Shipwreck of the Week

Shipwreck of the Week: Maitland (1871)

#Spaming the class with posts today, but I’m trying to be productive on my sick day. For the first wreck, I’m going to discuss the S/V Maitland: a three-masted barque sunk in a collision with two other ships!


The S/V Maitland was a three-masted barque (front two masts have square sails) that carried bulk cargoes on the middle Great Lakes (Michigan, Erie, and Huron; the ones you could sail to without having to use a canal). She was built in 1861 in Goderich in the British colony of the United Provinces of Canada. Shortly before Canadian independence, she passed to American ownership. A mix-up in her paperwork led to her being seized at Detroit in 1868 and accused of “flying a false flag” (running an American flag, but being a Canadian ship). Luckily for the owners, the misunderstanding was cleared up after a day.

A three-masted barque of the same style as the Maitland

The Maitland departed Chicago harbor on June 9, 1871 with about 18,000 bushels of corn. She was bound for Buffalo where she would have unloaded her corn at one of the city’s massive waterfront elevators before taking on a different cargo in turn for the trip. The day of her departure was a Friday. At the time, it was seen as bad luck on the Lake to start a journey on a Friday. However, Captain Brown did not heed this superstition.

Some of the now abandoned elevators on the Buffalo waterfront

By Sunday night, the Maitland had made it up Lake Michigan and was approaching the Straits of Mackinac, which divide Lake Michigan from Lake Huron. Despite being a clear, fogless night the sailor on watch on the Maitland failed to notice the approaching lights of the S/V Golden Harvest until it was too late to avoid a collision. The rigging of the Golden Harvest caught on the bowsprit and anchor of the Maitland and was pulled hard by the Maitland‘s speed until the bowsprit snapped. Both of the masts on the Golden Harvest came down onto the deck. The second mate was killed when the falling foremast struck his head, while the aftmast broke several ribs of the sailor on helm as well as breaking another sailor’s leg.

Image result for fred the fish

As bad as the collision was, neither ship was fatally stricken. The crews of the two ships began to access the damage when one of the crew of the Maitland yelled “collision!” for the second time that night. Out of the darkness, the S/V Mears appeared. Running at high speed, the Mears cut into the Maitland‘s bow, knocking a large hole in the hull. The Maitland rapidly began filling with water when the Mears was pulled back from the collision. The crew of the Maitland boarded the lifeboat and rowed for the shore of nearby Mackinac City. Come the morning, both the Golden Harvest and the Mears were recovered by tugboats and towed to port for repairs.

The Mears sailed for another 18 years before breaking up in a storm on Lake Huron in 1889. The Golden Harvest‘s fate is more murky. Her registration was surrendered in 1896 at Port Huron, Michigan and marked simply “wrecked”. Mansfield and Beer’s History of the Great Lakes (1899) has her still in active commission, but this is most likely an error.

The Maitland today

Today, the S/V Maitland sits in 80 feet of water in the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve as one of the Preserve’s wrecks. Apart from the hole on the starboard side, most of the hull of the wreck is intact. The masts and rigging were salvaged soon after the Maitland sank, but the salvage operation (unusually) did little damage to the wreck.

The Maitland in red

One Comment

  • Maeve Kane

    How many of your locations come from salvage operations/how many of your ships were salvaged? Are there any interesting patterns to salvaged/not salvaged?