Steamer “Mayflower” June 1904

”The corpse that saved three men from drowning”. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not 1912. The Mayflower steamer boat was used for freight, mail and limited passenger service between Barry’s Bay, Combermere and Palmer Rapids on the Madawaska River and Havergal on the York River. It also serviced the corundum mines at Craigmont in the Conroy Marsh waterway. Napoleon Tessier, ship builder of Hull, QC, commenced construction of the paddlewheel steamer “Mayflower” in Combermere, ON in 1903 for two brothers, John Charles Hudson and Henry Edwin Hudson. She was built from local oak, hemlock and pine and was launched and commissioned in June 1904.

She had a crew of three: owner/Captain John Hudson, pilot/wheelsman Aaron Parcher and fireman/engineer Tom Delaney. On Tuesday, November 12, 1912 the Mayflower had made what was to be the last return trip from Combermere to Barry’s Bay for the season. Subsequently, a local Combermere Councillor, William Boehme persuaded Captain John C. Hudson to make a second trip later that day to pick up the body of his brother-in-law, John Brown (28), from the Grand Trunk Railway station in Barry’s Bay to be buried in Schutt before winter. John died as a result of a gun accident a few days earlier in Saskatchewan and his brother-in-law Robert Pachal accompanied the deceased on the trip from Yorkton.

There were twelve people plus the casket onboard the boat when she left Barry’s Bay at about 7:00 p.m. The trip from Barry’s Bay to Combermere normally took about 3 hours as it traveled at 5 – 7 miles (8.5 –11.5 Kms) per hour. It was a very cold November night with high winds but bright stars were shining when they left the wharf. It began to snow at about 9:00 p.m. as the boat entered Kamaniskeg Lake and halfway between what is now called Mayflower Island and the shore (about 600 feet away), the boat sank quickly for no apparent reason and without warning in 23 feet of water. The life boat, a 28 ft “pointer” the same used by Ottawa Valley lumbermen had been left behind on this last voyage as it had drifted way on the first trip of the day, retrieved and left tied up at the dock in Barry’s Bay.

Joe Harper (mid 20’s), Gordon Peverly (26), Paddy O’Brien (54) and John Imlach (29) clung onto the floating casket and set out to the island about 600 feet away which took about 2-3 hours due to the cold, wind and high waves. They arrived at midnight on the island. The other eight passengers William Boehme (59), George Bothwell (27), William Murphy (54), Robert Pachal (25), Mrs. William McWhirter (82) and crew John Hudson (46), Aaron Parcher (28) and Tom Delaney (18) drowned. O’Brien died from hypothermia just as the four men reached the island. The recently deceased O’Brien, the three survivors, and the casket containing John Brown were rescued the next day at about 6:00, p.m. by the steamer “Ruby”. The other 8 people who were on board drowned. It has been suggested that she went down for several reasons; (1) poorly maintained, (2) too shallow a draught and therefore subject to high rough waves coming over the bow, sides and rear into the interior of the boat; (3) the snowy, windy, cold weather that night; (4) the modification to the paddles of the paddle wheel causing a twisting motion; and (5) no cargo in the hold to provide proper boat balance.

A PROJECT BY THE COMBERMERE HERITAGE SOCIETY INC. – NOV. 2012