Terrible Conflagration and Destruction of the Steam-Boat "New Jersey"


This hand-colored lithograph from 1856 shows a dramatic view of the steamboat New Jersey, engulfed in flames and smoke. The captain is still at the helm as the passengers escape into the icy river. Panicked passengers jump into water that is already teeming with disaster victims. One of the victims is an African American man. Passengers thrash and swim, while others attempt to stay upon and assist others onto floes of ice, debris, and a single rowboat. Rescuers from the nearby wharf, including firemen, work frantically and desperately throw a rope to a woman standing afloat an ice floe. On the fire-engulfed deck, a horse is seen amidst the passengers; on the rear of the boat, a woman is driven off by the flames. On the riverbank in the background, a sign for “Baths” is visible. Beneath the image is text listing the names of the 107 white and “colored” passengers, divided into three columns: “the dead,” “the missing,” and “the saved.” Captained by Ebenezer Corson, the steamboat New Jersey was mid-voyage to Camden from Philadelphia (using an alternate elongated route due to heavy ice), when it caught fire on the night of March 15, 1856. The fire started as a result of defective boilers, a fireplace, and brick work. With the fire spreading rapidly, Corson retreated to Arch Street Wharf in Philadelphia, and came within 30 feet of the pier when the pilot house collapsed, leaving the boat unmanned and out of control. Corson survived by leaping ashore before the uncontrolled ship drifted back out on the river. This lithograph was published by Alfred Pharazyn (circa 1833–circa 1878), who operated a print coloring establishment in Philadelphia between the 1850s and the 1870s.

Last updated: June 30, 2016