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KEY STATS: Ship Type: Twin Paddle Wheeler Lifespan: Built 1848 Sunk 1861 Length: Length 174 ft (53.5m) Depths: to 80 ft (24.6m) Location: 2 miles off Simcoe Island, Lake Ontario, Canada GPS N44.08.319 W76.35.042
David Swayze Shipwreck Info
COMET Other names : built as COMET, renamed MAYFLOWER in 1851, COMET again in 1860* Official no. : C none Type at loss : sidewheel steamer, wood, passenger and package freight Build info : 1848, G. Ault, Portsmouth, Ont. Specs : 174x24x10 337gc Date of loss : 1861, May 14 Place of loss : north of Oswego, NY (one source says harbor) Lake : Ontario Type of loss : collision Loss of life : 2 or 3 Carrying : ? Detail : Destroyed by explosion and fire following a collision 10 mi. off Nine-mile Point with the U.S. schooner EXCHANGE. The survivors reached Simcoe Isl. in a lifeboat. Known as a hard-luck ship due to her numerous accidents. Nearly destroyed by explosion and fire in April, 1851, killing 8. She was later raised and auctioned off to Montreal parties. *one major source says she was still named MAYFLOWER at the time of her loss, in error. Wreckage located in 1967. Sources: csqw,is,csv,hgl,mmgl,eh,mpl,nsp,do,hcgl
The Comet, a 337-ton sidewheel steamer, was built in 1848 at Portsmouth, Ontario, by shipbuilder George N. Ault. She is 174 ft (53.5m) in length and has a beam of 24 ft (7.4m). She was unique as she was powered by two “walking beam” type steam engines with a 51-inch piston. She was a passenger steamer much used by travellers, but after a few short trips she struck a shoal in the St. Lawrence river and sank. She was raised, repaired and put back into service. In 1849, a burst steam pipe seriously injured three Irish firemen, two of them fatally. Then, in 1851, after being damaged by a boiler explosion during her departure from Oswego, New York, she was rebuilt and renamed the “Mayflower”.
One gusty spring evening in May 1861, on her first voyage of the season, the steamer left Kingston for the last time. Strong winds were out of the southwest as she cleared Nine Mile Point off the westerly end of Simcoe Island. The Comet altered course toward Timber Island under Captain Francis Paterson to give wide berth to three sailing ships on the horizon. An hour later, the Comet and the schooner “Exchange” collided when the Exchange attempted to run for safe harbor from the storm. Both ships attempted to stay close to help out the other but the wind took the schooner out of hailing distance. The Comet kept its steam engines running and, in an attempt to make shore, managed to travel to within 2 miles (3.2km) of Simcoe Island before the captain had crew and passengers abandon ship in lifeboats. Two crewmen were lost trying to bail out the large yawl which the Comet towed astern. The survivors were set safely ashore on Simcoe Island, while the Comet sank about 1.5 miles (2.4km) off the Island in about 90 ft (28m) of water.
Divers Jim McCready and Dr. Robert McCaldon rediscovered the Comet, noted for her bad luck, on September 7, 1967. The two were hobby divers who had been looking for this particular wreck for the previous 10 years. Many artifacts were salvaged, including a brass door latch, a brass wine barrel spigot, silver spatulas, English ironstone pitchers, wash basins, cups, saucers, bowls and hand-blown glass goblets, some of which are in the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes. There was some discussion of raising the Comet but this never came to pass.
The Comet lies in 90 ft (28m) of water, with her paddlewheels still upright, though much of the top decking has collapsed. For those trained and experienced, penetration below deck is possible at the stern for a view of the boilers and the engines. Good buoyancy is important as silt can be stirred very quickly making it difficult for the next diver to see. There are also some plates and cups left on the decking, completing the underwater museum.
The Comet is a spectacular example of ships of her time and is a special favorite of divers who visit her. Of consideration to the recreational diver is time because of her depth. There is little current on her, and visibility is usually 20 to 50 ft (6-16m), with upwards of 80 ft (25m) in the spring and fall.
