Newspaper Picture of "Lille"Lillie Parsons

The "Lillie" is one of Ontario's most famous wrecks. A two mast "Fore & Aft" rigged centerboard schooner, built in 1868 in Towanda N.Y., It sank on its way to Brockville when a sudden squal shifted her cargo, capsizing her and causing her take on water. The large rudder sits proudly upstream with a broad square stern resting on the rock ledges that support her. It is an experience to follow the rudder to its highest point and test the current, and then drop down the stern before drifting downstream along the channel side watching the ship's profile against the surface. Read about the accidental discovery in 1960 of this wreck in the Brockville Recorder and Times.


August 15, 1963

Skin divers have found the hull of a 200-foot sailing vessel on the bottom of the St. Lawrence in the Brockville Narrows off Brockville's west end.

Deb Ring, Porky Graveline, Dewey Whiteland, Mike Ford, Herb Sheridan and Jack Miles, all skin and scuba diving club members, worked for six hours Wednesday to surface the estimated 400-pound steering wheel and gear. Divers found the three-masted ship in 40 to 70 feet of water in the main channel off Sparrow Island. The double hull of wood planking lies bottoms up. A cargo of coal - chunks about four feet in diameter - spewed out but the skin divers have found dishes, lamps, an anchor and the compass binnacle.

Research which the divers have done with government records and newspaper accounts leads them to guess that the ship was the Lilly Parsons, sunk prior to 1880.

Lillie Parsons
Brockville Recorder
Aug. 16, 1963


Jim Whiteland who has a summer cottage on Smith's Island opposite St. Lawrence Park lost a new $3.75 anchor a week or so ago while he was still fishing from his outboard upriver from Picnic Island. Mr. Whiteland had anchored near Sparrow Island, the first island west of Picnic. The anchor line parted and the brand new stockless anchor that had hardly a scratch on it stayed on the bottom. Mr. Whiteland's son Dewey is a skin diver; this is his first summer diving. Dewey and a couple of his friends went back to Sparrow to hunt for the bright orange anchor. They found it, explored a bit further into the channel and discovered the 200-foot hull of a three-masted sailing vessel. In 40-70 feet of water north of Sparrow Island in the main channel the skin divers saw quite clearly the double hull of a wooden vessel. The current is swift in the Brockville Narrows. No silt has settled on the still intact hull which lies keel up with its three masts sloping downward toward mid-channel. At 40 feet there are no weeds to cover outlines. Depending on the amount of sunlight, visibility is about 10-15 feet. What Dewey, Deb Ring, Pork Graveline, Mike Ford and Herb Sheridan have explored stem to stern is a blunt-bowed cargo vessel which apparently capsized and sank, spilling its cargo of coal over the bottom of the river.

The divers, all members of the Brockville Skin and Scuba Diving Club, are doing some dry-land research to identify the vessel. In a Recorder and Times account of shipping disasters, three ships are mentioned as having sunk in that area. One carried a cargo of iron ore; one was salvaged, and the other was called the Lilly Parsons. The divers think they've found the Lilly Parsons. Department of transport records in Prescott report marine accidents in this area since 1880. There is no mention of the Lilly Parsons. Thus, this ship may be the Lilly Parsons which went to the bottom sometime before 1880. For sailing vessels the Brockville Narrows was treacherous. The current is swift, the deep channel narrow. An error in judgment, a loss of wind or sudden gust could put a ship tacking against a west wind onto a shoal. The divers wear black sponge rubber suits, swim fins and face glasses. They carry one or two tanks of air on their backs. A tank of air lasts about an hour, depending on how hard the diver is working.

