Cleveland, OH Steamer G P GRIFFITH Fire, Jun 1850

Burning of the G P Griffith

Burning of the Griffith.

INCIDENTS. --- The Toledo Blade of Wednesday last furnishes the following sketch of CAPT. ROBY:
With all the later history of the valley and especially with its seasons of adversity, in which her was an actor and participant. CAPT ROBY'S name was prominent. His early life was spent here. For many years he was a clerk in the employ of GEN. HUNT. From 1836 to '38, he was in the merchantile business at Perrysburg. Failing, in consequence of two successive fires, he afterwards became steward on the Perry, and this was the commencement of his career in steamboating. From this station he was advanced to that of commander of the steamer Indiana, which he run during two seasons, very acceptably to the traveling public. He retired from the Indiana, opened a store in Perrysburg, and for the four years previous to the present spring, was engaged in the mercantile business. Last season, he bought a controlling interest in the steamer J. D. Morton which was under his command until the close of navigation. During winter, in company with MR. STUDDIFORD, of Monroe, he built the steamer Wave, which for a couple of months run under his command, between this city and Sandusky. In the meantime, they purchased the controlling interest in the steamer Griffith, of which CAPT. ROBY took command on her last trip down from this city. Pleased with the idea of again being commander of one of the best steamers on the Lake, he took with him on this trip his wife, mother, and child. MRS. ROBY with characteristic kindness had invited several of her friends in Perrysburg to accompany them which invitation fortunately was declined. Alas! Who among her numerous friends (for no lady had more supposed that has departing on this trip was to be their final earthly separation.

CAPT. ROBY seems to have been peculiarly the sufferer of disasters by fire. In his first business operations he lost two steam mills by fire at Perrysburg --- Indiana, a boat which had been under his command, was destroyed by fire. Last year the Defiance, a schooner owned by him, was nearly destroyed by fire, and lastly the Griffith, was thus destroyed. We cannot realize that he, that his wife, that his beautiful child are no more. But alas! The painful reality is forced upon us. Earth is no longer their abiding place. Their voices are stifled in death, and their spirits have fled as we hope to a brighter world.

The same paper furnishes the following incident:
The fire was first discovered emanating from the chests enclosing the chimneys, of the boat. These, from some reason, had not been used as water jackets during the present season, but were filled with clay. The boat was three miles from shore, when the fire was discovered. The crew strove vainly to extinguish it before awkening[sic] the passengers. When they were all finally aroused, all hope of saving the boat was gone, she was headed for shore, and from a knowledge of the coast the Captain and crew felt the most perfect assurance of being able to save all on board. This is the reason why the boats were not manned. The Captain hand gathered his family consisting of his wife, child, and mother, around him, and assigned the care of his daughter to DONOVAN, and his mother to her son HENRY WILKINSON, intended to save his wife himself. They stood ready to jump into the Lake whenever the boat had sufficiently neared the shore, to render their escape probable. Unfortunately, at the distance of half a mile from shore, she struck a small sand bar, which fifteen feet in either direction would have been avoided. Swinging upon this, she was presented lengthwise to the wind, which spread the flames along her whole length. The chief Engineer found it impossible to stop the engine, and pursed by the flames, the passengers jumped by twenties into the lake, thus in fact, drowning each other. The paddles being in motion, afforded no aid, and unprepared entirely for being stranded at this distance, no effort was made to throw over any floating articles. The captain kept his position until the choice to die by fire, or risk the chance of safety in the water was all that was left him. Then each leaped into the lake. Young WILKINSON with his mother, DONOVAN with the Captain's daughter ABBY, and lastly, the Captain and his wife.

HENRY WILKINSON says that his mother fainted in his arms, and sunk. Finding he could not save her he swam ashore, which he reached with much exertion. DONOVAN swan some distance with ABBY, until it is supposed she died in his arms. Leaving her then, he was enabled to catch hold of a person ahead of him, who turning, behold who it was, and thus addressed him, --- DONOVAN if you hold on to me, we cannot either of us be saved. I am nearly exhausted.' The noble fellow loosened his hold, fixed an earnest and dying glance upon the individual who addressed him, and sank beneath the surface. CAPT. ROBY and his wife were seen to sink into the lake, in each others embrace, though their bodies were found asunder. The Captain, it is said is not a good swimmer. From all accounts, during the whole scene, the Captain was perfectly collected, though be was prevented from affording assistance to any save his family, by the frantic cries of his wife, who clung to him, and was distressed beyond measure for the safety of her child. MR. PALMER it is supposed swam ashore and died upon the beach, of exhaustation[sic]. His body was found there.

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reamins of Victiums

According to Website "The History of Willowick, Ohio" about 100 victiums were recovered and buried on a bluff-bit site was erorded in the 1920's
See Also online article Griffith Disaster Burial Ground (Kennedy Farm) (extinct) Lake County Genealogical Society (Ohio)

Burning of the Griffith

Burning of the Griffith. - The navigation season of 1850 was long remembered as the most disastrous in loss of life that had yet been recorded. By the burning of the steamer G. P. Griffith of Chagrin, 20 miles east of Cleveland, June 17, 286 lives were lost, one of the greatest casualties that has ever occurred on the lakes.

The Griffith had just been purchased by Capt. C. C. ROBY and W. STUDDIFORD, his brother-in-law, of Detroit, and took her departure from Buffalo on Sunday morning, the day before the fire, for Chicago. There were 256 in the steerage, 45 in the cabin, and a crew of 25. Not a woman or child was saved except the barber's wife. The steamer was about three miles from shore when she took fire, at four o'clock in the morning. When the first alarm was given the passengers were cool and collected. It was thought that the boat could reach land, for which she was steering, and that thus all would be saved. But the steamer struck upon a sand-bar half a mile off shore and then panic reigned. The passengers became wild with despair and a great number of them plunged madly into the water. Captain ROBY, his wife, two children, and mother were of the lost. As soon as the boat struck he gave the command "overboard all," threw his wife overboard and then jumped after her, when both were drowned together. The mate swam ashore and obtained boats, by means of which several of the survivors escaped, but over 100 of the passengers were drowned soon after jumping overboard.

A searching party set out at once for the bodies of the lost, and in a short time the beach was strewn with 100 of them. So closely had they sunk that at one time 8 bodies were recovered by drawing one to the surface with a hook. The boat was insured in Buffalo for $27,775. The propeller Delaware reached the burning wreck and towed it ashore.

History of the Great Lakes. Volume I, Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1899