The burning of the City of Montreal, 1887

Liverpool Mercury, Friday, August 19, 1887

Overdue Inman Steamer

Up to a late hour last night the Inman steamer the City of Montreal had not been sighted. The owners however do not entertain the slightest fear, she being one of their slowest vessels, and only really two days behind her time.

Passengers leaving the burning City of Montreal, "The Graphic" 1887

Liverpool Mercury, Saturday, August 20, 1887



List of missing crew and passengers

One of the best known old steamers of the Inman Line, which has long held a high position in the Transatlantic trade, has been totally destroyed by fire at sea, while on a voyage from New York to this port. The City of Montreal which has fallen prey to a terrible peril of the sea, sailed from New York on the 6th inst, and would have reached Liverpool about the beginning of the present week. Her non-arrival with the usual punctuality caused great anxiety, and numerous speculations as to the cause of the delay arose. These were set at rest yesterday by the receipt of the following telegram from her commander Captain F. S. LAND, addressed to the owners, the Inman and International Steamship Company :-

"Queenstown Friday, Steamer City of Montreal totally destroyed by fire on the 11th inst, lat 43, long 43. Crew and passengers left in boats. Transferred the same evening to the German barque TREBANT, again transferred morning 12th, steamer YORK CITY of Hartlepool, and landed here this day. One boat missing with 13, 3 intermediate, 4 steerage and 6 crew."


Captain LAND, commander of the steamer supplies the following particulars ;-

"We left New York on Saturday, 6th inst, with 133 intermediate and steerage passengers on board for Queenstown and Liverpool. No incident worth recording took place, the weather being fine, until Wednesday night, the 10th inst, at 9 o' clock when in lat 43 88 N., long. 53 54 W., the wind being light from north west, fire was discovered in the after main orlop hatch amongst the cotton. Several hose were instantly connected and fire annihilators and hand grenades used freely, and every effort used to extinguish the flames, but they overcame all efforts, and finally spread to such an extent in the upper and lower tween decks that I saw the ship was doomed to destruction. From the commencement of the fire active arrangements were made in preparing the boats and placing provisions in them. At 6am the following morning flames burst out in one of the after hatches, the vessel was then enveloped in long tongues of flame. Boats were quickly lowered notwithstanding that it was a difficult task owing to the high sea running. Woman and children were first put into them, and it was a job, then the passengers and crew afterwards. I may add that the boats were not manned by their respective crews as circumstances did not allow that to be done. The men having to fight down the fire to the last, could not be at their boats. Accordingly as each boat was loaded it left the ship's side and got safely away. By some unfortunate oversight, however about 20 persons were left on board the burning craft. When this was discovered No 3 boat returned and took 6, and No 5 boat also returned and took another 6. Just as this was being done a barque was sighted coming down on us, and on her arriving we found she was the TREBANT of Germany. Soon our boats were alongside, and we safely transferred all to the barque. While this was being done one boat returned to the Montreal and rescued the remaining people from the vessel, which was enveloped in flames. When we got on board the TREBANT we found that one vessel was missing, and soon after was observed running before the wind, and, using her oars for sails she sped away, in direct disobedience to my orders previously given. We lost sight of that boat and have not seen her since. All night we stayed on that barque and next morning were transferred to the Furness Line steamer YORK CITY, bound from Baltimore for London, which had come up during the night. Captain BENN of the YORK CITY made a search for the missing boat, but failed to find her. The smoke and heat affected my eyes, those of the chief officer, and in fact, those of all who were trying to put the fire out, thus rendering us all partially blind for some hours. The chief officer was led, totally blind and in great pain, over the ship's side into the boat and did not get his eye sight for two days after. All behaved admirably well, considering everything had to be done in a dense, blinding smoke. The crew and passengers lost everything. I cannot say what the origin of the fire was, but I'm certain it broke out in several places at the same time".


