Site Orientation #

  • Schooner
  • 75ffw
  • 135ft length
  • Nine Mile Point, Simcoe Island, Lake Ontario
  • N 44’07.610 W 76’36.168

Chronological History #

  • 1882 Jun 17 Enrolled Grand Haven, MI.
  • 1887 Mar Rebuilt Milwaukee, WI, 139 x 26.33 x 8′, 215.33 gross / 204.56 net tons.
  • 1892 Apr 12 Remeasured Chicago, IL 135′ x 26.5′ x 9′; 202.12 gross / 192.10 net tons.
  • 1914 Sold Canadian; 132′ x 26′ x 8.5′, 220 gross tons, registered Kingston, ONT.
  • 1917 Aug 8 Sprang leak in a gale, capsized & foundered, Lake Ontario.

Photo Gallery 2022 Matthew Charlesworth CC #

Herman Runge List #

Schooner GEORGE A. MARSH. U. S. No. 85727. Of 174 gross tons. Built at Muskegon, Mich., in 1882 by Footlander. 118.0 x 36.0 x 9.0 Sold Canadian 1914, with Canadian No. 133750.

Posted on /marmuslist  #

Thought I would maybe bore the list with my account of the last days of the GEORGE A. MARSH

It was a beautiful 8th day of August in the year 1917 as the GEORGE MARSH cleared American waters for the trip across the expanses of Lake Ontario. She was on her way to the picturesque city of Kingston with a load of much-needed coal for the Rockwood Hospital. The Soward’s Coal Company had retained her when their usual carrier was found to be unavailable.

The MARSH very seldom made this trip to the Limestone city but cargoes were in short supply and her Captain had jumped at the chance to earn extra money. Therefore, after a reported 450 tons of black energy was loaded into her holds at the port of Oswego New York. She set sail this lovely morning for Kingston and history.

The MARSH and most of the old wooden sailing schooners and barges like her were in their final years of long and gallant careers.. Steam had arrived on the scene and with it came larger, faster, and more reliable ships. Ships that were a lot more economical to operate and maintain by their owners when weighed against the amounts of cargo and number of trips they could handle versus a slow sail-powered vessel. The steamers carried the better-paying payloads of passengers and freight. The old ladies of the lakes were left to carry whatever they could to make a buck. This generally meant overloading the holds with merchandise such as coal and feldspar. Built 25 years earlier the MARSH suffered a little each time such a load was placed against her old timbers.

The GEORGE MARSH had started her life in a Muskegon Michigan shipyard in the year 1882. Built for a gentleman by the name of J. Footlander and put to work as soon as she hit the water the MARSH was a typical three-masted great lakes schooner of the day. Her design had evolved over the years to suit the Great Lakes and their canals. A couple of the more interesting changes from the traditional designs were a blunter bow and a centerboard. For most of the ship’s working career, she flew an American flag of registry. Then on April 17, 1914, a Canadian, Mr. J.B. Flint of Belleville Ontario, bought her. He went to Toronto, registered the vessel as Canadian, and was given the registration number 133750. Her registered tonnage was listed as 220. As with many of the old ships of the time her new captain, C.J. Smith was a partner and part-owner.

The schooner was then sailed to her new home of Belleville.. Many trips were made across Lake Ontario while the ship was based in this small Southeastern Ontario town. Calling on ports such as Oswego New York.. For the fourteen souls on board and making the trip to Kingston this day, things couldn’t have looked brighter. The day was sunny with a nice fresh breeze out of the southwest. The ship’s three large masts could carry plenty of sail, so the trip should be fast and enjoyable. Captain Smith along with his sixty-five-year-old first mate, William Watkins were seasoned sailors. The second wife of the captain and five of their seven children were on board. As well Mr. Neil McLennan, a deck hand, had received permission to bring his wife, their eighteen-month-old baby, and a nephew along. The captain’s brother William Smith was aboard.

Rounding out the rather large crew was a deckhand by the name of George Cousins. All 14 people were aboard this fateful day… Then it happened! The ship was suddenly hit by a violent, fast-rising lake storm. This was the kind of storm that the Great Lakes were famous for and every seaman of the day feared and had a healthy respect for. The crew of the MARSH fought this raging enemy of wind and rain professionally and valiantly. Hour after hour the storm battered the old ship while the mariners struggled to keep her from broaching the mountainous seas.

