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Shipwreck of the British Schooner, Mizpah
Peaked Hill Bar Station, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
by Suzanne Hurley
From the 1910 Annual Report of the United States Life-Saving Service

Edited by the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum
*Minor editorial privileges were taken to clarify the text and writing style of the period.

The efficiency of the service patrol was pointedly demonstrated on the night of December 2, 1909, when Surfman Benjamin R. Kelley, of the Peaked Hill Bars Life-Saving Station, far out on the hook of Cape Cod, discovered the steamer Mizpah driving on shore. The darkness was intense at the time, it was very cold, with the siteerature rapidly falling, and the wind was blowing fresh from the northeast, with squalls of rain and snow. Moreover, there was a high sea running and a strong surf breaking on the beach. The weather conditions were, in short, such as to load with anxiety the mariner whose ship happened to be in the treacherous waters off the cape, and to inspire to more than ordinary alertness the men of the Life-Saving Service keeping the customary watch along the coast.

About 8.20 p.m. Surfman Kelley, covering his beat westward toward the point of the cape, saw a light a mile or more ahead, evidently displayed by a vessel close inshore. He could not determine positively at first whether or not the light was intended as a sign of distress. He knew, however, from its position that if the vessel showing it was not in actual need of assistance it was at least in dangerous waters. He therefore burned a red Coston signal to warn the ship of her proximity to land, meantime continuing on his way down the beach to make a closer inspection. When he had gone three-fourths of a mile, he made out the loom of a vessel lying in the breakers some 60 or 70 yards out. Watching his chance, when the sea receded, he ran down as close as possible under her bow and called to know her name and the number of persons in her crew. Some one answered him from the jib boom, giving the information asked for, and adding that three of the ship's company had been swept overboard when the vessel struck the outer bar coming on the beach. Kelley assured the sailors that they would be safe for the present if they followed his instructions, admonished them to make no atsitet to leave ship under any circumstances, and promised them the speedy assistance of his fellow surfmen. Upon receiving assurances that the crew would remain on the vessel, Kelley ran to the service "halfway" house, 300 or 400 yards from the scene of the stranding, and telephoned the news to his station. Fifty minutes thereafter his comrades were abreast of the wreck with their beach apparatus.

The work of rescue was accomplished in considerably less than half an hour. Acting Keeper William L. Silvey, in siteorary command of the life-saving crew, went as near as he could to the wreck on the heels of an outgoing sea and called to the sailors to heave him a line. This they did from the jib boom. The hawser over which the breeches buoy is operated was then bent on to this line and hauled aboard ship. The whip line was sent out in the same manner, both hawser and whip being made fast on the vessel, according to the acting keeper's directions. The captain of the Mizpah, who, it appears, was suffering from injuries sustained before the vessel struck, was hauled ashore first. The other members of the crew followed him rapidly landward, and by 10:25 o'clock the rescuers had collected their gear and coiled up their lines.

It was learned from the master that the wrecked vessel was the British schooner Mizpah, hailing from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. She had sailed from Prince Edward Island, November 17, with a cargo of potatoes for Boston. She carried a crew of seven men all told. She experienced bad weather constantly from the beginning of her disastrous voyage, having been stormbound several days somewhere on her way down the coast. The most of her run was made by dead reckoning. On December 2, however, the master got his bearings, and in the afternoon of that day made Highland Light, at which time he estimated his position to be 4 or 5 miles offshore. He then shaped his course for a harbor at Provincetown, but was not familiar with the coast and currents, and in the darkness of the night and the prevailing thick weather the strong ebb tide set him down on the outer bar nearly a mile off the ocean beach of Cape Cod. The first intimation he had that his vessel was running into danger was when she touched on the bar mentioned. It was at this time that three of the crew William Smith, William Eisenor, and Robert Westhaver were swept away by a boarding sea. None of their shipmates saw them go. All they could say in regard to the lamentable occurrence was that they could not find the lost men on the after part of the vessel, where it seems they had been before she struck. Soon the schooner was driven over the inner bar also, and by the greatest of good fortune within a stone's throw of land, where in a few minutes those left of her crew heard the comforting voice of Surfman Kelley promising an early rescue.

It appears that the light seen offshore by Kelley was a torch, burned as a distress signal after the Mizpah had worked over the outer bar. Capt. Westhaver testified that the running lights of his vessel were displayed as usual, and his statement in this regard was not controverted (contradicted) by the testimony of any other witness. Acting Keeper Silvey expresses the opinion, however, that on the night of the disaster the lights of a vessel offshore from his station could have been seen at a distance of 3 or 4 miles. Nevertheless, it seems certain that no one on the beach attached to the Life-Saving Service saw any illumination aboard the Mizpah until the flare of the torch, burned as a signal of distress, was discovered by Surfman Kelley.

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