Natchez, MS Area Steamer AUGUSTA Explosion, Dec 1838


The Augusta left Natchez, December 3d, 1838, for Vicksburg, with the ship Jeannette in tow. On the voyage the ship got aground, when the Augusta separated from her, and proceeded to a wood-pile, where she took in some fuel, and was making her way to another pile, when the pilot, seeing some floating timber ahead, rang the bell as a signal for the engine to be stopped. The machinery was accordingly stopped until the float had passed, when the bell was again rung as a signal for the engine to be put in motion. The engineer discovered, at this moment, that the engine was at the dead point, and he immediately ran back to turn the bar, but before he had time to return, the explosion took place, laying a great part of the boat in ruins. The boilers and all the machinery were broken to minute pieces ; the social hall, with all its appurtenances, was shattered, according to the common phraseology, "into atoms," and nearly all the cabin was swept away ; a small part of it adjoining the ladies' cabin was all that was left. The extent of the devastation proved that the force of the explosion was tremendous. Fortunately the Augusta had but few passengers on board, otherwise the loss of life would have been very great. The names of all the victims are not known. Five dead bodies were found on board, and doubtless others were blown into the water. A considerable number were hurt ; some to that degree that the physicians were hopeless of their recovery. The pilot at the wheel, Mr. Lachapelle, with his pilot box, was blown overboard, the box being broken into two pieces during its transit. By using one of these pieces for a float, Mr. Lachapelle contrived to reach the shore.

The five persons found dead on board were, Leonard Brown, clerk ; W. Henderson, first engineer ; George Ward, merchant, Troy, Miss. ; and John Wilson and Robert Smith, deck-hands.

The captain was never seen after the explosion, and there can be no doubt that he lost his life, being probably blown overboard and drowned.

BADLY WOUNDED.—Deck Hands—William Johnson, James White, James Innis, James Johnson, William McDonald, and another, name unknown. The barber was so badly hurt that he died on the following day.

SLIGHTLY WOUNDED—William Taylor, second engineer, Henry Smith, and Lewis Lachapelle, pilot.

Twenty-eight deck-hands and firemen were on board ; when they were called together, some time after the explosion, only eight could be mustered. There was but one female passenger, and she escaped unhurt. When an examination was made of the pieces of boiler found on deck, no doubt remained that this explosion was the result of culpable negligence on the part of the engineer.

Lloyd's Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, Cincinnati, Ohio; James T. Lloyd & Co, 1856, pages 167-169