announced on May 1st, that: “ The Ontario and Quebec, Toronto Grey and Bruce and Credit Valley will henceforth be managed as part of the C. P. R.  The old names of these railways will disappear, and they will now be known as the Ontario Division of the C. P. R.”


 “Manager Whyte, who under the new arrangement is manager of the Ontario Division of the C. P. R. was in town this week, laying out the ground for the new station building, and immigrant sheds to be erected here.  The station building will be on the tannery property, and the immigrant sheds, north of Russell Street, in rear of Mr. Dunn’s present resident.”

Maiden Voyage of the Algoma from Owen Sound

The Algoma was the first to arrive at Owen Sound, on Saturday, morning, May 10, 1884, about ten o’clock, and it was quite evident for the display of bunting, large crowds, wending their way towards the dock, and expectant look on every countenance that something out of the ordinary run of things was about to happen, and by the time the magnificent, palace steamship reached the railway dock, standing room was at a premium.”


“The crowd was one of the largest ever seen in Owen Sound, and the Algoma was welcomed by blowing of whistles and ringing cheers, flags were displayed from the town hall, custom house, elevator and many private residences,” reported the Markdale Standard.


“The first trip out on Sunday morning, May 11, 1884, the Algoma had on board over eleven hundred passengers most of them emigrants from England, Scotland and Sweden. “


November 5, 1885-Owen Sound


Algoma loaded with passengers, and 431 tons of merchandise, departed Owen Sound, at 4:30 p.m., traveling out of Georgian Bay and north westerly to Sault St. Marie via St. Mary’s river, bound for Port Arthur. 


The merchandise valued at $17,000, included 195 tons of railroad rails, a car of machinery; car of emigrant’s effects; car of apples; four cars of fish plates; two cars of cement; and 134 tons of general merchandise.


Some of the passengers (and possibly crewmen) arrived either on the Canadian Pacific Railway mail train or steamship express train from Toronto, which serviced the Owen Sound port, delivering passengers directly to the pier. 

Deck Crew Officers and Able-Bodied Seamen reporting to the Captain’s Deck

Captain John Steed Moore

Captain John Steed Moore, age 33, of Sarnia, Lambton, Ontario, received a Certificate of Competency and Service, Certificate No. 1565, after passing the exam taken in Toronto, April 26, 1884.  Captain Moore received a Master mariner grade, for steamer sized ships, navigating on inland waters. Captain Moore grew up in Prescott, Grenville South, Ontario, the son of William and Matilda Moore.  The Moore family men were mariners, including father William Sr., a native of Ireland, John, and brother William Jr., both born in Ontario. Captain Moore had approximately 15-18 years experience at sea.   

Previous to joining the Algoma crew in 1884, John Moore was captain of the Quebec, a steamer built in 1874 at Chatham, Ontario, for the Beatty Line of Sarnia.  The Quebec route, based out of Sarnia, traveled to Lake Superior, Port Arthur, Fort William and Duluth, Minnesota.

Captain Moore sustained serious injuries in the crash of the Algoma when the wooden cabin sections broke loose from the ship and he was crushed by falling debris.  After recovering from his injuries, Captain John S. Moore commanded the Algonquin, which was launched in March of 1888, with J. B. Hastings as first mate.   “Messrs. Napier, Shanks & Bell launched last week from their yard at Yoker on the Clyde, Scotland, the steel screw steamer Algonquin, a vessel of about 1,800 tons, specially designed for the Canadian lake service from Kingston to Port Arthur.  At the launch the owners Thomas Marks & Company, Port Arthur, were represented by Captain John S. Moore, under whose management the vessel will undoubtedly prove a valuable addition to the lake service of Canada. “

John S. Moore married Jane Hutchinson in 1882 in Sarnia, Lambton, Ontario and they had three children: Hildegard, William and Minerva.  The family lived in Windsor, Essex North, Ontario from at least 1891 to 1911 where he worked as a Master Mariner of steamboats.


1st Mate, Joseph Buckley Hastings

1st Mate, Joseph Buckley Hastings, age 31, of Owen Sound, Grey North, Ontario. Joseph, a native of Ireland, immigrated first to England where his first two children were born, then moved to Owen Sound, Grey North, Ontario, in 1883, upon employment as a first mate for the Canadian Pacific Railway steamer Algoma.  Surviving the crash of the Algoma, Joseph B. Hastings moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was a steamboat captain of the C. W. Wetmore and the Idaho.