Finally, the old ladies’ timbers could take no more. Her seams opened allowing the lake’s water to rush in and fill her passages. The pumps could not handle the vast amounts of liquid. Her buoyancy gone The GEORGE A. MARSH slipped below the surface of Lake Ontario. Ending her career within sight of her Kingston destination and the safety of its harbour. The last few hours in the life of the MARSH must have been a terror for her crew and passengers. The wind raged, and the ship rocked violently from side to side and up and down. Foaming lake water surged again and again over the decks. All of this coupled with the darkness of the night that had fallen over them made it difficult to complete any task. Then the realization that the ship was doomed! The hands managed to launch the yawl that hung on the stern davits. The other lifeboat remained lashed to the port side deck near the bow. As the ship sank, some people were thrown into the cold black waters. The captain’s brother and deckhand McLennan managed to climb into the yawl which they would have immediately cut loose from the ship. McLennan had his baby in his arms. One of the other children managed to grab hold of the side of the yawl. For some reason, the two men inside were not able to pull her into their small craft.

The cold eventually took its toll. She could hold on no more and was lost to the fury of the lake. After many hours the yawl made it to Amherst Island. By that time, however, the baby had succumbed to the dreadful cold. In all twelve of the fourteen people on board lost their lives. Gone were the Captain, his wife, his children (Greta, John, Harry, Clarence, and one other), Mrs. McLennan, her baby, Mclennans nephew, and the deckhand George’s cousins. Some of the dead were recovered from the lake. Some, however, still lay beside their ship at the bottom of Lake Ontario Today. The next morning in the year 1917. All that could be seen of the once proud ship were her masts sticking above the surface.

The GEORGE A. MARSH had sunk upright in 80 ft of water. At the time of her sinking, she was valued at $5500.00. It was decided not to raise or salvage the ship as it would be too expensive. The masts, being a navigational hazard, were pulled out of the deck and dropped alongside the ship.. There she would sit forgotten for almost fifty years… I hope someone, somewhere got some enjoyment out of this. Just remember I am Not a writer!!!!

MARMUS a bbb used in the 1990’s hosted by Queens University Unfortately I clipped off the Poster Anyone?

3D Model of the Marsh #

Front Page News 1917 #

Toronto Globe August 9, 1917 p.1 #

(Special Despatch to the GLOBE) KINGSTON. Aug. 8.

Only Two of Crew of Fourteen Rescued When Belleville Schooner Goes Down.
Captain Smith, His wife and five children are drowned, William Smith, aged ten, being the only survivor of the family—Three of the McClennan family also are lost—One of survivors had dead child in his arms.

A thirty-five-mile gale swept over Lake Ontario during the night, and out of this unusual August storm, the coal-laden schooner GEORGE A. MARSH of Belleville battled and was finally overcome about 5 o’clock this morning, midway between Nine Mile Point and Pigeon Island. Twelve out of the fourteen persons on board perished, eleven by drowning, and one, a child, from exposure, while two others were making for land in a small boat. The schooner was coming to Rockwood Hospital from Oswego.

Those who perished were: Captain Smith, his wife, and five children: Mr. and Mrs. McClennan and one child: Wm. Watkins, mate: and George Cousins, deckhands. Four were able to enter a small boat, but in the tossing and rolling one was lost overboard, and Mr. McClennan Jr. and William Smith, aged ten, son of the captain, were rescued by Hugh McCartney and Benjamin Wemp, Amherst Island fishermen, who had gone out to lift their nets, and come across the storm-tossed skiff. Mr. McClennan had the dead form of a child in his arms when rescued.

All who perished, as well as the survivors, belonged to Belleville. The two who were saved were taken to Bath and went on to Belleville. The details are meager, but are all that could be obtained by telephone from Bath. Early this forenoon the light-house keeper at Simcoe Island reported seeing vessel sink early this morning, and it set vessel owners here agog, but no vessel answering the description was missing here.


At midnight the Belleville police had heard nothing whatever of the wreck of a Belleville schooner on Lake Ontario. Officials there said that the only intimation of a wreck had come to them by newspaper inquiries. Speaking over the long distance telephone last night, Sergeant Ritchie said he knew of no schooner GEORGE A. MARSH, but he knew the JOHN B.MARSH, which vessel he believe left a couple of days ago for Oswego, for a coal cargo. He had telephoned the home of the mate, William Watkins, reported drowned, but was unable to get any reply.

Bell Telephone operators refused the connection with Kingston because of a severe storm raging in that vicinity. Early this morning the Globe was in telephone communication with the police of Kingston, Ont., and secured confirmation of the report of the wrecking of the schooner JOHN B. MARSH of Belleville. According to the police sergeant at Kingston, twelve persons out of fourteen on board lost their lives. Up to late last night, no bodies had been recovered, although small craft from Kingston worked all day. The JOHN B. MARSH was wrecked in a heavy gale that swept that section of lake Ontario. The schooner foundered it is believed near Pigeon Island, about two miles off Long Point, at about 5 o’clock Wednesday morning.