Also known as: Mayflower (1851); Comet Year of Build: 1848 CONSTRUCTION AND OWNERSHIP Built at: Portsmouth, Ontario POWER Propulsion: Sidewheel DIMENSIONS Tonnage (gross): -337 FINAL DISPOSITION Final Location: Nine Mile Point, Lake Ontario, Ontario, Canada How: Foundered (Collision) HISTORY First Rebuild: Propulsion: Sidewheel Dimensions: 180 x 26 – -337 tons Rebuilt: in 1861 175x24x10 Owned by J. & L. Platt, Adolphustown Ont.; to Macpherson & Crane 1849; Rome Watertown & Canada Steamboat Line (joint by American railroad and two Canadian forwarders) 1853; owned by several different partnerships thereafter. Built by G. N. Ault (“at Fisher's yard”) Portsmouth Ont. and launched 14/06/48. Engines (2) by Ward Foundry, Montreal (from “Shannon”). Usually used on Lake Ontario but frequently to Quebec (even Saguenay and Rimouski) mid 1850's. Stuck on ways when launched, pulled free by “William IV”. Trial trip 29/07/48 to Platt estate, Hay Bay Ont. without cabins. Greatly expanded 1850: new cabins on deck and new overall promenade deck. 140' main saloon. Wrecked by boiler explosion 20/04/51 Oswego, 8 killed. Rebuilt 1861 to 180x26x10 (width over paddle boxes 44'). Stranded while running Galops Rapids 02/10/48. Badly damaged 01/12/48 by stranding Highland Creek (near Toronto). Boiler exploded 03/11/49 Toronto, 2 killed. Sunk in collision with schooner “Exchange” 14/05/61 Nine-Mile Point, Lake Ontario.
Kingston Daily News Reports
LOSS OF THE STEAMER COMET. Two Lives Lost. The steamer Comet, Captain F. Patterson, left this port for Toronto and Hamilton shortly after eight o'clock on Tuesday night. After clearing Nine-Mile Point she headed for Timber Island, to avoid the track of a number of vessels which were coming down the lake. When about ten miles from the Point she came in collision with the schooner Exchange of Cleveland; and subsequently sunk in deep water, the topmast alone being visible. The wind was blowing freshly from the South-west, and the schooner when seen from the Comet was running before the wind. The schooner was making for Kingston and carried a bright light forward. Captain Patterson bore the steamer up a point, in order to give the schooner a wide berth; but the schooner heading across the Comet's bow, as is stated, the two came in collision. The Comet struck the schooner's starboard side with her stern (sic - later corrected to stem -ed), springing the steamer's planks and opening her to the sea. The captain changed the steamer's course and bore after the schooner, they having hailed that they thought they were sinking and to keep close to bear a hand, but running past with the wind she got out of hailing distance. Meanwhile the pumps were worked and the fires kept up for the purpose of making shore, the steamer at the time of collision being about ten miles above Nine-Mile Point. The firemen, waist deep in water, did not abandon their task until the fires were drowned; and if the steam had held out ten minutes longer, much would have been gained towards raising the steamer. During this time the life boat was swung out, with three lady passengers, one gentleman and the lady's maid, and brought round to leeward, and as many of the crew put into it as the captain deemed consistent with safety. These made for shore, but at the same time the large yawl was out towing astern and taking in water. Two hands, John Blake and John McCarthy, the former from the neighborhood of Kingston Mills, and the latter a salt-water boy from Dublin, Ireland, got out to bale her, but while about to do so she struck against the steamer's guards, thus throwing the men off their balance into the lake. Going down Blake cried out to his brother, a deck hand, “Good bye, Jim,” and the “saltie” “Good bye, boys,” and thus they bade them farewell. The Captain at this time was busily engaged in the endeavor to run the steamer ashore, but finding it fruitless had the small yawl put out with some thirteen men, amd made for shore under a heavy sea. To add to their peril all oars but one were lost in getting the boat out, but reduced to this and four or five cedar life-floats they made their way ashore to the Point. Filled beyond her capacity, a distance of another quarter of a mile would have swamped the boat and compelled them to swim. Mr. Ellerbeck, the purser, the men say, was cheerily cool, having remarked while handling his clumsy float that it was very useful, but would be much handier if he could only get a minute to whittle it down so that he could hold it better. Indeed the Captain says every man did his duty, and those who have any knowledge of the trying circumstances in which he himself was placed can imagine how he fulfilled his part. The steamer went down