The whale-back steel steamer, C. W. Wetmore, built in 1891 in Wisconsin, valued at $250,000, was shaped like a cigar.  The steamer traveled from Duluth to Liverpool England in July 1891, under the command of Captain Saunders and chief mate Joseph B. Hastings, carried 95,000 bushels of grain. **Ref: New York Times “The Whaleback Barge 12/06/1891.) Captain Saunders died unexpectedly of heart failure in Liverpool, and the command of the C. W. Wetmore devolved on Captain Hastings, first officer. 

On Saturday, 19 September 1891, at 11:00 AM, the whaleback steamer Charles W. Wetmore left Philadelphia, Pennsylvania loaded with a cargo valued at $500,000 worth of machinery, for a shipbuilding plant up on Puget Sound, state of Washington, for the construction of whaleback barges.  Officers included Captain Joseph B. Hastings, chief engineer Robert S. Blauvelt, and first assistant J. J. Chisholm, and a crew of twenty.  The steamer traveled first to Rio de Janeiro, around Cape Horn to Valparaiso and Callao, and finally to Tacoma, Washington.  The trip from Philadelphia to California took 106 days, via the Horn, and passing Point Lobos on December 5, 1891. 

The C. W. Wetmore lost its rudder off the coast of California, on December 9th, and drifted unmanageably for several days until sighted near Tillamook Rock, by the British steamer Zambesi, who took her into tow and brought to Astoria for repairs.  Captain Hastings stated that he began to lose his rudder two weeks ago when off the Galapagos Islands.  “It dropped off bit by bit as the rivets gave way, but he hoped to make his destination, Port Townsend.” The steamer finally arrived in Tacoma, Washington on December 26, 1891.

The C. W. Wetmore was met with much fanfare in San Francisco on February 2, 1892. “As she passed up the harbor on her way to Beale-street Wharf, she was accorded a royal reception, steamers and tugs keeping their whistles going and the crowds on the wharves waving their hats and cheering.” Captain Hastings had a gang-plank run ashore and invited the San Francisco reporter on board. The proud skipper explained the structure of his queer-looking craft.  Captain John O’Brien took command of the C. W. Wetmore at the end of February, 1892, replacing Vice Captain Hastings.

Joseph Hasting then purchased the side-wheeler Idaho, in 1892.  When the whaleback steamer “City of Everett,” plied its trade between Comox and San Francisco, and the Panama route in 1895, J. B. Hastings was a 2nd officer on the ship.  

Joseph married Matilda Croker about 1879 in either Ireland or England. Their first two children George A., and Thomas W., were born in England, while Joseph was in the employment of British sailing vessels. Two girls, Marion, and Christina were born in Ontario.  Joseph died sometime between 1901 and 1911.  George Hastings, son of Joseph, immigrated with wife Beatrice Maud Holloway to the U. S., residing in Bremerton, Kitsap County, Washington.  George, a marine engineer, worked as a shipyard superintendant in the U. S. Naval Yards in Washington. George stated in both the 1910 and 1920 census, that both of his parents were natives of England, even though father Joseph stated in both 1881 and 1901 Canadian census data, that he and wife Matilda Croker were both born in Ireland.

2nd Mate – Richard D. Simpson

2nd Mate, Richard D. Simpson
, age 25, of Owen Sound, Grey North, Ontario, received a Certificate of Competency and Service, Certificate No. 1608, after passing the exam taken in Toronto, April 25, 1884.  Richard D. Simpson received a Master mariner grade, for steamer sized ships, navigating on inland waters.

Richard D. Simpson was appointed Captain of the Turret Cape, a steamer belonging to the Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Company, LTD, of Toronto in April of 1911:

Mr. Simpson was a survivor of the wreck, continued to live in Owen Sound, working as a Master Mariner.  He also survived the shipwreck of his ship the Altadoc when it wrecked on Keweenaw Peninsula, east of Copper Harbor, Michigan, Lake Superior, December 8, 1927.     The Altadoc, departed Owen Sound, bound for Fort William, Thunder Bay, Ontario, on December 7th, when she lost her rudder in the storm. 

The Altadoc washed ashore near the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, just 1,000 feet away from where the wreckage of the City of Bangor, which crashed a year before carrying a load of Chrysler and Whippet automobiles for Duluth.  The ship broke in two and a fire started in her coal bunker.  There was no loss of life on the Altadoc, despite the harsh winter storm and below zero temperatures.


