Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Sepia Saturday #313: Shipwrecked

Shipwrecks! We have two shipwreck survivors in my family: My great grandfather, James Armstrong, who survived the 1830 wreck of the Newry on which he was immigrating to Quebec, Canada from Belfast, Ireland; and my aunt Helen, for whom I was named, who survived not one, but two shipwrecks either coming or going to Iceland from Canada. I don't know any of the details of her wrecks, only that she survived them both. An account of my great grandfather's wreck was reported in the "Gentleman's Magazine" and I have included it below should anyone be interested in the details. 
The Titanic
Photo from National Museums N. Ireland Collection

But when I saw that these two tiny children, Louis and Lola were survivors of the Titanic, I was reminded of a very famous person I met once, and by contrast, a very old person. I was living in Oxnard circa 1980 when my brother-in-law and sister came up to visit and we decided to spend the day in Ojai visiting galleries and museums. We happened upon the Beatrice Wood studio and at the time she conducted a sort of salon, depending on her mood. If you were lucky, she'd invite you to sit and chat. We were lucky the day we were there and we visited with her for half an hour. Beatrice, a renowned potter, was a presence of epic proportions, swooping around in a sari (the only garments she wore for the last 35 years of her life) and emitting a kind of electricity. She was in her late 80's when we met and very curious - she wanted to know something about her visitors. In other words, she wasn't "on broadcast" all of the time, although her life was so interesting most people would be happy to sit and listen to her tell stories all day. Our visit was short but unforgettable. 
Beatrice Wood in her Ojai Studio
Courtesy of www.fatbird.com



An original "Beato"piece for sale ($2,499.00) at Pacific Fine Art



Gloria Stuart as "Old Rose" from the movie "Titanic"
Courtesy of www.coveringmedia.com
What is the connection between Beatrice and the Titanic? When James Cameron was making the movie "Titanic", he was looking for a model for "Old Rose", the part played by Gloria Stuart. Someone told him about Beatrice and after Cameron met her he used her as an inspiration for his fictitious Rose. It wasn't the first time she inspired a movie role. In the famous Truffaut film "Jules and Jim," the character played by Jeanne Moreau was based in part on Beatrice, who was also known as the Mama of Dada. 
Jeanne Moreau in "Jules and Jim."
Photo courtesy of www.controlappuntoblog.com

When the movie was released, Beatrice enjoyed even more fame at the ripe old age of 104. She died in 1998 at 105 years old. Here's a link to her NY Times obit. Beatrice Wood Obituary.

Following is the account of my great grandfather's shipwreck. I wondered just how commonplace shipwrecks are/were, given the three in my own family. According to Wikipedia, there were 33 shipwrecks in April 1830, far more than I would have guessed. 

Shipwreck of the Newry 1830The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 100, Part 1

Transcribed, Compiled & Submitted by Teena



The following letter was addressed to a gentleman in Worcestershire. If you think it all calculated to interest the readers of the Gentleman's Magazine, it is much at your service.

Mr Dear Sir, Carnarvon, Saturday, April 24. 1830

When I wrote to you a few days ago, I told you that a distressing case of shipwreck had just occurred in our neighbourhood. I had then no conception of the real magnitude of the calamity, nor was I acquainted with any of the circumstances attending it. My means of gaining information on the subject have since been most ample; and some of the facts which have come to my knowledge, are of so peculiarly touching a nature, that I find it impossible to satisfy myself without endeavouring to record them. They cannot fail to awaken the tenderest sympathies of a heart like yours.

(The Newry was built at Quebec in 1825, and was the property of Messrs. Lyle of Newry. It is scarcely possible to do justice to the liberality and kindness which the surviving passengers have experienced from these gentlemen.)

