Foundering Of The Indiana
By James Donahue
Among the early steamships
operating on Lake Superior was the Indiana, a 146-foot wooden vessel owned and operated by
Frank Perew of the People’s Line in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Indiana was not the
first, but may have been among the first ships to pass through the new locks at Sault Ste. Marie, linking Lake Superior and
Lake Huron, in June, 1855. She was launched in 1848 at Vermilion, Ohio,
and remained on the lower lakes serving as a package freighter until the locks were opened.
After this, the vessel
was heavily used as an ore carrier. She was downbound with ore in her holds on June 6, 1858, when the ship blew a propeller
seal and split its sternpost.
The Indiana was among the early propeller-driven vessels on the lakes and the point where the
propeller passed through the hull was known as the sternpost. The revolving iron rod passing from the steam-driven engine
to the propeller was local below the water line so a protective batting was used where the propeller passed through the hull
to keep the water out.
When that seal failed,
which happened frequently in the early days, the ship was in immediate danger of sinking. There was usually a heavy volume
of water that rushed through the breach. So it was when the Indiana
broke her seal.
The sailors on her decks
said the ship foundered so fast the pressure blew the cabin off. They said it floated for a while on its own, its interior
gas lights still burning. The crew and four passengers, including Frank Perew, escaped in the boats and safely came ashore
somewhere in the wilderness of Northern Michigan.
Her captain on that fateful
journey was William McNelley.
The survivors camped
out the first night, then sailed one of the lifeboats to Whitefish Point where they met the schooner St. Paul. From there the schooner carried them on into Sault Ste. Marie.
The sinking of the Indiana carries at least two milestones in Great Lakes history. Its
cargo was the first load of iron ore lost on a sinking ship. Also its engine, which was recovered by divers in 1978, is said
to be the oldest marine engine in existence that was built in North America.
That engine now rests
in the Smithsonian.
The Mind of James Donahue