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The Sinking of the Oliver Mowat

Gazette reportage from September, 1921
<p>Historical Photo of the Oliver Mowat (Naval Marine Archive, Willis Metcalfe fonds)</p>
Historical Photo of the Oliver Mowat (Naval Marine Archive, Willis Metcalfe fonds)

Oliver Mowat Sunk
Published in the Picton Gazette 8 September 1921

Picton Schooner Rammed by Steam Barge, Key West, near Main Ducks Lake Ontario, on Thursday Night Last—Capt. T. L. Van Dusen of Picton and Two Members of Crew Drowned.

One of the worst lake tragedies which has occurred for many years, was the sinking of the schooner Oliver Mowat on Thursday night last, after being rammed by the large steam freighter, Key West, just off Main Ducks. The Oliver Mowat sank in a few minutes taking with her to their death, Captain Thomas Lake Van Dusen, mate Jacob Corby of Deseronto and the cook who resided at Niagara Falls.

Captain VanDusen’s death came as a great shock to his many friends in Picton. He has sailed out of Picton for many years and was well known and a capable and careful mariner. Last year he was in command of the Bertie Calkins, and for many years past has been master of schooners carrying coal into Picton and bay ports. How the collision came to occur was a mystery. The night was clear and the schooner showed the usual lights.

The schooner left Picton on Thursday afternoon, bound light for Oswego, for a cargo of coal. Shortly before 11 o’clock that night, as the vessel was off the Main Ducks in Lake Ontario, a freighter was seen approaching from the east. The night was clear, and the barge continued on its course, although a signal was flashed by the schooner to give warning of her position. The barge came ahead and struck the Oliver Mowat amidships, plowing her way half through the schooner.

The Key West did not back out, but an effort was made to keep the schooner afloat. In a few minutes however, the schooner had settled so badly that it was about to sink, and the Key West withdrew, taking out the survivors.

Captain Van Dusen and the mate made an effort to save the cook, who was in bed at the time of the collision, and kept shouting for help, but they were unable to reach her, the vessel settling so rapidly. The men then made an effort to save themselves, but were apparently carried down by the suction as the Oliver Mowat went down.

The captain was seen in the water just before the boat sank.

Two of the crew were saved, John Minaker of Picton and George Keegan of Belleville.

Minaker had got into a life preserver, and Keegan was without one. The former threw a plank to Keegan. These men were rescued by the Key West. The crew of the barge had lowered a boat in an effort to effect a rescue, but no trace of the others could be found. The barge remained on the scene until all hope was abandoned for the safety of the missing. She then proceeded west to Port Dalhousie, carrying with her the two survivors of the tragedy.

Captain Wattles of Montreal was in command of the Key West. The Oliver Mowat was a three master and usually carried about 550 tons of coal.

Captain Van Dusen had a comfortable home on Queen St., and is survived by his wife and five sons, Malcolm, Ralph and Edward of Chicago, Howard employed in the T.

Eaton Co. Ltd., Toronto, and Leo, who has been sailing with his father most of the summer, at home.

The bodies of those drowned have not yet been recovered and an inquiry will be held at Montreal to establish the cause of the accident.

The Oliver Mowat was owned by Captain Van Dusen and R. G. K. Hepburn. She was uninsured.

The Steamer Keywest (The Maritime History of the Great Lakes Database)

Masts Mark Wreck of Oliver Mowat
Published in the Picton Gazette 15 September 1921

History of Lost Craft—Built in 1873 and Launched at Bath.

The ill fated schooner “Oliver Mowat” had an interesting history. On July 11th, 1873, she was launched at Millhaven, near Bath. The event was a big one in the minds of the people of Kingston, Millhaven, Bath, and surrounding district, and there was a very large crowd who witnessed the launching of the Mowat. Sir Oliver Mowat, Lady Mowat and Miss Mowat came from Toronto for the launching, Miss Mowat breaking the bottle of wine over the bow of the boat, thereby christening it.

The boat had been built for the firm of Fraser & George, a hardware firm of Kingston. It was let out for use in the grain trade from Chicago to Kingston and was considered one of the fastest boats on the lakes. For years it was owned by the Folger Steamboat Company and during that time was in command of Captain Edward Beaupre, Jr., and Captain Saunders, a son-in-law. The timber in the Mowat had been brought from Amherst Island and the vicinity of Bath, and it was a very sturdy craft.

The Folger Company sold the Mowat to a Toronto firm, and then it passed from the command of the Beaupre family. Captain P. Henderson of Portsmouth, marine artist, made several trips on the Mowat, and on one of these trips he made an oil painting of the Mowat weathering a gale. Mr. Beaupre still has that painting.

The Mowat was considered a very lucky boat by mariners and in only one instance can it be realized that she ever came to trouble. About ten years ago she went ashore near Cobourg, but she was so strong that all that was required after she had been raised was a little caulking and she was as good as ever.

A very strange coincidence was that when Capt. Beaupre died in Portsmouth in 1908, the Mowat was anchored in the Kingston harbour in full sail. The boat he had sailed and loved so well was near when he passed away.

Today the Mowat lies cut in two in her watery grave near the Main Ducks, and with its passing many pleasant memories are brought to the minds of the old sailors who had watched her career from the time she was first built to the present day.

The Oliver Mowat was owned by Captain Van Dusen and Mr. Keith Hepburn of Picton. She had been repaired in Kingston early in the season very extensively.

Two of the three masts projecting from the water at a point two miles on the far side of Main Ducks islands, mark the scene of the disaster.

Historical Photo of the Oliver Mowat–Naval Marine Archive, Willis Metcalfe fonds

Tribute To Capt. VanDusen
Published in the Picton Gazette 29 September 1921

Master of Oliver Mowat Followed Traditions of His Cloth and Perished to Ensure Safety of Others.

Extracts from the report of the Dominion Wreck Commissioner on the Keywest-Oliver Mowat collision pay great tribute to the bravery of Capt. Vandusen.

The following items are picked from this report, which was compiled by Commissioner Captain L. A. Demers and Assessors Captains Chas. Lapierre and Arthur Lefebre.

“The loss of life of Captain T. L. VanDusen is attributed to his chivalry in wishing to be the last to leave his ship and waiting to offer help to the only female member of his crew. Had he shown the same inclination as the two survivors of “save himself who can” he would have been present to enlighten the court more thoroughly as to what happened immediately following the impact.”

How the mate, Jacob Corby, and the woman cook came to their doom the Court has not been able to obtain sufficient evidence to elaborate in that sad subject.

At this stage the Court pays tribute to Captain Thomas Lake VanDusen for his unselfish conduct, preserving fresh in the minds of the public generally, and of members of the cloth, the unalterable devotion to duty and what it implies.

The above eulogy of the master’s conduct must equally apply to the mate, Mr. Jacob Corby, who, for lack of evidence, the Court must and does assume, stood loyally by his chief and met his doom thereby.

Finding that Captain T. L. VanDusen followed the traditional bravery of seamen in remaining on deck attending to the safety of the last member of his crew.

That the mate, Jacob Corby, stood by the master, This in view of the fact of contrary evidence.

That in view of the means of escape and help available, the ladder from the Keywest, by which one member of the crew of the schooner reached safety, the sad loss of life by drowning of Capt. Thomas Lake VanDusen, mate Jacob Corby and Miss Carrie McGuigan, the cook, is considered as accidental and an aftermath of the collision. At this juncture, the court wishes to express to the members of Captain VanDusen’s family, also to the relatives of the mate, Jacob Corby, and of the cook, Miss Carrie McGuigan, its sincere sympathy in their bereavement.

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