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The Yukon River Sternwheeler Rock Island



Northern Ships and Shipping


Please note that, at present, this is merely an accumulation of data, part of a database of material on all Yukon-Alaska steamboats compiled by Murray Lundberg. Additions, corrections or comments are always welcome - just drop me a note.


  • U.S.Reg. #111177

  • wooden sternwheeler; 134 feet long, with 32.2 foot beam and 5.9 foot hold. Gross tonnage 533.69 [523?], registered as 336.23 tons.

  • powered by steam boiler.

  • designed by Kahlke Bros. Boat yard (Rock Island, IL) and a crew from this facility supervised their construction in Seattle.

  • 1898, built at Seattle by the Seattle Yukon Trading Company, for a syndicate from Rock Island, Illinois, the Rock Island Alaska Mining Company. Captain S. E. Lancaster was a member of the syndicate, and took command of the boat. Affleck says that she was built at Seattle by the San Francisco Bridge Company, for the Boston & Alaska Transportation Company, which became insolvent.

    Davenport Daily Leader (Davenport, Iowa), Thursday, April 14, 1898

    TO BE LAUNCHED MAY 10.

    New Boat of Capt. Knaack Ready for Yukon.

        A letter has been received in this city from Capt. Knaack by his brother stating that the new steamer with which he intends going up the Yukon is to be launched at Seattle on the 10th of May.
        A letter to friends at Rock Island has been received from the captain and reads as follows:
        Seattle, Wash., April 8. - Wednesday morning at 4 o'clock, at high tide, the Rock Island slid into the waters of Puget Sound. The launching was a complete success, without a hitch or the least accident. There were no spectators at that early hour, and she was christened the Rock Island without much ceremony, in honor of our prosperous city. We are doing ourselves proud by having launched the first boat built in Seaitle for the Yukon river. Our second, or our prospecting boat, is well under way. She will be christened the Rock Island No. 2. We expect to leave here for St. Michael the 10th of May and have chartered a tugboat for that purpose. The tug has recently arrived from the Atlantic coast, and is without question the finest seagoing craft of that kind on the Pacific coast, and I made special effort to secure same for our expedition. Today I was informed by her captain that Uncle Sam wants to buy her and use her for a patrol and dispatch boat. The wires have been kept hot all day between here and the Atlantic coast, where the owners of the tug reside. I cannot tell what the outcome will be.
        Regarding Alaska I will say that reports keep on coming in encouragingly. We have engaged a Yukon guide, who comes down the river to meet us and guide us up for the first time. It is our aim to be one of the first boats to reach Dawson City. We saw some time ago in the Argus which is a welcome visitor at our camp, that it was supposed Dr. Merryman spent the winter in Seattle. Such is not the case. Mrs Merryman arrived here the other day and had several letters from the doctor, who was at Circle City at the time of writing, which was in November. The letters did not reach here till the latter part of March, the fact being that the mail had to came out over the pass. He describes the country as being all right; the only objection he had at the time that work was too short. He states there is no doubt about there being lots of gold in the country, and by being determined and staying a couple of years, a person could make a fortune all right. He writes he is hale and hearty, and expects to go to Dawson City some time this winter; so very likely is there by this time.
        The rush into Alaska over the pass has let up to a certain extent. It seems that everybody is now waiting for the opening of the Yukon river.
        Yours truly,
                    WILLIAM KNAACK.

  • May 21, 1898, cleared Customs at Port Townsend, enroute to St.Michael; she and the Rock Island No. 2 were in tow of the steamer New England.

  • July 11, 1898, left St. Michael. She had been chartered from the Rock Island & Alaska Mining Company by the Frank Waterhouse Company; "after a series of small mishaps and tiresome delays," arrived at Dawson August 23, 1898, with 72 passengers (also reported as 120) and 350-400 tons of freight.

  • 1899; acquired by the Seattle-Yukon Transportation Company; registered in Canada.

  • 1899-1900, wintered at Stewart.

  • 1900, operated on the St. Michael-Dawson run by the Northern Navigation Company.

  • 1900 season crew: Master, Edwin LeBallister; Pilot, Boerner; Chief Engineer, Claussen; Purser, Petrie.

  • 1901, worked on the Koyukuk River.

  • 1903, registered in Canada.

  • May 9, 1904, the river dropped 10 feet in 6 hours, the Rock Island was one of several boats and barges left high and dry by the drop.

  • May 5, 1906, crushed in the ice and sunk at Chena, Alaska. Pumps are being shipped in to try to raise her.

  • ad in Dawson Daily News, May 24, 1902

The Rock Island (Yukon Archives #6524)