Richard D. Simpson married Margaret Ann Hutchinson about the year 1888, and had two daughters Marguerite and Flora.  Wife Margaret passed away in 1937 and Richard in 1938 in Owen Sound.




1st Engineer – George Pettigrew

1st Engineer, George Pettigrew, age 48, of Jamestown, North Dakota, passed his Steamboat Engineer Examination during the Year ended 31st December, 1884, earning a Class 2 certificate. After his death on the Algoma, a news article from North Dakota stated that George and his brother Thomas were residents of Jamestown.  George Pettigrew,  born ca. 1837, Lanark, Scotland, the son of Thomas Pettigrew and Violet Archibald who married July 31, 1836 in Rutherglen. 


2nd Engineer – Alexander McDermid


 2nd Engineer, Alexander McDermid, age 33, passed his Steamboat Engineer Examination during the Year ended 31st December, 1884, earning a Class 3 certificate.  Newspaper lists of the crew members spelled Alexander’s last name as Alexander McDermott, yet no individuals by that name were found in Sarnia.  Alexander McDermid, engineer, is found living in Collingwood, Grey East, Ontario, Canada in the household of his father Neil McDermid.  Moreover, a brother named Hugh McDermid was a sailor.  When the Canadian Pacific Railway announced it was looking for a port to set up as their base of operations, the seaport of Collingwood was already a well-established shipping center. 


Purser – Alexander Mackenzie


Alexander Mackenzie, age 24, purser, was responsible for handling of money on board, including purchase of supplies, muster inspection in order to verify who actually worked on board for payroll duties; handling of fees and charges, and currency exchange.  Alexander, son of Hope Fleming Mackenzie and Helen Reid Young, and was the nephew of Canada’s Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie (1822-1892). 


Other Crewmen of the Captain’s Deck

Watchman, Henry Lewis, and John C. McNabb also called 3rd Mates, survived the crash, while wheelsmen H. Hanson and Horatio Mortimer, both perished. These four able-bodied seamen worked on the captain’s deck. There are several men in the Owen Sound area with the names Lewis, McNabb, and Hanson, making it difficult to determine if they are the sailors since they all list their occupations as farmers or laborers.   Wheelsman Horatio Mortimer, aged 20-21, Ontario, was the son of Henry and Hannah Mortimer, natives of Wetwang with Fimber, Yorkshire, England. The Mortimer family immigrated to Canada before 1850 and settled in Mulmur Township, Simcoe County, which is now part of Dufferin County, Ontario.



Friday, November 6, 1885

The steamer coaled at Sault St. Marie, passed through a series of locks, bypassing the rapids on St. Mary’s River to Lake Superior.  It was believed that a large number of passengers were taken on at Sault St. Marie, which spans the border between Ontario, Canada, and Chippewa County, Michigan.

Algoma passed Whitefish point about 3:50 p. m. Friday, and entered the waters of Lake Superior.  Whitefish Point is known as the graveyard of ship wrecks, with the famous wreck of the “Edmund Fitzgerald” occurring there November 10, 1975.

“It was blowing a strong breeze from the east and northeast, and the wind was increasing. We made sail at White Fist Point at 7 p.m. The weather was the same but the wind was slightly increased, with occasional squalls attended with rain.  At midnight the wind had increased to a moderate gale, with frequent squalls accompanied by rain and sleet.”

Saturday, November 7, 1885

“After leaving White Fish Point, our proper course being northwest by west, but the wind coming from the northward we steered northwest by west quarter west until 1 p. m. to allow for leeward, when the course was changed to northwest until 4 a. m on Saturday morning.

As night wore on the storm seemed to increase in violence.  Some retired to their berths, but the majority, who were suffering from nausea, kept watch. The wind shifted to northeast, with a violent snow squall.  The sea was running mountains high and the Algoma was tossed about like a cork.   At five minutes after 4 a. m. we checked down and commenced taking in sail.  We then steered west by south for the purposed of taking the sails in.  At 4:30 a. m. all sail was in except the fore-topsail, which was partly in. 

At the time when day should under ordinary circumstances, have broken, darkness continued, for the snow storm had not abated, and the air was terribly dense. We put the wheel hard-a-starboard and the ship was coming around to head on the lake again on account of the snow.

The island is a long, but comparatively a narrow, rocky one, and its vicinity is treacherous, owing to the large number of boulders which exist about it.  The channel in which the bay is entered runs close to the island, and Captain Moore realized the necessity of progressing with the utmost care. 

