The Sinking of the Steamship Evening Star

On September 29, 1866 the steamship Evening Star set sail from New York bound for New Orleans. Along the way, it encountered a hurricane and sank on October 3, 1866 off the coast of Georgia. Robert Finger, the Chief Engineer survived, but his brother Lansing Finger, the First Assistant-Engineer, did not. Of the 270 persons on board only 17 survived. Transcribed below are a number of newspaper accounts.

AUGUSTA, Ga., Oct 9 - The following additional particulars of the loss of the steamer Evening Star are from the Savannah news of this morning, and embrace the latest details of the disaster:

The steamer Evening Star on the 2d inst, encountered a severe gale, which commenced at 2 o'clock in the afternoon when she was 180 miles cast of Tybee Island. After weathering the storm some seventeen hours she foundered at 6 o'clock on the morning of the 3d, with 270 souls on board. Only seventeen persons are known to have been saved. It seems that there were only three or four life-boats on board, one of which the Chief Engineer, the Purser, six of the crew and two passengers succeeded, after capsizing several times, in keeping afloat until they were picked up by the Norwegian bark, Fleetwing, from which they were transferred to the schooner J. Waring, and arrived here last evening.

The following is the list saved on the Purser's book: Robt. Finger, chief engineer; Ellery S. Allen, purser; John Long, water tender, Fred. Shaffer, coal passer; Geo. Smith, seaman; John Bowers, seaman; Dennis Gannon, waiter, Rowland Stevens, waiter; E. Lamer, passenger; S. H. Harris, passenger.

A second boat took sixteen persons from the steamer, among whom were the Captain and Third Mate. This boat was capsized twelve or fifteen times. The Captain was lost on the fourth time. This boat arrived at Ferandina Saturday forenoon, with six persons and two dead bodies on board.

Only one passenger was saved in the Third Mate's boat. His name is Frank Gerrard, whose residence is at No. 51 Bond street Brooklyn. The following are the names of the survivors in this boat: Thomas Fitzpatrick, third mate; John Dempcy, seaman; John Campbell, seaman; James Howe, seaman; Chancellor Mason, storage steward; Frank Girard, passenger.

- Rochester Daily Union and Advertiser October 10, 1866

It is said that for two years Capt. Knapp, the commander of the lost steamship Evening Star, had not been in active service, in consequence of a presentiment of his wife that some fatal harm would come to him at sea.

- Mexico (N.Y.) Independent October 11, 1866


I have been Chief Engineer of the steamship Evening Star since she was launched; during last July the steamer received a thorough overhauling in the dry dock, and engine and boilers were then put in thorough good order. At the time of her leaving port on her last voyage, (Sept. 29) the engines and boilers were in excellent condition, and in good working order. I have charge of the pumps of the steamer, and unhesitatingly state that they were all in good working order to the last moment.

At the time of leaving New York everything was in perfect working condition, and continued so until the night of the 2d of October. On that evening a severe gale set in from East to East Southeast, which increased to hurricane at midnight, then carrying away with the heavy sea both wheel-houses, leaving nothing but the "A" braces and guards. The steamer was continually shipping heavy seas, partially flooding the engine-room, but not affecting at that hour the fires. At 3 A. M. Oct. 3, the straining of the ship in the heavy seas caused the main steam-pipe to break, which drove my men from the fire-room, but I still continued to work the engine, and so continued until 5 o'clock, within one hour of the sinking of the ship. As soon as the steam-pipe broke I started the fire in the donkey engine, and set the steam pump in operation, which worked most efficiently. It had previously been in constant operation until the steam-pipe broke. At 4:30 A. M. the steam-pipe on the donkey boiler broke; water gaining very fast; slap laying in trough of sea, and the sea making a clean breach over her. At 5 A. M. the engine stopped working; all hands bailing ship. At about 6 A M. the ship went down. Up to the time the engine stopped working 5 A. M. Oct. 3 - no ship ever stood up better under such a tremendous hurricane and heavy sea. She behaved herself nobly. The cause of the stoppage of the engine was the shipping of the tremendous seas, which caused great volumes of water to reach the fire-room, extinguishing the fires, and thus preventing the making of steam. The engine hatchways had been broken in by the seas.

My assistant engineers, water-tenders, firemen and coal-passers all stood to their posts bravely, and obeyed all orders promptly and coolly. They all proved themselves efficient and worthy men.

