Foundering of the schooner Picton

Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald, July 3, 1900

Oswego, July 2. - The schooner Picton of Bellville, Ont., a Lake Ontario hooker, bound for Kingston, Ont., went down off Charlotte Sunday afternoon [July 1] during a gale of wind blowing from the Northwest and all on board, including the captain, his son and four men were lost. The Picton was a fore and aft rigged craft, owned at Belleville, Ont., by Captain Sidley, and was engaged in the coal trade.

She was built a quarter of a century ago and was a good vessel in her day. But time and weather had laid its hand heavily on her, and although she weathered the gales on the lakes for many years, like the pitcher that went to the well, it ventured outside once too often and found its resting place at the bottom of the lake, where it will keep silent company with hundreds of other craft which have met a similar fate, and its brave crew of six souls will join the thousands whose graves are in the bottom of old Ontario.

The Picton left Charlotte in company with the schooner Acacia, bound for Kingston, and after the two vessels were outside they were struck by a squall which came out of the Northwest. Instead of subsiding, as sudden storms of this kind usually do, the wind increased in fury, and the lake, which was as placid as a mill pond when the two boats sailed outside, was lashed into a fury and the waves ran mountains high.

Capt. Byron Bongard of the Acacia succeeded in getting in the greater part of his sail and scudded before the wind and saved his boat. Captain Sidley either did not notice the fast approaching storm quick enough, or his rigging must have become jammed, for his sails were all standing when the storm struck. The sails were whipped into ribbons in a minute's time, and the main mast, it is said, went by the board. The heavy boat plunged and heaved in the heavy seas, and although everything possible was done to clear away the wreckage the seas ran so high and were constantly breaking over the doomed craft that the members of the crew, who were fighting for their lives as only doomed men can, were swept from the deck of the schooner and into the lake, where they were drowned. It was impossible to lower away a boat for the small yawl secured in the davits at the stern of the schooner would scarcely have touched the water before it would have been crushed like an egg shell, the waves were so enormous.

Captain Bongard watched the schooner, unable to render the slightest assistance, until it disappeared from view and he came to the conclusion that it had foundered and was the first to report the fact when he reached his destination, Kingston, Ont.

All doubts regarding the fate of the Picton were removed when Captain Savage of the schooner Annie Minnes reached Belleville. He, too, was caught in the storm, and although his vessel was badly damaged, he succeeded in outliving the gale and sailed into port. He was within two miles of the Picton when she was battling with the elements and saw her take her last fatal plunge, but was unable, on account of the high seas, to render the crew any assistance. As soon as he reached Belleville he reported the loss of the schooner.

The foundering of the Picton is but another vacancy in the noble line of vessels which have ploughed Lake Ontario for the last half a century and have one by one either found a grave in the deep water or been piled up on the rocks along the shores. This class of craft were considered able to outride the severest storm when they were built, and they could. But of late years the competition with the steamers and railroads have made the freight rates so low that the owners could barely eak out a living, let along give to their boats the necessary repairs to make them safe and seaworthy.

Every spring the owners, when they fitted these boats out, have said it would be the last time, but after a hard winter and when the family larder was low they would try it just one more season. And is always easy to gather together a crew to man these floating coffins, for they are little better than that. Necessity knows no law, and the hundreds of men who have followed the lakes for a living when sailing was good and the boats new and safe are ever on the lookout for a situation.

Men who hold first class papers as pilots on the lakes, from Duluth to Ogdensburg, and are competent to take command of any craft navigating these waters, are found among the members of the fo'castle of just such boats as the Picton.

The crew of the Picton all lived at Belleville, Ont. It was at first thought Captain Sidley was accompanied by his wife and family, but it was later learned that his 11-year-old son, Sylvester, was the only one of his family on board. The mate, Frank Smith, and the cook, Bernard Myers, were men with families, but the rest, Walter Dunn and William Bligh, were unmarried.

(Note: The two-masted schooner Picton was built by Thomas Walters at Picton in 1867. Dimensions: 98'4" length; 22'9" width and 9" 7" depth, 160 tons. (Canadian registration #71206) – see the entry in our Ships Database. Se also How the Picton passed out (Schooner Days number XCIV.)

 

With thanks to R. Palmer for the trancription.