Editor's Note: The following text is a verbatim transcription of an article written by George W. Murdock, for the Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman newspaper in the 1930s. Murdock, a veteran marine engineer, wrote a regular column. Articles transcribed by HRMM volunteer Adam Kaplan. For more of Murdock's articles, see the "Steamboat Biographies" category.
It was 2 o’clock in the morning, just 63 years ago today, December 1, 1875, that the magnificent steamboat “Sunnyside” met her fate. This memorable early morning disaster which claimed many lives, still remains a vivid picture in the memory of George W. Murdock, who was a member of the crew of the ill-fated vessel.
The wooden hull of the “Sunnyside” was built by C.R. Poillon of Williamsburg, New York, in 1866. The vessel was 247 feet, six inches long, with a 35 foot, four inch breadth of beam. She was rated at 942 gross tons and was powered by an engine with a cylinder diameter of 56 inches with a 12 foot stroke, built by S. Secor & Company of New York.
The “Sunnyside” and “Sleepy Hollow” were sister steamboats, built for service on the lower Hudson river, running in passenger service between Sing Sing and New York. Both vessels were fine examples of modern steamboat construction of that period and both were possessed of good speed. They began operating in the spring of 1866, making landings at Yonkers, Irvington, and Tarrytown, with one vessel and covering the identical route but extending to Grassy Point with the other vessel. This double service continued until July of the following year (1867), when the “Sunnyside” was placed in operation running to Newburgh for the balance of the season, and was then laid up.
In July, 1870, Joseph Cornell in partnership with Captain Black, bought the “Sunnyside” at auction for $45,000. She was then converted into a night boat and placed on the Coxsackie route, continuing in service on this route for the balance of that season and through the year 1871. She made a landing at Catskill on alternate days with the “Thomas Powell,” which plied the Hudson river only as far as Catskill.
During the winter of 1871-1872, Joseph Cornell, George Horton and Thomas Abrams organized the Citizens’ Line, placing the “Sunnyside” and “Thomas Powell” in service in opposition to J.W. Hancox, who was operating the “C. Vanderbilt” and the “Connecticut.” In July, 1872, the Hancox steamboats were withdrawn and the Citizens’ Line was without opposition.
The “Sunnyside” was one of the fastest night boats carrying staterooms on the Hudson river during that period, and in July, 1874, she made the run from New York to Troy in eight hours and 55 minutes.
The hand of fate seemed to hover over the “Sunnyside” almost from the time she first slid into the waters of the Hudson river. She met with numerous accidents during her career, some of little consequence, while others caused damage to the vessel and claimed lives of some unfortunates. One night, on her down trip from Troy, in the latter part of May, 1874, the “Sunnyside” collided with the abutment of the Congress street bridge at Troy, staving in her starboard boiler which was located on her guards. The escaping steam caused the death of one man. In November of the same year she ran aground on Fish-house bar between Troy and Albany, striking with such force that she stove a hole in her hull and almost sunk. During the month of August 1875, she caught fire from spontaneous combustion in some bales of cotton on her main deck, but the flames were discovered in ample time to avert serious damage.
On Tuesday afternoon at 2 o’clock on November 30, 1875, the “Sunnyside” left Troy for her last trip of the season, and what later proved to be the final sailing of her career. The following account is told by George W. Murdock, a member of the crew on this last trip, who was an eye-witness to the fateful voyage and who narrowly escaped the clutching fingers of death which claimed many victims in that early morning catastrophe.
We left New York Monday, November 29, and headed up river with a heavy cargo of freight. The thermometer in New York registered from 40 to 45 degrees above zero at the time we left the dock. Coming up the river, the temperature rapidly changed, becoming much colder until at Kingston we began pushing our way through thin ice. We arrived at Troy at 8 o’clock Tuesday morning, November 30, with the thermometer registering zero. Unloading was accomplished as quickly as possible with the temperature hovering at zero throughout the day.
On reaching Albany we took the steamboat “Golden Gate” in tow to follow us down the river. We broke through the drift ice from Troy to Kinderhook, there encountering solid ice. The steamboat “Niagara,” with a tow of canal boats and several schooners, lay ice-bound at this place. We left the “Golden Gate” also ice-bound, and backed and filled several times, breaking a course through the ice and relieving the ice-bound fleet; after which we proceeded down the river.
At Barrytown it was discovered that our vessel was leaking, and the pumps were started. At Esopus Island we ran through clear water which washed away the fine ice which had formed about the hole which had been made on the port side when we had crashed through the ice at Kinderhook. We were off West Park and endeavored to make shore at Russell’s dock as we were leaking badly by this time. The “Sunnyside” went through thick ice on the west bank of the river, but slid back into deep water. The flood time swung the bow of the vessel up the river until the pilot house was filled with water, and all that remained out of water was about 40 feet of the hurricane deck, aft.
This was 2 o’clock in the morning and the weather was bitter cold, the thermometer registering five below zero. Captain Teson, in charge of the “Sunnyside,” ordered the boats to be lowered, sending Mate Burhonce in charge of the first one. It capsized, drowning 11 out of 18 passengers and crew. The mate swam ashore. We then succeeded in getting a line ashore from the steamboat and so established a rope ferry. It was now 5 o’clock in the morning.
In this fashion we pulled the life boat through the ice and the passengers and crew of the ill-fated steamboat were landed on snow-covered shore of Ulster county. They climbed the rocks along the shore and made their way to the farm houses in the vicinity where every attention possible was given them, but several died from the results of too long exposure.
Among those lost were Sarah Butler and Susan Rex (colored), of New York, chambermaids; John Howard (colored), of New York, officers’ waiter; Samuel Puteage (colored), waiter, of New York; Matthew Johnson (colored), of Albany; George Green (colored), second cook, of Norwich, Connecticut; Mrs. Haywood of Tenafly, N.J., Mrs. Stewart of New York, Mrs. Walker of Troy, an Irish girl called Bridget, resident of Jersey City; and an unknown peddler of silks and jewelry.
At the request of my uncle, Abram Parsell, of Port Ewen, who was chief engineer on the “Sunnyside,” I set out afoot for Port Ewen at 6 o’clock on that bleak morning of December 1, to break the news of the disaster to his wife and the people of the town. At that time the thermometer had gone down to six degrees below zero and hiking that distance of about 10 miles was rather a task. Stories of the tragic accident had already arrived at Port Ewen so my news that my uncle was safe was joyously received by his many friends in the town.
The crew of the “Sunnyside” were: Captain Frank Teson of Lansingburg; first pilot, Robert Whittaker of Saugerties; second pilot, Watson Dutcher of New York; mate, Jacob Burhonce of Troy; chief engineer, Abram Parsell of Port Ewen; assistant engineer, Jerry Deyo of Port Ewen; purser, John Talmadge of New Baltimore; steward, George Wolcott of New York; freight clerk, Edward Johnson of Troy.
The “Sunnyside” was raised and her hull broken up, while her engines were placed in the steamboat “Saratoga.”
George W. Murdock, (b. 1853-d. 1940) was a veteran marine engineer who served on the steamboats "Utica", "Sunnyside", "City of Troy", and "Mary Powell". He also helped dismantle engines in scrapped steamboats in the winter months and later in his career worked as an engineer at the brickyards in Port Ewen. In 1883 he moved to Brooklyn, NY and operated several private yachts. He ended his career working in power houses in the outer boroughs of New York City. His mother Catherine Murdock was the keeper of the Rondout Lighthouse for 50 years.
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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