The Newry, a vessel of five hundred tons burthen, Captain Crosby, set sail from Newry in Ireland, at half past two o'clock, in the afternoon of Wednesday in the last week, being bound for Quebec, and having on board between three and four hundred emigrants. These were not of the class that is commonly designated as the lower Irish : for, although there were doubtless a good many labourers among them, they appear to have consisted principally of small farmers, with their wives and children, and domestic servants. About the middle of the day on Thursday, the wind became unfavourable; and at noon on Friday, " it blew right a head," when a tack was made, and the ship changed her course to the south-east. She continued to pursue " her ocean way " in that direction till between nine and ten o'clock at night. There was then a thick haze, and the Captain entertained not the least suspicion that he was near the land; but as he was preparing to put the vessel about, she struck suddenly and with great violence upon a rock close to the shore at Maen Mellt, about three miles from Aberdaron in this county. The passengers had retired to their berths, and the lights below deck had for some time been extinguished. No sooner was the Captain aware of the danger, than he ordered the hatches to be fastened down. Appalling as the measure must have been to those who were below, it was in reality an act of prudence and of mercy; the tumult on the deck would otherwise have been such as to prevent the crew from working the ship, and from adopting any expedients to avert the catastrophe that was at hand. Within less than twenty minutes it was evident that all attempts to save the vessel must be ineffectual. The hatches were taken off; the Captain raised his voice and said, " Let us all have an equal chance for our lives;" while one of the crew exclaimed, " A watery tomb! a watery tomb !''
At these thrilling words, the passengers rushed upon deck, not more than three or four among them having on any other clothes than those in which they had sprung from their beds. The boat was lowered down from the quarter deck. Before it had well touched the surface of the water, eleven men jumped into it, as it were, at once. The boat was instantly upset, and they all perished. The ocean was their grave. Their entreaties for help, and their screams of despair, as they struggled with the raging billows, are said to have been terrific.

In hopes that he might be able to form a communication, or a gang-way, as it is technically called, between the vessel and the shore, the Captain ordered first the mizen mast, and then the main mast to be cut away, and to be employed for that purpose; but owing to the violence of the gale, each of them " fell short." The important object was afterwards accomplished by means of a spare boom. One end having with much difficulty been lodged upon a rock on the main land, while the other rested upon the vessel, a rope was carried out by the carpenter from the vessel to the shore; and by this contrivance, in the depth of midnight, more than two hundred of the passengers were enabled to reach the rocks.

At four o'clock on Saturday morning, David GRIFFITH, a seaman residing in the neighbourhood, came to the shore, and was instrumental in rescuing from their perilous situation between thirty and forty of his fellow creatures, men, women, and children, who on various accounts had been obliged to remain on the wreck. The fearless and untiring intrepidity of this young man is above all praise.

The vessel went to pieces on Sunday. The whole of the crew was saved. Of the passengers, it is supposed that at least between sixty and seventy have lost their lives in the remorseless deep. The survivors, on leaving the rocks at daybreak, sought refuge in the nearest farm-houses and cottages, where they were received and treated with almost unheard-of kindness.

On Sunday, about the middle of the day, a large body of them appeared at Carnarvon. They were then returning to Ireland. As soon as they told their melancholy tale to the Deputy Mayor and the Bailiffs, those gentlemen called together some of the principal inhabitants. A committee was formed : subscriptions were solicited without an hours delay, from door to door; collections were made in the evening at St. Mary's church, and in all the other places of worship; it was resolved to appropriate the Guildhall to the use of the poor sufferers, and I can assure you, without entering into a minute and tedious statement, that through the whole of this week every expedient which humanity and benevolence could devise for effectually relieving them, has been employed.

From their own lips I have heard a recital of their sorrows: and the following cases will give you a tolerably distinct as well as accurate idea of what has occurred.

