The Sinking of the Steamer Montreal

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According to the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, the MONTREAL, Steamer burned on the River St. Lawrence in January 1858, killing 264 people and causing a $41,000 loss of property.

Quebec, June 27, 1857
Steamer MONTREAL, one of the regular steamers running between Quebec and Montreal, left this port at 4 o’clock yesterday P. M., having on board between four and five hundred passengers, of whom a majority were Scotch and other emigrants recently arrived from Europe. Nothing unusual occurred after leaving the wharf, until the MONTREAL reached a point, Cape Roque, about twelve or fifteen miles above this city, when the woodwork near the furnace was discovered to be on fire. Almost the very moment the smoke was discovered the flames broke forth, causing the utmost consternation amongst the crowded passengers. The fire was first discovered about 5 o’clock when the steamer was nearly abreast of Cape Roque. Every effort was made to arrest the flames, and to this purpose, she stopped so as to lessen the draught; but finding it impossible to save the steamer, Capt. Rudolph ordered her to be run towards the shore, and at the same time, the officers and crew exerted themselves to get out the lifeboats. 

The flames spread with the most astonishing rapidity. In a few seconds, after the steamer began to move forward, the wildest confusion and despair prevailed throughout the ship, and numbers of passengers threw themselves overboard, and were, in most cases, drowned. Fortunately, the steamer NAPOLEON, also bound for Montreal, was but a few miles in advance of the burning boat, and as soon as the fire was discovered, put back with all possible speed, and succeeded in rescuing from the burning wreck 127 passengers. Capt. Rudolph and the Purser of the MONTREAL were amongst the number of those who threw themselves into the river, and they being excellent swimmers succeeded in reaching the steamer ALLIANCE, and were saved. It is quite possible that others may have succeeded in saving themselves by swimming, but as the steamer became unmanageable when a considerable distance from land. There is no doubt that most of those who threw themselves from the burning boat found a watery grave. One of those saved died within a short time after reaching the deck of the NAPOLEON; and from present information, it is believed the total loss of life by this terrible disaster, will not fall short of from three hundred to four hundred. 

The steamer ALLIANCE arrived here this P. M., with forty-five dead bodies. We have not been able to learn the names of any of those lost, except Mr. Philips of the extensive lumbering firm of Norcross & Philips, of Three Rivers. The MONTREAL had on board 258 emigrants, recently arrived here from Glasgow, together with several German families, and raftsmen, and several American passengers. 

Buffalo Daily Courier 
Monday, June 29, 1857 

Montreal
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Arrest of the Captain of the Montreal: July 1857

On-demand of the counsel for the survivors, Captain Rudolph of the steamer MONTREAL was arrested today, and imprisoned to await the finding of the Jury, which it is expected will be delivered tomorrow or Thursday. It is in clear evidence that the burning of the MONTREAL, and the terrible consequences which followed, was the result of the most criminal carelessness, inefficiency and cowardice, on the part of the officers of the boat. 

In the first place, there was no sufficient guard against fire. There was exposed woodwork in dangerous proximity to the boilers. But this fact would not, perhaps, have subjected the captain to criminal prosecution. For it was shown that, in this particular, his vessel was not unlike many others of even higher reputation than the MONTREAL. Indeed, there is reason to fear that not one steamboat in ten is properly guarded against fire. And it is a daily miracle that they escape the consequences of this criminal neglect in their construction. 

In the next place, Captain Rudolph, exhibited the most shameful stupidity after the fire was discovered. He seemed wholly unfitted for the emergency. He knew neither what to do himself, nor what to direct others to do. And, like all stupid men, he had not the grace to adopt the suggestions of others wiser than himself. This was fatally illustrated in his neglect to comply with a suggestion, when the fire was first discovered to be unmanageable, to run the boat onshore. At that moment a sand beach was accessible, and it could have been reached before the flames had driven any single one of the passengers into the water. But the suggestion was disregarded. The course of the vessel was continued as when the fire was discovered, until opposite a rocky coast; and its course was only changed when flames had driven hundreds of the unfortunate creatures on to the bulwarks or into the water, and even then the wheel was deserted and the vessel left to herself. The result was that she struck upon the rock at the worst point of a bad range of coast, where the water was deep, and were more than two hundred and fifty perished. 

But Capt. Rudolph was as brutal and cowardly as he was stupid, he did literally nothing to help the women and children by whom he was surrounded, and who were momentarily driven into the flames or water. His refusal to run his vessel onshore at the point first suggested, might have been overlooked as an error of judgment. The point ultimately selected might have been attributed to the indiscretion of fatality. But his infamous indifference to the fate of his passengers — his proven neglect to raise a finger to aid them — the fact that not even a chair or table or plank was thrown over to the struggling sufferers by his direction; that, to secure a safe standing place for himself, he forced women into the water by crushing their fingers to compel them to loosen their hold—that he seized, for his own use, the only life preserver on the boat— that he deliberately looked on and saw women and children sink into their watery grave until a clear spot was thus made for him to leap into the water himself without running the risk of being grappled by those he thus saw sinking; these and a hundred other facts equally revolting, which were brought to light by the thorough and sifting inquest, render his arrest proper, and will, if sustained on trial, justify the punishment (however such a trial might result here) surely awaits him there.

Albany Evening Journal 
Cleveland Morning Leader 
July 20, 1857 

It is unknown what happened to the Captain Randolph concerning his trail.

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Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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