Fog horns were blown and signals of distress sounded.  The speed of the boat was reduced, but as the storm continued to rage it was impossible to determine absolutely what course the boat was pursuing.  While the ship was coming around, as mentioned, she struck aft on rocks known as Greenstone Point on Isle Royale, about fifty miles from Port Arthur and one mile from Passage Island light house, which has been abandoned since the 1st of the month. 

After striking the first time, the boat forged ahead, being driven by the storm.  A second shock occurred shortly after the first.  The stern of the boat was steadily pushed up on the rock. The vessel then struck the reef violently at the foreside of the boiler, and she immediately commenced to break up. 

Most of the passengers and a number of the crew were in bed at the time but were rudely awakened by the shock.   The water poured in through the broken vessel and over the bulwarks, putting out the fires in the furnaces and extinguishing the electric lights….”

Joseph B. Hastings, 1st Mate recalled, “Most of the passengers and a number of the crew were in bed at the time, but were awakened by the shock…When the shock was felt he ran down to the Purser’s room.  He then pushed forward amid the stifling steam and aroused the steward and other employees, as well as the steerage passengers whom he had not awakened on the way down, and conducted them to the forward end.”

The crackling of the timbers and the swaying of the vessel warned all that death in a terrible form was upon them.... In their madness a number threw themselves into the foaming billows; others were swept into the sea like feathers.  Even the crew seemed powerless, so stricken were they with the awful suddenness and stupendous character of the disaster.  Any efforts that had been made to launch the boats during the early confusion and horror had failed.

In less than 20 minutes the entire forward part of the boat was carried away, together with the cargo and human freight. 

Fifteen Crewman & Passengers Escape Wreck 
Sunday, November 8, 1885

Captain Moore ran a lifeline along the deck, which the surviving crewmen and passengers clung onto during the night, prevailing against the crashing waves and fallings timbers, near the after steerage. “Although it was madness to attempt to swim through the angry surf to dry land, several determined fellows made the effort with life-preservers,” stated William B. McCarter, 52, a survivor.” Only three landed, of which he names two of them: Henry Lewis, and Stephens.  “Sunday morning the men on the Island took a life-line from us and brought us ashore on a raft.  We sent the captain first and another man to hold him, as he was unable to stand.”

“Once the boat was turned over and one of the crew washed away, but the craft righted itself and was swept on in the comparative darkness.  All who could, bound themselves to the boat, while the remainder held to the sides.  A foot board was wrenched from the bottom of the life-boat, to use as a paddle, since there were no oars.  After half an hour, the boat suddenly struck some rocks.  The inmates feared all was over with them, as the craft capsized, but to their surprise when thrown out, the water was only a few feet deep, and they discovered they were on land.  After remaining there an hour or more, exposed to elements, the storm abated and the sky cleared. 

The island proved to be Isle Royale, and fishermen saw us, invited us to their houses, and kept us very comfortable.  We spent Sunday night there and the next morning about 5 o’clock the fishermen brought over their fishing-tug and asked the captain what was best to be done.  He told them to intercept the Athabasca.”



located in
U. S. International Waters


“A” marks the spot of the shipwreck, about one mile from shore, on the great boulders that exist near the channel



Steamer “Athabasca” picks up Survivors
Monday, November 9, 1885

The survivors were picked up late that afternoon by the steamer Athabasca, under the command of Captain James Foote, which had left Owen Sound, bound to Port Royal two days after the Algoma. Captain Foote had been instructed to keep an eye out for the Algoma, which was two days late in arriving at Port Arthur. The Athabasca arrived at Port Arthur Monday evening with the fourteen survivors and the bodies of Mr. Frost and Mr. Emerson, with work quickly spreading about the disaster.

