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Steamer Quinte - her loss by fire, 23 October 1889, (2)

Details of her loss can be found here.

There was an enquiry into the loss of the Quinte, later published by the Canadian government, that in its time, was remarkably thorough. It demonstrates older safety measures that failed, and personal courage.

It was reported in the British Whig (Kingston, ON), Dec. 20, 1889 as :


And A Third Commended For His Bravery.

The investigation concerning the burning of the steamer Quinte was concluded at Deseronto on Tuesday. The commissioners holding the enquiry were E. Adams, inspector of steamboats, and Capt. T.F. Taylor. The latest evidence submitted is as follows:

W.J. Watson was a fireman on the steamer in September, when there were two firemen. The fuel used was soft coal screenings, except two days, when bunchwood was used. The wood was piled away from the boiler, and care was taken to keep sawdust away from the fire hole. While he was on as fireman he considered that due care was taken of the wood. He never had any trouble from the sparks from the furnace while burning bunchwood.

Miss Azuba Kellar (Keltar ?), a passenger on board on the night of the burning, testified to taking passage, and on being warned of the fire by a Mr. Ward, of Picton, who came into the ladies' cabin; she attempted to leave, but was blinded by the smoke. She broke a cabin window and climbed out. In the cabin were Mrs. Christie and her little son; she heard Mrs. Christie say, "God have mercy on me," and saw no more of her. The cabin was all afire at this time. She was clinging to the window sill from outside, and only let go when her hands were scorched. She fell into the water and sank twice, when she was rescued by Capt. Christie, who was in a boat. Did not see any life-preservers, but had she, she would have tried to use one. No person came to help her or the others while in the ladies' cabin. Thought that the time from the moment the alarm was given to her being taken on shore was twenty minutes. Never saw the man Ward again. He did not seem excited.

Capt. Porte, of the steamer Varuna, Trenton, testified that he burned wood on his boat and did not consider it extra hazardous. He considered the crew of the burned steamer a competent one, and considered that a good fireman could fire ten cords of bunch wood on the steamer Quinte on her regular trip from Picton to Trenton and return.

Henry Thurston, marine engineer, residing at Kingston, was employed by the Deseronto Navigation Company as engineer of the Resolute, and had general supervision of the steamers of the company. He knew that the pumps and hoses of the steamer Quinte were in good condition. Did not consider that bunchwood was dangerous, as he had used it. He considered that one engineer and one fireman were sufficient for the steamer Quinte on her ordinary route. During the excursion extra help was provided. An examination of the fire hold had been made by him, and he had pronounced it satisfactory, as it had a brick hearth of four feet in front of the fire box and the full width of the boiler. The boiler had a very strong draft, which made sparks less liable to fly from the fire box. He had been in the hold when the fireman was handling his fire and saw no sparks fly from the fire box.

Captain John Gowan, of the steamer Resolute, testified that he was unacquainted with the working of the bay boats, but if his boat was on fire, should consider it his first duty to look to the safety of his passengers in addition to saving his boat.

W. Evans, superintendent of the Rathbun company's shipbuilding department for ten years, testified that he had been in the employ of the company for twenty-one years. He found bunchwood in front of the boiler. It was not even scorched, nor were the tar strings holding the wood together burned. He removed the wood after the boat had sunk. Capt. Duncan Christie was recalled and examined respecting minor details.

George Alleyn Brown, superintendent of the Deseronto Navigation Company, stated that he had never been asked for additional help on the steamer, also that there had been a second engineer and two firemen on the steamer up to Sept. 20th.

Captain Anderson of the Armenia, was sworn, and testified that he thought the steamer Quinte had a sufficient crew to handle her in case of emergency, and considered bunchwood no more dangerous than any other wood. He had used all kinds. Did not think that a wheelsman was required on a boat on the Bay of Quinte, but thought that the captain or master ought to handle her. He considered it the duty of the captain to be wheelsman as well as captain on the Bay of Quinte.

Thomas Donnelly, Kingston, government hull inspector, was sworn. He had inspected the steamer Quinte in April last and had found all the requirements in good condition. Her life saving apparatus was one 18 foot wooden boat on the promenade deck, one 22 foot boat metallic life-boat on the promenade deck, one 18 foot boat on the hurricane deck, all having six oars and all requisites demanded by the inspection service. At the time of inspection Capt. Christie was present with at least five men. The wooden boat would take two men at least to launch, while it would require four men to launch the metallic lifeboat. Each boat would require an extra man to unhook the tackle when lowered. The steamer had on board 250 cork life preservers, kept in two rooms on the promenade deck and in the staterooms. There were also 250 wooden floats on the main deck; also three life buoys. For fire purposes there were twenty-five metallic buckets, four double acting pony pumps in the engine room, one four inch double acting hand pump on the main deck, with one hundred feet of 1 1/2 inch hose attached, with the nozzle complete. From the pony pumps there were sufficient hose to reach all parts of the boat. Was on board the boat several times during the season, and saw them using bunch wood which was green, but he did not consider it more dangerous than any other wood, with proper care. The last time he was on board was six or seven weeks previous to the burning of the boat, and he found everything in complete condition. He noticed in particular that the falls of the boat were clear and pliable and could be used. The rooms containing life preservers were easy of access and plainly labelled. Did not consider it safe to lower a boat when the steamer was going at full speed. If he was master of a boat on the route from Picton to Deseronto and she was on fire he would beach her, considering it a means of safety, at the same time endeavor to stop the fire. If his boat was on fire he would do all he could for the boat and passengers.

