Ship Caleb Grimshaw

Webpage by William Day

Local History

Destruction of the Caleb Grimshaw

Saturday, March 1, 2014

(Note: Webpage in preparation)

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An excellent webpage was posted by William Day, apparently on March 1, 2014,  that provides excellent detail of the disaster when the ship Caleb Grimshaw burned at sea. The disaster is described on a companion webpage. The purpose of this Grimshaw Origins webpage is to present the contents of William Day’s webpage, which may be accessed by clicking here.

[More info on Day’s website overall to be added.]

Webpage Credits

Thanks go to William Day for posting his ship Caleb Grimshaw webpage that is the topic of this page.

William Day’s Webpage Contents

The contents of Day’s webpage are shown below, including the images provided.

This story is of a nineteenth century marine disaster in which a hundred lives were lost. Its hero, if there be but one, was a Yarmouth sea captain who rescued 356 passengers and crew. Its principal narrator was a cabin passenger whose eyewitness account appeared in the London Times. My source of information is the Yarmouth Herald, whose editor valued a good story of man’s struggle against the sea [1]:

Yarmouth Herald, 27 April 1897, p. 1, col. 3–5

“Nearly half a century ago, in the first month of the year 1850, the inhabitants of Yarmouth, and more particularly those of the town, were thrown into a state of great excitement, caused by a report being circulated of a dire disaster having taken place, in which one of our well-known citizens had acted a very important and commendable part. Word had been received that the Caleb Grimshaw [2, above], a large American packet ship, on the voyage from Liverpool to New York, had been burned at sea, and that over 350 of the passengers and crew were rescued by the barque Sarah, Capt. David Cook, of Yarmouth, and were landed at Fayal, one of the Azores, the remainder of the passengers, numbering over one hundred, having perished.

Captain David Cook, of Yarmouth, N.S. [3]

“News traveled slowly in those days, and the few newspapers which contained particulars of such thrilling events were not as readily obtained as they are today. Yarmouth was not then in telegraphic communication with the outside world and as Her Majesty’s mails from abroad came over land, and were provokingly uncertain, several days elapsed before the late E. W. B. Moody, Esq., the owner of the Sarah, received fuller information which confirmed the previous report of the dismal calamity, and also stated that the Sarah was daily expected to arrive at New York with the rescued passengers on board, arrangements having been made at Fayal for Captain Cook to proceed with those saved to their port of destination.

“Capt. Cook’s name, like the celebrated navigator of olden times, was again made famous throughout the world, and many were the well-deserved encomiums heaped upon Yarmouth’s brave mariner for having so successfully rendered timely assistance, and under such perilous circumstances on the vast and boisterous ocean, saved so many lives from a watery grave.

“Public feeling in New York was deeply stirred, and the arrival of Captain Cook, in the Sarah, was anxiously awaited. A committee of New York merchants was appointed to make preparations for suitably honouring Captain Cook upon his arrival, and marking the citizens’ strong and genuine appreciation of his heroic service and deed.

“The Sarah reached New York on the 15th January, 1850, and immediately, as if on wings, the news of the ship’s safe arrival flew in all directions, and Captain Cook instantaneously became the idol of the people and the hero of the day. The freedom of the city, accompanied by a gold box, was presented to him at the Governor’s room; and at a meeting at the Merchants’ Exchange, amid the most intense excitement, merchants waved their hats, and cheered to the echo the introduction of Captain Cook to the floors of the famous Exchange.

The Mayor’s presentation to Captain Cook [4]

“The press of New York graphically described the various phases of the proceedings, and paid high compliment to the becoming modesty of behaviour with which Nova Scotia’s brave master mariner bore up under the pleasant showers of good will and praise so cheerfully tendered him.

Yarmouth Herald, 4 May 1897, p. 1, col. 4

 “Before leaving New York for Yarmouth, in the Sarah, the merchants of that city subscribed a handsome purse of several thousand dollars for Captain Cook, his officers and crew, which was presented to them on their departure homewards.