Port Arthur released the names of the fourteen men picked up and brought to Port Arthur by the Athabasca:  1) Captain John Moore, 2) First Mate Joseph B. Hastings, 3) Second mate Richard D. Simpson;  4) James Bolton-deckhand, 5) Dan Laughlan-deckhand, 6) R. Stephens-deckhand,  7) P. McCalger-fireman,  8) Henry Lewis-watchman, 9) John C. McNabb-waiter, 10) George McCall-waiter, 11) John McLean-waiter, 12) J. McKenzie-waiter, and passengers 13) W. J. Hall and 14) W. B. McCarter.   In the final list of survivors, McKenzie was switched to the list of deceased, and J. McIntryre, steward, was place on the list of survivors


Tuesday, November 10, 1885

Initial reports feared that there were at least 100 crew and passengers on board.   Published reports of saved and lost were inconsistent, with variant spellings of surnames in Canadian and U. S. newspapers. “Charles Douglas Buchanan” turned out to be two brothers, “Charles” and “Douglas” Buchanan, of Hillier, Prince Edward. The switching of J. McKenzie, waiter, from the survivor list to the deceased and replaced by J. McIntryre, steward, as a survivor.  Two deceased crewmen were initially reported as “L. Bates” and “D. Ballantyne.”  A revised list consolidated these two names into one name, “Ballantyne Bates.”  The list below left the two names intact.  Fireman, “P. McCalger,” was replaced by the spelling “H. McCaligher.”  The surname of “W. B. McArthur” was actually “William B. McCarter” of St. Vincent Township, near Meaford, who was accompanying his friend William Milligan, on a trip to British Columbia. 

The St. Paul Daily Glove reported in a special to the Globe from Fargo, North Dakota, that George Pettigrew, chief engineer, was a resident of Stutsman County, North Dakota, survived by a brother, Thomas, also of North Dakota, who was also on the lakes.

News released from Port Arthur, Owen Sound, and Winnipeg, and published in U. S. newspapers, initially reported 37 deceased; and increased to 45 lives lost the next day.  The final report of shipwrecks during 1885 tallied 48 lives lost comprised of 35 crewmen and 13 passengers.  The survivors included 12 crewmen and 2 passengers.  The total number of crewmen thus amounted to 47.

Eleven passengers booked for the trip with five in first-class passenger cabins, and six as second class steerage passengers.   Manager Henry Beatty of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company could not locate a passenger list, presumed lost in the shipwreck with the papers of purser, Alexander Mackenzie.  The Algoma had 130 first class cabins and bunks for 200 steerage passengers, and on its maiden voyage had carried 1,000 passengers, exceeding its capacity load.

Two bodies (Frost and Emerson) were recovered and transported to Port Arthur by the Athabasca: Fishermen found four more washed up on shore near Rock Harbor, on November 28; while crews recovering the cargo found two bodies buried in the debris.

The remaining bodies were never found; leading to a rumor surfacing in August that local fisherman had pilfered the bodies, and deliberately sank the corpses far out in the lake to avoid detection. The revenue cutter Andrew Johnson, from Milwaukee, was sent to investigate the rumor on August 1st, 1886, and no further news is heard of this rumor.  John McLean, a survivor, stated in an interview published in the Watertown News, “All our clothing was lost,” implying that the gale force driven winds and waves of sea water, had torn their clothes off.

Timber from cabin section strewn on shore

Remains of the Steamer Algoma near Royale Isle shore

Permission to use photos for educational purposes only, and not for profit, obtained from the Bayliss Public Library, Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, Upper Peninsula Digitization Center Collections: Cyanograph photographs of the remains of the Steamer “Algoma” wrecked on Greenstone Island.

The commissioners, Lt. A. R. Gordon, of the Royal Navy, and Captain Thomas Estrus Harbottle of Toronto,  appointed by the Canadian government to investigate the cause of the wrecking of the steamer Algoma, censured Captain Moore and Chief Officer Hastings on January 16, 1886.  Captain Moore’s certificate was cancelled for nine months, later reduced to six months due to a previous good record, and Hastings’ certificate for six months.




