Shipwreck of the Fannie A. Bailey
Hereford Inlet Station, New Jersey
*Minor editorial privileges were taken to clarify the text and writing style of the period.
The tenth and last fatal shipwreck of the year within the scope of the service is marked by another instance of loss of life resulting from irrational panic. The vessel was the schooner Fannie A. Bailey, of Portland, Maine. She sailed from Windsor, Nova Scotia, for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a cargo of plaster the latter part of May last, having on board a crew of seven men, including the captain, together with the captain s wife and child, making nine persons in all. The child was a little boy, three years old. On the night of June 3, 1883, the schooner had arrived in the neighborhood of the Delaware, tossing about in fresh southerly gales, and wrapped in a fog so dense that her captain was in some perplexity as to his precise whereabouts. She was put under easy sail, and lay off and on through the night, waiting for daylight and clear weather. At half past 5 o clock in the morning of June 4 the monotonous crashing of the heavy sea, which had continued through the night, was suddenly and fearfully varied by a shock which made the vessel tremble through all her hull and seemed as if it might have jerked the masts out of her. Every one on board was at once thrown into consternation and dismay. It was evident that the vessel was aground. Shock after shock succeeded, the hull with every convulsive lift and fall striking bottom so violently that presently a piece of the keel broke off and floated up alongside. All the time a mad rain of spray was showering incessantly upon the decks. To add to the novel confusion and horror of the situation, the fog prevented anything being seen beyond the immediate surrounding of wrathful breakers, and the effect to those on board was the same as if the vessel was pounding to pieces on some reef far out to sea. In point of fact the place of stranding was on the Hereford Shoals, about two miles from shore, and the same distance east of the Hereford Inlet Station (Fourth District) on the coast of New Jersey.
The captain did not lose his head in the terrors of the disaster, it was the mate that became a slave to fright, and appears to have infected all the rest of the crew save one. The talk instantly flew around that the vessel was going to pieces, and the sailors, led by the mate, proceeded to hoist out the yawl, which was stowed on deck over the main hatch. The captain did his best to arrest this action, but in vain. He entreated the men not to abandon the vessel until compelled to; represented that assistance would come from the coast when the lifting of the fog allowed the vessel to be discovered; protested and implored; but the floating up of the fragment of keel appears to have thoroughly possessed the sailors with the idea that the schooner was breaking up, and taking advantage of an interim in the captain s talk, when he was below for a few minutes attending to his wife and child, they dropped the yawl astern, piled into it their baggage and got into it themselves, the mate being the first of all. Only a single man refused to desert the captain a sailor named Thomas Shields, of Newport, Rhode Island, the only American before the mast, all the others being Swedes or Germans. Upon coining up from below, the captain, finding the situation of affairs, renewed his protests, until finally the mate, ashamed, after all, to leave him on the vessel, clambered up on deck to induce him to enter the boat with the crew. The captain, seeing that the desertion of the vessel was a foregone conclusion, and afraid to be left without any means of possible escape for himself, his family, and the brave sailor who stood by him, at length reluctantly yielded to the mate s persistence and allowed his wife and child to be lowered over the stern into the boat, he himself preparing to follow. Just after this was done the fog thinned away, showing, like a dark smear in the distance, the edge of the beach, and also showing a discouraging line of breakers, which told the captain plainly that a landing could never be effected in such a boat as the yawl. A few moments later the fog dispersed still further, and the captain distinctly saw the life-saving station against its back-ground of dense woods. lie immediately called to the men to come on board, but they refused. He then directed the mate to have the boat come up slowly, that he might take back his wife and child, and the mate obeyed, ordered the boat up, and slid down the painter into her that he might help to lift up tile woman and the baby to the captain. Suddenly, dreadful to relate, the boat rolled over in the swash astern, and in an instant all her company were struggling for their lives in the water.
There was on board a small nine-foot boat utterly unfit for service in such a sea. It was but the work of a moment for the captain to strip to his underclothing, and, with the aid of the sailor named Shields, to get this boat over the side. It fortunately struck the water right side up, and the captain leaping into it alone, for it was too small to hold another, rowed frantically after the mother and her baby, beating off the men who tried to clutch and climb into the boat, and would have upset it instantly. He first reached the little boy, who was floating by upon the water, nearly insensible, and frothing at the month and nose, seized him and placed him in the bottom of the skiff. He then reached his wife, who was also almost unconscious, and by a great effort got her also. Then he put back for the ship, throwing on the way a line to a man who swam toward him, and bidding him tow astern, as the boat would not hold another. The line soon parted or got adrift, and the poor fellow was swept out to sea. How the captain contrived to cope with the stormy flood so long, in a craft so small and frail, is a mystery. It was by great effort, and when his strength was nearly exhausted, that he managed to bring the boat so near the vessel that a deep-sea line could be thrown him, by aid of which he was worked up astern. The mate and a seaman who had succeeded in getting hold of the rudder chains, and somehow reaching the deck, assisted Shields in the operation. The latter now threw a line to the captain, who at once bent it around the body of his wife. As if this was the signal for catastrophe, a monstrous wave arose rolling from the sea, and in a second the boat was engulfed and whirled away bottom up with the child. Neither boat nor babe was ever seen after-ward. The poor mother left dangling in the air at the extremity of the rope, was quickly hauled up on deck. The captain was swept astern for a considerable distance, but recovered himself, and being a powerful swimmer, and not encumbered with clothing, struck out and got sufficiently near the vessel to catch a line thrown him, by means of which he was soon aboard. His wife was lying on the deck perfectly unconscious, and he at once set himself to the work of restoring her. It was an hour before she was brought to, although several hours before she could speak, and the men carried her below and put her in one of the berths in the cabin.
