Cincinnati, OH Area Steamboat MOSELLE Explosion, Apr 1838
EXPLOSION OF THE MOSELLE, NEAR CINCINNATI, OHIO, APRIL 25, 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.