Ballantyne, D., deck hand


McKenzie, J., waiter


Bates, L., deck hand


Mitchell, A., fireman


Bowker, H., oiler


Mitchell, R., oiler


Brooks, F., cook


Mortimer, H., wheelsman


Brown, J., fireman


Murray, C., deck hand


Emerson, H., waiter


Paddle, J., oiler


Gibson, W., fireman


Pettigrew, George, 1st engineer of Jamestown, Stutsman, North Dakota


Gill, Henry, deck hand, of Markdale


Rooke, L., deck hand


Hanson, H., wheelsman


Scott, John, deck hand


Henderson, W., waiter


Shannon, Mrs., ladies maid


Jones, Mr., steerage steward, of Scotland


Snelling, Thomas, waiter


Knight, Fred, waiter


Stokes, W., cook


Lott, J., cook


Taylor, Alexander, chief steward, either of Buffalo, NY or Cleveland, OH


Mackenzie, Alexander M., purser


Taylor, Charles, steward


Malone, J., first porter


Targett (McTarget), M., fireman


McClinton, H., waiter


Thompson, George, newsboy


McDermott, Alexander, 2nd engineer of Sarnia


 Wagstaff (Wagstuff), J., fireman


McKenney, Thomas, waiter





Bolton (Baueton), James, deck hand


McIntyre, J., steward


Hastings, Joseph B., 1st mate of Owen Sound


McLean (McLane), John, waiter


Langston (Laughlan), D., deck hand


McNabb, John C., watchman


Lewis, Henry, watchman


Moore, Captain John Steed, of Owen Sound


McCaligher, H., (McCalger, P), fireman


Simpson, Richard D., second mate, of Owen Sound


McCall (McColl), George, waiter


Stephens (Stevens), R., deck hand



Buchanan, Charles, of Hillier, Prince Edward, Ont.


Frost, Edward Louis, of Owen Sound, Grey North


Buchanan, Douglas, of Hillier, Prince Edward, Ont.


Frost, Mrs. Mary J (nee Butchart), of Owen Sound


Dudgeon, Mrs. Laura E., (nee Pengilly), of Owen Sound


Frost, infant child of Edward & Mary, of Owen Sound


Dudgeon, Albert, son, of Owen Sound


Higgins, William, wholesale merchant of Winnipeg


Dudgeon, Ethel, daughter, of Owen Sound


Milligan, William of St. Vincent, near Meaford


Emerson, G., of Ramsgate, England


Taylor, Mrs. (Winnipeg news release-not proved)




Zimmerman, Louis, of Port Arthur



Hall, William J., of Winthrop, near Seaforth, Huron


McCarter, William B., of St. Vincent, near Meaford



Photo courtesy of Brian Stephens, Kamloops, British Columbia

Algoma Shipwreck – Isle Royale

The tug “Siskiwit” was dispatched to pick up any bodies that might wash ashore and secure the wreckage, on November 9th.   The tug also was given instructions to secure the mail, the purser’s and ship’s books and papers.


Canadian Wreckers in U. S. Waters Dispute

Henry Beatty, Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway company, wrote a letter to the Collector of Customs, Mr. Smith, of Duluth, Minnesota, on November 18, 1885:


                MY DEAR SIR:  You have no doubt heard of the deplorable accident to this company’s steamer Algoma on Isle Royale, where a large number of people were unfortunately lost.  I was extremely anxious to recover all the bodies possible, and as this matter had to be done promptly, I sent the first tug I could get my hands on, which was one from Port Arthur.

I hope in doing so I have not done anything to contravene the United States customs regulations, which you know for the fifteen years I have been running steamers to Duluth I have been particularly careful of.              

                If anything has been done that is not in strict accordance with your regulations it has been done contrary to my orders, but I trust everything is all right.  Will you please let me hear from you on this matter, and oblige.

                                                                    Yours truly,

                                                                    Henry Beatty,
                                                                    Canadian Pacific Railway Company
                                                                    Office of the Manger of Steamship Lines and Lake Traffic


V. Smith, of the Collector’s Office, Custom-House, Duluth, Minnesota, then wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury, Honorable Daniel Manning, of Washington, D. C., on November 24, 1885:

            SIR: I have received notice that two or three Canadian tugs from Port Arthur are wrecking in American waters.  I have also received the enclosed letter from Henry Beatty, manger of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Line, stating that he had sent tugs to pick up bodies at the wreck of the Canadian steamer Algoma, on Isle Royale.

        It seems that two or three American tugs went there to pick up anything of value they might find, and without any authority from the steamship line, and that the Canadian tugmen who were picking up bodies warned them off.  I would respectfully ask if the Canadian vessels have the right to collect the cargo of the wrecked vessel, and if I should take any action in the matter, Isle Royal being in the district of Superior. “



Henry Beatty, the Manager of Lake Traffic, sent a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, Hon. Daniel Manning, Washington, D. C. defending his decision to send in a tug boat to Isle Royale on November 27, 1885:


          DEAR SIR:  Upon the morning of the 7th of November the Canadian Pacific Railway Company’s steamship Algoma was wrecked upon Greenstone Island, off Isle Royale, Lake Superior.  The survivors were brought in Port Arthur the evening of the 9th, and it became necessary to take immediate steps to secure the mail, the purser’s and ship’s books and papers, and the bodies of the drowned.  It was impossible to make arrangements for American tugs, and I therefore ordered the company’s tug LISKIEVIT to the scene of the wreck, with instructions to spare no pains to find all the bodies possible and return with them to Port Arthur.

