ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth


The wreck of the Yukon River sternwheeler Florence S.

The Yukon River sternwheeler Florence S.

Dawson Daily News (Dawson, Yukon Territory), Monday, July 23, 1900.

Dawson Daily News</i> (Dawson, Yukon Territory), Monday, July 23, 1900.

Sternwheelr Florence S. Capsizes and Sinks in Thirty Mile River, Drowning Three - July 23, 1900

    Steamer Florence S. capsized and was wrecked in Thirty Mile river at 2 o'clock Saturday afternoon. Mrs. Stewart and 12-year-old daughter, of Victoria, B.C., and Steward Menasters [Walter L. Monnastes] were drowned. Twenty of the survivors were brought to Dawson this morning on the steamer Bailey.

    The disaster is the worst that has happened on the river this year, and is all the more distressing because according to reports, a little more care in the stowing of the cargo would have avoided it. The vessel is a total wreck and three drowned bodies are still locked in the embrace of the chilly waters of the Yukon; passengers lost their baggage and everything except what they had on their backs and for many miles the shores are strewn with boxes and bales of freight.

    The steamer was rounding a sharp bend in the river 13 miles above Hootalingua when the accident happened. She had on a heavy cargo of 60 tons of general merchandise. Some of the passengers say the pilot swung the boat too quickly, but those most competent to judge assert that the cargo shifted to one side. Be that as it may, the Florence S. hung on the edge of her hull in the eddying waters for a second and then toppled over on her side. As she struck the upper works parted from the hull with a crash. A fearful and pitiful scene ensued. Most of the passengers were thrown into the water. After a few moments of wild confusion and deeds of personal daring and heroism that can never be written, 19 of them reached or were pulled on to the upper works and six managed to cling to the hull. Mrs. Stewart was caught in ... her daughter, crazed by the sight of her dying mother, plunged in to save or perish with her, but naturally was unable to afford any help. Two men also leaped into the water and battled with the current in an effort to save the woman and child. They reached Mrs. Stewart and started with her toward the shore but had not proceeded far when she gave a despairing cry, tore herself loose from their grasp and sank to rise no more. While this was transpiring the daughter sank and was swept away.

    Mr. Menaster could not swim but, after being thrown into the river, he managed to reach the upper works where he clung for a moment. But whether his muscles became cramped or what cause God alone knows, he released his hold and was soon lost to sight.

    Those on the hull were in a dangerous predicament. Three men and three women. Seeing their peril they started to swim to shore, the men guiding the women, and by rare fortune managed to reach it, though in an exhausted state. They were scarcely away from the hull when it turned bottom side up and sank in 166 feet of water, the boiler and engine falling out.

    The upper works on which 19 people were clinging drifted down with the current 13 miles and finally lodged on an island just off the mouth of the Hootalingua.

    Fortunately the steamer Bailey came along just at this time on her way to Dawson and promptly afforded every possible relief. The survivors were taken aboard and carried to Hootalinqua post. A box of shoes that drifted ashore was broken open and footwear provided for those who had none. From Hootalinqua brief telegrams were sent to the C.D. officials concerning the disaster, and acting under orders from headquarters the passengers of the ill-starred Florence S. were brought to Dawson - all but five or six who remained along Thirty Mile in the hope of finding some of their baggage and personal effects among the flotsam strewn along shore. Those who were brought down were: Mrs. A. C. Schmeer, D. Burns, E. C. Adams, Mrs. J. J. Cresap, James Dailey and wife, Oliver Redpath, R. E. Blake, W. R. Jones, E. Fosket, A. E. Maltby, L. P. Byrens, J. McCain, J. Merritt, J. Fussell, A. B. Wood, Dr. J. P. Kimball, J. Foster, Abram Ramille, Charles Berusee.

    When the Bailey left Hootalingua a vast quantity ot freight from the wreck was drifting by and residents were out in the boat saving it. A sharp lookout was being kept for the remains of the three drowned people, but no trace of them had been found. The upper works of the boat were left on the island where they lodged; the bottom of the overturned hull could just be seen underneath the water. This will likely prove a menace to navigation and may have to be blown up.

    The disaster happened with such startling swiftness that few of the crew or passengers realized it until they found themselves struggling in the water. It was a bright, sunny afternoon and most of them had removed their superfluous clothing, hence only saved what they had on their backs. That most of them were not lost under the circumstances is looked upon as almost miraculous, for the waters at that point are rapid and the current dangerous.

    News of the wreck was first received in Dawson late Saturday night,and all day yesterday was the subject of general public comment, as none of the details were available. Many anxious people who expected relatives or who had acquaintances on the steamer watched the wharves all day long in the hope of getting more definite news, but none could be had until the arrival of the Bailey this morning.

