First Lifeboat Station In The United States -- Congress Slow To Act -- Favored By Appropriations -- Improvements In The Service -- Stations In The Three Lake Districts -- Instances Of Brave Rescues -- A One Hundred And Ten Mile Run -- How Captain Clemons Won His Medal -- Statistics Of Service Rendered The Merchant Marine -- Life-saving Service In Canada -- Instances Of Brave Rescues -- Sons Of England Naval Brigade -- The "Grace Darling" Lifeboat At Toronto.
The first movement in this country to afford organized assistance to those whose lives are in peril from shipwreck was made by the Massachusetts Humane Society, which was organized in 1786. It erected huts on the Massachusetts coast for the shelter of such sailors as should escape from the sea, its first hut for this purpose being erected on Lovell's island, near Boston, in 1807. Later it equipped these with boats and life-saving appliances.
The Massachusetts Humane Society established the first lifeboat station at Cohasset, and subsequently erected a considerable number of other boat stations and huts of refuge. The efforts of this society were necessarily limited by reliance upon volunteer crews, and by the conditions of extemporized service. An appropriation was made by Congress in 1847 of $5,000 "for furnishing the lighthouses on the Atlantic coast with the means of rendering assistance to shipwrecked mariners;" which appropriation, for the next two years, lay in the treasury, but which in 1849 was permitted to be expended by this society. Besides this Massachusetts Humane Society there were three or four other similar societies along the Atlantic coast, all of them ephemeral in their nature, with the exception of the life-saving Benevolent Association of New York.
In August, 1848, William A. Newell, of New Jersey, made a vigorous and victorious appeal in the United States House of Representatives, the result being an appropriation of $10,000, approved August 14, 1848, "for providing surf boats, rockets, carronades and other necessary apparatus for the better preservation of life and property from shipwreck on the coast of New Jersey lying between Sandy Hook and Little Egg Harbor," etc. In 1853-54 Congress appropriated $42,500 for the uses of this service. With this money fourteen new stations were added to those already on the coast of New Jersey, eleven on the coast of Long Island, and twenty-three lifeboats were placed at points on Lake Michigan.
Favored by Appropriations. -- Chaos, however, continued to reign until 1871, when Congress appropriated $200,000 for the use of this service, and authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to employ crews of surfmen at such stations and for such periods as he might deem necessary. In February, 1871, Sumner I. Kimball took charge of the Revenue Marine service, and the life-saving stations became the subject of his consideration. The lamentable condition of life-saving affairs at once arrested his attention. The various stations were found in anything but a satisfactory condition, being in all stages of dilapidation and decay, some of the keepers being disabled by age and other infirmities, and many of them having no special fitness for the work entrusted to them. A vigorous campaign of reform was at once set in motion. Nearly all the stations were manned by carefully selected surfmen without regard to political affiliations.
In 1872 the selection of the best available apparatus engrossed attention. In May of that year a commission met at Seabright, N. J., to examine and test various life-saving appliances, and reported in favor of a modification of the New Jersey cedar surf-boat, an eprouvette mortar, for throwing life lines, the India rubber life-saving dress and the Coston night-signal. In March, 1873, a Bill was passed appropriating $100,000 for new life-saving stations on different portions of the Atlantic coast, and calling for a report of points for others upon the sea and lake coasts.
Congress passed an Act in 1874, authorizing the classification of stations under three groups, designated respectively as complete life-saving stations, life-boat stations and houses of refuge, and establishing a number of new stations upon the Southern Pacific and Lake coasts. In 1874 a life raft was added to the apparatus at several of the stations. In 1876-77 four new districts were organized, three of them on the lake coasts. This period marks the beginning of the Lake Service as it now exists. The five lakes comprise three life-saving districts, the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh -- the Ninth being located upon the coasts of Ontario and Erie, and having at the present time 12 stations, including one at the Falls of the Ohio river, Louisville, Ky.; the Tenth on the coasts of Huron and Superior, having 16 stations; and the Eleventh on the coast of Lake Michigan, having 26 stations.
