Port Maitland, ON (Lake Erie) Steamer COMMERCE Sinking, May 1850


We announced briefly in our last issue, the destruction of the steamer Commerce on Lake Erie, and the loss of a number of lives. Since then we are in receipt of the full particulars of the sad calamity.
The Commerce left Port Maitland on Monday last, before midnight, for Port Stanley, having on board about 120 men of the 23rd Regiment, with the officers and wifes and families of the soldiers. The vessel pursued the usual course, running S.SW. to avoid a shoal lying in the vicinity of the harbor. Immediately after leaving port, the Captain and wheelman discovered a steamer bearing towards them, which proved to be the Despatch, from Port Stanley to Buffalo, touching at the British ports on the Lake. Upon nearing this steamer the Commerce bore away, in order to give her a wide berth, but strange to say, the Despatch continued to approach; the Commerce then deviated still farther from her course, always keeping her own side, until finally, when the Despatch appeared determined to cross her bows, her helm was put hard aport. Immediately afterwards the collision took place, and the Captain of the Commerce seeing it unavoidable, rang the bell to have the engine stopped, which was done accordingly. The Despatch struck the Commerce a few feet from the bow, coming nearly stem on, and a very few minutes afterwards, the forehold was full of water, and the vessel stood with her bow downwards at an angle of 45 degrees. The greatest alarm naturally prevailed; the Surgeon of the Regiment, a young lad named RODGERS, son of a Commissariat officer in Montreal; and the 2nd Engineer, WM. COLBORN, ran up the rigging, and unfortunately became entangled, and lost their lives when the vessel went over. The boats were speedily got out, but owing to the panic, they were either sunk or capsized, and many who had taken refuge in them were drowned.
The conduct of the Captain and Engineer, in this trying emergency, is beyond all praise. The former, regardless of his own safety, used his utmost exertions to secure the transfer of the passengers to the Despatch, and in this noble work he labored until the very moment when the Commerce went down; then he was barely able to throw himself, with the assistance of a rope passed from one vessel to the other, on board the Despatch.

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