Wreck of the Asia, The
DESCRIPTION: The paddlewheel steamer Asia leaves Owen Sound to cross Georgian Bay, but runs into a storm. The deaths of crew and passengers are described, including a newlywed couple; two cling to a lifeboat and survive
EARLIEST DATE: 1934 (a portion provided to Walton by Mrs. Robert Reed)
KEYWORDS: travel death drowning ship disaster storm wreck moniker sailor
Sep 14, 1882 - Paddlewheel steamer Asia sinks in Georgian Bay
FOUND IN: Canada(Ont)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Walton/Grimm/Murdock, pp. 208-209, "The Foundering of the Asia" (1 composite text)
C. H. J. Snider, "The Wreck of the 'Asia'" (on GreatLakes1)
cf. "The Jam on Gerry's Rock" [Laws C1] (tune)
NOTES: The Asia left Owen Sound topheavy and overloaded with freight, intended for merchants in northern towns preparing for winter. When the storm struck, the captain made a fatal mistake; instead of keeping the ship faced to the wind, he turned and attempted to head for French River, allowing the force of the gale to strike the ship broadside. When the ship sprang a leak, lifeboats were lowered, but, overloaded, they foundered, and all drowned except two, Dunk Tinkles (called "Tinkus" in the Snider recording) and a Miss Morrison, 19. They clung to an overturned lifeboat and drifted to shore, where they were found by an old Indian who took them to Parry Sound. Mr. Snider recalls learning the song in 1891, and later collected several other versions from residents of the Georgian Bay area. - PJS
Earlier editions of this Index said that over 200 were killed when the Asia was wrecked, but this appears to be an exaggeration. William Ratigan's Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals, revised edition, Eerdmans, 1977, p. 103, gives the number of people on the boat as 125 -- while noting that "Every cabin on the Asia was filled with passengers, and there were others sleeping on every corner of the boat where a carpetbag or grain sack could cushion a head." Bruce D. Berman's Encyclopedia of American Shipwrecks (Mariner's Press, 1972), p. 235, also says that 125 were lost.
The ship was reportedly top-heavy; the cargo had been placed on deck rather than going to the effort of securing it in the hold. And the weather was rough, but Captain John Savage hated wasting time in port. He set out on September 13, 1882, even though the "boisterous wind" was causing "mountainous seas."
By the next day, when the boat reached the open lake, it was evident that she would not survive. Savage tried to head for an island to beach her, and ordered the cargo thrown overboard (Ratigan, p. 104).
The ship was within sight of Lonely Island when "about 11:30, she pitched up at the head and went down stern first, the cabins breaking off and the boats floating off as she did so."
The two survivors were Duncan A. Tinkiss (Ratigan's and Walton's spelling), who was 17, and Christina Ann Morrison, listed as "under twenty." Several lifeboats were launched, but they all disappeared -- and the boat with Tinkiss and Morisson aboard repeatedly turned over; it initially held more than 20 people, but only seven, including the captain, managed to stay aboard -- and all but the two teenagers were dead by the end of the day (Ratigan, p. 105-107). Unable to control the boat due to the loss of the oars, they were finally rescued by a sailing craft.
Ratigan, p. 108, says that Tinkiss died in 1910, but Miss Morrison lived another 55 years -- i.e. until around 1938.
Walton's version is based in part on "clippings," raising the possibility that the song was first published in a newspaper, but I do not know of any proof of this. - RBW
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