The pay of the keepers of the stations was raised from $200 to $400 per annum by the Act of 1870, and a similar relief was effected by settling the volunteer lifeboat service on the lakes upon a proper footing. Previously these men had never been paid for days spent in drill and exercise necessary to perfect them in the use of lifeboats and apparatus; nor were they compensated for their services at wrecks, no matter what the hardships and dangers might be, unless there was actual saving of life. The new Act gave the volunteers $3 per day for each day spent in drill, and $10 per man for each occasion of wreck service. All keepers were created inspectors of customs, thus enabling them to protect revenue interests and the interests of owners in relation to stranded property. The Act created numerous new stations, ten of them being on the lakes.
The principal danger to navigation on the lakes is lack of sea room, which leads vessels to run for shelter in a storm and to seek entrance into artificial harbors, which they are liable to miss and to strike upon the piers at the entrance to them. They are also liable to meet sudden and violent gales, which raise the seas so high as to sweep anchored vessels fore and aft, often forcing crews into the rigging or causing the craft to founder. In such cases as these, if the vessel is beached the lifeboat capable of being let down into the water between the piers, at the inner edge of one of which the station is situated, can readily slip out to the relief of imperiled crews, and being very powerful and able to stand the shock of the rudest seas, and the keepers being very skillful, the boats can readily be taken out to vessels laboring in distress at long distances from the shore.
There is an inspector of lifesaving stations for the entire service, who is stationed in New York, and in each of the twelve districts there is an assistant inspector. Each district is in charge of a superintendent, appointed after an examination, an inhabitant of the region for which he is appointed, and familiar with the coasts, with the action of the surf, with the use of the surfboats and other life-saving appliances. He is responsible for the condition and conduct of his district, makes requisitions upon the management for all repairs, outfits and supplies necessary therefor, pays the crews, keeps the accounts and conducts the correspondence. The compensation of the superintendents range from $1,500 to $1,800 per annum.
Each station has a keeper, the best that can be obtained from the athletic race of beachmen, a master of boat craft, and the art of surfing, and skilled in wreck operations. The keeper selects his own crew, who are, however, subject to the decision of the examining board. He is by law an inspector of customs, having authority for the care of stranded property and against smuggling. He preserves inventories of all property belonging to his station, and journalizes daily the life at the station, sending weekly transcripts of his journal to the general superintendent for his information. He keeps the station and equipments in order, commands the crew, steers the boat to wrecks, conducts all the operations, and governs his station precincts.
At the present time the compensation of the keepers of stations is $900 per annum, and the surfmen receive $60 per month when enlisted for a term of active service exceeding eight and one-half months, and $65 per month when enlisted for a term of eight and one-half months or less. Keepers of houses of refuge receive $600 per annum, no crews being employed at such stations.
The bravery and daring of individual members of the life-saving crews have long since become proverbial. When the lives of their fellow-men are in danger they forget the risk to their own lives in efforts to save the lives of others, and many are saved through this forgetfulness who would otherwise perish. A few instances will illustrate the nature of the duties performed and the great utility to mariners of the life-saving service.
On the 3d of September, 1879, about 10 o'clock at night, the steamer J. Bertschey was wrecked off Grindstone City, Lake Huron, seven miles from the nearest life-saving station, which was located at Pointe aux Barques. The wreck was not discovered by the citizens at Grindstone City until the next morning, when a mounted courier was dispatched to the life-saving station, which he reached a little past 7 o'clock. A pair of strong and spirited horses, which were at one(sic) procured, drew the boat wagon with the boat and crew to the scene, where 500 people of the vicinity were gathered in helpless inaction watching the wreck. The life-savers launched without delay, a volunteer crew in another boat setting out at the same time, but soon putting back, while the surfmen kept on. Against an ugly sea and heavy wind, but with strong arms and resolute hearts, they soon reached the disintegrating craft. Two surfmen were soon on the steamer's deck, and had lowered into the surfboat eleven women and a little boy. These were at once carried safely ashore. Three more trips were made, and within little more than an hour the entire ship's company was saved, 44 persons in all.
