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Yukon River Sternwheeler Willie Irving

by Murray Lundberg

Roster of Yukon/Alaska Sternwheelers

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 Murray a note.
  • Canadian Shipping Registry ##103918, registered in Victoria, B.C.

  • wooden sternwheeler; 80 feet long, with 20.2 foot beam and 3 foot hold. Gross tonnage 101.9, registered as 64 tons.

  • powered by a pair of horizontal high-pressure steam engines built in 1898 by the Marine Iron Works of Chicago; the cylinders had 7 inch diameter and 28 inch stroke, developing 3.3 NHP.

  • 1897, built at Portland; the hull has natural knees of oak, with fir planking, and the house is of California red cedar. The prefabricated sections were shipped to Lake Bennett and assembled (KN, May 10, 1899) by Captain John Irving. The boat was named for his father, a sternwheeler captain who was made both rich and famous during the Cariboo gold rush.

  • June 7, 1898: "William J. Jones, writing from Lake Bennett under date of June 7th says the Steamer Willie Irving, of Victoria, was launched today and will operate between this place and White Horse Rapids." (The Province, Vancouver)

  • June 27, 1898: "News brought from the north by the steamship Athenian, which arrived here on Saturday, is to the effect that the White Horse rapids are navigable for steamers, The steamer Bellingham, which passed through the rapids without mishap, was expected to arrive in Dawson on the 17th inst. The Goddard left Bennett on the 17th also with a big load and a large crowd went down on the steamers Ora and Willie Irving to see her make the run. She went through at great speed and without the slightest accident. The Ora and Willie Irving immediately returned to Bennett and commenced loading their cargoes, expecting to make for Dawson on Monday last." (The Province, Vancouver)

  • June 28, 1898, bought by Edward McConnell, Captain Edward Barrington and M. L. Hamilton to work between Dawson and Rink Rapids (The Klondike Nugget):

        Ed. M'Connell, Capt. Barrington, and M. L. Hamilton have purchased the fine little steamer Willie Irving, and will put her on the upper river, running as far as Rink Rapids. The Irving is the finest little river steamer that ever stemed the currents of the Yukon. Neat and trim, with good accommodations for a fair passenger list, she also has the necessary power and machinery to make a speedy trip. That this will be a popular route goes without saying, for with popular owners, the most popular and competent of captains, and such a trim little vessel, she is bound to be a winner.

    The Willie Irving From Bennett.

        The finest steamer by all odds which has safely come through Canyon and White Horse arrived Saturday night [June 25], having made the run from Bennett in four days actual traveling time. The Willie Irving is the name of the steamer, and the 16 passengers speak in highest terms of the officers and crew, and complimented Capt. Spencer very highly upon the boat that the journey was made without accident or unpleasant incident.

        It was learned that but one of the passengers made the trip through the Canyon and White Horse, a Miss Ida Rhodes, of St. Paul. Miss Rhodes is evidently a plucky little woman and is able to take cure of herself in any country.

        The Willie Irving has powerful machinery, 90 ft. long with a 30 ft. beam, and drew but 14 inches.

        Following is a list of passengers: Theo. Eggest and wife, Galveston; Augusta Giffin, Morehead, Minn; Jas Weale, Victoria; Ed Terry, Seattle; Dave Hastin, Maple Creek, N.W. T.; Mrs. L. S. Card, Seattle; Miss Ida Rhodes, S. F.; Dr. E. Pohl, Portland; Wm. Jenkins, Los Angeles; Samuel Savage, Denver; M. H. Sinclar, Los Angeles, D. H. Croydon and wife, Victoria.

  • July 7, 1898: "George Langley and N.W.M.P. Private Ware tell of an accident to the stern wheel steamer Willie Irving, she having pounded a big hole in her hull by being washed against the rocks in attempting to run the White Horse rapids about two weeks ago. She was beached and is being repaired." (Victoria Daily Times)

  • July 9, 1898: "Frank Dunham has piloted 800 boats through the rapids. He says that in all about 7,000 have gone down. The police have a record of about 500 being wrecked. According to Dunham it was at Five Fingers rapids that the Willie Irving punctured her hull, and not at the White Horse rapids, as previously reported. The damage was not serious." (Victoria Daily Times)

  • July 9, 1898, The Klondike Nugget:
    The Willie Irving Will Run Through to the White Horse
    To Rink Rapids in Forty-Eight Hours

        Captain Barrington, of the dashing iittle steamer, Willie Irving, took her out on her last trip Thursday with the resolve to have her pace the distance between Dawson and Rink Rapids in forty-eight hours at the outside. She will then tackle the Five Fingers with every expectation of making a continuous trip to White Horse Rapids. This summer is the first time a boat of any kind has made ascent of Five Fingers, and this seeming impossibility has just been accomplished by the steamers Ora and Goddard. To those who have descended to Dawson through these seething waters Captain Barrington's undertaking may appear a bold one, but the Willie Irving is a stouter craft than either of her predecessors in the attempt and no trouble at all is anticipated by those in charge.

        Her passengers and mail will connect at the Rink rapids with saddle horses for Pyramid Harbor, which point they expect to make in seven days from the time of leaving Dawson.

