Ships 2

Edenborn and Madeira

Ships 3

Steamer Edenborn

Wreck Of The Edenborn and Madeira

By James Donahue

They called it the Mataafa Storm because it wrecked the steamship Mataafa in a deadly disaster off the Duluth harbor. But the November 1905 gale that claimed the Mataafa also left 20 other vessels wrecked or damaged and claimed 32 lives along the Lake Superior coast. The wrecks included the schooner-barge Madeira and the steamer William Edenborn, which had her in tow.

The Madeira was a large vessel in its day, measuring 436 feet in length and 50 feet wide. Even though designed to be towed the vessel was provided with three masts and carried sails in case they were needed. Sometimes the sails were raised to assist the towing vessel. She was rigged as a schooner.

The Madeira was in ballast and up-bound, under tow behind the Edenborn on Nov. 28 when both vessels were caught in the northeast gale packing winds up to 70 miles per hour off the Apostic Islands. That night Chief Engineer Hunter was forced to check down the engine to half speed because the waves were lifting the propeller out of the water and causing the engine to race.

Later that night Hunter heard a loud bang overhead and went out in the storm to investigate. He said he had to crawl on his hands and knees to reach the fantail where he discovered that the tow line to the Madeira had parted. The barge was adrift and on its own.

Captain A. J. Talbot then decided to turned the steamer into the wind and drop anchor, hoping to ride out the gale. But even as he was ringing the engine room for full power to make the turn, he heard the terrible sound of the ship’s hull grinding over gravel. Moments later the vessel was on the rocks where the force of the storm caused the covers on three hatches to drop into the cargo hold. After that the force of the storm working against the ship cracked the hull. The 25 sailors on the Edennborn’s decks were in serious trouble.


In the meantime, aboard the Madeira, Captain John Dissette and the nine members of his crew fought to keep their vessel afloat. They dropped the anchors in an attempt to keep the barge from drifting into the Minnesota shoreline they knew was nearby.

Crew member Fred Benson saved the day. They said he attached a lifeline to his belt, and then, in the midst of that winter gale he waited for the waves to carry the wreck close enough, then jumped to the rocks, succeeded in gaining a grip, then climbed up the rock wall until he reached the top.

From there, Benson secured his rope and cast it back to the three men trapped on the bow of the barge. After they successfully climbed to safety, he tossed the rope to the aft part of the barge and those men also reached the top of the cliff.

Only one member of the Madeira’s crew perished in that storm. He was First Mate John Morrow who climbed the after mast in an attempt to get out of the storm. He fell into the sea when the mast snapped.

The survivors built a fire where they huddled until dawn. From there they hiked off until they came upon a fisherman’s shanty, and from there moved on to a lumber camp.

Back on the wreck of the Edenborn, trouble was quickly brewing. In the darkness four sailors fell through the open hatches but were successfully pulled to safety. Second Assistant Engineer James Johnson, however, also fell through an open hatch where he drowned in a flooded hold.

This crew was not facing a rock cliff, but Captain Talbot saw that his command had struck at the mouth of Split Rock River where the land was heavily forested. Since the bow of the ship remained firmly anchored in the shore, he gathered the crew to the forepeak where they waited dry and safe until morning.

In the morning First Mate Hormig and two other men got ashore in a raft. There they secured a line to a tree and rigged up a type of breeches buoy in case the crew had to leave the wreck. Then they hiked to a nearby lumber camp for help.

Both crews were picked up later that day by the tug Edna G.

The owner of both vessels, the Pittsburg Steamship Company, declared both vessels a total loss.