In the series of "Heroes of Peace" there is an article in the Century on "Heroes of the life-saving Service," by Gustave Kobbe. Mr. Kobbe says: District Superintendent Jerome G. Kiah, with headquarters at Sand Beach, Mich., is one of the heroes of the life-saving service. He holds the gold medal, the highest award the United States Government can bestow for heroism in saving life. His name is associated with what was both one of the most daring attempts at rescue, and one of the greatest tragedies of the service-a tragedy which wiped out an entire crew with the exception of this sole survivor.
"Mr. Kiah was at the time keeper of the Point aux Barques life-saving station on Lake Huron. A vessel struck too far out to be reached with the shot and line. The peril of attempting a rescue with the surfboat was only too apparent; but Keeper Kiah mustered his men and made the launch. For a while their strength and skill enabled them to surmount or push through the tumultuous seas; but, once in the open lake beyond the shoals, where the storm was free to riot at will, the real danger began. It was a test beyond human powers. The keeper remembers that twice the boat capsized and was righted. After that he has a vague recollection of the boat capsizing and righting herself several times, and of the crew clinging to it until, one by one, the surfmen, perishing of cold, let go their hold and vanished beneath the waves. He has a dim remembrance of the boat, with himself clinging to it, grating over the shoal, and then being flung up on the shore.
"He was found by two men, standing, with one hand on the root of a fallen tree, steadying himself with a lath in the other, and swaying as if walking, but not stirring his feet -- a dazed, tottering wreck of his former self, murmuring in an incoherent way: "Poor boys! Poor boys! They are all gone -- all gone!" Temporarily shattered in mind and body, he was obliged to resign from the service. He was long in recovering, but finally it was possible practically to reward his bravery with the appointment to his present position."
The difficulties which frequently confront the life-saving crews on the lakes are illustrated by the circumstances attending the wreck of the schooner J. H. Hartzell near Frankfort, Lake Michigan, October 16, 1880.
The vessel anchored off Frankfort at 3 o'clock in the morning, the captain deciding to wait for daylight before attempting to enter the harbor, but at about 6 o'clock the wind suddenly shifted to the south-west and began to blow a whole gale, accompanied with fierce squalls of rain, snow and hail. The captain's belated effort to run into the harbor proved futile, and his vessel refused to mind her helm. Both anchors were dropped but she was soon borne down by the gale to the middle bar where she grounded, about 300 yards from shore and directly in front of a range of precipitous sand bluffs known as Big and Little Bald Hills. The seas began to crash over her, and two hours later all hands had found refuge in the rigging -- six men and one woman cook.
A little boy in Frankfort observed the vessel plunging in the breakers, and informed several persons, who ran to the bluff. They were powerless to render aid, but a messenger had been dispatched for the life-saving crew, and to encourage the shipwrecked people, they built a fire, and lay large pieces of driftwood upon the face of the cliff, so as to form in huge black letters upon the white sand the comforting words "LIFEBOAT COMING."
The Point Betsey life-saving station was 10 miles distant. It received information of the disaster at eight o'clock, and a few minutes later was on its way to the scene. The way to reach the wreck was by a circuit through the woods, crossing the river in the rear of Frankfort, and thence on to the beach. The beach when reached was found to be submerged by a swashing flood that beat against the bluffs, and carried on its surface a mass of crashing logs, stumps and trees, making that route wholly impassable. Another way led through thick woods, along deep winding ravines, and over steep, soggy sand hills. The load which the horses and men had to draw weighed over 1,000 pounds. At about half past ten the life-savers reached the base of the ridge of high hill which separated them from the point where the Hartzell lay. The rugged way led up the precipitous hills amid dense woods so steep that the men and horses had almost to climb and hoist the cart after them. A number of citizens joined the life-savers, and with their aid, making a total of 27 men, it was all that they could do to reach the summit, getting ahead only about 20 feet at a time.
New obstacles rose at every turn. They found themselves in a heavy, unbroken wood, filled with underbrush and fallen trees half buried in the sand. Axes and hand spikes came into play, while groups of men with bare hands tore away the underbrush and heaved at the prostrate trees. The bluff, finally reached, was nearly 300 feet high, composed of loamy sand, which was driven into the faces of the men at intervals, almost blinding their eyes, and away below them and far from the shore, which was lashed by the awful sea, lay the forlorn wreck, her hull submerged and her swinging masts reeling, while in and below the cross-trees were to be seen the storm-swept sailors with the one woman in their midst.