        I also telegraphed my chief clerk in Port Arthur to be particularly careful to do nothing to contravene the United States customs regulations. The tug returned on the morning of the 22nd, having succeeded in finding four of the bodies.

       I am anxious to make arrangements to raise the boilers, machinery, and such cargo as may be secured, consisting of steel rails, bridge material, etc., early in the spring.

      Will you be good enough to let me know if boats belonging to this company may be employed, or failing this, if I may arrange for boats belonging to Port Arthur which may suitable?

      I desire, of course to secure what remained of the vessel worth saving at as little expense as possible, and shall feel extremely obliged if you can, consistently with existing regulations, favor me with the necessary permission.


HENRY BEATTTY, Manager Lake Traffic
Canadian Pacifica Railway Company



Jarvis Patten, Commissioner of the Treasury Department, Bureau of Navigation, in Washington, D. C., , thus replied to V. Smith of the Duluth, Minnesota, collector of customs office, on December 4, 1885:

SIR: This office is in receipt of your letter dated the 24th ultimo, stating that you have noticed that two or three Canadian tugs from Port Arthur have been engaged about the wreck of the steamship Algoma in picking up bodies, etc., and inquiring if the vessels have the right to collect the cargo and what action shall be taken by you in regard to the matter.

No authority of law exists under which they can pursue their business in waters of the United States, and the masters of the persons employing the vessels should be advised accordingly.

It is understood that, in this case, the tugs were employed in the first instance by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company.

A notice from you to Manager Beatty, of said company, that the employment of the vessels is not in accordance with the regulations upon the subject, would probably serve to cause the persons responsible for the vessels to refrain from any  violation of the law.

                Please give him notice without delay, and take such other measures as on further investigation you may find to be necessary in the premises.

Very Respectfully,

                                                                                                          Jarvis Patten
                                                                                                                             Collector of Customs



Henry Beatty, CPR Manager also defended his position to Jarvis Patten, Esquire, Commissioner Bureau of Navigation, Treasury Depart, Washington, D.C. in a letter sent December 14, 1885.

DEAR SIR:  I beg to acknowledge receipt of your favor of the 11th instant, covering enclosure of letter to the collector of customs, Duluth.

    I have been aware that, according to the strict letter of the law, Canadian tugs are not allowed to wreck in the waters of the United States, and I accordingly issued telegraphic instructions to the officer in charge of the wreck of the steamship Algoma, to find all the bodies he could and the purser’s safe, but to do nothing to contravene the customs laws of the United States.

    November 18, I wrote to the collector of customs at Duluth informing him of the steps that had been taken.  As soon as it became apparent that further search for bodies was useless, on November 17 this company’s tug was withdrawn from the scene of the wreck.

  Since that date no boat belonging to or in any way connected with this company has been out to Isle Royale.

    My letter to the Hon. D. Manning of the 27th ultimo was written to ascertain if special permission would be granted by the United States authorities, in view of the peculiar conditions of the case, for this company to employ its own facilities in raising boilers, iron, etc., in the spring of 1886.

    Will you be good enough, therefore, to inform me if any steps can be taken to lead to this result.

    This company is, of course, anxious, in view of the heavy loss that has been sustained, to reduce, as far as possible, the cost of further operations.  I beg to call your attention to the fact that the merchandise portion of the cargo is entirely lost, all that remains to be saved consisting of the boilers, machinery, etc., and steel rails and fish-plates belonging to the Canadian Pacific Railway.

    You are, sir, no doubt aware that the privilege I am now requesting has been, in more than one instance, granted to American tugs by the Canadian minister of customs.

 Manager Lake Traffic


Commissioner Jarvis Patten refused Henry Beatty's request that the Canadian Pacific Railway have the right to salvage the Algoma cargo on February 18, 1886.   Mr. Beatty responded citing the closeness of Port Arthur to the crash site versus a wrecking/salvaging outfit in Duluth, Minnesota, 200 miles away.  He also cited several instances where the U. S. Treasury Department had granted permission for Canadian wreckers to operate on Canadian vessels ashore in U. S. waters. 


Jarvis Patten, commissioner, responded on December 18, 1885:

Washington, D. C., December 18, 1885

TO: Henry Beatty,

    SIR:  This office is in receipt of your letter of the 14th instant.  You are informed that there is no authority for making any special exception to the general regulations in favor of your company as regards the wreck of the Algoma.