The Rev J. M. DONALDSON, of Adelaide, Australia, who was a passenger on the City of Montreal furnishes the following narrative of the disaster :- "The City of Montreal left New York, on Saturday, August 6th, at 7am. There were 89 in the ship's crew, including the Captain and officers and 140 passengers. All went well with fine weather, until the following Wednesday night, when at 10pm, that most terrible of all alarms at sea, the cry of fire was given. Most of the passengers had turned in early and most were in their first sleep, from which they were so rudely aroused. The smoke, which increased rapidly, was beginning to fill the cabins and darken the lights throughout the ship, in a short time all were hastily dressed and on deck. It was seen the fire was in the after mainhold, amongst a large number of cotton bales, and the utmost activity and energy were displayed by the captain, with his officers and men, in pouring down water to extinguish the flames. The fire seemed to have been so far conquered that it permitted of being covered up, in the hope of it being kept under, with a view of running the ship to the nearest port, which was St John's, Newfoundland, about 400 miles off. A course was shaped for this port, but the lull in the smouldering fire proved delusive, though checked in the after hatch, it burst out in another hatch midway in the ship, and from the force and violence of the combustion it soon became evident that all hopes of saving the vessel were at an end. Attention was then given to the only means of rescue by boats. There were 8 on board, 4 lifeboats and 4 pinnacles, capable of carrying without undue strain, but with little room to spare, all on board. Every available hand was set to work in different stations to prepare provisions, to free running gear, to see the state of the boats, and to hold everything in readiness. At 8am the fire had so gained that the moment had come to leave the ship. All the passengers were assembled on deck, each encased in a life preserver. A picture of human misery and almost helpless despair was presented, such as words cannot adequately describe. Mothers clasped to their bosoms, with a fervency proportioned to the danger, their helpless children, husbands and wives embraced each other for what they felt to be in all probability the last time. To add to the difficulty at the moment, the sea ran high, much higher than at any time during the voyage. The danger of the boats being smashed while being lowered and when in the water was imminent. The difficulty of putting the passengers aboard, chiefly the women and children, was very great, and even when that was effected there still remained the heavy sea, on which it seemed scarcely possible the boats could live. There was also the discouraging circumstances that no land was in sight and no succour appeared within the wide range of the horizon. It is satisfactory to relate that every boat was lowered without the slightest hitch, and all the passengers placed in them without the least accident. It is much to the credit of the passengers that there was no panic, and no attempt was made to evade the rule of "women and children first" By an oversight, which was the fault of the persons themselves, a few of the passengers were left behind in the burning ship, because they had gone aft instead of to the fore part of the vessel, and were hidden from sight by the dense clouds of smoke. They were however, discovered and rescued. By careful forethought, clever management, and rare good luck, every boat was safely cleared from close proximity to the ship, and got at least a fair start with equal chances. A brave young fellow belonging to the ship, named William Mitchell COWARD, thought he would take a last survey of the horizon from the vantage ground of the bridge. Who can describe the joy which was his when he discerned and reported the appearance of the masts of a ship just rising within the range of vision. A moment's careful survey with the aid of the Captain's glasses discovered that the approaching vessel was a barque under full sail, with a full wind bearing straight down upon us. Soon the joyous vision greeted every eye in the boats and cheered every heart with hope. In due time the deliverer drew near, and hove to awaiting the arrival of the boats. They all arrived in due course but with much difficulty, the time extending over four hours, the boats having got considerably scattered during the 10 to 12hrs they were in the water. Here I must note the absence of one of the boats, the most lightly laden, and supposed the most manned. It appears they unwisely drifted before the wind, out of sight, forgetful of the advantage for signal purposes of the blazing ship to give them a chance, and in the morning careful watch was kept without getting sight of them, but as the barque had undertaken to cruise round for a while, after we left, there is good reasons to hope they have been picked up by her or some other passing ship. It is right to state that the person or persons in charge of this boat, mostly men belonging to the ship, were guilty of gross selfishness, cowardice and inhumanity going off with a boat not more than half full, whilst men whom they must have seen were left to perish on the burning ship without other means of rescue.

