Hellish Commute


Commuters on their way home from
Philadelphia confront a fire aboard
the Steamboat New Jersey

From the New York Times, March 17, 1856 reprinted from the Philadelphia Ledger, March 16, 1856

Burning of a Ferry Boat on the Delaware River

From the Philadelphia Ledger, Extra, March 16, 1856

One of the most fearful disasters which has happened upon the Delaware since the burning of the William Penn, some twenty years ago, occurred on Saturday night, between 8 and 10 o'clock.
The Camden ferry boat New Jersey, belonging to the Philadelphia and Camden Ferry Company, with passengers to the number of  nearly one hundred, mostly residents of New-Jersey, started for Camden [from Walnut Street Whart, Philadelphia].
The boat was headed [east] for the canal [between Smith and Windmill islands, opposite the city*], but on reaching that point, Captain Corson discovered that the ice was so jammed between the banks, that to go through would be almost an impossibility.
The boat was then turned northward, so as to cross the bar [to head east] some distance above Smith's Island. When nearly opposit Arch-street Wharf, the boat was discovered to be on fire near the smoke stack. An effort was made to check the flames, but without avail. A scene of wild excitement ensued, the passengers all pressing forward to escape the flames, and to be the first to jump ashore, as soon as the boat should touch the whard, the Captain having directed the pilot to steer direct for the Arch-street Wharf. When within about thirty feet of the whart the wheel-house fell, rendering her steering apparatus useless. A strong ebb tide was running, and setting up the river, which caused the boat to sheer off from the wharf, and float towards the island again...
Mr. WM. AGNEW, a resident of Camden, gives a terriffic description of the melanchold disaster, as follows:

Mr. Agnew's Statement.

I was standing conversing with Mr. MUSCHAMP, a conductor on the Camden and Amboy Railroad, when he discovered the flames bursting out around the "smoke stack"....A wild, heartrending scene of terror ensued. There were, as nearly as he could remember, over one hundred personons onboard, including twenty or twenty-five ladies. By a common impulse they rushed to the windward to avoid the intense heat of the flames, which had now enveloped the whole after part of the doomed vessel.... The flames, as the wind drove them about, increasing in volume every moment, caught the dresses of the women, whose shrieks for assistance were appalling. One young girl, Miss CARMAN, was the only one he recognized, and the last he saw of her she was enveloped in fire and screaming piteously. The scene was now almost too awful and appalling for reality. One by one - sometimes five or six at a time - they made the fearful leap from the buring wreck into the scarcely less terrible chances of death amid the ice and water....

*Smith and Windmill islands were removed in the 1890s.

All images created and produced by Cannonball Press, Brooklyn, NY