New Orleans, LA Steamer EMPIRE Sinking, Nov 1874

*This lengthy article has damaged areas and is difficult to read completely; best transcription possible.

Courier Journal newspaper, Louisville, KY - Wednesday 18 November 1874


Steamer Empire Sunk at the New Orleans Wharf - Fourteen Passengers and Many of the Crew Drowned

The Boat Divided in Two Parts

New Orleans, Nov. 17 - The regular lower coast packet Empire, Capt. Jeanfrau, sunk to her texas [see below] about 4 o'clock this morning at her landing, at the foot of Conti Street. The Empire arrived about 12:30 a.m., heavily loaded with sugar, molassas, rice, &c. Several passengers left the boat upon arrival; otherwise the loss of life would have been large. As it is, fourteen passengers and many of the crew are believed to be drowned. Five bodies have been recovered, including the Captain's eldest daughter, about seventeen years of age, and MR. FRISBIE, a well known plantation engineer. Captain Jeanfrau lost four children, but he saved his wife and baby, who with him were sleeping in the texas. R. Perrett, a passenger who escaped from the sinking steamer, gives the opinion that the boat was overloaded and parted in the center.


The Empire was built at Algiers about three years ago and owned by the Empire Parish Packet Company. She was valued at about $30,000 and had on board about 169 hogsheads [see below] of sugar, besides a large number of barrels of molassas and a quanity of rice. It is impossible at present to get the actual number of lives lost, as the books and papers of the boat are under the texas.


Capt. Jeanfrau states that the Empire had only a fair cargo and was not overloaded, and that the guards were well above water. At the time of the sinking he was awakened by great noise and confusion. He caught one of his children and swam with it to the shore. He saw his wife standing on deck with the babe in her arms. As the boat went down, she clung to the wheel house of the Bradish Johnson, which stood alongside; but the violent shock wrenched from her grasp her child, who fell in the water and was drowned.


John Dublin says:

I am mate of the Empire. We arrived last night about 12 o'clock and tied up. I went to my room, and almost immediately went to sleep. Between 4 and 5 o'clock I heard a tremendous crash. Thinking we had been run into, I rushed on deck. Seeing she was sinking, I shouted for everybody to get life-preservers.
I rushed along forward, shouting, to wake all I could, intending to run into the cabin, when the boat, almost in a second's time, seemed to sink, and I was thrown into the water. I swam until I could catch hold of something and save myself.


Eugene Durabe, the pilot, says:

When the boat sank I was in my bed. I heard the crash, and thought we were run into. I was thrown in the water and swam to the wharf. I think the boat broke in two, she sank so suddenly.


Five bodies have been found. The number lost is uncertain, as no one is positive of the number who left the boat immediately upon her arrival here. The boat is said to be insured for $15,000.


New Orleans, Nov 17 - Capt. Jeanfrau states that, within his knowledge, the Empire had 169 hhds sugar, ----barrels molassas, 239 barrels rice and 7--- sacks rough rice. He says the boat did not break in two, but went down stiff and solid. He can not account for the sinking, as she was not overloaded, and there was no unusual water anywhere when he retired at night. He can not tell how many passengers there were, as the books are in the safe in the clerk's room. He thinks there were about thirty-five.


He lost four of his children - FANNY, 17 years; JOHNNY, 12 years; ADA, 8 years; and WALTER, 7 months. He is overwhelmed with grief, and can scarcely realize the horrors of last night.


The bodies of FANNY and WALTER; MR. FRISBEE(sic), engineer of Magnolia plantation; and two children of Mr. Kemper have been recovered.


The boat and cargo are partially insured and in city offices. The bell-boat Osage will attempt to raise the wreck to-morrow, when the bodies of the drowned will probably be recovered.
(This paragraph is exactly as printed, it looks like at least one line was skipped in the original story.)


The following are the names, as far as known, of those missing and believed to be lost by the Empire disaster:

MR. MADDOX, from the Belair plantation
AUTNINE(?) BARE, of Buras.
MR. and MRS. KEMPER, and two children
MRS. JOS. MARTIN, Point La Hache
MRS. MAZELLE, Union plantation
ROSE ST. JOHN, stewartess
CHARLES WILLIAMS, pantry-keeper

tex·as noun \?tek-s?s, -siz\
Definition of TEXAS
: a structure on the awning deck of a steamer that contains the officers' cabins and has the pilothouse in front or on top
Origin of TEXAS
Texas, state of United States; from the naming of cabins on Mississippi steamboats after states, the officers' cabins being the largest
First Known Use: 1857

hogs·head noun \?ho?gz-?hed, ?hägz-\
Definition of HOGSHEAD
1: a large cask or barrel
2: any of various units of capacity; especially : a United States unit equal to 63 gallons (238 liters)


"Mr. and Mrs. Kemper"

I believe this family to be Mr. and Mrs. Gerhard Kamper, my collateral ancestors. Other articles that appeared in the New Orleans newspapers, the New Orleans Item and the Daily Picayune, stated that Mr. G. Kamper and his family lived on Buras Plantation in Plaquemines Parish. They had likely taken the steamboat Empire into New Orleans to visit family members. Mr. Kamper's older sister Anna Maria (Kamper) Wedemeyer lived there. I found listings for this family in the WPA card burial index at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans. They were interred in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 on 23 November 1874, as it took several days to recover the bodies from the wreckage.