Skip to Content

Benton Harbor, MI (off shore) Steamer HIPPOCAMPUS Disaster, Sept 1868

THE LOSS OF THE HIPPOCAMPUS.

FIFTEEN OF THE PASSENGERS AND CREW SAVED -- TWENTY-SIX LIVES LOST.

Statement of Captain BROWN.
I was engaged by Captain MORRISON, the regular commander of the propeller Hippocampus, to take the command of that steamer on her ensuing trip, he being ill. We left Benton Harbor at 10 o'clock in the evening.
The sea, running from the southward, was quite heavy, there being a heavy swell on. The wind increasing about 10 o'clock in the morning, the boat began to pitch badly, but not alarm was felt.
In about an hour I went to the engineer's room, and finding no water in the hold I went with the wheelsman, MORRISON, to the peak, but found none there, and I then remarked to him that we would be obliged to lighten our craft by throwing part of our cargo overboard.
I told him to take some of the crew and throw the peaches overboard from the promenade deck.
I spoke in tones so loud that the passengers heard it, and rushed out on the deck in great confusion.
In the meantime, the vessel was settling rapidly, and before any of the freight could be thrown overboard, water had commenced coming in through the after gangway and through the engine room into the hold.
Within five minutes from that time she had gone on her side and was totally submerged.
The passengers had retired, but had most of them come from their berths and run out on the weather side of the cabin.
There was intense terror among them. I told them to help tear way the lifeboat; but no one started to obey. Not one stirred. They seemed paralyzed with fear.
The life-boat was not filled with peaches. It was ready for use at this time.
I was on the pilot-house trying to launch the boat, and ordered the wheelman to put the helm hard a port, and he did so, but to no purpose.
I saw nothing could be done to save the vessel, and came down, and started forward. I got within two feet of the hatch, but was unable to reach it. I let myself into the water, and got hold of the mast, and floated along, hand over hand, until I got to the masthead at the crosstrees. I was in fear of being entangled and sucked down with the sinking vessel, and so struck out about ten feet, and got hold of a desk, and kept afloat with that for a while.
The vessel then sank, sinking with a suddenness which left no time for preparation.
Just then MORRISON cried to me to come to him.
I did so. I got on his raft, which was one side of the cabin.
The passengers and crew were struggling in the water on every side -- all holding to pieces of the vessel.
I think the schooner Humboldt was passing half a mile off at the time, and we hailed her. Those aboard the schooner evidently did not hear our cries for help, and passed on.
Soon after myself and MORRISON had got on our raft, another raft, with TRUMBLE, HATCH, RIFORD, and others on it, came near us. We remained near each other till daylight, when we picked up FULLER, and kept the rafts together by mutually clinging to a pole.
About two hours after daylight, we thought it best to put the rafts together, and about the same time BLOOM and JOHNSON floated along, on another raft, comprising the other side of the cabin.

Continued on Page 2.



article | by Dr. Radut