Old ships and Ship-building days of Medford.
Storms and Shipwrecks.1
LTHOUGH almost all of the ships have ultimately passed away by wreck on sea or shore, there remain but few detailed accounts of their tragic end. Usually a brief statement, ‘sailed’ on such a date ‘and never heard from,’ or ‘went ashore on Pratas shoal and all hands lost’ is all that tells of their fate.
Sometimes, however, there are left more extended accounts.
Among them is that of the California
On January 18, 1857, occurred a terrific blizzard accompanied by a driving snowstorm which crippled the railroads.
The channel in Boston harbor
was kept open by vessels running up and down, as the arrival of the ‘America’ was expected.
Ice formed in the inner harbor at Gloucester
, and when it started it carried away every vessel with which it came in contact.
Among them was the California
, which was driven completely across Massachusetts bay
and cast ashore on Black ledge, near Cohasset
Often they met mishap and, after injuring themselves or others, they were finally repaired.
One of these was the Columbianna
, built by Paul
and J. O. Curtis
She was of six hundred and fifty tons—the largest vessel of that time.
She was used in the ice trade, and at the close of 1839 was loading ice at Charlestown
In ‘Storms and Shipwrecks in Boston Bay
is the following:—
In December, 1839, there occurred one of the most disastrous storms on this coast up to this time.
More than ninety vessels [p. 58] were lost and nearly two hundred dismasted, driven ashore and otherwise injured.
The storms occurred at intervals of about a week.
In the third gale, which began December 27th and blew a hurricane until near sunrise of the 28th, the ship Columbianna was at Swett's wharf, Charlestown, partly loaded with ice, when she slipped her moorings, probably on account of the height of the tide, and was driven by the wind, bows on, against the old Charlestown bridge.
She made a clean breach of the bridge and brought up against the wharf at the Warren bridge, completely demolishing the drawtender's house, although the drawtender and his family, who were in bed at the time, escaped without injury.
The ship was in charge of the mate, who, finding that the vessel was adrift, took the wheel and steered her, and she would probably have gone through the Warren bridge had he not luffed her in time.
Loss of property in the three storms was nearly $1,000,000.
Passing of the Ringleader.
was one of the fastest of the California
Built by Hayden
in 1853, she was used in the California
trade while the gold rush lasted.
After the gold rush was over, the clipper ships of the extreme type ceased to be built.
For a time they were used in the trade with the Orient, in the tea trade to Europe
As tea deteriorates very fast at sea, the early American ships, on account of their speed, had the business all to themselves for a time.
But the British
soon constructed tea clippers which averaged nearly or quite as fast and could be operated at a lower cost.
The American merchant vessels had been the pioneers in developing the commerce with various continents in the first part of the century and skimmed the cream of the trade, one after another, from these countries.
So, after the California
gold rush was over, the foreign commerce in American ships had noticeably begun to decline, even before the Civil War
and the advent of steam navigation, as more profitable investments could be found for capital, and the cost of operation was less [p. 59]
for the foreign shipping.
The clippers were often hard pressed to find a cargo.
Many of the ships were used in carrying guano and other undesirable trades and they often had to pick up what cargo they could find.
was one of these.
She had sailed from Hong Kong
in May, 1863, bound for San Francisco
with a load of about five hundred coolies.
When a few days out she was caught in a typhoon.
The dismay can be imagined when on May 9 the rapidly falling barometer and the ominous hush indicated something terrible was impending.
Lifelines had been set up on each side of the deck.
All sails had been furled and secured with studding sail tacks and long gaskets.
Topgallant masts and yards had been sent down on deck and the tops cleared.
Relieving tackles had been put on the tiller, scuppers cleared, and the pumps ready.
Each man wore a belt to secure himself, if necessary, to the most convenient place.
It was in every way similar to the experience of the steamship Nan-Shan,
even to her cargo of coolies, so vividly described by Conrad
in his story,‘Typhoon’:
An outburst of unchained fury, a vicious rush of the wind. . . . It was something formidable and swift, like the sudden smashing of a Vial of Wrath.
It seemed to explode all around the ship with an overpowering concussion and a rush of great waters, as if an immense dam had been blown up to windward.
She was like a living creature thrown to the rage of the mob, hustled terribly, struck at, borne up, flung down, leaped upon.
The typhoon of this date was an unusually severe one and was followed by a tidal wave.
Nobody,—. . . who caught sight of a white line of foam coming on at such a height that he couldn't believe his eyes,— nobody knew the steepness of that sea and the awful depth of the hollow the hurricane had scooped behind that running wall of water. . . .
She pitched into the hollow straight down as if tumbling from a cliff. . . . Instead of recovering herself she hung head down while the souls of men on board cried aloud to her to rise. [p. 60]
The coolies had been ordered below and the hatches battened down.
They clung to every stanchion and wherever a hold could be found, hanging on for dear life.
They swarmed on the companion ladder like ‘bees on a branch.’
There could not have been places of refuge for such a number, and at times there must have been
an inextricable confusion of heads and shoulders, naked soles kicking upwards, fists raised, tumbling backs, legs, pigtails, faces. . . . With a precipitated sound of trampling and shuffling of bare feet and with guttural cries, the vague mound piled up to port, detached itself from the ship's side, and shifted to starboard, sliding, inert and struggling, to a dull, brutal thump.
The western circumference of the typhoon reached to the mainland and moved with a circular motion, the direction of the wind being from the circumference toward the center, which was near Formosa.
Consequently a vessel caught in any part of the storm had almost no chance of escape, and after making a hopeless attempt to weather Formosa, she went ashore.
The Boston Shipping List, August 1, 1863, has this item: ‘Ship Ringleader
, of Boston
, from Hong Kong
for San Francisco
, was totally lost May 9, on the S. W. end of the Island of Formosa
The crew and passengers were saved.
arrived at S. F. 23 inst. in bark E. Banning.
’ Also the following: ‘Aug. 22, 1863. Hong Kong
, June 13.
The officers and crew of the American ship Ringleader
have reached Shanghai
in safety, with the exception of two seamen who were drowned.’
There is an ominous silence concerning the cargo of coolies and the worst can be imagined.
Wreck of the Phantom.