The vessel had struck, as already stated, at about half past 5 o clock. Within an hour afterward three of her crew had perished, together with the little child. It was the time of year (June) when the stations on the Atlantic coast are closed for the season, as required by law. Had the Hereford Inlet Station, however, been open, the patrol could not possibly have descried the vessel through the two miles of dense fog between her and the shore. The keeper of the station, Christopher Ludlam who lived across the bay which separates the beach from the main-land, rose early that morning, and finding the weather foggy, walked down to the boat landing at Mayville on the bay side, so as to command a view of the beach when the atmosphere should clear. At about 9 o clock the fog lifted, and he saw the vessel beyond the distant beach, and knew, if only by the way she was canted over, that she was aground. He at once put off in a gunning skiff across the bay to the station, where he expected to find his men, there being an arrangement that they should assemble there whenever they should discern a wreck. On the way across, he came upon Keeper Holmes, of the Tatham s Station, next above his own, who had been out in a boat fishing with his brother, Charles, then on a visit from Indiana, and had caught sight of the wreck. By half past 11 these three men reached the beach, where they met Mr. Hewett, the light house keeper, and Dr. Tompkins, an ex-surgeon of the Army, residing in that neighborhood. Dr. Tompkins had a team, and quickly harnessed his horse to the surf-boat carriage to draw it to the water s edge. Only four out of the five men present were oarsmen, but although several members of the station force were on their way, it was desirable to set out at once, even with a short crew, before the flood-tide came and made the sea worse. Help in the pinch was afforded by local carpenter, Ellsworth Hewett, gallantly volunteering to take an oar, and the boat put off with these five men. By keeping the channel and sheering off as much as possible from the broken water, and by dint of the sturdiest rowing, the surf-boat crew achieved the two miles out to the wreck in half an hour.
They found the schooner heavily slanted over on her port side, with her head to the ocean, in the midst of a wild whirl of raging water. She was broken in two, arid at times the sea flew over her in a flood from stem to stern. The people On board were clinging to her weather quarter, that being the highest Part of her out of water. The yawl was riding byits painter alongside, having been righted and bailed out by those on board. It was fortunate that the surf-boat arrived just then, as these preparations showed that the intention of the ship s company was to make another effort to land in case aid did not soon reach them from shore an effort which would probably have resulted fatality. It was with difficulty that the keeper kept the surf-boat from being swept under the counter and damaged by the flume of water which slipped along the sides of the hull like a mill-race, but holding alongside, he sang out to those on board to get down into the boat quick, as there was no tarrying there. The captain replied that they were all ready, but that his wife was in the cabin; whereat Keeper Ludlam sprang on board, tumbled below, and wading waist deep in water across the inclined floor, found the poor woman, perfectly unconscious, in a berth on the upper side, and returned to the deck with her in his arms. No time was lost in getting her into the surf-boat, followed by the others, and in casting off, and leaving the dangerous proximity of the wreck. The rescued people were in a deplorable condition. They had nothing left except the soaked clothing they sat in, all the baggage, even to the ship s bedding, having been placed in the yawl at the time the sailors atsiteted to leave, and lost when she capsized. Tile captain s wife was very thinly clad, and the first thing done after getting her aboard, was to wrap her up in some of the surf-boat crew s coats, which they stripped off for the purpose. The return was effected safely and speedily, and Keeper Ludlam, knowing that the poor woman was in a very critical condition, had her carried, immediately upon landing to Dr. Tompkins s house, which was within two hundred yards of the station. Restoratives, from the station medicine chest, were furnished for the captain s wife, and complete suits of clothing both for her and her husband, were drawn from the supply on hand provided by the Women s National Relief Association. By the next day all the shipwrecked people were sufficiently recovered to be taken over to the mainland for passage to their homes.
The landing was effected by 1 o clock, and the rescuing party were received upon the beach, and aided by several of the crews of the Hereford Inlet and Tatham s Stations. It was fortunate that the venture was made without waiting for a fuller boat s crew, for the sea came in so terribly with the flood tide that the wreck was unapproachable, and a party of wreckers, in a large wrecking boat, atsiteting that afternoon to get to her, were beaten back in utter discomfiture. Later her sails and rigging were saved in a damaged condition, but all the rest were torn to fragments by the sea, and not a vestige of the vessel remained. The bodies of the three sailors lost were cast ashore some weeks afterwards, but the little child was never seen again. It is evident from the recital of the facts that all these lives would have been saved but for the un-governable fright which made the sailors desert the vessel or the yawl.
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