From the place where the life-savers stood, rescue was plainly impossible. Below them at the foot of the almost perpendicular bluff was the dashing surf with not an inch of standing room. Two hundred and fifty feet below, the keeper thought he could perceive a little shelf-like place where the apparatus might be worked. The lines were instantly attached to the apparatus cart, and the crowd begun to lower away, the surfmen plunging their heels into the soft sand and sliding down with it, some going head-foremost and all covered with sleet and sand and mud. Once on the little plateau, the gun was fired and the rescue began.
About noonday the line was in possession of the sailors, and a little later the lifecar was run out to the wreck. When nightfall was at hand, the entire crew were rescued, except the woman, who, it was asserted by the rescued men, had perished.
A One Hundred and Ten Mile Run. -- One of the most remarkable instances of life-saving occurred November 18, 1886. On the morning of that day two vessels in distress were discovered off Marquette. The storm was one of great intensity. During the night it had overthrown the lighthouse on the pier, and was still raging with relentless fury. There was no life-saving station at Marquette, and the people of the vicinity devoted the entire day to every effort to reach the mariners. Boats and steamtugs were tried, a mortar and life-line were invoked, but all without avail.
The nearest life-saving station was at ship canal one hundred and ten miles away. A telegram was sent. There was not a moment of hesitation at ship canal. A special train was ordered, and the crew and apparatus embarked in the midst of one of the heaviest storms of the year. It was a famous run. Before midnight the life-savers reached the scene of disaster, and after eight hours of effort, stung with cold and covered with ice, they safely landed the two crews, twenty-four persons.
Another instance of the loss of life by members of a life-saving crew occurred November 29, 1886. The schooner A.J. Dewey had started the previous night from Pierport to Manistee in tow of a tug; but when within three miles of that harbor the towing hawser parted, and the tug getting the line into her propeller wheel was blown ashore, the crew being rescued by the life-saving crew of the Manistee station. The schooner hoisted some head sails and ran before the gale, a strong north wind. At baybreak(sic) the mate attempted to set a signal for a tug; but when the signal was part way up the halliards became fouled in the truck, suspending the ensign at half-mast, the indication of distress, and notwithstanding the exertions of the crew it was nearly half an hour before the ropes could be sufficiently cleared of snow and ice to admit of the signal being hoisted to the masthead.
While the signal was involuntarily at half-mast the life-saving crew above mentioned discovered it, and thinking the vessel to be in distress lost no time in manning the surf-boat and starting out on their errand of deliverance. One of the surfmen, glancing over his shoulder, saw that the ensign had risen to the masthead, and said to the man nearest to him: "She is all right; the flag is way up." But this remark passed unheeded, and the boat kept on her course; A heavy incoming sea broke directly across the bow of the boat, causing her to ship a large amount of water. Before she could be brought head on again another comber struck her amidships, throwing the keeper to the bottom of the boat, which capsized. Three of the crew lost their lives.
Keeper William Clark, of the Erie station, was lost June 4, 1891. While attempting with his crew to render assistance to the stranded steamer, Badger State, he was drowned in an attempt to reach land, his boat having been upset. In the afternoon of May 17, 1893, two young men were drowned in the outer harbor of Cleveland, Ohio, and also four members of the life-saving crew at that place. The two young men were carelessly making their way down the river, then swollen and dangerous. At length, realizing their danger, they made frantic efforts to stem the torrent. One of the oars broke, and the frail craft went down the stream with the speed of a race horse. As they approached the life-saving station Surfman Servas hurled a life buoy to them, and Keeper Distel ordered his crew to put on their life-belts and man the lifeboat. This boat was gotten into the water quickly, but the skiff was nowhere to be seen. As a large number of people on the east pier kept pointing to the lake, the keeper pulled outward until the lifeboat was half way between the pier and the break-water. The crew were about to pull under the lee of the west breakwater for shelter, when the keeper saw a monstrous wave approaching the boat. In order to meet and pass it before it should comb he ordered his men to pull hard; but just at the critical moment the stroke ore(sic) on the port side snapped in two, and the comber smashed over the starboard bow, turning the boat upside down and hurling its occupants into the surf with great violence. Four perished.
