Ozark Island, MS Steamer CLARKSVILLE Fire, May 1848

Burning of the Steamer Clarksville


The popular and beautiful steamer Clarksville, a regular packet boat between New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee, was destroyed by fire near Ozark island, on the 27th day of May, 1848; thirty deck passengers, nearly all the crew, and the commander, Capt. Holmes, lost their lives. The cabin passengers were all saved. We have obtained the following particulars of this melancholy event :

As soon as the alarm of fire was given on board, the pilot steered for the island. At the moment her head touched the shore, the flames burst into the cabin, one of the boilers burst simultaneously, and, to aggravate the calamity still more, three kegs of gunpowder, which were among the freight, exploded at the same instant. Governor Poindexter, of Tennessee, who was one of the passengers, received some injuries. Most of the passengers lost their baggage, and none of the officers or crew saved anything. Captain Holmes acted most nobly throughout the trying scene, who, after swimming ashore with his wife, returned to the boat, and met his death in the honorable discharge of his duty. His first impulse was to save the female passengers. Rushing to the ladies' cabin, he prevailed on the affrighted occupants to take the chairs, with the life-preservers attached to them, and commit themselves to the water. He then threw the baggage, &c., overboard, to lessen the combustible material, and being now exhausted by his exertions, and half suffocated with smoke, he attempted to jump overboard, but striking against the lower guard, he fell among the burning ruins, and there perished.

The following details were furnished by a gentleman who was one of the surviving passengers of the Clarksville : The fire by which this noble boat was destroyed, was first discovered when she was about half a mile below Ozark island, at half-past 5 o'clock, P. M. Within a few minutes after the discovery of the fire, the boat reached the island to which the pilot had directed her course. The head of the steamer struck the ground, and all the passengers might easily have passed over the forecastle to the island, and many of them were saved in this way ; but others, being apprehensive of an explosion, remained in the cabin until they were driven from thence by the progress of the fames, which had, by this time, cut off all retreat by the forward part of the boat. All that could now be done by the persons who remained aft., was to throw themselves into the river, as the stern of the boat lay out from the shore. Governor Poindexter and his lady were both injured, the former slightly, and the latter severely. The first clerk escaped without hat or coat, but saved the books of the boat and the money. The fire originated immediately over the boiler, under the social hall, and made such rapid progress fore and aft, that all efforts to extinguish the flames were unavailing. The steamer Chalmetto took off the surviving passengers.

LIST OF THE KILLED.—Captain Holmes, master of the Clarksville ; two ladies and a child, names unknown ; Charles Quinn, a deck hand; the second steward, name not mentioned ; Humphrey, Sam Johnson, Lewis, Peter Spicer, Sam Wilson, Prince, and Giles, colored firemen; a negro man, his wife and four children, slaves of a Mr. Russell; Sam, a slave of Gov. Poindexter ; and a colored girl belonging to one of the passengers.

WOUNDED—Governor Poindexter and lady ; Mr. Barrow, and Mr. Lofton, of Memphis.

Lloyd's Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, Cincinnati, Ohio; James T. Lloyd & Co, 1856, pages 169-173