Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Tragic End of the Hugh Martin

View of Washington Landing in Rhea County (+35.53624, -84.87965) from the bridge on William Jennings Bryan Highway.

Photo from Google maps

 It was not unusual for steamboats to have accidents.  Navigating the river was a dangerous occupation, during dry seasons boats could run aground, they could sink when rain caused the creeks   to swell as the water rushed down the mountains to the river.  Also floods would push debris into the water and river men needed to be on the look out for partially sunken logs.
When boats sunk or wrecked, they were pulled up from the river and often left on the bank where it would be either sold or repaired when possible.

The steamer Hugh Martin exploded her boiler at Washington Landing, on the Tennessee River, on Saturday, causing a complete wreck of the boat. Four persons were killed. (The Times, Philadelphia, PA, 17 Aug 1875, Tue, p. 1)

Details of the Hugh Martin Disaster
A gentleman who left this city Saturday night on the Lucy Coker for Washington,and returned yesterday morning, on the same boat, furnishes the following correct list of killed and wounded by the explosion of the boiler of the Hugh Martin.
Jacob Fritz, Captain;
Ely, L , a passenger. The officers of the Hugh Martin did not remember his name, except that it was Ely and his last name began with L. He got on at Knoxville and was going to Igos landing. Oliver Henry, son of Wm. R.Henry, of Washington, owner of the landing. Oliver was standing on the landing when the explosion occurred and a piece of lumber struck him and broke his neck.
Wm. Hood, Mate, of Kingston. He had a leg broken and was burned and bruised on face and body. Injuries very serious. John Henson, Pilot, was bruised but not seriously. He went home on the M. Bishop Sunday morning. -Edward Mead, passenger, Civil Engineer on the Cincinnati Southern .Railroad, formerly on the Cumberland, now on the survey at Nashville, was bruised on face and muscles of neck, and had a shoulder strained. His injuries are not regarded as dangerous, and Mr. Wherry informs us that when he left, Mr. Mead was sitting up in bed smoking a cigar. Mr. Mead said that be heard the explosion and found himself turning somersaults in the air, and finally brought up on shore. L. D. Polston, passenger, a carpenter of Rutherford county, lately employed on the Cincinnati Southern Railroad, was burned and bruised slightly.
He came down on the Coker and left for home on the Nashville train. Jesse Benson, colored, deck hand from Montgomery,Ala., got a compound fracture of the leg below the knee. His is a bad case. Ben. Hightower, colored, deck band from Dalton, Georgia, was injured internally, probably fatally. John Black, colored, deck hand from Kingston, Tennessee, had his leg burned, not seriously. Ben. Saddoth, col. deck hand, from Roane county, got a broken thigh; Thomas Weaver, colored, deck hand, from Knoxville, Tenn., broken leg; Dan Devans, colored, deck hand, severely bruised.
All the above wounded, are at Washington, except Benson and Polston.
The following
Medical Men
have been in attendance upon the wounded; Dr Jones and others of Washington, Drs Mynatt and J T Abernathy of Rhea Springs, Dr Bevin of Decatur. These people have done everything in their power for the comfort of the sufferers by the catastrophe.

Capt. Frits's Body
was found late Monday evening at Tucker's Landing, some 17 miles below Washington, by some residents of the community, who carried the news to the news to the city of Knoxville. The City of Knoxville at once steamed down the river, took the body on board. brought it to
Chattanooga last night and placed it in a burial case and departed at once for Kingston, where the funeral must have taken place today.
The body was greatly disgured, but still easily recognized.

The Cause of the Explosion
The best authorities think that the explosion was caused by the boiler becoming red hot while the nose was resting on the bank, and the water, being too low, fell to the rear of the boiler, leaving the front bare. When the boat drew away from the bank and resumed an even keel, the water came rushing over the heated boiler and was flashed at once into steam, producing tremendous pressure. The pieces of the boiler were examined with much care. None of them would weigh over 200 pounds and they were torn across the seams (?). There were no signs of corresion.
The force executed seemed more like that of nitro glycerine than the ordinary power of steam. The engineer had started the boat and called a negro who understood engines and told him to
watch the throttle valve, while be went upon the upper deck; and the explosion occurred was on his way up. The negro said the guage showed 165 pound of steam.

Feeling Is Very Strong
against the engineer, but the fact seems to be that there was carelessness all around and the accident will be a warning to our river men for some time to come.

Nashville union and American. (Nashville, Tenn.), 18 Aug. 1875. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Link )

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