The Short Life Of The Gilbert Mollison
By James Donahue
It was just two seasons after the fine new schooner Gilbert Mollison was launched at Chicago in the
spring of 1871 that the vessel went missing with all hands on Lake Michigan.
In October, 1873 the Mollison, commanded by Captain Joel A. Turner, set sail at Chicago with 20,022
bushels of corn, possibly bound for Buffalo. News reports of the day did not list the ship’s destination.
The schooner was known as a "canaler" because it was especially designed to at 138 feet in length
to carry bulk cargo through the Welland Canal. But the fact that she was riding heavy, with more than the maximum 19,000 bushels
of grain she was designed to carry when going through the canal, suggests that it was not bound for a port beyond Buffalo.
That the Mollison was riding low in the water may have been a reason the vessel failed to survive
a fierce storm that swept the lakes on October 27 and 28.
The Detroit Free Press said the Mollison was last seen sailing in company with the schooners Montblanc
and Margaret Muir near South Manitou Island on October 25, just before the storm hit. The Montblanc and Muir survived the
It was said the wind was accompanied by a blinding snow. The storm lasted for two days, driving some
vessels into harbors of refuge. All that was ever found of the Mollison was an empty yawl boat that washed ashore at Good
Harbor on North Manitou Island on November 3.
The crew of the vessel consisted of Captain Turner, mate William Halliday, second mate Judson Prosser,
deck hand George Messmore and the cook, Kate Shaughnessey. A second deck hand whose name was not known also perished.
The Mollison was owned by E. & O. Mitchell and M. Murray of Chicago.