New Orleans, LA Steamer EMPIRE Sinks, Nov 1874



From the New Orleans Picayune, Nov. 19.
The horror of the accident to the steamboat EMPIRE and the half hundred unfortunate souls has by no means abated, and all yesterday the wharf was crowded with a multitude of people gazing at the wreck and the place where the ill-fated steamer went down. The diving boat arrived at about 9 o'clock A.M. yesterday, and under the supervision of Capt. FRANCIS went promptly to work, the divers being almost immediately sent down. Upon their return to the surface they reported the hull of the vessel lying very deep. It appears that when she sank part of her upper works, with cabin, &c., remained fast to the hull, while a portion only of the lower side burst open, and hence only a very few of those drowned floated to the surface. To get at the interior of the boat it was therefore necessary to break off her upper works, which was done, and the upper cabin, texas, and hurricane roof were accordingly broken off and allowed to drift away.
A diver then descended into the hull of the vessel, and a number of sacks of rice taken out in order to get at the place where the deck hands sleep. These were quickly disposed of, and a diver entered the sleeping place of the deck hands, when a terrible scene met his eye. Here the deck hands, or at least a large number of them, must have been sleeping at the time of the accident, and, hemmed in my the freight, they were unable to escape, and were helplessly drowned. The dead bodies lay around in all attitudes, some evidently drowned in their sleep, while others were only awakened to make a terrible and vain struggle against the dark waters. When this was announced a rope was passed down, and the work of raising the bodies commenced. The rope was passed under the arms of one of the men and it was raised to the surface, a thrill of horror running through the crowd as the ghastly object rose out of the water. The body was that of a young mulatto man about twenty-eight years of age; he was dressed in a pair of brown pants with blue cotton whirt. It was immediately taken in charge by the Police and conveyed to the station for identification. From the number of bodies on the lower deck, it is now supposed quite a number of deck hands were also drowned, which will considerable increase the list of those lost in the terrible catastrophe.
Immediately upon the drawing up of this, the first body recovered, the diver again descended for the purpose of bringing up more, but the freight, swept by the fierce current, had shifted, and it is now thought htat a large number of those lost may never be recovered, the constant changes, the swift stream, and the strong undertow sweeping away many. All last evening, however, the divers were at work, and hogsheads of sugar, rice, and boxes were being raised from the wreck. The cabin in the meantime broke loose, and those unfortunates entangled in it were doubtless swept away. Among these is included the KEMPER family, all the other women, cabin boys, pantry men, waiters, stewardess, &c. Those whose bodies, however, remain on the hull will, as soon as they can be got at, be brought to the surface.
An investigation was yesterday began on the subject of the sinking, before Inspector MOFFAT, but nothing was aascertained beyong a few statements which threw no real light on the subject. This having been concluded, the divers at work were instructed to ascertain, as far as possible, the cause of the sinking. One accordingly went down, and after a careful examination of the hull, reported that it was much broken, the hog-chains being wrenched completely out of the boat, leaving a large hole which must have been under water, and would have caused the vessel, with her heavy freight, to have sunk almost instantly. Thus, at length, appears to have been arrived at the true solution of the mysterious cause of the sinking. The boat, heavily laden, was bumped once or twice during the night by incoming boats, causing her to strain, and when a large swell finally came in the hog-chain pulled out, tearing with it a large hole, throught which the water rushed with such terrible rapidity that the vessel sunk almost instantly.
The body of the young mulatto found in the morning has since been identified as that of GEORGE WARD, twenty-two years of age, and residing corner of Spain and Goodchildren streets. It was taken charge of by the John Wesley Lodge No. 2, of which the deceased was a member, and he will be buried to-day.

The New York Times New York 1874-11-23