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Tragedy on the Tracks
April 2, 2017

The New England burst its boilers of Essex, October 8, 1833, killing 13 people. Woodcut from “Steamboat Disasters and Railroad Accidents in the United States,” 1843. Connecticut River Museum. Connecticut Explored, Fall 2011

October 8, 1833 was a dark and stormy night. Seventy passengers boarded the steamboat The New England. They needed to get from New York to Hartford. The boat’s crew of 20 would get them there.

All went smoothly at first. The New England raced along beside another steamboat, The Boston. Around one o’clock in the morning, they reached the mouth of the Connecticut River. That’s when The New England started to have engine troubles. The boat stopped for repairs.

Thirty minutes later, the engine was up and running again. The New England started traveling up river to Hartford. It arrived off Essex at three o’clock in the morning. The engine abruptly stopped again.

The crew lowered a small boat so that a passenger could land. Suddenly, there was a terrifying boom. It sounded like a heavy cannon going off. Both of the ship’s boilers had exploded!

The scene was horrific. Dangerously hot steam poured out of the damaged boilers. Passengers were scalded and burned. Eight passengers and five crewmembers were killed.

The townspeople were woken by the blast. They rushed to the riverfront to help the injured. They took them into their homes to care for them.

An investigation showed that the explosion was caused by the engineer running the ship’s steam engine. He may have allowed too much steam to build up earlier when the boat stopped for engine trouble.

Based on “What a Disaster,” by Emma DeMar and Elizabeth Normen, Connecticut Explored, Fall 2011

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