Das Schiffsunglück auf dem Eriesee (zur Übersetzung)

Aus der Zeitung "Buffalo Commercial Advertiser", Donnerstagabend, 12.08.1841
175 Lives Lost.

(...) The ERIE left the dock at 10 minutes past 4 P. M., loaded with merchandise destined for Chicago, and as nearly as now can be ascertained, about two hundred persons, including passengers and crew on board. The boat had been thoroughly overhauled, and although the wind was blowing fresh, everything pronounced a pleasant and prosperous voyage. Nothing occurred to mar this prospect till about 8, when the boat was off Silver Creek, about 8 miles from shore, and 33 miles from this city, when a slight explosion was heard, and immediately, instantaneously almost, the whole vessel was enveloped in flames. Capt. Titus, who was on the upper deck, at the time, rushed to the Ladies cabin to obtain the Life Preservers, of which there were from 90 to 100 on board, but so rapid had been the progress of the flames, he found it impossible to enter to enter the cabin.

He returned to the upper deck, on his way giving orders to the Engineer to stop the engine, the wind and the headway of the boat increasing the fierceness of the flames and driving them aft. The Engineer replied that in consequence of the flames he could not reach the engine. The steersman was instantly directed to put the helm hard a starboard. The vessel swung slowly round, heading to the shore, and the boats -- there were three on board -- were then ordered to be lowered. Two of the boats were lowered, but in consequence of the heavy sea on, and the headway of the vessel, they both swamped as soon as they touched water. We will not attempt to describe the awful and appalling condition of the passengers. Some were frantic with fear and horror, others plunged headlong madly into the water, others again seized upon anything buoyant upon which they could lay hands. The small boat forward had been lowered. It was alongside the wheel, three or four persons in it, when the captain jumped in and the boat immediately dropped astern filled with water.

A lady floated by with a life preserver on, she cried for help. There was no safety on the boat. The captain threw her the only oar in the boat, she caught the oar and was saved. It was Mrs. Lynde, of Milwaukee, and she was the only lady saved. In this condition, the boat a mass of fierce fire, and the passengers and crew endeavoring to save themselves by swimming or supporting themselves by whatever they could reach -- they were found by the CLINTON at about 10 P. M. (The CLINTON left here in the morning but in consequence of the wind had put into Dunkirk. She laid there until nearly sunset, at which time she ran out, and had proceeded as far as Barcelona, when just at twilight the fire of the ERIE was discovered some 20 miles astern. The CLINTON immediately put about and reached the burning wreck about 10.) It was a fearful sight. All the upper works of the ERIE had been burned away. The engine was standing, but the hull was a mass of dull red flames. The passengers and crew were floating around, screaming in their agony and shrieking for help. The boats of the CLINTON were instantly lowered and manned, and every person that could be seen or heard was picked up, and every possible relief afforded. The LADY, a little steamboat lying at Dunkirk, went out of that harbor as soon as possible, after the discovery of the fire, and arrived soon after the CLINTON. It was not thought by the survivors that she saved any. By 1 A. M. all was still except the dead crackling of the fire. Not a solitary individual could be seen or heard on the wild waste of waters. A line was then mad fast to the remains of the Erie's rudder, and an effort made to tow the hapless hulk ashore. About this time the CHAUTAUQUE came up to and lent her assistance - the hull of the ERIE was towed within about four miles of the shore, when it sunk in eleven fathoms water. By this time it was daylight. The lines were cast off. The CLINTON headed for this port which she reached about 6 o'clock. Of those who were saved, several are badly burned, but some are dangerously injured so far as we have learned.
ORIGIN OF THE FIRE. -- Among the passengers on board were six painters in the employ of Mr.. W.G. Miller of this city, who were going to Erie to paint the steamer MADISON. They had with them demijohns filled with spirits of turpentine and varnish, which, unknown to Capt. Titus, were placed on the boiler deck directly over the boilers. One of the firemen, who was saved, says he had occasion to go on the deck, and seeing the demijohns, removed them. They were replaced, but by whom is not known. Immediately previous to the bursting forth of the flames, as several on board have assured us, a slight explosion was heard. The demijohns had probably burst with the heat, and their inflammable contents, taking fire instantly, communicated to every part of the boat, which having been freshly varnished caught as if it had been gunpowder.
Not a paper nor an article of any kind was saved. Of course it is impossible to give a complete list of those on board. Of cabin passengers Capt. Titus thinks there were between 30 and 40, of whom 10 or 12 were ladies. In the steerage were about 140 passengers; nearly all of whom were Swiss and German immigrants. These were mostly in families with the usual proportion of men, women and children. The heart bleeds at the thought.
It is a singular coincidence that the ERIE was burned at almost identically the same spot where the WASHINGTON was burned in June, 1838, Capt. Brown, who commanded the WASHINGTON at that time, happened to be on board the CLINTON, and was very active in saving the survivors of the ERIE. (...)
The following list of the killed, wounded and missing is the most complete that could be obtained.

The conduct of young Fuller, of Harbor Creek, is worthy of commendation. He was at the wheel when the alarm of fire was given, immediately headed the boat for shore, and continued at it until the wheel-house, wheel, and his own person were completely enveloped in flames.
News of the Week, Toronto, Saturday, September 9, 1854
If our memory serves us correctly, some 310 human beings perished fearfully in the alternative of a grave in the fire or in the deep water. How stirred the sympathies of this City ! How wild was the excitement here--and how for weeks we sickened and shuddered over the ghastly companies of swollen, burned, and disfigured corpses that were laid in ranks upon our wharves, and upon the beach. May a like disaster never again happen upon this beautiful water!

Quelle: maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca

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