about a mile and a half nearly west of Nine-Mile Point light-house in sixty feet of water. Several ship joiners who were at work on her fittings lost their tools, and the hands their clothing. But little freight was on board. At day-breaking yesterday (Wednesday) the steamer Pierrepont went up the Bateau Channel and took up the crew on the south side of Simcoe Island, and those at the lighthouse. Some had lighted a fire and were warming themselves on the shore, while those at the lighthouse found good quarters there. One of the ship-joiners was badly hurt from being struck in the back by the surging of the small yawl against the steamer's side. It is supposed that the vessel's cabins will be destroyed from the elevating action of the water during her descent. It is probable, however, that the actual damage to her hull and machinery will not be very large, especially if the weather should prove favorable for a few days. It is doubtful whether an attempt will be made to raise her. The steamer was insured in Montreal, but we have not learned the amount. CAPTAIN PATTERSON'S STATEMENT. We left Kingston on Monday night about a quarter past 8 o'clock for Toronto, the wind blowing from S.W. About half-past 9 o'clock, the mate having charge of the deck saw a vessel about a point off our larboard bow showing a bright light, running before the wind. We bore away a point to clear the vessel, supposing she would take her own side. Just before the collision I came out of the cabin and observed the vessel crossing our bows. We were so close at this time that I ordered the helm to be put aport, but seeing she was too close, I told the wheelsman to steady and hard astarboard, thinking to clear her stern, and at once ordered the engines to be stopped and backed at full steam. We struck the vessel aft the main rigging, but our headway being so much checked it did not injure the vessel materially. We immediately backed away, and I ordered the engine to go ahead again, to follow the schooner, supposing that we were not injured, but that the vessel was in danger; but the wind being fresh she ran away from us. As soon as we had got our headway on we discovered our danger, and men were sent below with blankets to stop the leak at the bow. I unbent the jib to make an apron to pass over the bow, but it got foul and did not drop. The water gained so rapidly that within a few minutes the Comet was in a sinking state. We tried to keep up the fires to run the steamer ashore, till the water put them out. We ran about four miles when we got the boats out, and placed the passengers and crew therein. There were three lady passengers and the lady's maid; they were early placed in the life boat, ready to be lowered at any moment. One of the quarter boats in lowering got unshipped from the davits and partly filled. John McCarty and John Blake were sent to bail it out, but in the swell the boat was struck by the guards, and the men losing their balance fell out and were drowned. Myself and the remainder of the crew took the remaining boat and landed at the Nine-Mile Point lighthouse. I got a skiff at the lighthouse and had it carried over to the Batteau Channel, and proceeded downward, overtaking the life boat, and we reached Kingston between 3 and 4 in the morning. STATEMENT OF CAPTAIN JUDSON. Mr. George Judson, master of the schooner Exchange, of Cleveland from Chicago to Kingston with grain to Glassford & Co., furnished our reporter with the following statement: - On Tuesday night the steamer Comet struck the Exchange on the starboard side almost midships, stem on, breaking our rail and three stanchions. The schooner was making eight and a half miles an hour at the time. The steamer glanced off and slewed round alongside and we passed by her. The captain of the Comet hailed us and asked us if we wanted any assistance. We answered that we were leaking, “come on.” The steamer kept right after us but did not overhaul the Exchange. The schooner New London of Cleveland was close to the Exchange; the schooner Fulton of Oswego was also near by, both bound to this port. The steamer followed us some time, but fell astern. There was no bell rung nor whistle blown; and in consequence we thought she required no assistance. We supposed our vessel was in a sinking condition, and we ran down for the light at Nine Mile Point. The captain of the Comet behaved to us in a most manly manner. The damage to the schooner is not yet ascertained, and the damage to the grain, if any, is supposed to be very slight. Captain Judson also mentioned that the steamer was seen from the Exchange full half an hour before the collision; and he thinks that she was making an attempt to cross the schooner's bow.