    The Florence S. was officered as follows: Captain Jordan, Pilot Sid Barrington, Purser Maltby, Engineer Blake and Steward Menasters. Captain Jordan was taken aboard at White Horse. For the first 24 hours Pilot Barrington and Engineer Blake stood on watch and Pilot Barrington had just relinquished the wheel to Captain Jordan and gone to dinner when the disaster occurred.

    Official inquiry will be held as to the cause of the wreck, hence the ship's officers do not care to talk for publication.

    Very little information is obtainable as to who the dead are. Mrs. Sewart and her daughter were on their way to Dawson from Victoria, B. C., but whether they had any relatives in the Klondike is yet unknown. They had no personal acquaintances among the passengers. Steward Menasters was a beardless youth of 20 years, and was making his first trip in. He came from Skagway, where his stepfather, a man named Boughton, is said to be running a brewery. He was well liked by those on board.

    The Florence S. was owned by Captain Sid Barrington, a mortgage on her being held by Humboldt Gates. She was built at Portland, Or., and taken in sections to St. Michael where she was put together in the summer of 1897 and plied on the lower river for a year. In the summer of 1898 the steamer made her first trip to Dawson and to White Horse, and has since then been mainly operated on the up river run. When the ice broke last May the Florence S. was one of the first boats to reach Dawson, having a neck and neck race with the Flora. A few days afterward she was purchased by Sid Barrington and taken to the Koyukuk diggings, carrying a boat load of passengers from Dawson to the new camp. Upon her return the steamer resumed her run to White Horse and was coming back from her third voyage when wrecked. It had been intended to send her into the Tanana with prospectors for that camp as soon as she got back here, but that trip will never be made by her. No insurance was carried on the vessel, so the loss falls heavily upon Captain Barrington and Humboldt Gates.

    During the day various stories were afloat concerning the cause of the wreck and many improbable theories were heard. Pending the result of official investigation this will not be definitely ascertained and the responsibility fixed.


    Mrs. A. S. Schmeer, one of the passengers on the wrecked Florence S., gives some startling information touching the cause of the wreck that puts another phase on the matter and shows gross culpability on the officers of the boat. Mrs. Schmeer says that in the first place the boat was overloaded; that for some 20 minutes before the boat turned over she listed to starboard and took in water over her guards; that she called the attention of the other passengers to it and considerable alarm was felt at the strange working of the steamer which was labored; that she listed several times, each time making water; that finally a heavy crack was heard, as if the boat had split in two and shortly after she went over, the upper works falling off, leaving her and several others on the hull with all the other passengers clinging to the upper works that were drifting away. Mrs. Schmeer believes that the officers, finally realizing that the boat was filling, attempted to beach her, but made too short a turn in the swift current, which helped to turn her over. Mrs. Schmeer blames the officers for not beaching the boat when she first commenced to take in water, or warning the passengers to be on the look out. No effort was made to save lives and no life preservers or life boats were at all available. Had the accident happened in the night, she says, everyone would have been drowned in their berths like rats in a trap.


    Oliver Redpath, of Kamloops, B.C., a prominent mining operator in the Kootenay and Yale districts, was one of the wrecked passengers who arrived today and he tells a startling story of the causes that led to the disaster. Mr. Redpath says:

    "We took passage on the Florence S. at White Horse about midnight Friday. I awoke the next morning at 6:30 and went out on deck, when I saw that the steamer was badly overloaded. I also saw a quantity of freight stowed away on the hurricane deck. We crossed Lake Lebarge while it was calm with no wind but the boat listed badly both to the right and to the left, sometimes her guard rail bearing six inches under water. I said nothing at the time, as I did not desire to excite the alarm of the passengers.

    "When we got down in Thirty Mile river, I suppose 15 or 20 miles from the head the Florence S. listed heavily and then righted herself. In a few minutes afterward she listed again and kept going. The captain said it was all right and took some men on the hurricane deck to move the freight but did not touch the lifeboat, not withstanding the peril. When the ship capsized and the hull and deck works parted, the life boat - a poor excuse - was probably 5O feet from the wreck, upside down and full of water. The captain asked one of the crew if he could swim. He said he could and jumped off to go for the life boat. A lady fell from the hull in the water and I went in after her. I caught her and she clung to me, while I swam down with the current and slowly worked my way to shore. In this way we went down quite a long distance, but when a few feet from the shore the lady said she could hold on no longer and let go, disappearing beneath the water. I was exhausted and could do no more. This unfortunate lady was Mrs. Stewart. When she slipped off the hull her daughter went in alter her and my partner, Joe Foster, tried to save er but could not.