Sheboygan, WI Steamer PHOENIX Fire, Nov 1847

Burning of the Phoenix, Nov 1847

At this time the blazing vessel presented a most awful and sublime spectacle. The hull was a complete bed of fire, which, bursting in flames from the sides, at times streamed far out over the waters, and then curled aloft, till flame meeting flame, the combined fiery current rushed furiously upward till it appeared to be lost in the clouds. When Mr. House, alone on his raft, beheld this grand, but dreadful object, the shrouds and rigging were covered with human beings, who sought safety there rather than in the waters.

Their terror-marked features were lighted up by the ghastly glare of the flames, and as the fire reached them in their retreat, one after another fell, shrieking, into the fiery furnace below. One man reached the cross-trees (an elevated position on the mast), where he lashed himself, and there he remained till all his companions had fallen, and the mast went by the board; but in the mean-time he was roasted to death by the fervid heat. While the boat was burning, and all prospects of relief were cut off, some betook themselves to quiet prayer, others shrieked for aid, or uttered phrensied exclamations of despair, and others bowed in meek submission to the fiat of an overruling Providence. As the flames advanced, one voice after another was hushed in death, and finally a stillness, awful and profound, told the horrified spectator that the scene of suffering was finished.

This disaster is supposed to have occasioned a greater loss of life than any other steamboat accident which ever occurred on the American lakes. The greater number of those who perished were the Holland emigrants, whose names are unknown. Mr. House, the engineer, who related the particulars contained in this narrative, was personally acquainted with some of the American passengers who were lost, and their names only are preserved in the following list, given by Mr. H. himself.

PASSENGERS Lost.—Mr. West, lady, and child, of Racine, Wis. ; Mr. Heath and sister, of Little Fort ; Mrs. Long and child, of Milwaukie ; S. Burroughs, of Chicago; D. Blish, Southport ; two Misses Hazelton, of Sheboygan ; twenty-five other cabin passengers, names unknown to Mr. House; six or eight steerage passengers, and about one hundred and fifty Hollanders.

OFFICERS AND CREW OF THE BOAT LOST.- D. W. Keller, steward, of Cleveland, Ohio ; J. C. Smith, saloon keeper, of Buffalo, N. Y. ; N. Merrill, second mate, of Ohio city; W. Owen, second engineer, of Toledo, Ohio ; H. Robinson, porter, Chicago; J. Nugent, fireman, of Buffalo. Deck Hands.—T. Hersey, T. Ferteau, of River St. Clair ; J. Murdock and A. Murdock, of Canada; George —, cabin boy; H. Tisdale, of Cleveland, (body found ;) wheelsman, name not remembered ; L. Southworth, of New Bedford ; and two colored cooks, of Detroit.

The names of those saved were Capt. Sweet, Ohio city; Mr. Donihoe, clerk, River St. Clair; engineer, M. W. House, Cleveland ; wheels-man, A. G. Kelso, Ohio city ; deck hand, J. Moon, Cleveland ; fireman, Michael O'Brien, Buffalo ; second porter, R. Watts, Cleveland.

The Phoenix had as large a load of passengers and freight as she could carry.
The loss of life was the largest which ever occurred on the lakes, and the property lost was immense. It is supposed that those one hundred and fifty Hollanders had considerable money with them, as they were seeking a location in the West; but how uncertain is life ! It is indeed mournful to record this sad catastrophe.

Lloyd's Steamboat Disasters, pages 177-183