Photo Gallery 2010 Tom Rutledge CC #

Selection of Historical Articles #

Toronto Globe August 10, 1917 p.3 #

Dominion Government to Receive reports on Schooner The Government Steamer Grenville Has Left For the Place Where the Vessel Foundered The Boat May Be Dynamited. Kingston Ont.

An official investigation by the Dominion government into the foundering of the schooner GEORGE A. MARSH with the death of twelve persons is taking place at the scene of the wreck between Pigeon Island and Nine Mile Point. Shortly after eleven o’clock on Saturday the government steamer GRENVILLE which patrols the waters around Kingston left to make an investigation into the causes of the wreck.

The boat is under government orders and a thorough inquiry into the matter will be made. A report is to be made by the captain of the steamer GRENVILLE to the Department, of Marine and if the ill-fated vessel is considered to be in a position where it may endanger the lake and river traffic it will either have to be salvaged by the owners or blown up by the government. The steamer GRENVILLE is expected on Saturday morning to return sometime in the afternoon but it is not known what report will be handed to the government. It is reported from Belleville that J. J. B. Flint who was part owner with the late Capt. W. H. Smith will have the vessel raised. In this case, the government will have to take no action beyond ordering the owner to either have the vessel raised quickly or allow it to be dynamited in case it is an obstruction to traffic.

The Daily British Whig Saturday August 11, 1917

“Buster” Greaves Victim of Tragedy
Body of Little Toronto Boy Recovered-Wore Indian Suits Parents Bought Kingston Ont.

Little George Francis “Buster” Graves, aged five, the only child of Mr. and Mrs. George R. Graves of 51 Rosevear Ave., Little York, drowned in the MARSH disaster, was one of Toronto¹s fairest baby boys. Speaking of Mrs. Graves’s boy Mrs. McLelan wrote her. “Buster is fine he told me to tell his mama that he is working. You should see him. He is as black as a negro and is piling up the wood for the men. He is fine and can eat like a horse.” The lad was dressed in a little Indian suit that his parents bought for him before he went away.

Daily British Whig Saturday, Aug. 11, 1917 #

Mrs. Graves lost a brother, Stoker Hugh Donnelly, when the cruiser Aboukir was torpedoed in the North Sea in Sept. 1914. Neil McLean and his wife formerly lived in Toronto at 139 Simcoe Street. He was then a sailor on the Oliver Mowat. And was also on the Sophia Minch when that boat was in a wreck. He sailed on the Scheobazer, which foundered at almost the same spot that the Marsh sank when Capt. Macdonald and his wife on the Scheobazer were drowned. He was in the Kitchen when it sank outside of the Eastern gap. He was fortunately rescued from his accident by a tug. Besides his brother in Toronto, two other brothers, William and Charles live in Port Hope. His wife was formerly a Toronto businesswoman.

Belleville (Ont) Daily Intelligencer August 13, 1917 #

Solemn Services at St. Thomas’ Church in Memory of Those whose lives Went Out in the Storm
“Suffer Little Children”
Sunset and evening star,
and one clear call for me,
and may there be no moaning of the bar,
when I put out to sea.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam
when that which drew from out the boundless deep,
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark,
And may there be no sadness of farewell.
When I embark.
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place,
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
When I have crost the bar.

The memorial service held last evening a St. Thomas Church for the Belleville residents who were called by death in the sinking of the schooner GEORGE A. MARSH was solemn and impressive. The service was conducted by the rector, Ven. Archdeacon Beamish was assisted by Rev. Mr. Jones, clerical secretary of the Ontario Synod, while the musical service conducted by Prof. Wheatley and the choir was very appropriate. The victims of the sad lake tragedy were nearly all members and communicants of St. Thomas church and the rector feels very keenly and sorrow which had descended so suddenly upon the relatives, the church, and the community generally. Those whose lives were so quickly taken in the wreck of the Marsh were:

  • Cap. John W, Smith aged 48 years
  • His wife is aged 22 years.
  • Their children Greta aged 12, Eva aged 8,
  • John aged 6, Clarence aged 4, Lorraine aged one year.
  • Mrs. Neil MacClellan is aged 25
  • Her son, Douglas aged seven months.
  • Her nephew George Greaves of Toronto aged 4 years.
  • Mate William J. Watkins aged 66.
  • George Cousins aged 59

Those who survived were:

  • Neil MacClellan, whose wife perished in the gale; and
  • William Smith, brother of Capt. Smith.

