George Stone


George Stone

Wreck Of The George Stone


By James Donahue


A Canadian life saving crew was censured for not attempting a rescue when the steamer George Stone was driven on a Lake Erie reef and six sailors perished.


The Stone, laden with coal, disabled in a storm on Oct. 18, 1909 and was driven aground near Pelee Island.


Capt. William Grub, keeper of a nearby lighthouse, saw the steamer go on the rocks. He watched or hours, waiting for the life savers to respond. When nothing happened, he left his station and drove to the home of Norris Atkins, commander of the life-saving station, to ask why a boat was not launched.


“She isn’t flying any distress signal and her whistle isn’t blowing,” Atkins reportedly answered.


Grub’s response: “Good heavens, man, you don’t expect her to sound her whistle when she’s full of water and her fire’s out, do you?”


Even as the two men were locked in verbal combat, Capt. Paul Howell, skipper of the Stone, and five members of his crew were losing a fight for their lives in the boiling surf.


Frustrated by a lack of response from shore, and believing that his crew could not survive much longer on the wreck, Howell made a daring attempt to take a life boat to shore to summon help.


He chose his best oarsmen and together they launched a boat. The small vessel capsized, however, when it reached the surf, and the eight sailors were left clinging to the overturned boat.


Only J. W. Hindle, second mate, and wheelsman John Connors reached shore alive. The others were overcome by exposure to the cold and dropped off, one-by-one, to drown.


Connors said the captain almost made it. “The captain, Hindle and myself held on until we reached the shallow water,” he said. “We let go the boat and our feet were on the bottom as we made the last try for the shore.


“It was then that Captain Howell was caught by the heavy undertow and gave up the fight. He was hampered by a heavy sheepskin coat,” he said.


The irony was that help was only hours away. The steamer F. M. Osborne saw the wreck and pulled alongside to take off the other 10 crew members.


Also Captain Grub called Amherstburg, Ont., and asked to have the tug Hackett dispatched. The tug arrived at about the same time as the Osborne. Had Captain Howell waited a little longer, everybody would have been saved.


The Stone was on route from Ashtabula, Ohio to Racine, Wis. with a cargo of coal when the storm caught it at the western end of Lake Erie. After a 24-hour battle the hull sprung a leak and the pumps could not keep up. The flooded, listing ship struck the reef at 2:30 a.m.


According to Canadian marine historian Skip Gillham, the Stone’s trip seemed to have been ill-fated from the start. There was labor unrest and the boat was operating with a non-union crew. The crew members were pelted with stones before leaving Astabula.


The Stone also is remembered as the ship that sank the schooner S. H. Kimball in a collision off Huron County’s Pointe aux Barques on May 8, 1895.    


The 282-foot freighter was built at the F. W. Wheeler & Co. shipyard in West Bay City in 1893.      


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