I now refer to the good ship YORK CITY and her manly, kind-hearted commander Captain BENN, to whom we owe our great deliverance and safe passage onward. Attracted by the light of the fire he bore down at once to see what was wrong, and, arriving a while after dark, discovered the state of affairs namely, that our deliverance was only temporary, just enough to float us without any accommodation or supplies of food and heat. He at once consented to remain with us all night. In the morning when the facts of the other case became clearly known, with boundless and spontaneous kindness honourable to humanity, he took all on board his ship, for which, indeed, he had been making preparations during the night, though his ship was not intended for passengers, and had but little accommodation. But hearty will found the ready way, and so using up every available material for the purpose and with much inconvenience to himself and officers he was equal to the occasion and all on board had much reason to be grateful whilst none had cause to complain. In reference to the conduct of the captain and the officers of the lost ship, it must be said that with the utmost skill and labour they did what England expects every man to do in like circumstances and more than which none can do, they did their duty faithfully and well. The appalling disaster of which the above is but a slight sketch, will range amongst the most terrible catastrophes, whilst the wonderful deliverance of all on board, surely through the good providence of Almighty God, will be recorded amongst the most marvellous escapes from a watery grave. I ought not to omit stating that all on board, both passengers and crew, lost everything they had with them beyond the clothing in which they were attired.


The following important testimonial was presented to Captain LAND, the officers and crew by the passengers :-

To Captain LAND, the officers of the City of Montreal

Dears Sirs, - We, whose names will be found below, intermediate passengers of the City of Montreal, recently destroyed by fire, cannot allow ourselves to separate without giving some expression to our feelings suitable to the occasion. We have in common with yourselves passed through a great trial, and borne a considerable loss, but, we feel that your trial and loss have been much greater than ours, in this that, in addition to the anxiety shared equally by us all, you bore the weight of official responsibility and, for the present your loss of position and employment, which must be to you a very serious matter. The main object of this address is to give expression to our views of your conduct under the trying circumstances in which you were placed. We recognise the fact that a grave responsibility has thus been thrown upon us to act according to our own conscience as judges in the matter, believing that our judgement may be of some consequence to you in your present position and future prospects. The following is our testimony which we are unanimous in bearing :-

That before the fire and up to the time of the discovery, the ship was in perfect order. Harmony reigned throughout and general satisfaction was felt.

That when the fire was discovered, you each and all did all that man could possibly do by skill and labour to extinguish it.

That when you found this to be hopeless you made the best preparation possible for provisioning, lowering, and ordering the boats to save the lives of the people.

That from the first moment the boats were all lowered, without the slightest hitch and the passengers in due order, women and children first, were all put aboard in a heavy sea without the least accident.

That everything was done as far as possible, and with complete success to insure the safety of the boats and passengers.

Although there is one boat still missing, so far as we know it was entirely their own act and folly going out of the way and losing their chance.

As we do not intend this address to be indiscriminately complimentary or other than strictly just, we think it right to notice the following points which may seem strongly against you, and also the explanation which we know they admit of namely.

1st that the distribution of officers to their respective boats was not properly arranged or carried out.

2nd, that the captain deserted his post by leaving the ship whilst 19 men were still on board.

The explanation which we give on the authority of accurate knowledge is as follows :-

1st, the attention of the officers was divided between the fire which they tried to hold in check and the supervision of the arrangements for escape resulting in leaving the 3rd officer amongst those on board when all were supposed to have been taken off.

2nd, that when the captain, with the chief steward left the ship they believed there was not another soul on board, for the smoke was so dense as to completely hide the after part of the ship where the men were from the fore part where the captain was, and it was impossible for them to make any personal search. Then the captain, who had some time before been heard to say that he would be the last man to leave the ship, true to the literal sense of a captain's duty, caused the steward to precede him, so that he might come off last When afterwards men were seen on board, the return of the captain, which he himself proposed, and whose hands were severely lacerated by the rope on which he had slid down to the boat, would have been extremely difficult and useless, whilst his boat was completely filled. We, therefore not only exonerate the captain and officers from any blame, but bear testimony that they did all that men could possibly do in the most trying situation and notwithstanding much personal suffering.

