History of the Great Lakes - Wreck of the Lady Elgin
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History of the Great Lakes,  Chicago:  J.H. Beers & Co  1899,  Page 683-684 


"Wreck of the Lady Elgin.- One of the greatest marine horrors on record was 
the loss of the steamboat Lady Elgin, on Lake Michigan, September 8, 1860.  
She was struck by the schooner Augusta, and sank in twenty minutes, in 300 
feet of water.  She had on board 300 excursionists, 50 ordinary passengers, 
and a crew of 35 officers and men, a total of 385.  Of these only 98 were 
saved.  Among the lost was Herbert Ingram, of the "Illustrated London News".  
The schooner Augusta, Capt. D. M. Mallot, reached Chicago early Saturday 
morning, Sept. 8, and reported that on the night previous, about midnight, 
she had collided with a large steamer.  The Augusta had a full cargo of 
lumber, which had shifted in the collision.  She had struck head on, suffered
the loss of her headgear, and was leaking badly.  The captain knew nothing of 
the extent of disaster to the other vessel.

The steamer Lady Elgin had left Milwaukee early Friday morning September 7, 
for Chicago with 300 excursionists, largely members of the Independent Union 
Guards, and their friends.  She left Chicago in the evening between 10 and 11 
o'clock on her regular trip to Lake Superior,  taking about 50 passengers to 
Mackinaw and other northern points in addition to the 300 excursionists.   
The evening set in with a wind moderately high.  A heavy thunder storm came 
up about midnight, and the wind grew to a perfect gale.  The sea ran high  
and so continued throughout the night and Saturday.  
At the time of the collision the Lady Elgin was steaming against the wind.  
The Augusta was sailing south by east under all sail except the gaff topsail.
The steamer had all her lights set,  the schooner had none.  A half hour 
before the collision the second mate of the Augusta, on watch, saw the 
steamers lights, and for twenty minutes no orders were given.  Evidence taken 
before the coroner's inquest showed that the captain of the Augusta, who had 
come forward, seemed bent on passing to the starboard of the Lady Elgin 
instead of the Larboard side, according to the rule.  Shortly before the 
collision he ordered his helm head up, but she came straight on the steamer's 
larboard side, knocking a hole in her side.  

It was about 2:30 o'clock on Saturday morning when the collision occurred.  
The Lady Elgin was about 10 miles from shore, off Winetka, 16 miles north of 

The schooner struck the steamer at midships gangway on the larboard side,  
tearing off the wheel, cutting through the guards and tearing into the cabin 
and hull.  The two separated instantly, and the Augusta drifted by in the 
darkness.  At the moment of the collision there was dancing in the forward 
cabin, but most of the passengers had retired for the night.  In an instant 
all was still.  Captain Wilson ordered a lifeboat to be lowered on the 
starboard side, to be rowed around and discover the extent of the injury.  
It dropped astern and did not regain the steamer.  The latter was headed 
west to reach the shore if possible.  But the vessel began to fill rapidly 
and to list.  Freight was rolled to starboard and passengers were provided 
with life preservers.  The Elgin began to settle and reel, and many 
passengers threw themselves overboard.  Just when the vessel took the final 
plunge, a sea struck her upper works and they parted from the hull and 
floated off in several pieces.  The night was intensely dark, lighted at 
intervals by flashes of vivid lightening, and the wreckage was scattered 
about profusely.

Two boats had been lowered, and in these 18 persons reached the shore.  
Fourteen were saved on a large raft, and many others on parts of the wreckage.
It was established that 393 (another statement says 385) souls were aboard 
the vessel, and of these 98 were saved."    

A survivor named Bellman, after describing how he and others with the captain 
got upon a raft, says:  "On this extempore raft not less than 300 persons 
were collected,  the majority of whom clung to their places until nearly 
daylight.  The raft was mostly under water from the weight of the living 
burden, and very few who clung to it were above the waist in the turbulent 
sea.  The Captain was constantly on his feet encouraging the crowd, and  
seems to have been the only man who stirred from his recumbent position, 
which was necessary to keep a secure hold on the precarious raft.  He carried 
a child which he found in the arms of an exhausted and submerged woman, to an 
elevated portion of the raft, and left it in charge of a woman, when it was 
soon lost.  He constantly exhorted the crowd to keep silent, and not only to 
make no noise, but to refrain from moving in order that the frail framework 
might last a little longer."   Bellman further states that during the time 
which elapsed while the raft kept together there was scarcely a sound from 
man, woman or child.  They clung to their places in silent terror, and 
neither groans nor prayers were audible;  no voice save that of the captain 
raised aloud in encouragement and good cheer, being heard amidst the roar of 
the wind and the ceaseless splash of the combing waves.  Finally the constant 
action of the water broke up the raft, and large parties floated off on 
detached pieces, and gradually the multitude melted away by couples and 
solitary individuals until but a tithe of the whole number remained.  The 
swell tumbled the light raft about like feather-weights, and a weary struggle 
the hopeless survivors had during the long drift of ten miles intervening to 
the shore.  Bellman was 10 hours on his raft, and said he was capsized and 
thrown into the sea, with his two companions, every third minute.  When they 
reached the shore they were dashed about hopelessly in the surf, and, more 
fortunate than their companions, were lifted upon the beach by the breakers 
and rescued.  The heroic captain was among the lost.

The Lady Elgin was rated a first class steamer, and had been a favorite with 
the traveling public.  She was built at Buffalo in 1851 by Bidwell and Banta 
at a cost of $96,000. For several years she ran between Buffalo and Chicago, 
then between Chicago and Collingwood, but for many seasons had constituted 
the line between Chicago and other Lake Michigan ports and Lake Superior.  
The Augusta was owned by Capt. G. W. Bissell, of Detroit, who not long after
had her name changed to Col. Cook.  She was the second vessel of that name, 
the first Col. Cook having been wrecked in the St. Lawrence.

ARTICLE BY Brendon Baillod
cites many sources of information