Shawneetown, IL Mail Packet Steamer CUMBERLAND Explosion, Aug 1869





The Cairo and Evansville mail packet CUMBERLAND exploded her boilers at 4:30 a.m., on Saturday last, a short distance above and in the sight of Shawneetown. The explosion was so complete as to include all the boilers, there being only two pieces of flues and a portion of one boiler head left on board the boat.
By this sad accident from twelve to twenty lives are supposed to have been lost. We say supposed, because all the books, registers and papers belonging to the boat, together with the safe, were lost by the explosion. Six bodies have already been found and buried, while it is known that several, and perhaps, many others, were blown into the river and seen no more. Thirteen persons are seriously wounded, but will all recover, and are now well cared for either at their homes or at Shawneetown.
None of the officers of the boat were killed, although some of them had very narrow escapes, and the mail agent, MR. COPELAND, of Metropolis, who is not considered an officer of the boat, is missing and believed to be lost.
MR. JAMES MATHENY, pilot, was blown upwards some distance, and alighted in the water without serious injury, and was thus enabled to assist and save MR. BRUCE HUNTER, clerk, who was severely hurt on the right side of the head by being struck with a portion of the flying wreck and by being scalded, so as to be unable to support himself in the river where the force of the explosion had left him. MR. HUNTER was brought down to his home in Metropolis, where he has a family, on the steamer Armada, yesterday, and although he was at times unconscious, it is believed he will recover.
MR. DAVID PIERSON, of Cairo, mate of the Cumberland, made a narrow escape. He was ascending the cabin stairs when the accident occurred, and although that portion of the boat was thoroughly demolished, he escaped with a few slight bruises, and is now attending to his duties in charge of the wreck.
CAPT. WM. LOWTH was asleep in the "Texas," at the time of the explosion, and experienced a sensation of being lifted up suddenly, and then fell down among the debris of the cabin immediately over the shaft where the boilers had been. He is scarcely hurt, with the exception of slight bruises.
The force of the explosion seemed to be downward and outward, although a portion of the force was exerted at an aft angle of about 45 degrees upward. By this means the cabin floor was left on board, while the staterooms on both sides, from the gangways across her cabin amidships, to the extreme forward portion of the cabin, are almost entirely demolished and blown overboard. This of course includes the office, mail room, express and baggage rooms. The main deck is also nearly demolished for a considerable distance, fore and aft of the boilers, leaving the bottoms of her hull visible from the inside.
The hull itself is not injured materially, and the boat had a big trip of freight on board which still remains there, although a small portion was probably blown overboard, and a large portion of the remainder damaged by mud, water and steam.
Immediately after the explosion as is usual, the wreck caught fire and would have caused a greater loss of life and greater agony, had it not been for the admirable presence of mind of MR. DAN JACOBS, of Shawneetown, who was blown up some distance and fell close to where the fire was beginning to communicate with the splintered woodwork of the wreck. Although considerably bruised and scalded, MR. JACOBS immediately commenced stamping out the fire with his feet, and throwing overboard such portions as he could wrench off with his hands - at the same time calling for water. Some person supplied water in a few minutes, and the fire was speedily extinguished.
CAPTAIN LOWTH ordered the anchor thrown overboard as soon as he extricated himself from the wreck, and thus prevented danger from drifting against a snag or any obstruction which might occasion her to sink, and thus endanger more life, and destroy or damage all the freight spared from the explosion. Not only CAPTAIN LOWTH, but all the officers of the Cumberland, are reported as having shown great coolness and care throughout the whole time.
Maj. McClure, of Cairo, was at Shawneetown, awaiting the arrival of the Cumberland to come home, and was watching her when the fatal accident occurred. She had just turned her bow to cross the bar, and rang the bells to work the engines slow, a few minutes previously, and was nearly across the bar when suddenly Maj. McClure saw her enveloped in steam, but heard no noise. As the steam cleared away he could see the terrible extent of the accident, and giving the alarm immediately the alarm bells of Shawneetown were rung and the citizens rushed to the river immediately, and while some manned every skiff and water craft at hand and rowed swiftly to the rescue, others harnessed horses to wagons and drove up the river bank to a point opposite the scene of disaster, to be ready to render any assistance in their power.