Athens, NY (Hudson River) Steamer SWALLOW Accident, Apr 1845

Hudson River NY Steamer Swallow explosion.jpg




Steamer Rochester, Tuesday, 3 A.M.
My Dear Friend -- You may value a few lines from me, an eye-witness, descriptive of the terrible accident which befel the SWALLOW last evening. At about 8 o'clock, when going at a rapid rate, the boat struck on a small rock island, abreast the town of Athens and the city of Hudson. I was sitting in the upper saloon in conversation. At the first severe shock, the passengers rushed below, but fears were calmed for a moment by the outcry that we had only come in contact with a raft. But our ears were speedily assailed by the appalling sounds of the rending of timbers, and the evident destruction of the boat; while the stern settled with frightful rapidity. Those who had "turned in," in the after cabin had barely time to leap from their berths before the water was upon them.
You can imagine the horrors of the scene at this moment, when more than three hundred souls were thus exposed in the midst of falling snow and almost utter darkness. As the water reached the boiler fires, a sheet of mingled steam, smoke and flame poured into the boat, illuminating the ghastly countenances with a sudden glare of vivid light, and compleating the consternation. The conviction that the curse of fire was to be added to our other imminent perils, curbed the resolution of the stoutest hearts. But the rapid sinking of the boat extinguished the fires, and all was darkness again.
In less than five minutes, by the blessing of God, the stern rested on the bottom, the water being above the windows of the aft saloon state rooms. Several females were drawn out of state rooms by dashing in the windows; two almost exhausted -- one very aged, and now lying on board this boat in a precarious situation -- were taken from the Ladies' cabin by cutting through the floor. They had sustained themselves on settees, with only a few inches of breathing room for their faces. The bow had been forced high and dry upon the rock, and the boat, split open amidships, was left rising almost perpendiculary upward, covered with anxious beings clinging to the bulwarks. The remainder of the passengers were sadly grouped on the forward upper deck, many bewailing the absence of dear companions, and actuated by the most dreadful apprehensions for their fate.
By this time the alarm had been thoroughly communicated to the shore on either side. The bells of the churches began to ring, and the river was soon covered with torches, waving in the fleet of boats that put off to our assistance; while the Rochester, which had found it difficult to get to us, and the Express, which had now come up, were gradually approaching along side. The sound of the bells pealing on the air, the shouts of those in the boats, the light of the waving torches, and the wailing grief of many on the wreck, constituted features of a most impressive scene.
In the course of an hour all were taken off who remained, in the Rochester, and the past seeming like a terrible dream. I am approaching the city, it can scarcely be but that several are lost. Many leaped immediately overboard in the frenzy of mind which recluded the power of self preservation in the water. The doors of the most of the state rooms were so sprung at once, as to be immovable, and examination will probably discover the dead within some of them, I can scarcely hope otherwise.
The boat is a complete wreck. It was a mournful sight as we cast off from her side. The Captain behaved nobly -- calming fears, and making his voice heard everywhere in advice, with the most thorough judgement and self possession. The baggage is almost all deep under water, and will be removed only in a damaged state.
Our hearty thanks are due to the officers of the Rochester and Express for the prompt assistance and untiring assiduity to save everything that hand could be laid on.
Friends in the Rochester tell me that the yell of agony, as they described it, which came to their ears from the sinking boat, was of a character never to be forgotten.
Yours truly,
Henry F. Harrison.

N.B. -- Morning -- The apprehensions of loss of life which I expressed above, are fully realized. Several females were seen to be washed off by the water as it rose above the guards, and all, it is thought, could not have escaped from the cabin. Several on board our boat have nothing but their night dresses.

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