Mary Ann WATT an intelligent little girl, thirteen years old, lost both her parents in the wreck, and knew none of the surviving passengers, except a young woman, who, like herself, came from the county of Tyrone. She never saw her father after the vessel struck, nor can she give any tidings of him. She was dragged through the water to the shore. Her mother, who was a woman of an extremely delicate frame, appears lo have been either too feeble or too timid lo trust herself to the boom. About eight o'clock on Saturday morning, as she was standing upon the deck, a large piece of timber struck her on her left side. She held up one of her hands, uttered a faint shriek, and fell. A sailor ran to her assistance, but life was extinct. The case of the daughter, as is natural, has excited an extraordinary interest. Among the tokens of sympathy which she has received, is a New Testament, bearing this inscription on the inside of the cover:

"When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." Psalm xxvii. 10. Mary Ann Watt, given to her with the kindest wishes. Carnarvon, April 21, 1830. "I will sing of mercy and judgment : unto thee. O Lord! I will sing" Psalm ci

The poor orphan, you will be glad to hear, has since found a home in a respectable Irish family in this town.
Take a wander over to Sepia Saturday for more stories of family history, children, shipwrecks and more.... 





21 comments:

  1. Most interesting to me was the ceramic cat next to Beatrice in the picture. The cat has an eerie resemblance to her.

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    1. Oh, you are so right. How strange and I can't put my finger on why they look alike...maybe something about the forehead and eyes.

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  2. What a wonderful set of connections on the theme of shipwrecks.

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    1. You could also call this a serious case of senior attention deficit disorder syndrome or SADDS.

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  3. What an interesting post. Three shipwrecks in one family is astounding.

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    1. I thought so, but when I looked up the list of shipwrecks in 1830 I found there were 33 shipwrecks in the month of April that year. On a single day, Jan 20th, there must have been a storm because 39 ships wrecked on that day. Shipwreck is not as rare as I thought it was.

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  4. The "remorseless deep..." Boy, what a phrase -- it gave me chills! Great post, Helen!

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  5. Interesting post regarding shipwrecks. The only time I've ever been aboard a big cruise-type ship was in San Francisco years ago when we were seeing some friends off and were able to go aboard the ship to do it. Actually, we were only pretending to see friends off. We just wanted to wander around & see the ship for entertainment - something one could do all those years ago. The only 'shipwreck' any in my family ever experienced was when my husband and friends overloaded their duck boat on Tulle Lake in northern Calif. & within a few feet from shore, it sank, dunking them all in (fortunately) chest-deep water.

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    1. Was the boat filled with ducks? Security is very tight on the cruise ships now, as you know, and you don't get to board and wander. I do remember when people actually had parties in their cabins before sailing. Ah, the good old days.

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  6. In earlier times shipwrecks and the loss of life was fairly common; Voyages were hazardous. I guess it was a bit a lottery to arrive at the destination. Many have lost fortunes investing in ships and commerce to send over the oceans. The Titanic was hauled as the wonder of the the sea. Anyway many stories are rumored about her sinking. The real truth might never be known.

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  7. Beatrice Wood sounds like a very interesting lady! I would never have bought any of her pottery at that price though!

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    1. I think my sister bought a piece, but not at anywhere near the current prices.

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  8. A fascinating and informative post. Thanks for sharing your research.

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  9. An "equal chance for our lives"? What happened to the tradition of the captain going down with the ship? Eh ~ I guess you can't get good captains with that policy.

    Love all the connections to the prompt!

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  10. Did your Aunt Helen go on another ship after the second one? I don't enjoy being on the water myself and the first shipwreck would have kept me away.

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    1. I don't recall that she was boat or ship-phobic. I doubt I'd have the courage to get back on one after a wreck.

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  11. Beatrice certainly does sound like she was a living national treasure! I had a distant relative who lost her husband and four children in the wreck of the SS Penguin off NZ in 1909. She was pregnant at the time and was hailed a heroine for helping to rescue others, but that must have been little consolation to her.

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  12. An amazing collection of family stories. Most interesting.

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  13. The thing I love most of all about reading SS posts is that you never know where they will take you. The fact that a simple old photograph can inspire so many posts that end up in entirely different places is a testament to the creativity of Sepians such as yourself.

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  14. A fascinating take on the theme. The account of the 1830 shipwreck had an immediacy that is rare to read in modern reports.

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  15. Two shipwrecks! I have no known shipwrecks in my family. Very interesting article.

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