Charleston, SC Steamboat ENTERPRISE Explosion, Sept 1816


In the midst of a furious thunder-storm, accompanied by a heavy fall of rain, the steamboat Enterprise, Capt. Howard, was making her way up the river, at nine o'clock, P. M,, (having but a few minutes before stopped to land some passengers on Sullivan's island,) when the boiler exploded, killing eight persons instantly, and wounding five or six others, with various degrees of severity. Fortunately, a majority of the passengers had crowded into the cabin to avoid the rain ; this circumstance, no doubt, was the means of saving many persons from a horrible death ; a fate to which nearly all who remained on deck were subjected, The noise of the explosion was so very slight, as to be scarcely noticed by the people collected in the cabin; and they were first made aware of the accident by hearing the hissing sound of the hot water which escaped from the boiler, and the shrieks of the persons on deck who had been scalded or otherwise burnt.

There were about seventy passengers on board the Enterprise, and providentially no women or children. Several of the persons whose deaths are reported below, were killed by pieces of the boiler and flue, some of which were blown to a great distance. Others were scalded to death, or badly burned by the ignited fuel from the furnace, which was scattered in every direction, knocking some of the people down, and overwhelming them, as it were, in a whirlpool of fire. The night was made hideous by the cries and groans of the sufferers, which rose above the din of the warring elements.

At the time of the accident, the steamer was fortunately not more than one hundred yards from the Island, from whence boats were immediately despatched to the scene of destruction, to afford that assistance which the situation of the passengers and crew required. All the survivors, including the wounded, were conveyed to the Island, where they were provided with such accommodations as their condition demanded and circumstances would admit of.

Some difference of opinion existed with respect to the cause of this accident. Captain Howard, master of the boat, and some of the passengers, held the opinion that the flue was struck by lightning, which being conducted by the metallic tube down to the boiler, shivered the latter to fragments. In opposition to this opinion, it is alleged that salt water was used for the purpose of raising steam, and as the boiler was composed of cast iron and not of copper, an explosion, according to the theory of skillful engineers, was inevitable.

As stated above, eight persons lost their lives by this accident. Their names, with one exception, Mr. Robbs, were never published. Three of those killed were colored men. Four of the crew, not included in the above statement, were so severely burned that their lives were despaired and it is probable that they died soon after.

Lloyd's Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, Cincinnati, Ohio; James T. Lloyd & Co, 1856, pages 82-83