Lake Pontchartrain, LA Steamer ST. JAMES Fire, July 1852

Steamer St. James


The New Orleans papers of the 6th inst. contain many particulars relative to the late appalling steamboat explosion on Lake Pontchartrain, of which we had a brief telegraphic account several days ago. We copy the following from the Commercial Bulletin:
"It appears that the steamer ST. JAMES, Capt. CLARKE, left Bay St. Louis on Sunday night, in company with the steamboat CALIFORNIA, having on board a large number of persons who had been spending the Fourth at the watering places. There were about seventy passengers, and a crew of over thirty, on board. The ST. JAMES was about fifteen miles distant from the Pontchartrain Railroad landing, between 2 and 3 o'clock on Monday morning, and was a short distance ahead of the steamer CALIFORNIA, when the boilers exploded, kiling several persons immediately, scalding others, and making a complete wreck of the forward part of the boat. The stanchions being torn away by the explosion, the whole of the boiler deck fell upon the boilers and machinery, and many persons, not hurt by the explosion, were then burned and scalded."
"When the explosion occurred most of the passengers were asleep. The scene that followed is beyond description. We may imagine the alarm and the fearful confusion. When the CALIFORNIA came up, the ST. JAMES was in flames, which several times communicated to the former boat. Although in such dangerous proximity, Captain ENSIGN, of the CALIFORNIA, acted coolly, with judgement, and with a noble determination to save human life where possible. The CALIFORNIA was made fast to the stern of the burning boat, the landing plank was run out, and all the passengers that could be seen -- many of them badly injured -- were taken off, Captain CLARKE being the last person to leave the boat. As the CALIFORNIA shoved off, a boy, named BOULIGNY, was seen running about the wreck in a dreadful conidtion. His arms were blown off -- nothing but the stumps left -- and he appeared to be insane. Assistance to him was impossible, and the poor boy was left to perish."
"It is impossible to state correctly the number of lives lost. Not more than half the passengers, it is said had registered their names. It is, however, known that fifteen or sixteen perished. There are various estimated as to the number, some say twenty, others more, lost their lives. Among the number is ISAAC T. PRESTON, one of the Judges of the Supreme Court; MR. RICHARD TURNER, late Commissary of the Fourth Ward, Second Municipality; J. M. WOLF, a member of the Bar; JOHN MOLLOY; NICHOLAS READ; MR. SHED, of the United States Branch Mint; JAMES M. JONES, mate of the boat; the watchman of the boat; a servant of DR. PENNISTON; a boy of Capt. TUFT; MR. PAUL, engineer; a free colored boy; JOHN, (a colored man,) second steward of the boat; MRS. ASHER, her daughter, (aged about sixteen,) and two young children; ROBERT SMITH, the steersman; and S. FORRESTER, who died at Luzenburg's Hospital. MR. GACHET DELISLE, who got on board the ST. JAMES at Bay St. Louis, is supposed to be lost. Nineteen persons were wounded, some of them severely."
The Picayune says that the scene during the burning of the ST. JAMES, as described by eye witnesses, was one of terrible interest.
"The space between the boats was lighted up by the blazing conflagration to the brightness of midday, and the spectators from the CALIFORNIA could see the terrified men and women on board of the ST. JAMES hurrying to and fro, wringing their hands, seizing upon such articles as they could find for temporary support, and jumping into the lake. The screams were awfully distinct and harrowing, not from the burning boat merely, but from the water, in all directions, where the swimmers were shouting for help, and drowning, shrieking or gasping with agony. Voices calling from all points as the boats of the CALIFORNIA went about swiftly, picking up such as could be reached. The horrified eyes of those upon the CALIFORNIA could see men cease to struggle and go down, without the power to help them, or by striving to catch the glimpses of some floating head, as they might be caught in the flashes of the moonlight which sparkled on the ripples beyond the immediate area of the conflagration. It was a scene to harrow up the feelings with anguish, to be remembered with horror to the close of life."

The New York Times New York 1852-07-14