“Letters from a cabin passenger on the Caleb Grimshaw, to the London Times; Captain Hoxie, to the owners of the ship; Captain Cook, to the merchants of New York; and reports of the New York papers, touching Capt. Cook’s reception at that city, form a page of most interesting reading.” [1]

Of particular note is the account by one of the Caleb Grimshaw’s six first-class passengers,

“an unknown Englishman who had the gift of putting down in plain words what he saw taking place under his own eyes. This nameless eyewitness is the chief authority for the tale; he lived through it.” [5, p. 243]

The Yarmouth Herald reprinted his account.

“To the Editor of the London Times:

“Sir,––As I believe no detailed account of the destruction of the ship Caleb Grimshaw, with the loss of 101 passengers, has yet been placed before the public, I enclose you the particulars, which, coming from an eyewitness of the melancholy event, and who writes from notes taken at the time, may be interesting to those who had friends or relatives on board, and which I hope, Sir, you will find worth inserting in your journal.

“In compliance with your rules, I enclose my card, and remain, Sir, yours, etc.,

A Cabin Passenger.

“London, Dec. 19, 1849.” [1]

A Cabin Passenger’s particulars were these.

“The Caleb Grimshaw sailed from Liverpool Oct. 23 last, with a general cargo, besides 100 tons of coal and 600 or 700 tons of iron. She carried 427 passengers, including six in the cabin, and a crew of 18 men, with four mates, a steward and stewardess, the captain, his wife and child, a doctor and two cooks, in all 457 souls. For nearly three weeks we experienced nothing but contrary winds and calms, and the first fair wind we met with was on the day the fire was discovered, Sunday, November 11. It was the first day we had our studding sails set. Latitude day before 41 north, long. 36 west. At the time of the accident we were in long. about 37 west. At 9 p.m. the ship being under all sail, going about two knots, the alarm of fire was given, smoke being discovered coming from the fore hatchway. In a few minutes all was confusion; the steerage passengers rushed up from their berths, and came aft on the quarter deck, lying and kneeling down in all directions, impeding the exertions of the crew and hardly allowing the commands of the captain to be heard above their cries. A large force pump on the forecastle deck was immediately manned, a hose fastened to it, which played the water down between decks. By this means, and the employment of the ship’s buckets, there was soon a considerable quantity of water between decks, but still with no abatement of the smoke. It was now evident the fire was in the lower hold; the hatchway was opened and this was followed by thick volumes of smoke. The hose was directed down the hatchway, fresh hands were summoned to the pumps, and in about an hour, the smoke appearing to increase, Mr. Hoxie, the first mate [and captain’s son], volunteered to go down and see if he could find the fire. A rope was fastened around him, but he had hardly been lowered below the hatch-combings when he called out and was immediately drawn back almost insensible. He said the ship was all on fire below. Exertions at the pumps were redoubled and a constant stream of water forced below. Several of the passengers volunteered their services, but a great many had to be driven from among the women and children, where they lay groaning and crying. While the captain and mates were forward a number of the passengers jumped into the larboard quarter boat and lowered her. She immediately swamped and some twelve of them were drowned. Shortly after the fire was discovered the man at the wheel deserted his post, and he, the boatswain, the 2nd cook and several of the crew, having placed compasses and some provisions and water in the stern boat, got in, lowered her, and remained in her astern of the vessel, to which they did not return for several days. As soon as the force pump and buckets were regularly at work most of the sails were taken in and the ship hove aback. By this time it was midnight and quite calm, and had the vessel had a gun on board it ought to have been fired all night; but she was not provided with a cannon, strange to say, nor do I think she had either blue lights or rockets, at least none were burnt. There were two tanks of water on the main deck, each containing 1,100 gallons. These the passengers stove in spite of the captain’s efforts to prevent them. They said the fire must be put out at any hazard. The smoke seemed to decrease somewhat at about 2 o’clock on the morning of the 12th; the alarm had somewhat subsided, the crying ceased, and the people had fallen asleep. In the course of the night the starboard quarter boat was lowered and towed astern, with three of the crew in her, the stern boat was already lowered, and the other quarter boat, which had been swamped, had been bailed out and three men placed in her, while all the boats were provided with oars and provisions. Dawn disclosed a scene of confusion –– the quarter deck covered with filth, in which were lying women and provisions in every condition, while up the fore hatch the smoke continued to ascend, and was penetrating into the cabin. Some of the crew now prepared to lower the long boat, while others were making a raft. The pumps near the mainmast were now set to work. The long boat was launched at about 9 a.m., and passed astern, and the captain’s wife and child were lowered into her out of the state room windows, through which were also passed compasses, charts, provisions, etc., and then the cabin passengers followed over the stern of the ship. While this was going on the situation had become painful in the extreme. Some of the passengers rushed to the captain’s state room, beseeching him to save them; numbers crowded round the stern, where the 2nd mate was lowering the ladies into the long boat, others were at prayers, while mothers and children, husbands and wives embraced each other and mingled their tears together. A remarkable instance of the extreme love of life was shown by two girls, who lowered themselves by a rope hanging over the stern, although they were told they would not be admitted into the boat; they were, however, taken in after having been left hanging in the water until they were nearly exhausted. Four of the second cabin passengers, too, got in.