Whilst congratulating you as well as ourselves on the wonderful escape through the kind Providence of Almighty God we have all had from a premature death and watery grave, we would express our hearty good wishes for your future welfare in the dangerous but noble calling to which you have devoted your lives, and our fervent hope and desire is that your future may be to you all happy and prosperous, unclouded by any such terrible disaster, as that through which you have recently passed.

We remain dear sir, yours most sincerely,


Arrangements have been made to forward the crew and passengers to Liverpool today by Cork steamer

The Inman Company, have received a telegram giving the following names of the occupants of the missing boat :-

Samuel M'KEE, George G. ARNOTT, Samuel KAUFMAN, intermediate passengers, Stephen TAPPMAN, [or TUPPER] Semon KORWALSKY, Sam KOCHWNOSKY [or KACHANSKI], Konrad MOOLTEN, steerage passengers, Henry FRAZER, Charles RADDLE, seamen, Patrick HUGHES, William FRANLY, [or FRINALLY] trimmers, Charles SMITH, interpreter, Thomas WILBERFORCE, steward, further telegram, "Missing boat when last seen, going south-easterly, direction, with oars out. Wind north-westerly, increasing gale."

There were on board 234 souls of these, 135 passengers, 25 intermediate and 110 cabin, remaining 99 members of the steamers crew. Unfortunately for the owners of the City of Montreal, was but partially insured, as the owners took a portion of the risk themselves. The cargo as a rule is insured and doubtless the shippers of the cargo will be indemnified against loss in this way.

The steamers cargo consisted of, 2031 bales of cotton, 5011 boxes of cheese, 1906 boxes of bacon, 575 boxes of canned goods, 200 tierces of lard, 183 tierces of pork, 100 barrels of tongues, 50 barrels of lubricating oil, 1580 barrels of lubricating oil, 45 barrels of cotton-seed oil, 33 hogsheads of tobacco, 78 hogsheads of tobacco, quantity of fresh meat, 5658 bags of copper matte, 1000 bags of flour, 1000 shooks, 4161 staves, 64 barrels of beef, 9 barrels of bladders, 433 tubs of butter, 337 sundry packages, 39 empty barrels.

The ill-fated vessel was built at Glasgow in 1872 by Messers TOD and M'GREGOR. She had new engines in 1877, new boilers in 1883. Her length was 419 ft, breadth 44ft, depth 34ft. Her gross tonnage was 4496 tons.


Liverpool Mercury, Friday, August 22, 1887




Most of the passengers and crew of the Inman and International Company's steamer the City of Montreal, which burned at sea on the 11th inst in lat 43, long 43, arrived in Liverpool yesterday afternoon. Complete accounts of the catastrophe have already been published. On Saturday at Queenstown, the passengers and crew were transferred to the Cork steamer ST FINBAR, and conveyed to Liverpool. Judging from conversations had with the members of the crew and passengers, few people who have not undergone a similar experience can form an idea of the appalling scenes witnessed on board the burning City of Montreal. Captain LAND the master of the City of Montreal has been singularly unfortunate, for it was he who commanded the City of Brussels, another Atlantic liner, which was sunk by a collision which occurred outside the river Mersey a few years ago during a dense fog. His commanding presence, skill and sea experience served then to prevent great loss of life, and it can only have been implicit confidence which passengers placed in so able a seaman that prevented a panic on the ship. In a blinding smoke and with an uncontrollable destroyable element beneath their feet, there were all the forces which under other conditions would have led to panic. When on Wednesday morning the boats were ordered to be provisioned, the excitement appears to have reached a huge pitch. The boats soon afterwards were lowered and passengers were seen running from one end of the ship to the other seeking a boat that was not full.

