New York, NY Steamboat SEAWANHAKA Disaster, Jun 1880

The labor of rescuing the struggling passengers was performed by willing hands with all possible speed. Those who showed signs of exhaustion or severe injuries were carried to the two islands and the physicians promptly made use of all the appliances know to medical skill to restore them. The majority proved to be more frightened than hurt. After drinking a glass of brandy or partaking of a few other simple remedies, they recovered sufficiently to proceed at once to their homes. Twenty-nine remained in the Island hospitals last night---15 on Ward's Island and 14 on Randall's Island. Only a few were badly injured, and the doctors say that all will recover. From 30 to 40 are known to be dead, or estimated to be lost, and as new discoveries of floating corpses were constantly being made in the river during the night, there is only too much reason to fear that the list will be increased. Eleven bodies were taken to the Morgue last night---ten from Ward's Island by the steam-boat Fidelity at 11:30 o'clock, and one by the Minnahanonck earlier in the evening. The body of a baby remains on Randall's Island, that of a man on Ward's Island, and the remainder lie tied to stakes at different places along the river shores. The Seawanhaka was still a blaze of fire from stem to stern early this morning.


Capt. Charles P. Smith, who had charge of the Seawanhaka, lay last night in bed in one of the rooms at the Randall's Island Hospital. The gas was turned low and a cool breeze was moving through the apartments. When the TIMES reporter entered the room and the light was increased, Capt. Smith was seen to be pretty thoroughly enveloped in wrappings. His head and face were partly hidden under an oil-silk cloth, which was kept down by a rubber bag filled with ice. The left side of the Captain's face was visible, and seemed to be reddened with heat, but not seriously burned. Two huge bundles lay on the bed, each nearly a foot thick. These were the Captain's hands, burned so badly that the flesh had peeled off from the inside and left them raw. The Captain was eager to see the THE TIME'S reporter, and immediately offered to tell all he knew of the disaster, without regard to his feelings. According to his statement, which he gave substantially as recorded here, the Seawanhaka left Thirty-third-street, her last City dock, at 4:30 o'clock. She then had on board about 250 passengers, about two-thirds of whom were regular passengers by that boat, business men from the City, who dwell at different places along the Sound between New-York and Roslyn. The boat was running at the usual speed. Capt. Smith was in the pilot-house with his nephew, Stephen Vernon who was assisting at the wheel while running through Hell Gate. Everything on board was going along as usual, when, at 4:50, the Captain heard a heavy thud and shock, which shook the vessel from stem to stern. The report was a dull one, but it was heavy enough to make him fear its result. The boat was then just off Nigger Point. "I looked up," said Capt. Smith, "toward the smoke-stack and saw a dense volume of smoke rolling from it. It was not steam, but black, thick smoke, such as would come from tar, or powder. I said to Stephen Vernon, 'You'd better step out and get your water-buckets ready. I'll stop here and attend to the wheel.' I knew there was danger, and I knew we were in a bad place. The dense cloud of black smoke was followed by a draught of fire. When I saw that I knew what would come next. Almost as quick as I could speak the fire broke out forward, and began to climb toward the pilot-house. I looked ahead and saw the Granite State close before us, on our starboard side. On the port side just ahead, were four schooners and a tug. I saw the engineer run out on the deck below and could see also that he was badly burned and that I could not expect to get any help from him. My nephew did not come back so I found that I must manage the wheel myself. The heat began to rush up into the pilot house, and I could tell by the way it came in at the chain-holes that it was fierce underneath. From the moment the explosion took place I made up my mind to beach the boat. When the engineer left his room, and it became impossible to regulate the speed of the boat, it was necessary to steer between the Granite State and the four schooners, in order to turn the Seawanhaka's head toward the flat at Randall's Island. I kept her straight ahead until three vessels were passed, and then swung her about to port. She drove right up on the shore, not straight, but quartering so that she lay along as well as up on the beach. I remember as I steered that when the Henry Clay was burned she was run ashore so that the wind blew from stern to bow, and the flames were driven over many passengers. So I turned the boat's head so that the wind blew across her, leaving one side of the boat quite clear of fire, so that the passengers could jump off. There was a great deal of confusion and screaming as soon as the explosion occurred and I saw men in the water almost immediately. From the time of the explosion until the boat was beached could not have been much more than 10 minutes, although I was so busy that I may have considered the time longer than it really was. Before the boat touched the shore the flames were running [illegible] the wheel-post and licking my hands so that I had to change hands to hold the wheel. I knew I must hold on, and I did until I felt the boat slide up on the mud. I could scarcely see then, the smoke was so thick, but I managed to climb out and get to the side of the boat when I dropped overboard. They say it was a good thing to do. I believed it was the only thing to do to save life. I have not seen any of the officers since the accident. The boat was in excellent condition and the owners having spared no money to keep her in good order; in fact, I considered the management extremely liberal in that respect. I have been on the line 20 years."

The New York Times, New York, NY 29 Jun 1880



As was feared, the death-list of the unfortunate Seawanhaka continues to grow. Three more bodies were found yesterday in the water near the sunken meadows, on was picked up at College Point, and one child---little Katie Rausher, who was badly burned, and whose mother and cousin were lost---died in great agony at the Homeopathic Hospital on Ward's Island on Tuesday night. These, except the College Point corpse, was sent to the Morgue yesterday, and were all identified. One was that of Miss Augusta Reynan, of Jersey City. Another was that of Mrs. Lizzie Aikens, of Sea Cliff. She was the woman who was reported as jammed under the paddle-wheel. The third was that of Josiah Hasbrouck, of Newburg, the colored cook of the steam-boat.

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