The regulations upon the subject are in possession of the collector of customs at Duluth, who will probably inform you as to the course to be pursued, on application from you.  The matter is governed by law, and no dispensing power is conferred, as regards such cases, upon this office.

JARVIS PATTEN, Commissioner




Horace B. Moore, Esquire, U. S. Collector of Customs, in Duluth, Minnesota, presented a proposal from George A. Priest, to salvage the remaining parts of the Algoma, since Canadian Pacific Railway, intended to only retrieve her boilers and engines. Moreover, Andrew Meyer, of Polk County, Wisconsin submitted a request to use a certain Canadian "wrecking plant" to raise the railroad iron and machinery from the wreck.

Commissioner Jarvis Patten informed the interested wrecking companies that "You are doubtless aware that the Canadian Pacific Railway Company made a similar application, and that special exception in its favor to the regulation upon the subject, were not authorized." 

Jarvis informed the Collector of Customs at Duluth, Minnesota on April 19, 1886:  The discussion to the legality of Canadian wreckers working in American waters had to meet the criteria:

Whether reasonable facilities can be obtained at your port or elsewhere in the vicinity, in the United States, for doing the work.  Where such facilities exist it has been the practice to require their use in ordinary cases.”

It does not appear, therefore, that any special additional instructions to you in regard to the matter are now necessary." 



 The Canadian Pacific Railroad company solicited for bids, and several American Wrecking companies submitted bids. U. S. Commissioner Jarvis Patten, on June 8, 1886, informed the Collector of Customs Horace B. Moore, at Duluth, Minnesota that:

    SIR: Referring to previous correspondence, I have to state that the manager of the lake traffic of the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company informs this office that facilities for wrecking in the case of the steamer ALGOMA have been found at Port Huron, Michigan, and that a contract has been made accordingly. 




The Meaford Monitor reported on July 30, 1886, that the work of raising the machinery of the steamer Algoma was progressing.  The tug George Hand and schooner, L. L. Lamb were engaged in the operations.  "The body of a man was found between decks, partly under the railway iron."

The salvaged engine and other machinery were brought into Owen Sound and loaded on a number of platform railroad cars.  "The rusted lot of tubes and engine fixings, made a wonderful confused looking heap.  The whole must be some hundreds of tons weight," reported the Meaford Monitor, September 20, 1886.

The salvaged engine, by D. Rowan & Co., from the Algoma was used in the Manitoba built by Polson Iron Works, Owen Sound, Ontario, and launched May 4, 1889.

Eighteen years later in 1903, the Suit was chartered to strip some of the wrecks of Lake Superior, and was reported on removing the bar iron in the hold of the wrecked boat, by the Buffalo Evening News.

This story is a compilation of news sources published in Canadian and U. S. Sources.  Following is a list of primary sources. 

1.       Chronicling of American Historic Newspapers: St. Paul Daily Globe and Salt Lake City Herald, and San Francisco Examiner

2.       Grey Highlands Digital Newspaper Project – Markdale Standard and Flesherton Advance newspapers

3.       Maritime History of the Great Lakes – “Algoma, File No. C85766” Collection of newspaper clippings under “Shipwreck News”

4.       Maritime History of the Great Lakes – “The Scanner, Volume 6, No. 5, February 1974.  “Ship of the Month No. 37 Algoma.

5.       Congressional Serial Set, Volume 2558, published 1889, by the United States Government Printing Office, 50th Congress, 1st Session, House of Representatives, Ex Doc. No. 204, “Vessels in Distress in Canadian Waters,” 13 pages.

6.       Bayliss Library, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Upper Peninsula Digitization Center Collections: Cyanograph photographs of the remains of the Steamer “Algoma” that was wrecked on Greenstone Island

7.       Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, Volume 20, Issue 9, No. 16-River St. Lawrence and Dawson Route, page 1886-Footnote.

8.       Sessional Papers No. 9, 1885, of the Dominion of Canada Parliament-Lists of Certificates of Competency and Service granted to Masters and Mates of Inland and Coasting Vessels; and Steamboat Engineers’ Examinations and Renewals during the Year ended 31st December, 1884, The Name of the Engineer, Class, and the Fee Paid.

9.       Canadian Pacific Railways Archivist Jo-Anne Colby – Steamship Express Trains.




| Index |