Irwin's Landing, AR Burning of the Steamer G. A. THOMSON, Apr 1869

DISASTER ON THE ARKANSAS RIVER.

THE BURNING OF THE STEAMER G. A. THOMSON -- TWENTY-ONE LIVES SUPPOSED TO BE LOST -- REPORTED STRANGE CONDUCT OF THE CAPTAIN -- HEROISM OF THE CARPENTER.

From the Little Rock (Ark.) Gazette, April 13.
The report of the burning of the steamer G. A. THOMSON, announced in Sunday's issue, and the terrible loss of life attendant upon it, was fully confirmed, yesterday, by passengers who were on her at the time of the disaster. MR. DAVID ALLEN, who has been residing near Louisville, Ky., with his wife and child, had taken passage on the boat for Ozark, Ark., and from him we get the following statement:
The boat struck a snag just below Irwin's Landing, at 2 o'clock Saturday morning; he was in the ladies' cabin at the time, and came to the front of the boat, where the captain was standing, who seemed to be quite cool and said there was no danger; and could get out without any loss. Just at that time the carpenter ascended the stairs from the deck of the steamer, and told the captain the boat was on fire, but the latter did not heed the remark, until the carpernter had a second time brought the news, and then took the captain below to show him that it was so. The captain then had two yawls launched, and ordered the women and children to be placed in them. The captain, his wife, MR. ALLEN'S wife and child, the captain's dog, his servant, and one or two others, got off in them, the captain promising to return for the others, but after getting about 25 yeards from the steamer, she was enveloped in flames, and the only chance for safety left for those on board the burning steamer was to jump overboard. About that time the carpenter got another skiff and took out the balance of the women and children. It being dark, it was hard to tell which shore was the nearest, and some landed on either side. One man was saved on a hogshead of tobacco, some on doors and planks. Anything that could be picked up was used. MR. ALLEN put on a life preserver, and swam ashore, landing about three-fourths of a mile from the wreck, on the opposite side from his wife. Next morning those who had landed on the same shore were set across the river. All of his effects, save what himself, wife and child had on at the time, were lost. According to his estimate and that of other passengers, twenty-one persons were lost, including both the clerks, GEORGE ELY, of Cincinnati, and JOHN PERKINS, the deck-sweeper, one of the cooks, one waiter, one passenger from Pine Bluff, named WILSON, and the chambermaid, MARY FIELD, (colored), of Cincinnati, and nine colored deck hands. The chambermaid was the only woman lost. No children lost. All three of the pilots saved. The Captain and crew returned on the THOS. H. ALLEN. The Captain said the first-clerk had all the money.
MR. ALLEN gives much praise to the carpenter. He says but for him not a woman or child would have been saved. We could not learn his name. The largest life boat was not cut down and used, but allowed to hang to the spars. There was no effort whatever on the part of the Captain to save anybody. The last he saw of the chambermaid she was on the deck crying for help. Did not know whether she was drowned or burned to death. The boat was loaded with an assortment of general merchandise, pork, whisky, drygoods, furniture, stoneware, farming utensils, &c. There was no lime in the hold, as stated in our former report. A number of barrels were on deck, and the fire originated among them. The boat was heavily loaded. MR. ALLEN relates it as a remarkable fact that the Captain, mate, carpenter and two pilots were all together in the pilot-house at the late hour of the occurrence. The wife of the Captain remarked to his wife, afterward, that they were expecting the boat would be sunk. He saw but one trunk and valise that were saved -- they were supposed to belong to the Captain's wife. MR. LILLIARD, another passenger, concurred in the above statement.
Captain JAMES BURCH, who resides at Red Fork, on the Arkansas River, reports that he knows of but seventeen persons being lost. The boat was not in the regular channel at the time she struck the snag. He agrees to most of the statements made by MR. ALLEN. The first yawls carried out the ladies and children and the captain. The second was entered by the two clerks, MR. JACOB TRUNDLE, MR. D. J. DESMOINE, and one or two others, but it was upset by the deck hands in their struggles to get in, and all save MR. DESMOINES and the carpenter found watery graves. The captain requested the passengers to go below and throw the line overboard, and that they remain on the front of the boat, and he would take care of the women and children and send back for the balance, but the flames spread so rapidly he was prevented from doing so. Captain BERCH remained on the boat with young TRUNDLE, who was unable to swim, until the boat was enveloped in flames, and until he had seen him safely embark in the yawl which was capsized by the deck hands. He then swam ashore, landing about three-fourths of a mile from the wreck.
MR. F. B. WILCOX, another passenger, states that the boat was not only out of the regular channel, but she was running with 130 pounds of steam. He concurs in the statement above.
The boat was about 130 yards from shore when the accident occurred. The water was about nine feet deep. She had on board about $100,000 worth of merchandise, mostly for our business men and Fort Sumter merchants, which was generally insured. The boat was quite an old craft, and was fully insured. MR. TURNELL, who resides at New Fork, is among the missing.

The New York Times New York 1869-04-21