Cincinnati, OH Area Steamboat MOSELLE Explosion, Apr 1838

Steamboat Moselle Explosion, Apr 1838


We are now about to relate the particulars of an event which seemed for a time to shroud the whole country in mourning ; an event which is still believed to be almost without a parallel in the annals of steamboat calamities. The Moselle was regarded as the very paragon of western steamboats ; she was perfect in form and construction, elegant and superb in all her equipments, and enjoyed a reputation for speed which admitted of no rivalship. Her commander and proprietor, Capt. Perrin, was a young gentleman of great ambition and enterprise, who prided himself, above all things, in that celebrity which his boat had acquired, and who resolved to maintain, at all hazards, the character of the Moselle as " the swiftest steamboat in America." This character she unquestionably deserved ; for her "quick trips" were without competition at that time, and are rarely equalled at the present day. To give two examples :--her first voyage from Portsmouth to Cincinnati, a distance of one hundred and ten miles, was made in seven hours and fifty-five minutes; and her last trip, from St, Louis to Cincinnati, seven hundred and fifty-miles, was performed in two days and sixteen hours; the quickest trip, by several hours, that had ever been made between the two places.

On the afternoon of April 25, 1838, between four and five o'clock, the Moselle left the landing at Cincinnati, bound for St. Louis, with an unusually large number of passengers, supposed to be not less than two hundred and eighty, or, according to some accounts, three hundred. It was a pleasant afternoon, and all on board probably anticipated a delightful voyage, Passengers continued to crowd in up to the moment of departure, for the superior accommodations of this steamer, and her renown as the finest and swiftest boat on the river, were great attractions for the travelling public, with whom safety is too often but a secondary consideration. The Moselle proceeded about a mile up the river to take on some German emigrants. At this time, it was observed by an experienced engineer on board that the steam had been raised to an unusual height ; and when the boat stopped for the purpose just mentioned, it was reported that one man, who was apprehensive of danger, went ashore, after protesting against the injudicious management of the steam apparatus. When the object for which the Moselle had landed was accomplished, the bow of the boat was shoved from the shore, and at that instant the explosion took place. The whole of the vessel forward of the wheels was blown to splinters ; every timber, (as an eye witness declares,) " appeared to be twisted, as trees sometimes are when struck by lightning," As soon as the accident occurred, the boat floated down the stream for about one hundred yards, where she sunk, leaving the upper part of the cabin out of the water, and the baggage, together with many struggling human beings, floating on the surface of the river.

It was remarked that the force of the explosion was unprecedented in the history of steam ; its effect was like that of a mine of gunpowder. All the boilers, four in number, burst simultaneously; the deck was blown into the air, and the human beings who crowded it were doomed to instant destruction. Fragments of the boiler and of human bodies were thrown both to the Kentucky and Ohio shores, although the distance to the former was a quarter of a mile. Captain Perrin, master of the Moselle, at the time of the accident was standing on the deck, above the boiler, in conversation with another person. He was thrown to a considerable height on the steep embankment of the river and killed, while his companion was merely prostrated on the deck, and escaped without injury. Another person was blown to the distance of a hundred yards, with such force, according to the report of a reliable witness, that his head and a part of his body penetrated the roof of a house. Some of the passengers 'who were in the after part of the boat, and who were uninjured by the explosion, jumped overboard. An eye-witness says that he saw sixty or seventy in the water at one time, of whom not a dozen reached the shore.



Moselle Disaster Portrayed

The Moselle disaster is portrayed in an historical novel called Early's Idaho.

There are print and Kindle versions of the book available here:

I too am a descendant. This

I too am a descendant. This has been a family "legend" for many years. Have you ever found anything else out?

Joseph McMahon

I am a descendent of Joseph McMahon and if you have any evidence that he was on the Mosselle please share it with me. I have been told that his son in law Daniel Snyder was killed also

Mr. Seth Post, wife and 2 children

The History of Jo Daviess County, Illinois, containing a history of the county, its cities, towns, etc., a biographical directory, page 558

A Mr. Shaw and Seth Post came to the county in the Fall of 1836. Post made a claim in the town of Rush, but Shaw did not select a claim until after they had gone back to Alleghany County, New York, and he returned with his family. When they started back to New York, Mr. Post left his two sons, Alonzo and Joseph, in charge of his claim and other property here, and during his absence " the boys " were very industrious in settling the house in order against the coming of their father, mother and the rest of the family, a coming they were destined never to realize.

When the two families were ready to leave New York for new homes in the west, they hired their passage on a lumber raft from Olean Point, which was bound for Cincinnati via Pittsburg. This raft not only conveyed the two families, but all their household goods, and one span of horses and wagon belonging to Mr. Shaw. Shaw was to come overland with his team from Cincinnati, while Post was to come by water to Galena. Arriving in Cincinnati, Post took passage on the steamer Moselle, and just as they were rounding the outer pier, the boiler exploded, killing Mr. Post, his wife and two children. This caused Mr. Shaw to remain until the goods belonging to the two families (which had been shipped on the steamer) could be saved. This delayed Mr. Shaw so that he did not arrive here until late in the Spring, and the duty of imparting to the Post brothers, who were "watching and waiting" for father, mother and little ones, the sad intelligence of the terrible calamity that rendered them parentless, was one that he would gladly have had imposed upon others. But there was no other to discharge that duty, and with a heavy heart and in trembling accents, he related to the grief stricken sons and brothers a full account of the terrible scenes attending the fatal boiler explosion.

After Shaw's arrival, he selected a claim on section 18, now the beautiful and attractive home of his son, J. P. Shaw. Alonzo and Joseph Post, the two sons of Seth Post, made a claim on section 19, just opposite that selected by Mr. Shaw. They have since pushed on "out West," and their whereabouts are unknown.

Steamboat "Moselle"

It is believed that a "Josef McMahan" was also on board and presumed killed in the explosion.