An old man has related that in letting himself down to one of the boats by a rope, he fell into the sea, but was quickly rescued. He received a troublesome injury to one leg in the fall. In wet clothes and with an injured leg he remained in great pain in the boat until he was transferred to the German barque. He spent the succeeding night under circumstances hardly less favourable, though everything was done by those on board to secure as much comfort for the unfortunate people as possible. The accommodation on board the YORK CITY was taxed to its utmost limits and it became difficult to get warm food. The provisions on board the vessel, apart from the cargo, were soon exhausted by the enormously increasing demands, and the cargo, a considerable portion of which consisted of tinned meats had to be broached. The most cordial thanks of all are due to Captain BENN of the YORK CITY, for the services he rendered the unfortunate people. Everywhere on the vessel where it was possible to make beds, beds were made, and when the women and little children were accommodated, similar provision was made for the men. Sails were unbent for beds, and tents erected on sheltered parts of the deck to afford protection from the cold wind for those who could not be better provided for.

Captain LAND, one of the passengers informs us, did not leave the burning ship until he believed that he was the last on board. They had rowed some distance when one of the sailors called out that there were people running up and down on the after part of the ship. The captain at first doubted this, for he had taken the precaution to order members of the crew to go the length of the vessel to see that no one remained. Captain LAND'S boat and others returned and succeeded in rescuing those on the ship who in the dense smoke were lost from view. The boat No 8, which is still missing made off contrary to the directions of the master, it contained only 13, whilst it was capable of carrying 40 persons, and was provisioned for that number for several days. There was a heavy sea at the time the ship was abandoned and the provisions in all the boats suffered considerably by the water washing over the sides. They remained in the open boats for some 7 or 8hrs, the German barque not reaching them until Thursday evening. During this time the boats had drifted a considerable distance, some 11 miles distant. The YORK CITY came upon the scene about 8pm on Thursday, and remained until the following morning, when the passengers and crew of the City of Montreal were transferred to her. The chief officer whose eyes were so badly affected by the smoke and heat of the fire, was totally blind for two days afterwards, but has happily recovered his sight. He is compelled to wear obscured glasses, his eyes being exceedingly weak. Captain LAND did not return with the ST FINBAR, having business to transact in Queenstown which delayed him, beyond the time of sailing of the Cork steamer. He intended to travel on Saturday night by the mail route to Liverpool via Kingstown and Holyhead. There were on board the City of Montreal 234 persons at the time of the disaster, 135 passengers, 25 intermediate and 110 cabin, 99 crew, several passengers proceeded from Queenstown to their destinations by train, on the arrival there of the YORK CITY.

The arrival of the ST FINBAR was awaited a Liverpool Landing-stage by a large number of persons, Mr E. TAYLOR, one of the principals of the company was among those present. Every effort was made to accommodate the passengers and by 11 o' clock the majority had left Liverpool by train. There was also at the stage the following officials of the Inman Company, Messers H. WILDING, F. S. COCHRANE, C. CIBBEN and P. CURRY.

Captain F. S. LAND, City of Montreal, "The Graphic" 1887


Captain F. S. LAND, has furnished the following report of the calamity, which was written on board the rescuing Furness Line, steamer YORK CITY :-

