Collision of the Steamboats Gulnare and Westwood

The steamboat Westwood ran into the steamer Gulnare in the early hours of September 8, 1844, at Walnut Bend above Helena (Phillips County), sinking the Gulnare and killing three passengers.

The Gulnare, described as a “splendid, light draught and fast running steamer,” was heading up the Mississippi River with a full load of dry goods and towing a barge largely loaded with salt, heading toward St. Louis, Missouri. The vessel was at the foot of Walnut Bend around twenty miles north of Helena when the south-bound Westwood, a 249-ton paddleboat built in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1843, ran into the Gulnare’s starboard side across from the main hatch at around 1:00 a.m. on September 8, 1844. The Gulnare began to sink immediately, and the passengers and crew fled to the barge and cut it loose as the steamer sank to its hurricane deck “in a few minutes.”

Three deck passengers—a soldier and two Germans—drowned in the Gulnare’s sinking. The soldier was “much intoxicated,” and one of the Germans was trying “to save part of his property, but was overwhelmed by the rushing tide” as the steamboat sank.

The Westwood stayed with the Gulnare’s survivors until the morning, “rendering every assistance,” until they could board the north-bound steamboat Swallow and continue their journey. The “boat and all cargo, excepting about 100 tons—principally salt, which was on the barge—will be a total loss.”

The Westwood, too, would meet with disaster. The steamboat’s boilers exploded on December 19, 1847, sinking the vessel and killing twelve people.

The sinking of the Gulnare reflected the dangers of travel in the waters around Arkansas in the nineteenth century, when steamboat collisions also claimed the Congress in 1846, the Cote Joyeuse in 1847, and the Niagara in 1865.

For additional information:
“The Gulnare Sunk. —Loss of Life!” Louisville [Kentucky] Daily Courier, September 16, 1844, p. 2.

Lloyd, James T. Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters. Cincinnati, OH: James T. Lloyd & Co., 1856.

“Loss of the Steamboat Gulnare.” New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 12, 1844, p. 2.

“Regular Packet ‘Gulnare.’” [Advertisement] Times-Picayune, August 24, 1844, p. 3.

“Steamboat Collision, and Loss of the Gulnare.” Buffalo [New York] Courier, September 26, 1844, p. 3.

Way, Frederick, Jr. Way’s Packet Directory. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1983.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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