Camden, NJ Steamer Goldsboro Fire, Jul 1900


Battling with fire in her lower forward hold, the Clyde Line steamer Goldsboro slowly made her way up the Delaware yesterday, and last night was beached on the New Jersey side of the river opposite Federal street, Camden. But for the timely assistance of the fireboat Edwin S. Stuart and the tug Atkins Hughes it is likely that the flames would have gotten beyond control before the steamer reached her dock.

As it was incidents of a lively and picturesque character marked her journey up from Reedy Island. The Goldsboro is one of the fleet that plies regularly from Pier 3, North Wharves, to New York city. She left the latter port on Saturday afternoon with a 700 ton cargo of general merchandise. She was due to arrive at her pier about 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon. She had cleared the capes and was coming up the bay at 11 o'clock yesterday morning when fire was discovered in her lower forward hold, in which was stored bales of wool, cotton, rags, licorice root and several barrels of oil.

The Call for Aid

Captain French ordered all steam on and started the pumps. The Goldsboro is well equipped for fire fighting, but despite the streams of water that were poured down the hatch the fire continued to gain headway. When she passed New Castle a stream of black smoke was curling up from her forward deck, and the news, "The Goldsboro is coming up on fire," was flashed up to this city.

Under full steam the fire boat Edwin S. Stuart was started down to meet her, and word was sent to Chief Engineer Baxter, of the Fire Department. Apparently the flames continued to gain, for off Ship John Light Captain French signaled to the seagoing tug Atkins Hughes to come alongside. The Hughes is well equipped with pumps.
"We're on fire; come alongside and stand by us up the river," yelled Captain French.

"Shall we start our pumps?" queried Captain William Nelson, of the tugboat.
"No; just stand by us and give us a tow," was the answer. "We are holding our own at present."

An Exciting Trip

From the Hughes a towline was thrown out and made fast. Soon afterwards the Edwin S. Stuart appeared and lined up on the other side. The Stuart started her pumps and joined her powerful engines to those of the Goldsboro in the work of fighting the fire. In the meantime B. Frank Clyde and Superintendent Van Kirk, of William P. Clyde & Company, were notified. Arriving at their office, they ordered the tug Lookout fired up and anxiously awaited the steamer's arrival. Before receiving more definite news Mr. Clyde expressed the belief that the fire was not serious. "But then," he added, "you know as much as I do." The cargo, he said, consisted of "general merchandise,'and the steamer carried no passengers.

About 6 o'clock the Goldsboro was seen slowly coming up the river. The crowds on the wharves and the big pleasure piers could plainly see that something was wrong and the dense could of thick black smoke that was curling over her bows plainly told what that something was. It was just twenty minutes after 6 o'clock when the Goldsboro was slowly warped into the dock at the foot of Arch street. Mr. Clyde and Superintendent Van Kirk hurried out on the end of the pier and ordered the gates locked.

Excitement at the Pier

Pier 3 adjoins the one from which the Washington Park boats arrive and depart. The latter pier was crowded with people who rushed to the side to watch the fire-stricken steamer. No flames could be seen but the dense black smoke kept streaming up through the forward hatchways.

Chief Baxter, in his carriage, arrived a few minutes after the burning steamer made fast and while he was making an inspection of the surroundings, some one turned in a "still alarm" for the chemical engine. The latter came clanging down Arch street only to be sent back home again. Its arrival, however, tended to add to the excitement about the wharves.

Despite the assertion that the Goldsboro carried no passengers it was observed that an elderly man, a woman and two children were landed when she reached her pier. Who they were could not be learned.

Chief Baxter decided that the Goldsboro could not lie where she might endanger the wharves and surrounding property. So it was finally decided to haul her over to the flats on the Jersey side of the river and beach her. The fire boat Stuart and the tug Atkins Hughes slowly dragged her out into the river. The hauled her over to the Jersey shore opposite the big lumber wharf at the foot of Federal street, Camden. Here the water is from 13 to 16 feet in depth.

Towed to Camden

The Stuart took a position between the wharf and the steamer and the tug made fast on the other side.

While this was being done Chief Baxter, deciding to re-enforce the crew of the Stuart, ordered one man each from ten nearby fire stations to report at Washington avenue wharf. At 7:30 o'clock nine of the ten men had arrived and the Chief ordered them aboard the police boat Vixen, leaving this message as the tug steamed off:
"When that other fellow turns up tell him I said to swim over."

By the time the Vixen reached Camden the work of flooding the stricken steamer had begun. The Stuart was pouring in a stream of water, her own pumps were going and her sea cocks had been opened.

At 8:30 it was announced that she had touched bottom and that there was four feet of water in her hold. The work of getting at the fire was then started in earnest. As much as possible of the forward cargo was gotten out, and it was finally found that the flames were confined to the lower hold. There they were raging. It was evident that the ship herself had been somewhat damaged-how much it was impossible to estimate. The cargo was no doubt badly burned. It was apparently a smouldering fire among the bales of cotton, wool and rags-a fire that it may take weeks to subdue-and one that is very hard on the firemen.

Sunk of Jersey Shore

At midnight water was still pouring in from the fireboat's big hose. It was impossible to form any estimate as to loss, and the only opinion obtainable as to the origin was that it was due to spontaneous combustion. Superintendent Van Kirk declined to give any information as to insurance, either on the steamer or her cargo. At 9 o'clock the tug Hughes was replaced by the Lookout.

The Goldsboro is a wooden steamer of about 1000 tons, and is known as an "old-timer." She has been in the service of the Clydes for years, and is reputed to have been a great "money-maker." Her master, Captain French, is a New Yorker.

Soon after the La Bourgogne disaster the Clydes lost the steamer Delaware by fire. She was burned to the water's edge off the Jersey coast. That fire attracted great attention on account of the magnificent behavior of captain and crew-so much in contrast to the behavior of the crew of the Bourgogne, whose fate was fresh in the public mind.

An interesting question rises as to whether or not the owners of the tug Atkins Hughes will claim salvage. Inasmuch as the boat was only asked to stand by, it is conceded that the legal problem involved is a nice one.

The Man Who Swam

Chief Engineer Baxter decided at 9:30 o'clock to leave the fire in charge of the officers and crew of the Stuart. As he boarded the Visitor for the return trip a towboat appeared alongside and a voice yelled up through the darkness: "Hi, there, is Chief Baxter on board?"

"Yes," replied the Chief; "what's wanted?"

"Why, Chief," the voice answered, "I only wanted to report. I'm the fellow you told to swim over."

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA 30 Jul 1900