" On Wednesday 10th August, 1887, wind moderate, increasing north westerly, about 9pm, fire was discovered in the after main orlop deck amongst the cotton. Fire hoses were instantly connected, fire annihilators and hand grenades freely used, and every effort made to extinguish it, but it overcame all efforts and finally spread to such an extent in the upper and lower tween decks, I saw the ship was doomed to destruction. From the commencement of the fire active preparations were made in preparing the boats and putting provisions in them etc. At 6am on the 11th, flames burst out of one of the after hatches, then the boats were lowered, the sea being high at the time, and with much difficulty the women and children were put into them first, the crew and passengers afterwards. The boats were not manned with their respective crews as circumstances would not allow that to be done, namely, men had to fight down the fire till the last, so could not be at their boats, there was such a sea that each had to get away from the ship's side as soon as loaded. All boats were safely away, when by some unfortunate oversight about 20 persons were left on board. No 3 boat immediately returned and took off 6, No 5 with the 4th officer took of another 6. At that time a barque was reported coming to us, on her arrival the boats put all their people in her and one returned for those left behind on the burning ship. One boat was missing, No 8, she was seen to put herself before the wind when she left the ship, and using the oars for sail run away from the burning ship in direct disobedience to the orders she had received from myself. After being all that night on the barque we were transferred to the steamship YORK CITY, of the Furness Line, bound for London from Baltimore, which staying by us all night, took us on board and brought us to Queenstown, having previously tried to find the missing boat. We cannot say enough in praise of the kindness and generosity of the captains who rescued us, especially Captain E. W. BENN of the YORK CITY, who did everything that lay in his power for our comfort, distributing his own personal property right and left to those who were in need, and giving up every comfort himself to those around him. Everyone appears thankful that we should all [with the exception of No 8 boat and her crew, who we hope have been safely picked up, the accident having occurred right in the track of steamers bound east and west] have been saved without accident whatever to persons or boats. Of course, as in every case like this, there are some grumblers, who consider everything should have been done as if on a pleasure party, and find fault with their primitive abodes and food. But little notice was taken of these and after a fine weather passage all were landed here at Queenstown, thankful for deliverance from what might have been a very sad and fatal disaster. The smoke and heat affected the eyes of the chief officer, barkeeper, and those that were trying to put the fire out, including myself, rendering all partially blind for some time. In fact, the chief officer was led totally blind and in great pain off the burning ship, and did not get his eyesight for two days afterwards. All behaved well under the circumstances, passengers cool and obedient, men steady, and when one considers that all had to be done in a dense, blinding smoke, in a high sea, I feel very thankful there was no casualty attending our rescue.

Passengers and crew lost everything they possessed except what they had on. The origin of the fire is unknown, but, whatever it was, there is no doubt the ship broke out on fire in more than one place at a time amongst the cotton. Trusting we may hear soon of the missing boat being picked up and all safe, I beg to remain yours truly,

[signed] Francis S. LAND,

Commander of the late ss, City of Montreal.


Liverpool Mercury, August 23 , 1887


A report reached Liverpool yesterday that one of the rescued steerage passengers, John COLLET of Wakefield, Yorkshire, had died in Queenstown Hospital on Sunday from the effects of exposure in an open boat. From a trustworthy source we learn that the man was suffering from heart disease and dropsy when he embarked, and that these diseases were the cause of his death. There can be no doubt, however, that the great excitement among the passengers during the fire, and excitement when it was determined to abandon the vessel operated seriously upon his constitution.

A Philadelphia telegram states that the City of Montreal was valued at, $175,000, and her cargo was fully insured at, $350,000. It is an unfortunate circumstance for the owners that the City of Montreal was only partially insured, as the owners took a portion of the risk themselves.

Captain F. S. LAND, the commander of the City of Montreal and the chief officer had an interview yesterday morning with Mr Edmund TAYLOR, one of the managing directors of the company at the offices in Water St, Liverpool


Liverpool Mercury, August 24 , 1887


The Inman and International Steamship Company, owners of the City of Montreal have received no tidings of the missing boat, which when it left the burning ship on the 11th, contained 13 persons, 6 members of the crew.

The crew of the City of Montreal were paid off yesterday morning at the Sailor's Home in Canning Place. The owners were only under obligation to pay the men's wages up to the date of the abandonment, but, in consideration of the loss the men had sustained, and the courageous way they had acted under circumstances beyond conception, in order to save the ship from destruction, the company have paid them their wages to date. This action is all the more generous when it is remembered that the company have been such heavy losers by the burning of the vessel, it being only partly insured.

The members of the crew from the officers downwards, are united in giving the Inman Company their warmest thanks for the handsome manner in which they have been treated by the company, from the time of their landing at Queenstown on Friday last, till they were paid off at Liverpool yesterday. The men desire to publicly make known their thanks through our columns.