Warning Flag
Arriving at the diving site, they fly the scuba divers' flag which warns boats not to come within 100 feet since divers may be just below the surface. The flag is a red square with a diagonal white stripe. Usually one man stays on the surface or in the boat. The divers all trail life lines so they do not become lost. Deb Ring has been diving for three years and is president of the Skin and Scuba Diving Club. "This is the biggest, most interesting discovery I've made," he said. The hull itself is somewhere over 150 feet. A long bowsprit which carried the foresails brings the overall length to about 200. The divers estimate the beam of the ship to be 30 feet. The capsized vessel spilled its cargo of four-foot chunks of coal onto the river bottom, thus preventing the divers from getting into the cabin of the ship. Nevertheless, they found several objects which like the coal, fell from the overturned ship.

Floated Wheel
Tuesday afternoon they worked for six hours to float the 400-pound ship's wheel and steering gear. A 45-gallon steel drum, sunk, then filled with air form the divers' tanks, was used to float the wheel. Jack Miles became the sixth diver on this effort. With an outboard they towed the wheel to Smith's Island. All but one of the wooden handles on the wheel are gone. But the wheel turns to move the gear. Next project is the anchor, weighing an estimated 800 pounds and expected to require three air-filled drums for the floating. A spittoon, dishes, cups which never had handles, a chamber pot, jugs and crocks have also been brought up. The dishes are English white ironstone, some from the Meakin potteries. The jugs and crocks are of the type seen in antique stores today - brown pottery, some with a blue design. The name S. Hart Fulton is on one of the jugs.

A double wooden block from the rigging is about 12 inches long. Two "deadeyes," or fairleads, through which halyards or sheets ran, are also wood, bounded by steel cable. The compass stand, or binnacle, was spotted - but no compass. A galvanized coal oil running light is beaded with rust but the clear glass is intact. A number of carpenter's, or shipwright's tools tumbled from the ship like the chinaware. The divers brought up wooden handled augers and hammers.

For Good Luck
On one of the masts, an estimated four feet in diameter, was found a lucky horseshoe. Near the stern of the ship was a door handle with a plank of mahogany attached to it.

What Will The Divers Do With Their Treasure?
"They're not ours," explained Deb Ring. "Under the Canada Shipping Act, a ship though sunk and abandoned, is still the property of the person who lost it." This is unlike the law of the sea where the first man to put a line aboard an abandoned ship has salvage rights. So the divers have applied to the federal government for salvage rights. The government will advertise for a year to seek the owner - or his heirs. And meanwhile the skin divers seek to identify the ship. "Maybe we could have the coal analyzed." said Dewey Whiteland. "That would tell us from where the coal came." No name has been found on the hull. Piles of coal have so far prevented the swimmers from getting into the cabins. How did she sink? Why did the wheel fall off? Where is the compass? The ship's log? Did the crew escape? What is her name?

Lillie Parsons
Ottawa Journal
Aug. 16, 1963


Find Schooner on River Bottom

Brockville (Special)
Three members of the Brockville Skin and Scuba Club have accidentally found a 200-foot river schooner in 40 feet of water off Sparrow Island, a mile west of Brockville. The three divers, Deb Ring, Dewey Whiteland and Gerald "Porky" Graveline had been diving for a small anchor when they came across the ship on Aug. 6. The schooner was three-masted, with a square stern. The boat is typical of those used for river shipping in the 1870's. Divers said that the boat is in very good condition, the only hole is in the hull high in the bow.

Retrieve Articles

In efforts to trace the ship and exact construction date, divers have retrieved many pieces of kitchen wear, navigational apparatus, tools and pottery. The only identification on these articles was what appears to be the name of the manufacturer "s. Hat Fulton" on two jugs. One other possibility is that this is the name of the ship, but all indications show she was the "Lilly Parsons" from the United States.

The ship must have gone down very suddenly as no articles had been removed - not even her load of tons of soft coal. The Department of Transport was unable to help because it has no record of ships lost in the river prior to 1880. On Wednesday divers were able to raise a 400-pound steering wheel with drive gears still in operable condition. Thursday they tried to raise the anchor, but ran into trouble as it was wedged between the bottom of the ship and the shoal the boat is resting on. Other dives are planned later this week. Articles will be sent to various places for analysis.