Old Shipping days.

The Register has noted the last Medford-built ship, the Pilgrim. As none are now afloat it would be interesting to know of their style of build, kind, and time of service, and their final fate. The age of the Pilgrim was less than nineteen years. Her cargo, when wrecked, coal. All hands escaped.

We have never seen any account of the fate of any other of the long list (567) of those built along the banks of the Mystic until within a few days of present writing, when there came to us the recent brochure of the State Street Trust Company of Boston, styled Old Shipping Days. In this we find the story of the wreck of the Living Age, which by the courtesy and permission of said Trust Company we present.

In 1846 the Rev. A. R. Baker (then twelve years pastor of the Second, or First Trinitarian, Congregational Church)preached a sermon onship-building,and appended a “register of vessels built in Medford,” which then numbered 359. Mr. Baker is certainly to be commended for his interest in Medford history and for his contribution to Medford annals. By the publication of the History of Medford, Mr. Brooks preserved this “register” and completed it to date, a total enumeration of 513.

Thirty years later Mr. Usher alluded to the same and said it “is too extensive for admission here,” but gave an abstract of the same, which shows the number built in each of the seven decades, 1803 to 1873, and totals 567, 483 in the first five, and 84 in the last two, decades. Thirty of these last were named in detail by Mr. Brooks. All Mr. Usher said relative to the other is, [p. 2]

The last ship built in this town was launched from the ship yard of Mr. Joshua T. Foster in 1873. He did not even give the name. Thus it appears (except in the above) there were 54 ships built in Medford, of which there is no record of name, owner, builder, style or tonnage, and that, too, in a history paid for liberally by the town, as well as by the purchasers.

Referring to this “register” we find the first in enumeration of 1848, and 399th in order-

Ship, Living Age; ship yard, J. Stetson's; builder, J. Stetson; owner, E. D. Peters & Co., Boston; tonnage, 758.

Jotham Stetson's ship yard was just below the location of Winthrop bridge, and the last remains of wharf and piling were removed a few years ago in the dredging and park improvements.

In May, 1855, the Living Age, then in other ownership, sailed from New York with a cargo of general merchandise for the Sandwich Islands. It was mid-winter in the Southern hemisphere, when for thirty days, with scant food and scurvy-smitten sailors, she was beating around Cape Horn. “One hundred and fifty-three long, hard days” elapsed ere anchor was cast at Honolulu, where her cargo was discharged. Thence she sailed in ballast for Shanghai, where she took on a cargo of tea and silk valued at $200,000. On December 25 she started on the homeward stretch of the voyage round the world, one destined not to be completed, but to end in disaster.

The Living Age was then under command of Captain Holmes, and in all twenty-three persons were on board. They were captain and wife, three mates, and eighteen men and boys before the mast. This crew were American, English, a few Swedes, and one Italian, and are described as an excellent set of sailors. The cook was French.

The northeast monsoon was a favoring wind, but the weather conditions and dense fog gave no opportunity [p. 3] for taking observations. Only the heaving of the log at two-hour intervals gave any indication of speed, and the reckoning was necessarily inaccurate. Well realizing the danger, the captain picked his way carefully along, and for a time successfully. After four days second mate Hinckley was on deck in the early morning watch, and at four o'clock found they were still in the treacherous China Sea and near Pratas Shoal, which has been the graveyard of many a noble ship besides the Living Age. Here is the story he tells:--

Day by day the Living Age nosed her way through the dangerous shoals of the China Sea. At four in the morning of the fifth day out Captain Hinckley, who was the watch on deck, realized that the ship was near Pratas Shoal. The course was changed to avoid it, but owing to the unreliability of the log line reckonings the ship did not pass the shoal as Captain Hinckley, who was keeping a sharp lookout, supposed she had done. He was confident that open sea was ahead. He peered through the fog, and saw ahead what appeared to be a breake(, although as the sea was heavy he was not sure but that it was the crest of a rising wave. A sudden fear of great danger swept over him and he rushed forward to see if the lookout was on the alert. Just as he reached the main hatchway the Living Age, sinking in the hollow of a huge wave, struck bottom with a tremendous crash. Rising with the following sea, she floated and pushed on, but only for a brief moment. Then she settled again, crushing her bow against the rocks, and stuck fast. All hands rushed on deck. Instant destruction was looked for every minute, as the ship was being pounded terrifically by the mighty breakers. The crew turned to the boats, but before they could cut the lashings the sea tossed them like egg-shells out of sight, two on top of the forecastle and one on the davits being washed away.

Thinking that he would have to swim for his life, Captain Hinckley rushed to his stateroom to take off the heavy underclothes he wore under his oilskins, with the shrieks of the panic-stricken crew rushing about on deck ringing in his ears. He found Mrs. Holmes, the captain's wife, sitting on his sea-chest, clad in her husband's pants and the mate's coat and vest.

“ Have you a ditty box?” she asked Captain Hinckley.

“ Yes,” said he, and handed her his own box from a shelf above his head.

Mrs. Holmes, as calmly as if she had been in her own sittingroom, selected from the box needles and thread, which she carefully [p. 4] tucked away in the pockets of her coat. All the while the ship was lurching fearfully and pounding against the coral reef.

“You don't happen to have an extra hat?” asked Mrs. Holmes.

Captain Hinckley handed her a Louis Kossuth hat, which had become famous after Kossuth's visit to this country.