Witness considered that Capt. Christie kept his boat in good shape. There is no law that requires fire drill on a steamboat. The master of a boat has general supervision over his crew and is required to take any and every precaution for its safety and that of the passengers. It is the master's duty to see that provision is made for the working and management of the pumps and hose on a steamer. It is the master's duty to have discipline and have the officers and crew allotted to their respective stations in case of an emergency. One round life buoy is required by law on board of every steamer. He did not consider it safe to lower a life boat while a steamer was under full speed. The life boat aft of the paddle box would be the least dangerous to lower with the steamer going at full speed, although to lower any boat when under full speed would be very dangerous.

The act under which the court sat provides that the court shall state in open court the decision to which it has come with respect to the cancelling or suspending of any certificates. The opinions of the commissioners concerning the burning of the steamer will be sent to the honorable Minister of Marine.

The Judgement Given.

The following is the judgement as to the certificate cancelled, which was read in open court:

"The court finds from the evidence given at this investigation, pertaining to the burning of the steamer Quinte, of Deseronto, that Duncan B. Christie, as master of said steamer did not exercise the crew of the steamer during the season of navigation, previous to the burning of the steamer, in lowering and handling of life-boats, as specially instructed by section 29, cap. 35, Victoria 45, steamboat inspection act, which reads: "And masters of steamboats shall detail their crews and exercise them in lowering and handling said boats at least once a month." We also find, as master of said steamer, he has never at any time taken precaution to instruct the crew in the discipline required to handle the fire precaution apparatus on board in case of an emergency. In fact it appears from his own evidence, and which is corroborated by the remainder of the crew, that there was no discipline of any kind instituted among the crew in the interest of the public, for the safety of life in case of emergency while he, as master, held such a responsible position, is accountable for. We also found from the evidence given that he gave no orders while the boat was on fire to any of the crew to inform the passengers of their danger, or to provide some means for their rescue. Relating to the master of the steamer Quinte the judgement of this court is that Duncan B. Christie, as master of the steamer Quinte, was negligent and remiss in his duties, and that his certificate as master of a steamboat be suspended for a period of twelve months from the present date, Dec. 18th, 1889, to Dec. 18th, 1890.

The court also finds that Thomas Short, engineer of the steamer Quinte, on his evidence, stated that he considered it necessary and safe to have a second engineer; also in his duties as engineer he allowed a man that he, Thomas Scott, swears was not competent and held no certificate, to take charge of his engine while he was at his meals. He also states in his evidence there should be a competent man to take his place when off duty. Section 43, cap. 78, of the steamboat inspection act reads: "No person shall employ another as engineer, and no person shall serve as engineer on any passenger steamboat or any freight steamboat of over 150 tons gross unless the person employed or serving as engineer holds a certificate from the board for the grade in which he is to be employed." Also that he as engineer of the steamer in charge of the fire protection apparatus, gave no orders or instructed any of the crew to take charge of the nozzles of any of the hose to direct the course of the water on the fire, he being aware, as stated in his evidence, that there was no discipline on the steamer. We also find that he, as engineer, trimmed the lamps that he required, as the firemen had so much other work to do, also stating that had there been another fireman it would have been better, as there would have been a man on watch all the time; also Thomas Kelmsly, the fireman's evidence, states that he did not consider one fireman sufficient for the steamer Quinte on the route between Picton and Trenton as a day boat, as she steamed this year. We also find from evidence given that the engineer did not apply to the captain or to Mr. G. Brown, who has the management of the Deseronto navigation company's boats, for either a second engineer or fireman while on the daily route between Picton and Trenton. He, Thomas Short, holding the responsible position of chief engineer of steamer Quinte of Deseronto, knowing these deficiencies, should, in duty to himself and the public, have had them rectified or reported the same to the proper authorities. Relating to engineer of steamer Quinte, the court finds from the evidence given that Thomas Short, engineer of the steamer Quinte, was negligent in his duties, and the judgement of this court is that his certificate, as engineer of a steamboat, be suspended for a period of seven months from present date, December 18th, 1889, to July 18th, 1890. Relating to the mate of the steamer Quinte the court finds from the evidence given that James Collier, mate of the said steamer, who was at the wheel steering and navigating the steamer while burning, stood at his post and did his duty."

The full enquiry into the loss of the Quinte was published in 1890 as part of the Canadian government's "Sessional Papers (No. 87.)" :



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