        On her first trip the Irving took 22 passengers, 10 of whom took horses for Pyramid Harbor, and 12 walked. Two hundred and sixty pounds of gold dust was taken out, one party alone having 156 pounds.

        She brought down 12 passengers from Pelly and Rink rapids. Some of her passengers report that the Goddard is broken down at the mouth of the Hootalinqua river.

  • July 9, 1898, The Klondike Nugget: "Corporal Green and Constables Carter and Dundas left last Saturday on the steamer Willie Irving to form a detachment on the Stewart river. They will distribute and receive mail, and, in fact, establish a post similar to those up and down the Yukon."

  • early July 1898, heading upstream past Fort Selkirk, taking 150 out of the Klondike (Marvin Marsh diary; Gaffin, Yukon News, Aug. 18, 1995, p.15)

  • July 16, 1898: "The river steamer Willie Irving, one of the upper Yukon fleet, was sold at Dawson for $27,500. Jack Dalton and Maloney were the purchasers. They intend to run her from Dawson to the end of the Dalton trail, connecting with their pony express." (Victoria Daily Times)

  • July 20, 1898, The Klondike Nugget: "A Quick Trip to White Horse. The Willie Irving returned to Dawson on Saturday, having made the trip to White Horse and return very successfully. The actual running time was less than six days and another forty-seven hours were used up at Pelly. The ascent of the Five Finger rapids was made on the right hand side going up, though an attempt was made on the opposite side. The 'Willie' would get nearly through but when she climbed the 'jumping-off place' where the water makes a sheer descent of a number of feet it would raise her wheel out of the water and she would stand still. She is, however, as staunch a little craft as sails the river, and had no difficulty in getting up on the opposite side."

  • August 29, 1898, Captain Edward Barrington died of typhoid fever almost a month after falling ill while in command of the Willie Irving.

  • September 14, 1898, The Klondike Nugget suggested that she be known as "Old Regularity" because of her tight schedules between Dawson and Whitehorse, and the fact that she is the only boat to have never been hung up on a bar.

  • October 1898, fireman A. Klopfenstein committed suicide by taking "a powerful dose" of belladonna, a poisonous alkaloid; he was turned over to the police at Fort Selkirk, and died soon after (KN, Oct.12).

  • November 1898, wintering at Dawson, her sternwheel was damaged "considerably" when a scow owned by McDonald & Danbolton was driven into her by the ice (KN, Nov.2).

  • January 13, 1899: "The little stern wheel river steamer Willie Irving, plying between Dawson and White Horse rapids on the Yukon earned $127,668 during the past season. She made ten trips during the four months." (St. Helena Star, California)

  • May 7, 1899: When the ice broke in front of Dawson the steamer New York was carried ashore by the ice and nearly destroyed, and the wheel of the Willie Irving was crushed. (The San Francisco Call, June 16)

  • May 1899, bought by a company consisting of L. H. Hamilton, P. Douglas, N. Cowan, G. H. Dwyer, C. F. Griffith and N. Allen. They spent "a large amount of money" overhauling her; modifications included raising the deck about 9 feet (thus greatly improving the view from the pilothouse), restoring the metallic bottom, building a new fantail and wheel, installing new boilers and refitting the interior. While removing her from the ice this spring, the owners became convinced that she is capable of pulling herself off any bar with the capstan without breaking the hull (KN, May 10).

  • May 25 1899: "The steamer Willie Irving, by which these dispatches go forward, was uninjured by ice, though occupying a comparatively unsheltered situation. She is the first steamer to leave Dawson and is crowded to her fullest capacity with passengers to White Horse rapids at $125 each." (San Francisco Chronicle, June 24)

  • May 27, 1899, ad in The Klondike Nugget, seen to the right:

  • summer 1899, the house was extended to provide accommodation for about 25 people (see photo below).

  • September 17, 1899, The San Francisco Call:

        TACOMA, Sept. 16 - The steamer Dirigo brought down a large number of Klondikers, who left Dawson August 28 and 31. The latest ones came up the river on the steamer Willie Irving. An exciting incident occurred on the way up. There were eighty-one passengers on the steamer, and somewhere between the mouth of Little Salmon River and White Horse Rapids a forty-ounce sack of gold dust was stolen from the purser's room. The purser claims that he went away for a moment, leaving his room door and the treasure box unopened. In the meanwhile some one got away with one of the sacks, worth $700. Several passengers had left the boat before the theft was discovered.

        When the Irving got to White Horse the mounted police were notified and a round-up was ordered. All had to submit to being searched and every man's gold was weighed. The missing gold was not located. Some of the American miners were indignant at the idea of having to meekly submit to being "stood up" and searched.

  • October 24, 1899, crushed in the ice near Selwyn Creek NWMP post; the W. S. Stratton was crushed beside her. On January 14, 1900, The Los Angeles Times published a full-page illustrated article describing "the thrilling experiences of a plucky woman" who was on that final voyage of the Willie Irving - read it here.

The Willie Irving in Miles Canyon, 1898 (YA #2236)

The altering of the Willie Irving at Dawson, summer 1899, by E. A. Hegg (YA #709)