Liverpool Mercury, August 25, 1887



The Inman and International Steamship Company, yesterday afternoon received a telegram announcing that the passengers and crew who left the burning City of Montreal in No 8 boat on the 11th inst had arrived at Falmouth. The following is a copy of the telegram :-

"German three-masted schooner MATHILDE, Captain BOLTZEN, from Campe??? picked up missing boat City of Montreal with 6 crew and 7 passengers, morning 15th inst, lat 42 54 north, lon 40 20 west. They had been in boat 4 days, first day very rough, and although they had plenty bread , suffered very much from want of water, weather during time very hot."

Falmouth correspondent from the Press Association says that those on board the boat took plenty provisions, fresh salt meat, jam and biscuits, but only half a keg of water. They had no sails, nor a single rocket with which to make signals of distress. They drifted with wind and tide to the south and east, the weather at the time was rough and on two occasions the boat was swamped. It was with great difficulty that she was kept afloat, and had another sea been shipped they must have been thrown into the water. They were drifting about on Friday the 12th when they saw in the distance a three-masted steamer with a black funnel. They pulled towards her as best they could, and got within 3 or 4 cables length of her when one of the crew hoisted his jacket and a white pockethanderchief as a signal of distress. They said one to the other, "We shall soon be on board the steamer," when suddenly to their intense dismay, the vessel steamed right away from them. On the same day they saw another but she was too great a distance from them. On Saturday they thought they saw another steamer and pulled towards her, and after 2 or 3hrs hard work they found themselves again close by the City of Montreal. They stayed by her the whole Saturday night and the following day and night, and early on Monday morning the MATHILDE bore down and rescued them, City of Montreal was still burning when they were rescued. All the wood-work in her had been entirely consumed, and her plates were so hot that they could not board her, although they attempted to, for they were short of water. Had it not been that great care was exercised in dealing out their supply, their position would have been serious. As it was, some of them occasionally rinsed their mouths with salt water. The passengers and the crew all speak in high terms of the kindness shown towards them by Captain BOLTZEN, of the MATHILDE.


Boats pulling away from the burning City of Montreal, "The Graphic" 1887

Liverpool Mercury, August 30 , 1887



Captain COCHRANE, of the National Steamship Company's steamer HELVETIA on his recent outward voyage to New York, came across the derelict City of Montreal of the Inman and International Line, which was abandoned at sea when burning on the 11th inst. Captain COCHRANE has written an interesting letter describing what he saw to Mr LANGLANDS, the general manager of the National Line, his letter being dated "New York, August 19" He says:-

"I beg to report that about 9.30am, of the 13th August, when coming along the upper deck from att, I saw some smoke on the horizon, bearing about N.W, by W, which I supposed was a steamer bound east. When I looked through the glass at her, I saw what appeared to be two forward masts of a four-masted steamer, with her topsails and togallantsails set, the two after masts being hid by the smoke, but as there was only very light variable winds at the time, and the weather being exceptionally clear, with smooth sea, I could not understand their having her square sails set. A little later on, as I kept looking at her through the glass, the two masts then appeared to belong to a sailing vessel [there being a good deal of mirage on the horizon at the time], but as the vessel from which the smoke was proceeding did not appear to separate from the vessel with the masts, I came to the conclusion that it was some vessel on fire, and immediately bore down on her. She by this time was bearing N.W. by N. half N., distant about 11 miles. As we approached her I discovered that what I had taken to be two masts with sail set was in reality the two funnels of a large steamer on fire, her hull just then beginning to show above the horizon. I immediately turned all hands on deck, and cleared away our boats in case of need. By this time I made out the colour of the funnels, and found it to be an Inman steamer. I steered right towards the wreck on the weather side, a light air blowing from the south-east at the time, and kept a sharp lookout for any of her boats, as I expected that if anybody were in her boats, they would most likely remain in the vicinity of the burning vessel, as she would be the most likely thing to attract the attention of passing vessels.

About a mile to the S.E. of the vessel we came up to and passed close alongside one of her boats, which was full of water up to her thwarts. Her oars, mast and sail were lying along the thwarts as if they had never been used. Her rudder was shipped, but there were no thowl-pins shipped. On one of the thwarts in the bow of the boat were several small loaves of bread, and one lifebelt was lying on the oars amidships, and in the after end there was an old hard felt hat. Seeing the boat in that condition, I am of the opinion that she might have been stove in when they were launching her, and that she had been deserted for the other boats.