The thoughts of the congregations as they took part in the solemn memorial service turned with sadness to the main picture of that early morning scene on the mist-enshrouded storm-swept waters of Lake Ontario when the Belleville schooner, buffeted by the waves, was vanquished by the Elements and carried men, women and little children to a watery grave. The thought of the little group clinging to the storm-swept deck in the cold and misty morning, facing inevitable death, must have turned longingly to the safety and comfort of their homes in Belleville, such a short distance away, and the manner of their death was such as to arouse the deepest sympathy of all.

The beautiful service of the Anglican church was never more solemnly carried out or more impressive, and the music was particularly appropriate, the hymns being as follows:

  1. 783 What a Friend We Have in Jesus”
  2. 735 Perfect Jewels
  3. 592 ON the Resurrection Morning.
  4. 18 Abide With Me

The address of Ven. Archdeacon Beamish was full of feelings expressing respect for the dead and the greatest sympathy for the bereaved relatives. The consolation of God¹s promises was held out to the bereaved in the certainty of a better life beyond and the resurrection. The great heart of the Man Of Sorrows which held sympathy for all suffering and sorrow was pictured by the speaker with special reference to the Savior¹s love for children. “Jesus Wept” at the tomb of Lazarus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and shed bitter tears over the impending fate of Jerusalem. A tender, loving Savior who doeth all things well and to whom the souls of those who perished in the storm can safely be entrusted.

The rector’s address was most fitting and he urged all to so pattern their lives that whether the summons comes quickly or slowly no apprehension need be felt of a glorious awakening in the Better land. The drowning of the seven little children in the wreck of the Marsh was perhaps its saddest feature, making particularly appropriate the selection of the hymn “Perfect Jewels” which was sung with deep sympathy and tender feeling by the congregation inspired by the sad circumstances.

Little children, little children,
Who live their Redeemer,
Are the jewels precious jewels,
His love and His own,
Like the stars of the morning.
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright stars for His crown.

Toronto Globe Tuesday, August 21, 1917 #

A body thought to be that of Mrs. J. W. Smith or Mrs. Neil McLellan, two of the women lost by the foundering of the schooner GEORGE A. MARSH on the 8th. inst. was found floating near Rockwood Hospital shore this morning, so far the body has not been identified.

Photo Gallery 2000 James Pate CC #

Kingston Whig-Standard (Kingston, ON), Nov. 16, 1967 #

50 Years Ago He talked to Survivors of Wreck

An 86-year-old Bath district man, George H. Gurren, talked 50 years ago to two of the survivors of the freighter George A. Marsh which sank near Pidgeon Island, about four miles south of Amherst Island in 1917.

Reading the recent Whig-Standard account of the discovery, off Amherst Island, of the hull of a ship thought to be the Marsh, he recalled in a letter to his newspaper his experiences connected with the sinking of the ship.

“On that day,”he relates, “I had taken a spring-wagon load of grain tot he Bob Rickey grist mill at a point near where the Amherst Islander lands on her daily trip across the bay.”

Although farming west of Bath, he had also been appointed fish and game overseer for local waters south of Amherst Island and the Upper Gap.

As he uploaded his wagon, a boat, operated by ne of the fishermen in his jurisdiction, landed with two survivors of the wreck.

Mr. Gurren drove the survivors to Ernestown Station where he bought them train tickets to Belleville, where their homes were. On their way, they told Mr. Gurren their story.

Mr. Gurren explained: “The sailors told me that the Marsh, a three-masted ship, was coming down lake Ontario with a load of coal for Kingston, and during a heavy gale and high seas, she spring a leak. Capt. Smith told the crew to man the two pumps and if they could keep her afloat long enough, he would beach her on Pidgeon Island.

“The two were placed on a pump near the forecastle. After a period of time, the one sailor said to his mate, “Bill, I guess we’ve had it as the deck was then covered with water.

“One of them slipped into the forecastle room, grabbed a long plug of chewing tobacco and helped launch the boats. The boats did not survive the huge waves. As the captain and mate had their families aboard for a trip, it may be that the yawls were overloaded.

“Later, the two survivors were able to get astride an overturned boat. They said they were able to save one of the girls and kept her with them until near daylight. But then unable to hold her longer, they had to ‘sit there and see her float away.

“When I asked one of the survivors how they were able to keep up their courage,: writes Mr. Gurren, “He told me that the tobacco was taken in chaws’ and from time to time he passed it to his pal and that ‘sorta kept our spirits up.

Historical Photo Gallery #

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