The "Lillie" is one of Ontario's most famous wrecks. A two
mast "Fore & Aft" rigged centerboard schooner, built in
1868 in Towanda N.Y., It sank on its way to Brockville when a sudden
squal shifted her cargo, capsizing her and causing her take on water.
The large rudder sits proudly upstream with a broad square stern resting
on the rock ledges that support her. It is an experience to follow the
rudder to its highest point and test the current, and then drop down
the stern before drifting downstream along the channel side watching
the ship's profile against the surface. Read about the accidental discovery
in 1960 of this wreck in the Brockville Recorder and Times.
SKIN DIVERS FIND HULL 200-FOOT SAILING VESSEL
August 15, 1963
Skin divers have found the hull of a 200-foot sailing vessel on the
bottom of the St. Lawrence in the Brockville Narrows off Brockville's
Deb Ring, Porky Graveline, Dewey Whiteland, Mike Ford, Herb Sheridan
and Jack Miles, all skin and scuba diving club members, worked for six
hours Wednesday to surface the estimated 400-pound steering wheel and
gear. Divers found the three-masted ship in 40 to 70 feet of water in
the main channel off Sparrow Island. The double hull of wood planking
lies bottoms up. A cargo of coal - chunks about four feet in diameter
- spewed out but the skin divers have found dishes, lamps, an anchor
and the compass binnacle.
Research which the divers have done with government records and newspaper
accounts leads them to guess that the ship was the Lilly Parsons, sunk
prior to 1880.
Aug. 16, 1963
DIVERS HUNT FOR $3.75 ANCHOR, FIND 'TREASURE'
Jim Whiteland who has a summer cottage on Smith's Island opposite St.
Lawrence Park lost a new $3.75 anchor a week or so ago while he was
still fishing from his outboard upriver from Picnic Island. Mr. Whiteland
had anchored near Sparrow Island, the first island west of Picnic. The
anchor line parted and the brand new stockless anchor that had hardly
a scratch on it stayed on the bottom. Mr. Whiteland's son Dewey is a
skin diver; this is his first summer diving. Dewey and a couple of his
friends went back to Sparrow to hunt for the bright orange anchor. They
found it, explored a bit further into the channel and discovered the
200-foot hull of a three-masted sailing vessel. In 40-70 feet of water
north of Sparrow Island in the main channel the skin divers saw quite
clearly the double hull of a wooden vessel. The current is swift in
the Brockville Narrows. No silt has settled on the still intact hull
which lies keel up with its three masts sloping downward toward mid-channel.
At 40 feet there are no weeds to cover outlines. Depending on the amount
of sunlight, visibility is about 10-15 feet. What Dewey, Deb Ring, Pork
Graveline, Mike Ford and Herb Sheridan have explored stem to stern is
a blunt-bowed cargo vessel which apparently capsized and sank, spilling
its cargo of coal over the bottom of the river.
The divers, all members of the Brockville Skin and Scuba Diving Club,
are doing some dry-land research to identify the vessel. In a Recorder
and Times account of shipping disasters, three ships are mentioned as
having sunk in that area. One carried a cargo of iron ore; one was salvaged,
and the other was called the Lilly Parsons. The divers think they've
found the Lilly Parsons. Department of transport records in Prescott
report marine accidents in this area since 1880. There is no mention
of the Lilly Parsons. Thus, this ship may be the Lilly Parsons which
went to the bottom sometime before 1880. For sailing vessels the Brockville
Narrows was treacherous. The current is swift, the deep channel narrow.
An error in judgment, a loss of wind or sudden gust could put a ship
tacking against a west wind onto a shoal. The divers wear black sponge
rubber suits, swim fins and face glasses. They carry one or two tanks
of air on their backs. A tank of air lasts about an hour, depending
on how hard the diver is working.
Arriving at the diving site, they fly the scuba divers' flag which warns
boats not to come within 100 feet since divers may be just below the
surface. The flag is a red square with a diagonal white stripe. Usually
one man stays on the surface or in the boat. The divers all trail life
lines so they do not become lost. Deb Ring has been diving for three
years and is president of the Skin and Scuba Diving Club. "This
is the biggest, most interesting discovery I've made," he said.
