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Old News Stories
Steamboat "Lucy Walker" Explodes, 1844

Transcribed from The Louisville Morning Courier
October 24, 1844:


It is with feelings the most acute and painful that we record the following fearful disaster, and the loss of so many, valuable lives. The steamboat "Lucy Walker", Capt. Vann left this place for New Orleans yesterday, crowded with passengers. When about four or five miles below New Albany, and just before sunset, some part of her machinery got out of order, and the engine was stopped to repair it. While engaged in making the necessary repairs, the water in the boilers got too low, and about five minutes after the engine had ceased working, her three boilers exploded with tremendous violence, and horrible and terrible effect.

The explosion was upwards, and that part of the boat above the boilers was blown into thousands of pieces. The U. S. Snagboat, "Sopher", Captain L. B Dunham was about two hundred yards distant at the time of the explosion.

Capt. Dunham was immediately on the spot rescuing those in the water, and with his crew rendering all the aid in his power. To him we are indebted for most of the particulars.

He informs us that the "Lucy Walker" was in the middle of the river, and such was the force of the explosion that part of the boilers and the boat was thrown on shore. Just after the explosion the air was filled with human beings and fragments of human beings. One man was blown up fifty yards, and fell with such force as to go entirely through the deck of the boat.
v Another was cut entirely in two by a piece of the boiler.

We have heard of many such heart-rending and sickening incidents. Before Capt. Dunham reached the place where the "Lucy Walker" was, he saw a number of persons who had been thrown into the river, drowned. He, however, saved the lives of a large number of persons by throwing them boards and ropes, and pulling them on his boat with hooks.

Immediately after the explosion, the ladies' cabin took fire, and before it had consumed she sunk in twelve or fifteen feet of water.

Thus is presented the remarkable circumstances of a boat exploding, burning, and sinking all in the space of a few minutes. The screams and exclamations of the females, and those who were not killed, is represented as distressing and awful. We believe none of the females on board were injured–some, however, may have drowned.

The books of the boat were destroyed, and of course it will be impossible ever to ascertain the names or the number of those killed. There were at least fifty or sixty persons killed or missing, and fifteen or twenty wounded, some dangerously.

Capt. Dunham left the wounded at New Albany, all of whom were kindly and well cared for by the hospitable and humane citizens of that town. Capt. Dunham deserved the thanks of the community for his humane and vigorous exertions to save the lives of, and his kindness and attention to the sufferers. He stripped his boat of every blanket, sheet, and every thing else necessary for their comfort.

Mr. John Hixon and Mr. Henry Rebee, passengers on the "Lucy Walker," deserve notice for the coolness and their efficient exertions in saving the lives of the drowning persons.

The following are the names of the dead, missing and wounded, so far as we have been able to learn them. Killed and Missing: Gen. J. W. Pegram, of Richmond, Virginia; Samuel M. Brown, Post Office Agent of Lexington, Kentucky; J. R. Cormick, of Virginia; Charles Donne, of Louisville; Philip Wallis, formerly of Baltimore; Rebecca, daughter of A. J. Foster, of Greenville, Virginia; James Vanderburg,, of Louisville; Mr. Hughes, formerly of Lexington, Kentucky, Mr. Matlock, of New Albany, engineer of the steamboat "Mazeppa"; Nicholas Ford, formerly of this city; David Vann, the Captain; Moses Kirby, pilot; Second mate; second clerk; second engineer; bar keeper and three deck hands–names not known; Four negro firemen. Wounded: W. H. Peeblee–very badly hurt; Mrs. Rufus, of Virginia, ditto; First Engineer, ditto; Captain Thompson, pilot–arms fractured; Mr. Roberts of Phila, slightly hurt. It is supposed that John N. Johnson and Richard Phillips were on board–if so, they are lost.

The boat was owned by Captain Van, of Arkansas, and was insured.

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