Taking a pair of scissors, she coolly and quickly cut off her hair close to her head, tried on the hat, and secured it under her chin with a tape fastened with safety pins.

“There, don't I look like a boy?” she asked jokingly, and went calmly on deck in the midst of the uproar and confusion.

Mrs. Holmes' manner was never other than brave throughout the fearful days that followed. Where men who had followed the sea for years were frightened, she herself showed no sign of fear, and her example did much towards restoring to order a panicstricken crew.

The men threw everything unnecessary for safety overboard to lighten the ship. The crew, officersHolmes, and Mrs. Holmes gathered in the topgallant forecastle, and a bed was made for Mrs. Holmes by placing boards from the breast-hook to a tar-barrel, and a sail was hung over the break of the forecastle to keep off the spray. The crew slept on the opposite side of the forecastle from the captain and his wife. For thirty-five days they lived in this manner, each morning hoping that the signal of distress which they had hoisted would attract passing vessels, and each night doomed to disappointment. The ship's colors had been washed overboard, but the union jack remained. Captain Hinckley cut up in strips some red and white underflannels, sewed them together for stripes, and attached them to the union jack to form the colors. This hastily improvised banner they kept flying all day, union down. One or two vessels passed within their range, but failed to see their signals.

“ While searching the hold for stores,” says Captain Hinckley, “a barrel of English ale was found and divided among all hands. One man, however, managed to procure more than his share, and got very drunk. His antics during the day, and his urgence that the colors should be kept flying all night to attract the attention of passing vessels, gave us a hearty fit of laughter. In the search there was also found a music-box belonging to Mrs. Holmes, much injured by salt water, but with some music still left in it. This we kept playing constantly, for the music was superb in our ears, and we all took turns at winding it until its last mutilated and fragmentary tune had died away. In vain we tinkered with it. Its last note had fled, and we gave it a sailor's burial.”

It was about the twentieth day on the wreck, that Mr. Baptistea, the French cook, gave notice. It had occurred to Mr. Baptistea that, [p. 5] by the laws of the sea, since he was wrecked and had received no wages he could not work. The officers said that if he would not cook for them they would build no raft for him, whereupon he set about building a raft of his own. He soon decided, however, that he would resume the cooking.

A roughly constructed flat-bottomed boat was built, and Mr. Campbell, the chief officer, took a few men and started when the sea was smooth to inspect an island lying about ten miles distant. After nearly being driven out to sea by the changing wind the boat's crew succeeded in landing on the island, erected a pole bearing a distress signal, and stationed a lookout near it. One day they sighted a ship. She approached, hove to, and lowered a boat, but to the astonishment of the shipwrecked party the boat after nearing them turned about and returned to the strange ship, which then filled away and disappeared to the south. The men of the Living Age did not discover until they were rescued later that the reason for this strange action was that the ship had struck a shoal in approaching them and punched a hole in her bottom, and that, fearing lest the five hundred Chinese coolies on board whom she was carrying to California would in terror at her leaking condition seize the ship if he sent part of his crew away to rescue the shipwrecked party, the ship's captain had decided to make all sail for Manila for repairs and report the discovery of the crew of the Living Age.

On the thirty-fifth day after the wreck, a Chinese sampan was sighted by the part of the ship's company which had remained on the Living Age and in it were Mr. Campbell and his men. The adventures of the crew were related, and on February 6 all hands left the Living Age and set sail for Pratas Island where they made themselves as comfortable as possible.

“At last at dawn of February 25th,” adds Captain Hinckley, “I espied on the horizon a column of black smoke; a whaler or steamer it seemed to be. We hoisted all our signals and launched a boat to intercept her. To our unspeakable relief the spars and smokestack of a steamer loomed up, and she shortly after came to anchor near the shore, lowering her largest boat, the officer of which on hearing my story directed our boat to go aboard, while he went ashore for the remainder. The steamer was the Shanghai (English) from Manila, Captain Munroe, and in a short time we all stood without effects on a friendly deck.” Thence they proceeded to Hong Kong. For the rescue Captain Munroe received from President Fillmore a gold chronometer.

We have had an interesting interview with Captain Hinckley, who though well nigh a nonagenarian, is still actively engaged in the insurance business in Boston, [p. 6] and who followed the seas for several years after the loss of the Living Age. His voyages were to St. John, N. B.; London; Antwerp; Gibraltar; Malaga; and to Batavia, Java, the latter with a cargo of ice for Frederick Tudor. It is somewhat remarkable that these were also made in four Medford-built vessels, the Cygnet, Horsburgh, Vancouver, and /osiah Quincy. The N. B. Palmer, in which he returned after the wreck of the Living Age was not here built.

Captain Hinckley modestly disclaims the title, and says “it was hard to say no to the offer of the ship owners of a captain's position, pay and ‘privilege,’ ” having served thus temporarily in those his youthful days. But the title has clung and effort to shake it off has been unavailing.

He tells us that the owners of the Living Age lost two other ships in that same fateful Pratas Shoal, and that remains of one there wrecked before the Living Age and another just after were there during their stay of thirty-five days ere their rescue therefrom.

We deem ourselves fortunate in thus, after the lapse of sixty-three years, gaining this information from, and interview with, one who can truly say “all of which I saw and part of which I was” ; also of being able to thus preserve the same, as we have many other incidents, by the Register.

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