How Captain Clemons Won His Medal -- Capt. Lucian M. Clemons, who has just retired as keeper of the life-saving stations at this point, was the first man to receive a gold medal from the United States Government for the rescue of shipwrecked persons.
The circumstances leading to this substantial recognition of heroism by Uncle Sam were as follows: The schooner Consuelo, a stanch craft of 450 tons burden, which had made a voyage across the Atlantic to Liverpool in the early sixties, and outridden fierce tempests on that stormy ocean, was caught in a fierce gale about twelve miles from Sandusky, and three miles north of the rock shores of Marblehead. She was loaded with block stone. Between Kelley's island and Marblehead the water is nowhere deeper than thirty feet, and consequently, in nautical parlance, "a nasty sea" comes up very quickly in a gale.
The Consuelo's cargo had been hastily and improperly stowed, and either through carelessness or to facilitate unloading, rollers had been left under some of the massive blocks of stone in the hold. The vessel pitched and tossed so violently that these blocks and the whole cargo shifted, and suddenly, almost without warning, the boat gave a lurch and foundered. The captain, three men and the cook were lost, but Mate Donahue and one of the sailors succeeded in clinging to the spars, where they were sighted from Marblehead by Captain Clemons and his brothers, A. J. and Hubbard, who went to their rescue. They started out in an open rowboat and battled heroically with the raging elements. Time and time again it seemed as if their frail craft must certainly swamp, but they kept steadily on, and, just as they were about exhausted, reached the two sailors, who were clinging to the wreckage, and picked them up. But the danger was by no means past, as the strength of the two men was entirely spent, and the storm was increasing in its merciless fury. It is likely that none of the occupants of that little boat would ever have reached shore alive had not the tug Winslow come to their assistance and landed them safely on Kelley's island.
In due time the daring feat of the Clemons brothers was brought to the notice of the proper authorities at Washington, and after many necessary formalities had been complied with, Captain Clemons and each of his two brothers received from the Treasury Department the first gold medals ever awarded for such service. They were accompanied by letters of commendation. The medals are of handsome design and very heavy and valuable, each containing $200 worth of gold and $50 worth of alloy. They are three inches in diameter, while those now given by the government for like services are but two inches in diameter, and correspondingly thinner and less valuable intrinsically.
On September 9, 1876, the life-saving station at Marblehead was established, and Captain Clemons was appointed its first keeper as a further recognition of his gallantry. This position he resigned in 1897, and now lives a life of retirement and ease within sound of the dashing billows he has so often braved. The Captain is advanced in years, but still hale and hearty and much more active than many younger men.
Previous to 1882 the Government of the Dominion of Canada had done but little toward the establishment of a life-saving service; but during that year and the next considerable loss of life occurred both on the Atlantic coast and in Canadian waters on the Great Lakes, which caused a general feeling and conviction that some steps should be taken with regard to providing means for saving the lives of persons wrecked in Canadian waters.
In 1882 the number of lives lost in these waters was 226; in 1883, it was 157; and in 1884, 160. Of the latter number 124 were lost at one time by the wreck of the steamship Daniel Steinman on the Atlantic coast, near Halifax. In November, 1882, the schooner Henry Folger was wrecked at Salmon Point, Lake Ontario, and eight persons drowned, all of whom, it was said, could have been saved had a lifeboat and crew been available. The Hon. A. W. McLelan, who was then the Minister of Marine and Fisheries, and William Smith, the then Deputy Minister of Marine and Fisheries, both took a very active part in the matter, and succeeded in organizing the nucleus of the present service under the authority of the government. Mr. Smith was most strenuous in his efforts, making use of his Departmental staff and officers to get the several stations established and put in readiness to render service when required.
The first station equipped was that at Cobourg, which was established November 7, 1882. Daniel Rooney was the coxswain, and had a crew of six men. His salary was $75 per annum, and he was also paid $1.50 for each drill, the drills taking place twice each month during the season of navigation. The crew were each paid $1.50 for each drill. This station was and is equipped with a self-righting and self-bailing boat of the Dobbins pattern, which is 25 feet long over all, and eight feet beam. It cost $575, and was made at Goderich, Ontario. Mr. Rooney has been the coxswain ever since the establishment of the station. He was paid, as a reward for saving the lives of two fishermen April 4, 1890, $22.
