Fort Washington, NY Steamer ISAAC NEWTON Burns In Hudson River, Dec 1863





One of those fearful incidents which so seldom have to be chronicled as occurring on our noble Hudson, occurred Saturday night, in which over an hundred lives were jeopardized, a thrill of agony sent through thousands of hearts, and an immense amount of property destroyed. We made brief mention of it yesterday.
The steamer Isaac Newton, for upward of eighteen years a favorite on the Hudson, hence to Albany, commanded during all that time by one of the most competant, intelligent and popular officers who ever trod deck, Capt. PECK, left her dock at the foot of Cortland street at 6 o'clock Saturday evening. She had from one hundred to one hundred and fifty passengers -- Capt. PECK says about an hundred -- and an average load of after-fall freight -- that is, not very heavy.
When the steamer was about opposite Fort Washington a terrific explosion occurred, as the upper saloon passengers state, like that of a cannon, and in an instant steam enveloped the different decks. Some of the passengers were in the lower saloon at supper, and the first intimation they received was the showering down of live coals upon them, which had been blown from the furnaces by the explosion into and through the ventilator to the lower cabin. On the heads andhands of some felt the burning coals, and the plates they were eating from were filled with them. A general horror was the result. The steam had rapidly made its way down, and threatened certain death to all. Two men rushed from their unfinished meal, smashed through the forward windows, and crawling out, clambered to the upper deck. The others bent beneath the hot steam, which did not reach the floor, and crawled to the stairway, making their way up. It is believed that all below were saved.
The Upper Decks.
The explosion, as has before been said, was like that of a cannon, and instantly the steam rushed forth: the night was cold, and above decks it had but little effect. The fright occassioned, however, was terrific. About one-third of the passengers were women and children, and the most indescribable terror reigned. The widest rumors ran from mouth to ear that the boat was sinking, and a scene of heartrending agony occurred. Fortunately there were cool, brave men on board, who checked the frantic women and shamed the cowardly men, and thus saved many who would have recklessly rushed to the guards and thrown themselves overboard. One gentleman from this City was most active in this, and saved thus many lives. But the scene was fearful in the extreme, and required the greatest courage and self-possession to prevent the most fearful results.
In ten minutes after the explosion the entire mid-ships was in flames. The passengers had, fortunately, nearly all rushed aft. A guardian angel was at hand. The flames spread savagely, but ere their greedy lust was satisfied the steamer Daniel S. Miller, of Coxsackie, commanded by Capt. JOHN SMITH -- ever honored be his name -- with three barges in tow, was at hand. He ran up to the starboard quarters, made fast, and at once set himself to work to save the passengers. He succeeded in taking all off who were aft, and that was, it is thought all. Some of the scalded had to be brought down to the deck by ladders. On being received on board they were most kindly and tenderly cared for. Capt. SMITH has won for himself a place in the hearts of all, for his humane and noble conduct on this occasion. He was the first to the assistance of the steamer.
A number of steamers beside the Miller were also came to the Newton's aid. The Isaac Newton was enveloped in flames from fore to aft, but meantime all the passengers had been taken from her. Capt. PECK was at supper at the time of the explosion. He rushed on deck, and wverything that man could do to allay the excitement and save lives he did. After the passengers and wounded were transferred, he was unceasing in his attentions to them.
Subsequent Scenes.
The passengers were conveyed to Yonkers, which place they reached at about 9 o'clock, it being some four miles above the scene of the catastrophe. Here the injured were placed in the boat-house, with one exception, MR. WELLS, who was conveyed to the Denslow. The dead were placed ini an outhouse on the dock.
The following is a list of the killed and injured so far as ascertained. The bodies are at Yonkers, where an inquest will be commenced to-day. Of the injured, who are also there, it is feared that few will survive. They are receiving all the attention that kind hearts and medical science can bestow:
JOHN HODGSON, passenger, Cohoes -- scalded.
JAMES HODGSON, passenger, Cohoes -- scalded, (brother of above.)
JAS. PENDERGRAST, fireman -- scalded; died Saturday night.
JAS. HOGAN, passenger, Troy -- scalded; died Saturday night.
CHAS. SMITH and RICHARD LYMAN, both firemen, were killed, and their bodies had to be left on board, the flames preventing all attempts at recovering them.
It is feared that WILSON DIEDDRICH, baggage-master, was also killed. He was in the baggage froom at the time of the explosion, and that room was blown to atoms; he has not since been heard of.
GEORGE WELLS, Rochester -- terribly scalded; may recover.
PHILIP EDENGER, New York -- scalded; recovery doubtful.
CHARLES BORUS, Steuben County, N. Y. -- scalded; recovery doubtful.
MICHAEL McLAUGHLIN, fireman -- badly scalded; recovery doubtful.
LARRY SULLIVAN, fireman -- badly scalded.
THOMAS GIENNING, fireman -- badly scalded.
GEORGE BAKEMAN, passenger, Schenectady -- badly scalded.
MICHAEL RYAN, passenger, New York -- badly scalded.
