Collection ID:

Collection context


George Washington Murdock, 1853-1940
Hudson River Steamboat biographies written by George W. Murdock, Jr. for the Kingston (NY) Freeman newspaper. Murdock, a veteran marine engineer, wrote a regular column in the 1930s. Over 200 articles comprise this collection.
1 three-ring binder and 200 copied newspaper articles


Scope and Content:

One page histories of over 200 Hudson River Steamboats from 1810s - 1930s. Originally published as a regular feature in the Kingston (NY) Freeman newspaper in the 1930s and 1940s.

Biographical / Historical:

George Washington Murdock was born on the 15th day of March 1853, at Sing Sing (now Ossining), New York, the son of George W. Murdock and Catherine A. Murdock, nee Parsell. The town of Sing Sing at that time was quite a thriving village and was the stopping place of a great many steamboats and also considered a good excursion sail. At the time of his birth, the steamboat "Jenny Lind" was running to Sing Sing from New York. This is the first steamboat on which Mr. Murdock rode. His knowledge of steam-boats started at an early age.

The steamboat "Jenny Lind" was built in 1850, named for the noted concert singer Jenny Lind, popularly known as the "Swedish Nightingale". The boat was used principally for short excursion work and later went to New London, Connecticut, where she remained the greater part of her time, until dismantled in 1872, when her engine was placed into the new ferryboat, "Uncas", which did duty between Elizabethport and Staten Island, until recent years.

Mr. Murdock, Sr., was a guard at Sing Sing prison at the time of his son’s birth and through political influences, he was appointed Lighthouse keeper at Rondout in 1855. Through an accident, he was drowned May 27, 1857, after which time, his wife, Catherine, took charge of the light, being succeeded by her son, James B. Murdock, in 1908. This charge was held by him until December 1924, when he resigned. It is noteworthy to record that the light at Rondout was in charge of the Murdock family for over 68 consecutive years.

When the Murdock family moved to the Lighthouse in 1855, it was then a frame dwelling. In the fall of 1860, it was replaced by a stone building, and in 1915 by the present edifice.

Mr. Murdock’s earliest recollections of steamboats commences with the burning of the small towboat, "Thorn" in the fall of 1857. This steamboat caught fire coming out of Rondout Creek and was run on the flats to the north of the Lighthouse. It was raining very hard and a strong wind blowing, so that eventually the burning "Thorn" was blown down the river and piled up in front of the Lighthouse. The heat from the burning boat was so intense that one could not touch the window panes of the Lighthouse, and had it not been for the violent storm, the Lighthouse would have burned. His uncle Abram Parsell, a well-known steamboat man was on his way up the river on the "James Madison" then a towboat, seeing the fire, he mistook it for the Lighthouse.

The next incident recorded is the burning of the steamboat "Clifton", in December 1860. The "Clifton" was a small steamboat about 135 feet long and was running between Saugerties and New York at the time of her burning, having previously been used on Long Island Sound between Derby, Bridgeport and New York. On the day of her fatal trip she had just left Rhinecliff landing. A strong wind was blowing and when the crew found that the boat was on fire, they made frantic efforts to save their boat by throwing overboard bales of hay that formed the greater part of her cargo. Those bales of smoldering hay soon caught fire when exposed to the wind and made huge fires upon the ice where they land. The burning steamboat was beached with great difficulty at Port Ewen, where she burned to the water’s edge.

Other steamboats that he witnessed burn are: the freight boat "John Taylor” at Athens, in July 1873; the towboat "Columbia” at the Arsenal Dock, West Troy during July or August 1875; the towboat "Baltic" just below Van Wie’s Point, July 11, 1876, and the steamboat "City of Catskill" at Rondout, February 11, 1883.

His early years were spent between the Lighthouse and the home of his grandparents at Port Ewen. He attended the rural school at Esopus, and vas obliged to walk probably two miles to a place known as the Point of the Mountain schoolhouse. This was quite a distance for a young lad to travel alone, especially during the winter when snow made the roads impassable.

After leaving school, his early years of manhood were spent in Rondout and Kingston, where he worked for a time on the coal docks of the now extinct Delaware and Hudson Canal Company.

In 1873, he entered his first steamboat position on the towboat "Utica". This boat had seen better days for she was built in 1838 for passenger service, and later cut down for towing. She was about used up when he entered the position' and was dismantled in the fall of 1875.

The next steamboat he worked on was the ill-fated "Sunnyside" where he was fireman when she was wrecked December 1st, 1875. He was saved by nothing short of a miracle, for eleven lives were lost when she sank at 2 A.M. with the thermometer 5 below zero.

The "City of Troy" was built to take the place of the "Sunnyside " and in 1878, he engineered on her, staying for just one season. In this year, he married Miss Millie Coutant.

Of all the steamboats of the world, none ever held the renowned popularity equal to that of the "Mary Powell". She is considered the most famous and for many years reigned as Queen of the Hudson. This steamboat had both speed and beauty, and in her early years it was said not a ripple could be noticed on a cup of coffee served in her dining room, for she glided along with practically no vibration. It was Mr. Murdock's good fortune to tread the boards of this steamboat for three years beginning in 1877. He entered service as fireman and oiler.

It is interesting to list the steamboats that have been dismantled under his workmanship. These were all done during the winter layup of the steamboat he was employed on at the time. In the order as occurring - 1877 the steamboat "New Champion" followed in 1878 by the "Rip Van Winkle” and in 1879 the ferryboat “Thomas W. Olcott” – was actually rebuilt, not dismantled, and was in service until 1888, “Olcott” that had been bought at Albany about two years before. This boat had an incline engine. In 1882, he worked at dismantling the engine of the wrecked "Thomas Cornell."

Between 1880 and 1882, he remained ashore, and had charge of an engine in the brick yards at Gurney at Port Ewen. This was his first land charge, so different from steamboating and the beginning of a long career ashore for he never returned permanently to the river.

Feeling the call of the metropolis, he moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. , in 1883, and entered the employ of John S. Loomis at Baltic and Nevins Streets. This gentleman had a large mill for the manufacture of mouldings and wood turnings. He was in this piece for over sixteen years, during which time he had charge of the several yachts owned by Mr. Loomis, the “Eda”, “Tantless” and “Marguerite” which he had for four years. In 1895, he made a long trip on the “Tantless”. This boat was just 50 feet long and was able to go through the locks of the Champlain Canal and thence to the St. Lawrence River going as far as the Thousand Islands.

After leaving the Loomis plant, he was employed by the old Brooklyn and Coney Island Railroad Company at their Myrtle and DeKalb Avenue power houses. This was in 1898 and he remained there for the four years, changing to a better position with Rockwell Company at Flushing and Clason Avenues, in whose employ he stayed until the summer of 1927, making a period of 25 years.

It was during this time that he started his wonderful collection of prints and he has often remarked, that if he had started years earlier than 1900, what a fine collection he would have, because much of vital interest has disappeared with the years.

Mr. Murdock has one son, George W. Murdock, Jr., and a grandson, George, the third, of Brooklyn. George W. Murdock, Sr. died in 1940. He is buried in the Port Ewen, NY Cemetery. Curatorial note: Author of biography is not known.



This collection has been digitized and is available to researchers upon request.


Contact Hudson River Maritime Museum.

50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401, United States