Thursday, September 14 marks the 135th Anniversary of the loss of the Asia

Asia sits at dock before the tremendous tragedy unfolded 135 years ago this September 14. Used by permission of the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes, Bowling Green State University

One marine disaster led to another as first the Manitoulin caught fire on May 17, 1882 and was beached to reduce damage but with a loss of about 25 lives. Her successor on the route was the Asia which foundered in the almost hurricane of Thursday September 14, 1882, with a loss of over one hundred soles but miraculously, there were two survivors.

Melanchthon Simpson of St. Catharines built the 136-foot Asia in 1873 and she ran Windsor—Sarnia—Duluth for the North-West Transportation Co. of Sarnia. She was chartered by the Great Northern Transit Company to replace the Manitoulin on the Collingwood – Meaford – Owen Sound – Presqu’ile – French River – Sault Ste. Marie route that included intermediary ports.

Her final trip saw her depart Collingwood on September 13 at 5 pm and she departed from Owen Sound just after midnight on the 14th. Both Christie Morrison and Douglas Tinkiss boarded at Owen Sound. Christie was en route to the Sault to visit a sister and missed the Northern Belle’s departure. Douglas and his Uncle James Hermon were heading back to Manitowaning on Manitoulin Island. The Steamboat Inspection Boards Chairman Report for 1882 described the wind that the Asia encountered late that morning as almost that of a hurricane for a short time and over a limited area.

To that date, the loss of the Asia represented the eighth greatest lost loss of human life on the Great Lakes and the largest loss on Georgian Bay. With no passenger manifest, the number actually lost remains unknown but various newspapers eventually put the number at 122 on a vessel licenced to carry 49.

The Fleming monument stands in mute testimony to one family’s loss.
photo by Fred Holmes

The survivors, 19-year-old Christie Ann Morrison and 16 year old Douglas Albert Tinkis, appeared to have survived because they took positions in the lifeboat at opposite ends and as the lifeboat flipped they were able to hold on with each rotation unlike the others with them, who were tossed out again and again.

The story of the loss of the Asia is well known, but little was said about the survivors once Captain P.A. Scott R.N., Chairman of the Board of Examiners of Masters & Mates, completed the Federal investigation. The hearing was held September 26-October 4, 1882 and concluded that as far as could be ascertained, the vessel was not in good ballast trim. A coroner’s inquiry on September 20 was more damming, blaming various people including Captain Savage, the latter for heading out from Presqu’ile with a quickly dropping barometer.

Christie Ann Morrison was born on March 17, 1863 to a farming couple and lived in the Blind Line area near Bognor, southeast of Owen Sound. After the Asia incident, where she was deemed in the press to be a heroine, there was a report in the December 1, 1882 Paisley Advocate that she was to visit Bruce County to sell her photograph. This souvenir photograph was taken in Dixon’s Toronto photography and showed her dressed in black, holding a rope with a painted background of a seashore scene. Christie had long dark hair that hung almost to her elbows and the photograph angle emphasized that.

After her marriage on October 26, 1892 at the age of 29 to Albert Fleming, they resided on a farm at Kilsyth, southwest of Owen Sound. Their only child, a son, Clifford, was born in 1899. Christe passed away on August 18, 1937, aged 73 from coronary thrombosis and was buried in Owen Sound’s Greenwood Cemetery on August 21. The family plot includes her husband, son Clifford and Clifford’s wife. Christie and Albert had two grandchildren.

The Tinkus family monument fiound at the Anglican Cemetary in
Little Current is worn by the passage of time.
photo by Alicia McCutcheon for the author

Douglas Albert Tinkis was born October 13, 1865 in Prescott. At the time Douglas and his Uncle stepped onto the Asia in Owen Sound, Douglas was working for his father, Jehiel, in Manitowaning as a merchant. In 1887 Douglas moved to Little Current where he established the Mansion House hotel with his brother. This hotel still stands today, renamed the Anchor Inn Hotel. Douglas never married.

In 1900, Douglas had an attack of rheumatism that made him bed ridden for some weeks. A repeat attack in 1901 caused him to go to Toronto’s Walker House for treatment but he got worse and his mother Angeline was called for.  Shortly after her arrival, he was admitted to Grace Hospital where he passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage on October 4, aged 36. He was buried in Holy Trinity Cemetery, Howland Township, just outside of Little Current.

This author suggests the tombstones of Christie Morrison Fleming and Douglas Albert Tinkis need a small plaque affixed that says this is one of the two survivors of the loss of the Asia.

We know where the survivors now rest, but where does the Asia rest? Byng Inlet commercial fishermen have complained about catching their nets on unknown underwater objects. Could one of these be the Asia? Some believe it is and in 70 feet of water. Canadian Hydrographic Chart 2244, Alexander Passage to Beaverstone Bay notes water depths of up to 229 feet. Given a lifeboat drifting southeasterly towards sight of the Byng Inlet light before a more southerly drift to Pointe au Baril, the Asia likely lies within this Chart, hidden for 135 years.