London, ON Steamer VICTORIA Disaster, Mar 1881
The utmost exertions were put forth to rescue as many of the drowning ones as possible, and many were saved from a watery grave. As soon as possible help was secured and the work of recovering the bodies from the river and from the wreck proceeded with. The bodies were placed on the steamboat Louise as fast as they were brought up and then taken to the company's docks, where the tank of identification began.
The accident occurred at about quarter past 6, and it was midnight before the bodies so far recovered were brought back to the city. Here a most heart rending scene ensued. The bodies, as fast as transferred from the steamers, were laid out in rows on the grass by the river side, all in their holiday attire, and, with the aid of torches, the faces were eagerly scanned by hundreds of anxious friends looking for thier missing ones.
A goodly proportion of the drowned are men in middle life, and many are children of tender years. Many were the wails of sorrow which followed the identification of relatives. Perhaps it is the mother who discovers her child, or children a parent. One man was heard inquiring for four children. As fast as corpses were claimed they were taken in charge by their friends and removed to their homes. The utmost confusion prevails. It is impossible at present to secure a complete list of the drowned, but many prominent citizens and their families are included in the number.
The bodies still unclaimed are being enclosed in shells and removed to the drill shed, where they can be visited by anxious freinds.
People tumbled in hundreds in headlong into the deep water, and to make the situation more terrible the whole of the upper decks and supports went crashing down upon the wretched victims who thus became engulfed in a dreadful watery tomb. The scene that followed beggars description. Between the wreck and shore could be seen scores of human being, who had become liberated from the mass of debris, and were battling with the element and slowly but surely yielding to its power. Many who were so stunned by the crash as to be unconscious sank without an effort. The work of recovering bodies was then begun, and has continued unremittingly ever since. The steamer Princess Louise came along side in a few minutes and in a short time both her decks and every available inch of space was taken up with the dead bodies. Tears came into the eyes of many a man of iron nerve as he gazed upon the bodies of boys and girls as they were taken from the river clad in their holiday attire, and were carried in sympathizing arms aboard the Princess Louise. Meanwhile tidings were conveyed to the city and crowds of anxious ones flocked to the scene to learn if possible the fate of some one on board who was dear to them. Many of the bodies were terribly bruised and mangled from the crash of timber, which came down from the upper deck, and in many cases the feature bore evidence of the desperate struggle that must have taken place.
A visit to the scene shows the Victoria to be a complete wreck, being literally an ill-constructed vessel broken into splinters. It is said on good authority that her boiler was not properly secured and it shifted with the rocking of the boat. Hardly any portion of the vessel is above water.
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