The Seabird was a sidewheel steamboat, built in 1859 in the shipyard of Eber Brock Ward in Marine City, Michigan, previously known as Newport. The steamboat was approximately 191 feet in length, 27 feet in width, with a 444 ton carrying capacity. It was made of riveted oak and had two decks. The upper deck had two large cabins, each with about 50 staterooms. The lower deck was for freight.The steamboat had a capacity for about 200 passengers. The sidewheels were 26 feet in diameter and were powered by a single, low-pressure, vertical-beam engine. She was assigned a U.S. Registry number of 22368.
The Seabird ran routes first on Lake Erie and then on Lake Michigan, until 1863, when she was bought by Albert Edgar Goodrich, owner of the Goodrich Transit Company, a company that stayed in business until 1932. He first used her in cross-lake traffic but switched to a route from Chicago to Lake Superior. She saw service until 1868, with only a few moderate mishaps. In the winter of 1867-1868 she was completely overhauled in the G. S. Rand shipyard in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
On April 8, 1868, the Seabird was bound for Chicago from Two Rivers, Wisconsin. The counting of passengers varied between 50 and 100, including crew and Captain John Morris. The next morning at about 4:30 a.m., while passing Waukegan a sleepy porter reportedly improperly disposed of the hot coals from the cabins' wood stoves by tossing them overboard off the upper fantail. A northeasterly wind blew the hot ashes back into the lower deck where there was straw and varnished tubs. A fire broke out, and before anyone realized, the lifeboats were burning in the aft. Panicked attempts to steer the steamboat to shore made things worse and the steamboat eventually burned to the waterline, the passengers dying from the fire or the chilly April waters.
Three passengers survived: Albert Chamberlain, by hanging from the anchor chain and being rescued by the schooner Cornelia; Edmund Hennebury, by floating on debris long enough to be saved by the Cornelia; and James Leonard, who floated on debris all the way south to the Evanston shore. The Seabird drifted and burned and finally sank a mile off the Great Lakes shore. It was the 10th worst disaster in the Great Lakes.
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