In justice to the owners of the steamer, I must here state that every facility in the way of supplies and material for repairs to the engine and pump were furnished me with unstinted liberality. Capt. Knapp and all the other officers of the steamer, as well as the crew, were untiring in their efforts to avert disaster, and the passengers nobly seconded their exertions in such manner as they were requested. Even the ladies assisted in bailing the ship. Having found that all efforts in the engine-room were futile, myself and assistants reported to the Captain for such services as might be necessary. We were detailed by Capt. Knapp to prepare the boats for launching, which was accordingly done. After getting the boats ready, it was found utterly impossible to launch them over the sides of the ship on account of the high seas sweeping the deck from stem to stern. There were six metallic life boats, all sea worthy, well supplied with oars, cans of bread and breakers of water. Just previous to the steamer sinking, the passengers crowded into the boats, which were still on deck ready for launching. None of the officers of the ship were in the boats, all of them remaining on deck until she sunk beneath the waves.

When the steamer sunk, the life-boats were carried down with her, undoubtedly capsizing, and throwing their occupants into the raging sea. I found myself among a mass of wreck matter, to a portion of which I clung for two hours, when I succeeded in reaching one of the life-boats, to which some twenty persons were clinging. The boat was capsized several times, both by the heavy seas and by coming in contact with the drift-wood, until the number was reduced to ten, who were finally saved. At one time I was thrown out, with others, by a heavy sea, and did not succeed in reaching the boat again until six or seven hours after, floating meantime upon a piece of drift-wood. We were picked up on the 5th by the bark Fleetwing, bound to Southampton, and on the 6th were transferred to the schooner S. J. Waring, which latter vessel landed us at Savannah. We were the recipients of many kindnesses from the Captain of the Fleetwing, and from Captain Smith, of the Waring, for which we are most grateful. I have lost a brother by this disaster, and for my own personal safety through such dangers I give my thanks to Almighty God.
Chief-Engineer, Steamship Evening Star

Evening Courier & Republic October 17, 1866

Robert A. Finger, of Saugerties, died on Monday morning last, at 6 o'clock, from injuries received, it is supposed at the foundering of the steamship Evening Star, of which he was Chief Engineer.

- The "Recorder" Cold Springs, New York c. May 2, 1874

One of the most terrible tragedies of the Atlantic coast was the loss of the steamship Evening Star with 260 of her passengers and crew 240 miles northeast of the Matanila reef, on Oct. 3, 1866. The Evening Star was on her way from New York to New Orleans and was rolled about for a long time in a constantly increasing storm. At 1 o'clock on the morning of Oct. 3 a vast mountain of water fell on the deck and stove in the starboard forward gangway. A bulkhead was hurriedly erected to keep the water out, but it was swept away. Four times the crew rebuilt the bulkhead, only to see the waves tear it away. The rudder was thrown out of gear, and the sea made a clean breach over the ship.

Men and women alike helped to bail the water out of the vessel, but the sea poured in irresistibly. The captain told the passengers that there was little hope left, but urged them to be cool. Among the passengers were the members of a French opera company, and the prima donna worked at the buckets like the rest.

Just about dawn the captain solemnly addressed the crew and passengers. He told them that the ship must go down. Men and women rushed about the deck yelling, tearing their clothes off and plunging into the seething sea. There were several lifeboats, but they could not be lowered in such waves. So the boats remained on the deck and were loaded with people, who waited for the Evening Star to sink. The captain wept and bade farewell to his companions. The crew maintained good discipline. In an hour the ship gave a lurch and plunged down into the ocean. The crowded lifeboats were sucked under, and the sea was full of men and women calling in vain for help. Scores of them were crushed into shapeless masses by the driftwood that swirled around the wreck. The last person to leave the ship before she sank was an Italian prima donna, who waited calmly until all hope was gone, and when she felt the first convulsion of the vessel as it prepared to go down she raised her hands, moved her lips as if in prayer and plunged into the roaring waters, never to be seen again. Only a few were saved. They drifted around without food or drink, half mad with fear, until they were picked up.

- Rhinebeck Gazette c. August, 1893

Read a Detailed Newspaper Account from the New York Times of October 15, 1866

Finger / Fingar Family Genealogy Website

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