Louisville, KY Steamer GENERAL BROWN Explosion, Nov 1838


For the particulars of this disaster we are indebted to Capt. Robert McConnell, now of Paducah, Ky., who was clerk on board the General Brown, and an eye-witness of the explosion and its dreadful results. This steamer, under the command of Captain Samuel Clark, left Louisville, Ky., for New Orleans on the 19th of November, 1838. This was her first trip of the season, and the water was quite low in both rivers, being only five feet in the Ohio and seven feet in the Mississippi. Circumstances seemed to threaten misfortune from the very beginning of the voyage ; for in passing over a sand-bar at no great distance from Louisville, the General Brown came in collision with the steamer Washington, bound up the river, by which accident the larboard wheel of the Gen. Brown was damaged to that degree that repairs were necessary before the boat could proceed. The carpenter succeeded in fitting up a temporary wheel, which answered the purpose very imperfectly ; however, the boat was enabled to continue her trip, working along slowly until the morning of Sunday, November 25th, when she reached Helena, Ark., where she stopped to land a passenger. This being done, the captain, who stood on the hurricane roof, took the bell-rope in his hand to give the usual signal of departure; but at the first tap of the bell, the boilers exploded with a deafening crash, and that single stroke of the bell was to many a signal of departure to that eternal world from whence no traveller returns. Capt. Clark himself, while still grasping the bell rope convulsively in his hand, was blown overboard, together with a portion of the wood-work on which he stood. He had been holding a lively conversation with Dr. Price, of Lexington, a few moments before. Dr. P. stood on the same platform, and shared the same melancholy fate, both gentlemen being afterwards found among the dead. Captain McConnell, who gives this account, was thrown from the railing on which he stood after notifying the captain that the boat was ready to start. He fell on the deck and received but little injury. He supposes that the persons killed numbered about fifty-five, and the wounded fifteen or twenty. The names which follow are all that he could call to remembrance.

KILLED.—Capt. Samuel Clark, master of the boat ; Joseph Underwood, and Hamilton McRay, pilots ; James Wilson, first engineer ; Basil Boons, mate ; Ely Johns, second clerk ; carpenter, name not recollected ; Patrick Dunn, bar-keeper ; eight or ten firemen and deck-hands. Passengers—C. Libley, D. L. Davis, N. A. Miller, and Dr. Price, of Lexington, Ky. ; H. M. Blanchard, E. Hubbard, George Johnson, J. K. Gutherite, T. D. Sims, C. Keane, T. D. Levey, A. Dugan, Dr. Johnson and wife, B. Walker, C. Stansbury, O. Perry, and several others, making a total of fifty-five.

The names of the wounded are not given. Capt. McConnell exonerates the commander of the General Brown from all blame, declaring that he frequently urged the firemen and engineers to use the utmost caution, and to carry as little steam as possible, on account of the crippled condition of the boat.

Lloyd's Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, Cincinnati, Ohio; James T. Lloyd & Co, 1856, pages 114-115