The injured are all terribly disfigured, and are enduring the greatest agonies. It is reported that the Chief Engineer is badly injured an not expected to live.
Among those who rendered most valuable assistance was a physician on board the steamer, whose name it is a regret was not ascertained. He was not only cool and efficient during the frightful emergency, but afterward devoted and unceasing in his attention to the wounded.
The physicians of Yonkers were promptly on hand, and, with the nobility of their profession, so soon as the boat carrying the injured reached the dock, tendered their services. Among them, with honorable mention, were DRS. FLAGG, UPHAM, ARNOLD and REINFELDER. MR. NEWMAN, of Yonkers, was also most kind and generous in his attentions.
Although many attempted to jump overboard during the confusion, they wre restrained by the more cool of the passengers, and it is not believed that any were thus lost. Many of the lady passengers made wild efforts to throw themselves into the water.
When the Miller was alongside, the ladies and children were first passed on board. Several cowardly men tried to crowd in advance of them, but were summarily thrust back by the brave spirits who sought to rescue.
On the Miller when she threw off from the burning vessel -- having done her good deed -- the scene was a most exciting and touching one. Relative calling for relative, friend for friend, and uncontrollable joy exhibited at the meeting.
The Last Of The Steamer.
Soon after 8 o'clock the steamer was one entire mass of flames. The scene was magnificent. The Palisades were lighted up for miles with the glare of the Demon, and the shore opposite far illuminated. Boats from all directions had hurried to the rescue; tugs, steamers, schooners, vessels of all descriptions, hastened to lend their aid. The river in the vicinity of the steamer swarmed with those anxious to save, and long did they tarry thereabouts for the purpose. Until 2 A. M. did the flames revel, and then, the vessel, which had been anchored at almost the moment of the calamity, was burned to the water's edge. When the "walking-beam" fell -- which weighted about eighteen tons -- it must have crushed, through the bottom, and the hull sank in about fifteen feet of water. It lies now about opposite One Hundred and Seventy-fifth street, and nothing is visible but a portion of the iron framing of one of the wheels.
All the freight, of course, was an entire loss, and the passengers, save such as saved carpet-bags, lost all their baggage. After reaching Yonkers, about all of them took the 11:50 P.M. train for Albany, grateful for a miraculous escape.
Just before the catastrophe, only a few moments, the Isaac Newton was passing the Miller and tow, and was hugging the western shore in order to get by. This was most fortunate, for had the steamer got beyond the evening tows and further up the river, the record would have been most appalling.
This is the first serious accident that has happened to the Isaac Newton in all her faithful duty of about eighteen years, while every one of her assiciates have been, more or less, sufferers.
The Explosion.
There are a number of theories in regard to the explosion, and none of them satisfactory. The principal one is that either the fore or after-connection of the boilers exploded. Even if this be so, certain it is that the bottom of one of the boilers were blown out, because the fire was all hurled from the furnace, thrown through the ventilator into the lower cabin, cast on to the deck, and thus at once inextinguishably fired the vessel.
The Loss.
What the loss is cannot yet be ascertained. The Isaac Newton was the largest boat on the river. Although old in 1856, she was rejuvenated by being then rebuilt and leghtened, and has always preserved her place as a favorite. Her actual value cannot be far from $200,000. The value of the freight and baggage is unknown. The whole amount of loss will probably not fall short of $400,000.
There were a number of valuable horses on board. One escaped and swam to Fort Washington, was captured by the Policemen of Capt. WILSON'S Precinct, and is now in their charge.
When the fire was seen from the shore, two of the officers of the Thirty-second Precinct took a rowboat -- the steamer was clear to the other side of the river -- and hastened to the rescue. They reached there in time to be of service.
Several men on the Newton seemed to forget their sex, and crowded over almost swooning women. They received from the true men present repulses they will never forget.
Selfishness had an exemplification on this occasion: one man had four life-preservers on his person.
Among the incidents was the separation of a mother and her child. The little one was in a state room, when one of the colored men, by main force, kept her back, and aided her in finding and rescuing the little one, who was close at hand.
When the burning coals came down the ventilator into the lower cabin, they scattered in all directions. One gentleman lifting a cup of coffee to his mouth was struck and burned on his hand. Another had his coffee thrown boilingly over his face by a red-hot coal alighting into the cup. A lady had her clothes set on fire. No one here was seriously injured, and it is marvelous. The steam came rushing down, and some intelligent man at once directed those in the cabin to stoop below it and crawl to the stairway. All who had not at once, on the explosion, fled, obeyed, and thus saved their lives.
One passenger, who was near the engine, was thrown twenty feet aft. He finds gratitude in the fact that it was not twenty feet forward and into eternity.
Of course it is impossible to state how many have been lost. It is hoped that the list, given above, comprises all the killed and injured. The passenger-list cannot furnish the facts, for those who were saved hurried on to their homes. It is believed confidently, however, that few, if any, are unaccounted for. In view of all things, it is an escape for which all who are now alive and well can most devoutly thank their God for, and we doubt not they do. Those whom we have seen reverentially recognize an all-kind Providence in their escape.

The New York Times New York 1863-12-07