The hull itself is somewhere over 150 feet. A long bowsprit which carried
the foresails brings the overall length to about 200. The divers estimate
the beam of the ship to be 30 feet. The capsized vessel spilled its
cargo of four-foot chunks of coal onto the river bottom, thus preventing
the divers from getting into the cabin of the ship. Nevertheless, they
found several objects which like the coal, fell from the overturned
Tuesday afternoon they worked for six hours to float the 400-pound ship's
wheel and steering gear. A 45-gallon steel drum, sunk, then filled with
air form the divers' tanks, was used to float the wheel. Jack Miles
became the sixth diver on this effort. With an outboard they towed the
wheel to Smith's Island. All but one of the wooden handles on the wheel
are gone. But the wheel turns to move the gear. Next project is the
anchor, weighing an estimated 800 pounds and expected to require three
air-filled drums for the floating. A spittoon, dishes, cups which never
had handles, a chamber pot, jugs and crocks have also been brought up.
The dishes are English white ironstone, some from the Meakin potteries.
The jugs and crocks are of the type seen in antique stores today - brown
pottery, some with a blue design. The name S. Hart Fulton is on one
of the jugs.
A double wooden block from the rigging is about 12 inches long. Two
"deadeyes," or fairleads, through which halyards or sheets
ran, are also wood, bounded by steel cable. The compass stand, or binnacle,
was spotted - but no compass. A galvanized coal oil running light is
beaded with rust but the clear glass is intact. A number of carpenter's,
or shipwright's tools tumbled from the ship like the chinaware. The
divers brought up wooden handled augers and hammers.
For Good Luck
On one of the masts, an estimated four feet in diameter, was found a
lucky horseshoe. Near the stern of the ship was a door handle with a
plank of mahogany attached to it.
What Will The Divers Do With Their Treasure?
"They're not ours," explained Deb Ring. "Under the Canada
Shipping Act, a ship though sunk and abandoned, is still the property
of the person who lost it." This is unlike the law of the sea where
the first man to put a line aboard an abandoned ship has salvage rights.
So the divers have applied to the federal government for salvage rights.
The government will advertise for a year to seek the owner - or his
heirs. And meanwhile the skin divers seek to identify the ship. "Maybe
we could have the coal analyzed." said Dewey Whiteland. "That
would tell us from where the coal came." No name has been found
on the hull. Piles of coal have so far prevented the swimmers from getting
into the cabins. How did she sink? Why did the wheel fall off? Where
is the compass? The ship's log? Did the crew escape? What is her name?
Aug. 16, 1963
Find Schooner on River Bottom
Three members of the Brockville Skin and Scuba Club have accidentally
found a 200-foot river schooner in 40 feet of water off Sparrow Island,
a mile west of Brockville. The three divers, Deb Ring, Dewey Whiteland
and Gerald "Porky" Graveline had been diving for a small anchor
when they came across the ship on Aug. 6. The schooner was three-masted,
with a square stern. The boat is typical of those used for river shipping
in the 1870's. Divers said that the boat is in very good condition,
the only hole is in the hull high in the bow.
In efforts to trace the ship and exact construction date, divers have
retrieved many pieces of kitchen wear, navigational apparatus, tools
and pottery. The only identification on these articles was what appears
to be the name of the manufacturer "s. Hat Fulton" on two
jugs. One other possibility is that this is the name of the ship, but
all indications show she was the "Lilly Parsons" from the
The ship must have gone down very suddenly as no articles had been
removed - not even her load of tons of soft coal. The Department of
Transport was unable to help because it has no record of ships lost
in the river prior to 1880. On Wednesday divers were able to raise a
400-pound steering wheel with drive gears still in operable condition.
Thursday they tried to raise the anchor, but ran into trouble as it
was wedged between the bottom of the ship and the shoal the boat is
resting on. Other dives are planned later this week. Articles will be
sent to various places for analysis.