I continued towards the burning steamer which proved to be the City of Montreal of Liverpool. As we came up to her there was no sign whatever of her boats. Her davits appeared to be turned out, but, as everything belonging to them in the shape of blocks, tackle, guys etc, was burnt to the bare iron, I should suppose that they would turn round to the side to which the ship listed. We passed close to windward of her, having stopped our engines and blown the whistle, in case, by chance, someone might have been left behind. I then saw that she was completely gutted out, and her upper and main decks, as far as we could see, fallen down, and all her port side seemed to tumble in above the main deck. There was no sign whatever of her yards or her fore and main masts, nor was there a particle of chain or wire belonging to her rigging to be seen anywhere, with the exception of a piece of wire hanging from the bowspirit end, which I suppose had been one of her main ropes on the bowspirit. The trunk of her mizzen lower mast lay fore and aft of the vessel, having melted and broken off just above the deck. Everything showed that while the fire was at its height the heat must have been terrific, but, singular to say, a tackle attached to a small davit on the starboard side, that had evidently been used for the lower end of the accommodation ladder, still remained unburnt. The ladder was gone, although the top platform remained in its place, and the gangway door was open, as if they had used that means for getting into the boats. The funnels also seemed to have escaped the great heat, as the paint on them appeared clean, although the tiddleys and deck-houses round them were gutted out. The canvas screens on the end of the upper bridge were still in their places, turned down, and the brasswork of the bridge compass and engine room telegraph did not appear to be tarnished. The bridge was broken down in the centre, but otherwise in appeared all right. The ship was still burning below fore and aft, dense volumes of black smoke coming out of what appeared to be the after end of the engine-room and from the forward end came up a light smoke as you sometimes see coming from a furnace, Her paint outside, fore and aft was burnt from the water's edge, and when a ripple struck her side I noticed a steam rise from it, as if the whole of her hull above water was very hot. I also noticed that her draught was 21ft aft, and 20ft forward.

Everything about her had the appearance that she had been some time on fire, as there was no signs whatever of any of her boats within sight [with the exception of the one we had already examined when passing her] I concluded that her crew and passengers, if any, had been taken off by some passing vessel. I then proceeded on our voyage, keeping a good look out for any boats or any sailing vessel that might possibly have the crew or passengers on board. The position of the wreck when we were there was lat. 42 45 N., long, 41 41, W. but she will likely drift a good deal with the wind."

It would appear from the time she was abandoned up to her being seen by the HELVETIA, the derelict had drifted about 15 nautical miles to the southward and about 80 nautical miles to the eastward.


Liverpool Mercury, September 10th, 1887

Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society

At a special meeting of the committee of the above society, held yesterday the following awards for saving life were made :- A silver medal and vote of thanks to Captain H. SCHEEL of the barque TRABANT, and a vote of thanks to the officers and crew, for having on the 11th August last, with great humanity, rescued 221 of the passengers and crew of the steamship City of Montreal, which vessel was destroyed by fire. The suffers escaped in the boats of the steamer and their transfer to the barque was effected with considerable skill, as there was a high sea running.

Captain SCHEEL, and his crew did all that was possible for the comfort of the sufferers during the night that they were on board the TRABANT.

A silver medal and vote of thanks to Captain E. W. BENN of the YORK CITY, for having on the following day received on board from the TRABANT, the rescued passengers and crew of the City of Montreal, who were treated with the greatest humanity and kindness by the captain and crew of the YORK CITY during their passage to Queenstown.

A silver medal and vote of thanks to Captain C. BOLTZEN of the three-masted schooner MATHILDE for having on the 15th August picked up the remainder of the passengers and crew of the City of Montreal, [13 in all] who had escaped from the burning ship in one of the boats and had got separated from the others during the night. The sufferers received every attention and kindness that it was possible for Captain BOLTZEN and his crew to bestow on them.


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