Only a few hours after the Phoenix departured from Manitowoc the
fireman discovered the pumps of the steam engine didn’t work properly.
They should pump water in the boilers to cool them down. However, the
level of the cool water was far too low.

He immediately reported this to the second engineer, William Owen, who
was in charge of the engine at the time. Owen didn’t think it important
enough to wake the first engineer, House. Eventually the fireman tried
to open the taps, but they didn’t work either. In the meanwhile, the
boilers were red-hot and the fire started to spread. The firemen tried
to stop the fire, but it spread so fast that he had to flee and alarm the
rest of the ship.

The passengers ran to the deck and formed bucket brigade to put the fire out. Soon it became clear the ship couldn’t be
saved. Everyone fried to save their lives. The lifeboats were lowered to
the water.

To the lifeboats

Mr. Bush, a business man from Southport who had been
teaching the Dutch children some English, convinced the captain to take
place in the first life boat. Bush refused to take place himself,
because he thought there was to much work for him to do on the ship. He
comforted children and protected them from the fire with his own body.
Eventually, he too had to leave the burning ship. With two children in
his arms he climbed on a self-made raft. He clung to this in
desperation until, numb with the cold, he had to let go.

Both passengers and crew tried to get on the lifeboats as soon as
possible. The two lifeboats were far too small to save the hundreds of
passengers by bringing them to the coast Hendrik Jan Esselinkpas, one
of the Winterswijk emigrants, saw a rope hanging from the deck. He
grabbed hold of this and ended up in on of the lifeboats. Two-year-old
Hanna Gerdiena Landeweerd was thrown into the boat by her mother, thus
saving her life. Fortunately, one of her older sisters was already in
the boat. 

Since they were woken in the middle of their sleep, most people had
hardly any clothes on. Gerritje Oberink from Varsseveld jumped in the
water only wearing a skirt thinking ‘Rather drown than burn. If I
perish, I perish’. She was taken in to one of the small boats. Young
couples, who were planning to marry in the new land, jumped for the
boats holding each other’s hands. 

As soon as the boats were full, they left for the coast of Wisconsin,
only a few miles away. One girl who tried to get into the boat from the
water didn’t fit in anymore. Fearing the whole lifeboat would capsize,
the people in the boat loosened her grip. The girl drowned. On the
Phoenix the numerous people left behind saw the lifeboats leave. They
prayed for their speedy return. 

By this time, the whole ship was on fire. A man climbed the mast,
hoping to escape the flames. The mast broke and the man fell into the
cold lake. Others fell onto the burning deck. Two sisters Hazelton,
returning from school to their parents’ home in Sheboygan, refused to
burn and jumped in the freezing water in each other’s arms. A mother
with a crying baby ran away from the flames, into the water. She sank,
came up again and cried for help. Than she sank again never to surface

The lifeboats leave, but many passengers remain

A man from Oosterbeek, Hendrikus Bruijel tried to save his family with
four children. He bound his wife and children to a piece of the mast
With a rope around his middle he bound himself to the piece of wood as
well. They threw themselves into the water, but they too didn’t survive
the deadly cold. Their dead bodies wash up later. 

He wasn’t the only man who tried and failed to save his family. An
American, Mr. West threw enough material overboard to keep him and his
family afloat. His wife didn’t dare to jump without him, so they jumped
at the same time, holding hands. Unfortunately, they land besides the
raft and drown. 

The clerk of the Phoenix, Mr. Donohue, threw all the floating material
he could find overboard to save the passengers who had jumped into the
lake. Then the fire forced him to jump himself. He climbed on the
rudder and floated past an American passenger, Mr. Long. He almost
drowned and would have if Donohue hadn’t pulled him on the rudder as

The engineer, House, had stayed on board the Phoenix for as long as he
could. He jumped in the water and climbed on a door. On this raft, he
floated for hours. Around him he saw other people on rafts, one after
another loosing his grip and sinking in the cold lake.

To the coast

One of the lifeboats had only one oar. Derk Antony Voskuil, a young man
from Winterswijk, used a broom to help rowing. Soon after setting of
for the coast, the boats began to fill with water. Fortunately, the
Dutch emigrants wore wooden shoes, which they could use to scoop the
water out of the boats.

The lifeboats reached shore with the captain, the wheelsman, five other
members of the crew and 33 passengers. The ground was frozen in the
cold November night. The captain managed to build a fire to warm the
chilled people. Among them is Gerdina Landeweerd, the wife of Teunis
Schuppert, who saved herself by hanging on to the lifeboat all the way
to the shore. The lifeboats were sent back to the Phoenix to save more

Most of the people hardly wore any clothes, since they were asleep when
the alarm was given. One exception was Hendrik Jan Esselinkpas. When
the fire started, he happened to wear a shirt, two pairs of trousers
and two pairs of socks. He gives one pair of trousers and one pair of
socks to someone without any clothes. In the freezing night, the people remained by
the fire until the morning came. At dawn wagons and help arrived from

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for almost 25 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

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