John J. Audubon

A diver shines a light on a shipwreck
A technical diver illuminates below decks at the site of John J. Audubon. Credit: Doug Kesling.
Sonar scan of a shipwreck
Side scan sonar image of the schooner John J. Audubon.

Vessel Type: Sail: wooden two-masted schooner

GPS Location: N45°17.331' W83°20.351'

Depth: 170 feet

Wreck Length: 148 feet

Beam: N/A

Gross Tonnage: 370

Cargo: Rail Iron (401 bars)

Launched: 1854 by Jones, Black River, Ohio

Wrecked: October 21, 1854

Mooring Buoy Data

Description: During the 1850s, the push for speed on the Great Lakes led to more wrecks than ever before. In the fall of 1854, ship owners and sailors reeled from the most costly season to date: 119 lives, 70 ships, and $2 million in property losses.

Defiance and John J. Audubon were victims of that dangerous year. On October 20, 1854, Audubon sailed north for Chicago with a load of iron railroad track. At 1:30 a.m., the southbound Defiance emerged from the darkness and fog, striking Audubon’s mid-section. The collision cut a hole deep in Audubon’s hull and fatally damaged Defiance. Audubon sank quickly. Defiance struggled on, finally sinking a few miles away. Miraculously, both crews survived.

Today, Defiance and Audubon rest intact in more than 170 feet of water. Dr. Robert Ballard and Jean-Michel Cousteau have studied the pair of wrecks, helping to bring national attention to these underwater treasures.

Great Lakes Maritime Collection digital archive:

Photomosaic of John J. Audubon
Photomosaic of John J. Audubon.
A diver swims above a shipwreck
A technical diver hovers over the stern of John J. Audubon, the ship’s wheel resting akimbo below.
A diver swims above a shipwreck
View looking up from the lake bottom at the fractured bow of John J. Audubon.