Natchitoches, LA Area Steamboat LIONESS Explosion & Fire, May 1833

Steamboat Lioness, May 1833


The destruction of the Lioness was caused by the explosion of several barrels of gunpowder, which were stowed, among other freight, in the hold. The accident, therefore, cannot be attributed to any defect in the steam apparatus, or to any mismanagement thereof. The catastrophe took place at an early hour, on a calm and beautiful Sabbath morning in spring. Many of the passengers had not left their berths. Among those that had embarked in the Lioness at New Orleans, were the Hon. Josiah S. Johnston, of the United States Senate, and several other distinguished citizens of Louisiana. The boat was commanded by Capt. William L. Cockerell ; her place of destination was Nachitoches, on Red river. She had accomplished a considerable part of the voyage, and reached the north of a small stream called Ragolet Bon Dieu, when, on the morning referred to above, the mate and several of the crew were arranging some part of the cargo in the hold ; and as the place was dark, they found it necessary to use a lighted candle. It is conjectured that a spark from the candle, in some way, found access to one of the kegs of powder; but as every person who had been at work in the hold was killed by the explosion, the mode in which the powder became ignited could never be ascertained. It is reported that some articles of a very combustible nature, such as crates containing a quantity of dry straw and several casks of oil, were stowed in dangerous proximity to the powder. It was stated by some of the passengers that three distinct explosions were heard, The fore-cabin, the boiler deck, and the hold immediately under them, were literally torn to pieces, and the fragments were scattered over the surrounding waters to a surprising distance. A part of the hurricane deck and a portion of the lady's cabin were likewise detached ; and this proved to be a favourable circumstance, as the hull almost immediately sunk, and, in all likelihood, every female on board, and many other persons, would have been drowned, had they not been sustained on the detached pieces of the wreck just spoken of. As it was, all the women were saved ; and the loss of life, though terrible enough indeed, was leas than might have been expected, in view of all the circumstances of the disaster. The hull of the vessel was on fire almost from stem to stern, at the time she went down. All of the crew and passengers who survived, saved themselves by swimming, or were floated to the shore on fragments of the wreck. The names of the sufferers, as far as they could be ascertained, are given below.

DROWNED, OR KILLED BY THE EXPLOSION.—Hon. Josiah S, Johnston, Member of Congress, of Louisiana ; B. Riggs, Esq., Michael Boyce, Esq,, of Alexandria, Louisiana ; Michael Clifford, New Orleans ; IL Hertz and Thomas Irwin, a deck passenger, of Texas ; John Coley, mate of the Lioness, Louisville ; John Clarke, Englishman, steward of the same ; Samuel Landis, William Kant, James Folsome, sailors ; another sailor, name unknown ; Mary Anderson, chambermaid ; Alexander, colored cook ; and a colored servant belonging to one of the passengers.

WOUNDED.—Josiah Johnston, Jr., son of the Hon. J. S. Johnston, mentioned in the list of killed ; Hon. Edward D, White, of Louisiana ; Henry Boyce, Esq., Mr. Dunbar (badly hurt), of Alexandria, Louisiana ; J. H. Graham, New Orleans ; Michael Colgen, J. V. Bossier, M. Rupen, of Natchitoches ; Isaac Wright, Pilot ; John Roberts, engineer; John Rogers, sailor ; and two firemen, names unknown.

Lloyd's Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, Cincinnati, Ohio; James T. Lloyd & Co, 1856, pages 83-87