The station at Toronto was next established, March 1, 1883, William Ward being the coxswain appointed, who has held his position ever since. However, previous to the establishment of this government station there had been a voluntary life-saving crew on the island.
The next station established was that at Wellington, Ont., in 1883, with Hugh McCollough, coxswain. The station at Poplar Point, Prince Edward county, Ont., was next established with Leroy Spafford as coxswain. Port Rowan, Ont., was the next point at which a station was established, October 19, 1883, with J. W. McCall as coxswain.
During the year 1885 it was decided by the government to invite tenders for the supply of twelve lifeboats, of a similar description to the self-righting and self-bailing boats placed in 1883 at Poplar Point and Wellington. Six of these twelve boats were built at Goderich, by William Marlton, and six at Dartmouth, N. S., by John Williams, at a cost, including outfit, of $575 each. These twelve boats, when completed, were located as follows: Two on Sable island; and one each at Devil's island, Duncan's cove, Yarmouth and Scatarie, and one each at Cobourg, Collingwood, Goderich, Port Stanley, Toronto and Pelee island, the latter six being in the Province of Ontario.
After this action the first station established was that at Port Stanley, Ont., June 25, 1885, with William Berry, coxswain. The station at Collingwood was established September 2, 1885, with P. Doherty as coxswain. The station at Goderich was established October 21, 1886, with William Babb as coxswain. The station at Port Hope was established November 6, 1889, with C. R. Nixon as coxswain and a crew of six men.
The crew of the lifeboat station at Port Rowan rendered assistance to the schooner Erie Wave, of Port Burwell, which was stranded on the shore of Lake Erie, a mile below Clear creek, Ont., September 30, 1889, and were rewarded by a present of $21. Hugh McCullough, coxswain, and the crew of the life-saving station at Wellington, were presented with a purse of $43 for services rendered in rescuing the crew of the wrecked schooner Kate, September 26, 1889. William Ward, coxswain, and the crew of the Toronto life-saving station, were presented with a purse of $32 for rendering assistance to a wrecked vessel at Port Credit, November 27, 1889.
L. Spafford, coxswain, and the crew of the life-saving station Poplar Point, were presented with a purse of $108.50 for services rendered to the schooner Juria, October 27, 1889; to the schooner Parthian, November 22, 1886; to the schooner Glenora, November 19, 1887, and to the barge Valencia, May 28, 1890.
William Babb, coxswain, and the crew of the lifeboat at Goderich, Ont., received $46.50 for attempting the rescue of the Parisian, April 9, 1890. The total expense incurred by the Dominion Government on account of this service is about $3,000 per year.
The Sons of England Society is a beneficiary order. Connected therewith is the Sons of England Naval Brigade, which was organized in 1889 for the purpose of patrolling Toronto bay and saving life when possible. For several years the brigade had a metallic boat, but in 1892 they had built for them the lifeboat Grace Darling, one of the largest boats of the kind on the lakes. She is 35 feet long, 9 feet 2 inches wide and 3 feet 10 inches deep. This boat was christened and launched August 24, 1892, by Mrs. Kirkpatrick, wife of the Lieutenant-Governor, assisted by the Lieutenant-Governor, by the Bishop of Toronto, Alderman Lamb representing the Mayor of Toronto, and others. The number present on this occasion was estimated at from 3,000 to 5,000. The ceremony was under the supervision of Capt. George Tyler, of the lifeboat crew.
The first lookout on duty was W.G. Pritchett. The present boathouse was built in 1897; at the foot of the east approach to the York-street viaduct. It cost about $950. The Grace Darling has two water-tight bulk heads, and air tanks around the sides, so that it is practically impossible to sink her. She is self-righting, but not self-bailing.
Besides these several rescues, this crew has been very useful in saving property that would otherwise have been lost. At the present time there are 48 men connected with the brigade, of whom 29 constitute the permanent crew of the lifeboat, the others being auxiliaries.
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.