SS Asia- by Darlene Vanwyck

136 years ago my great grandmother survived the worst marine disaster to ever occur on Georgian Bay, the sinking of the SS Asia.

Born and raised on a farm near Bognor, 18 year old Christina Morrison intended to visit her sister in Grand Marias, Michigan via Sault Ste. Marie when she boarded the Asia in Owen Sound late on September 13th, 1882.

The Asia was built for use on the Welland Canal, not the open waters of Georgian Bay. The ship was top heavy and overloaded with cargo (including livestock) and passengers. Although the owners of the ship, the North-West Transportation Company, had applied for a license to carry up to 150 people the application had been denied because of insufficient lifeboats and the ship was only allowed to carry 49. It is generally agreed the ship had 125 passengers and crew aboard. Christina was not supposed to be among them but had missed an earlier ship.

30 years later she spoke about the harrowing experience.

“We left Owen Sound at midnight and in the early morning we were caught in a terrible storm. Hearing an unusual noise about 8 o’clock, I asked the mate, Mr. McDonald, who happened to be my cousin, what the commotion was about. He replied that they were throwing the cattle overboard. I thought at the time it was rather unusual to resort to such extremes as this, but little thought of the terrible experience which would be my lot before night. As the storm raged during the morning, nearly all on board, including myself, were sea sick.”

The storm produced hurricane-force winds and the Asia was rolling on mountainous waves.

A newlywed couple put a life preserver on Christina and urged her to leap towards one of the life boats.

“Tremendous seas were then passing over the boat and it was only when the water was all around me that I gained the energy to jump into the water close to one of the boats. Mr. McDonald took me into the boat after I had been struggling for some time in the water. Our boat upset three times but fortunately righted itself on each occasion, but not before nine of the eighteen passengers had been swept away. Mr. Tinkiss held the rope at one end of the boat while I had one at the other end and as the boat turned over we managed to hang on and not find a watery grave as most of our companions did that afternoon.

“We drifted about on the open stormy lake with only one oar to guide us to safety. Our plight seemed hopeless until in the evening we sighted land and someone started to sing, “Pull for the shore, sailor, pull for the shore,” all of us promptly joining in the chorus. During all that dreary night we drifted slowly toward land and although it was only a question of hours before our efforts would be rewarded, one after another of the brave occupants of our boat succumbed to the strain and exposure.”

Only Christina and Dunkan Tinkiss would survive to dawn on the morning of the 15th, when the lifeboat would finally reach shore near Point au Baril. Five of their companions, including Captain John Savage, had succumbed to exposure and lay dead in the bottom of the boat.

They would spend a day on the lonely shore, cold and wet, hungry and traumatized, before an aboriginal couple in a boat would find them. Tinkiss traded his watch for passage in the small craft to Parry Sound for Christina and himself. It was dawn on the 16th by the time they arrived.

Ten years would pass before Christina married my great grandfather, Albert Fleming, and they lived out the rest of their days in Derby Township on Sylvan Shade Farm. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

On Saturday October 27th at 1 pm a plaque will be unveiled at her gravesite to commemorate her part in one of the most tragic events ever to take place on the Great Lakes.


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