SS Samuel Mather (1887)

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Samuel Mather at dock
Career (U.S.) Flag of the United States (1867-1877)
Name: Samuel Mather
Owner: Pickands, Mather Company
Port of registry: Cleveland, Ohio
Builder: Quayle's, Thomas Sons
Completed: 1887
Fate: Sank in Whitefish Bay 21 November 1891 after colliding with the Brazil
Notes: Official No. 116142
General characteristics
Class and type: Bulk freighter

1576.23 Gross Register Tonnage

1286.72 Net Register Tonnage
Length: 246 feet (75 m)
Beam: 40 feet (12 m)
Depth: 19.3 feet (5.9 m)
Propulsion: Steam, propeller
Notes: Sank with no loss of life

The SS Samuel Mather (1887) was the first of seven U.S. merchant ships to bear that name. The wooden Mather sank in 1891 after she was rammed by the steel freighter Brazil in heavy fog in Whitefish Bay 8 miles (13 km) from Point Iroquois, ending the Mather's 4 year career. Her intact wreck is a rare of example of wooden freighters that plied the Great Lakes and she is a popular scuba diving site. Although there was no loss of life when the Mather sank, her wreck claimed the lives of two scuba divers more than 100 years after she sank. Artifacts from her wreck were illegally removed in the 1980s. The artifacts are now the property of the State of Michigan and are on display as a loan to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The wreck of the Mather is protected as part of a underwater museum in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.


The SS Samuel Mather built in 1887 was the first of seven U.S. merchant ships to bear that name. [1] Shipwreck historian Frederick Stonehouse wrote, "The Mather is a rare example of a type of freighter that has long since disappeared from the Great Lakes." [2] The 246 feet (75 m) steamer was constructed with wood and had two boilers and two masts. [3]

The Mather had a series of mishaps and changes in ownerships after she was launched in Cleveland on 7 April 1887 for her first owners, R. John W. Moore, et al. On 20 October 1887 when she was bound from Sandusky, Ohio to Duluth, Minnesota, the tug Msytic towed her to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan with disabled machinery. On 9 May 1888, she was sold to Samuel Mather, et al of Cleveland, Ohio. On 11 August 1888, she was damaged in a heavy gale near Detour, Michigan and later repaired in Cleveland. On 13 April 1889, she was sold to James Pickard, et al of Interlake Transportation Company. In June 1889, she towed the Senator and the Winana. On 30 September 1990, she was libeled for sinking the steamer Ohio. [4] The Mather was a coal-carrying steamer but she "perished with an abnormal cargo of wheat". [5]

Final voyage

On 22 November 1891 at 2:00 am, the wooden Mather was downbound from Duluth, Minnesota for Buffalo, New York with a load of 58,000 bushels of wheat when she was rammed on the starboard side near the aft hatch by the steel package freighter Brazil in a thick, heavy fog in Whitefish Bay 8 miles (13 km) north of Point Iroquois.[2][3][6] The collision made an 11 foot (3.4 m) hole on her starboard side. There was no loss of life from the crew of twenty. [3] During the 25 minutes that it took her to sink, her crew were able to pull away with her life boats but they lost all of their personal possessions. The crew was picked up by the Brazil and were later transferred to the steamer Parks Foster for transport to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The Brazil proceeded to Duluth with her load of coal and was found to have 3 frames and a stringer broken from the collision. The Mather was valued at $50,000 and with her wheat cargo, the total loss was estimated in excess of $226,000.[5] [6]

Wreck History

The Mather's wreck was discovered in May 1978 by Bob Smith of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and has been extensively filmed by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS). [2] Shipwreck historian Janice Gerred reported that the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society took the Mather's artifacts for preservation to display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.[3] However, Michigan’s Antiquities Act of 1980 prohibited the removal of artifacts from shipwrecks on the Great Lakes bottomlands. [7] The Michigan Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) 1992 raid on the GLSHS offices and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum included seizure of artifacts that were illegally removed from the Samuel Mather in the 1980s. [7][8] Artifacts from the Mather's wreck are on display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum as a loan from the State of Michigan by a 1993 settlement agreement with the GLSHS following the DNR raid on the museum in 1992. [8][9] The Samuel Mather's wreck in now protected by the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve as part of an underwater museum.

Stonehouse wrote that wreck of " the Mather is one of the best known examples a wooden freighter still available for examination." [2] The Mather is a popular wreck site for scuba diving as she sits upright with an intact deck and is in very good condition, likely because she sank slowly enough for pressures to equalize. The wreck of the Mather lies at 46°34.308′N 084°42.325′W / 46.5718°N 84.705417°W / 46.5718; -84.705417. Her mast can be reached at 75 feet, her deck at 155 feet, and the bottom at 180 feet. [10] Although the Mather is not the deepest dive in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve, she claimed the life of two scuba divers, one in 1998 and the other in 1999.[11] Great Lakes diver Harrington cautions that "divers must be certain of their abilities and equipment" when diving the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.[10]


  1. "Seven Mathers". Alpena County Public Library. Retrieved 07 April 2009. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Stonehouse, Frederick (1985, 1998). “Lake Superior's Shipwreck Coast: Maritime accidents from Whitefish Bay to Grand Marais, Michigan”, pp. 61 - 63, Avery Color Studios, Gwinn, Michigan, USA. ISBN 0-9332212-43-3.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Gerred, Janice H. "Namesake Steams Over Sunken S.S. Samuel Mather", p.3. Great Lakes Gazette, Grand Marias, Michigan, March - April 1979.
  4. "Samuel Mather". Alpena County Public Library. Retrieved 07 April 2009. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Stonehouse, Frederick (1973). “The Great Wrecks of the Great lake: A directory of the shipwrecks of Lake Superior”, p. 60. The Book Concern, Printers, Hancock, Michigan, USA. LCCN 73-75623.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Wolff, Julius F. (1979). "The Shipwrecks of Lake Superior", p. 65. Lake Superior Marine Museum Association, Inc., Duluth, Minnesota, USA. ISBN 0932212-18-8.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Michigan DNR 1992 Affidavit and Search Warrant and Investigation Report of GLSHS". Whitefish Point Watch. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Storey, Jack, (4 December 1992). "Shipwreck artifact dispute simmers". Evening News, p. A1.
  9. "State of Michigan Settlement Agreement with GLSHS". Whitefish Point Watch. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Harrington, Steve (1990, 1998). Divers Guide to Michigan, pp.329-330, Maritime Press & Great Lakes Diving Council, Inc., St. Ignace, Michigan, U.S.A. ISBN 0-9624629-8-5.
  11. "Mather fatalities". Brendon Bailloid’s Great Lakes Shipwreck Research. Retrieved 02 April 2009.