“When the writer left the ship for the long boat the cabin floor was quite warm, and the smoke was coming up through the seams of the deck. In the afternoon the captain went on board the long boat. On his leaving the vessel the poor creatures left on board set up a cry: “Oh! captain dear, save us, save us!.” He told them he would stay by them to the last. Before he left, the crew had made two more rafts; one of these was launched and about 20 people got on it, and fearing it would be overcrowded they cut it adrift, and soon after hoisted a small sail and went off east before the wind. It is most probable they all perished in a day or two as, although they had a barrel each of beef and pork, they had very little water and, I believe, no bread.

“All Monday night and all Tuesday and Tuesday night the ship lay to with the boats astern. On Tuesday morning the chief mate came off in one of the boats and brought some provisions and a small tin vessel of water for the long boat. They had passed a terrible night on board. No sooner had the captain left than the steerage passengers rushed into the cabin, cut and broke open all the boxes and trunks they could lay hands on, and rifled them of their contents. They found two cases of brandy and a few bottles of wine, after having consumed which they became very riotous, attacking the first mate and some of the crew, who had great difficulty in preserving their lives. They succeeded in taking two guns from them and threw them overboard, and having armed themselves with pistols and knives, kept the infuriated savages at bay until the effects of the brandy wore off, when they became quiet enough. In the course of the day the boats brought us off a few mattresses, blankets and leaves of the cabin table, which were laid along the bottom of the boat, and which were very welcome, as she was leaky and shipped so much water that two men were kept constantly bailing. On Wednesday, the 14th, a cask of bread was brought us; the crew had found a cask of flour the evening before, and the cook was employed the whole night baking it. This was very acceptable, as we had no bread in the long boat, and had been subsisting on a little cake and cheese, with a few pickles. About 9 a.m. the ship was squared away before the wind, and run all day about north by west, towing the boats after her. Why they did not run her for the Azores the day before, when the wind was favourable, seems very strange. She now had 9 feet of water in the hold, but still the smoke rolled up from the hatch, though they had been covered down again to smother the fire as much as possible. A good deal of smoke also issued from the cabin windows and from the ventilators in the stern. On Wednesday night she lay to, the captain considering it unsafe to carry sail on during the night, as the long boat was shipping seas, being too heavily laden. She had 25 or 30 persons aboard, besides a good deal of useless lumber which might have been thrown overboard. In the evening an old cover of a sail was nailed along the gunwale, and drawn over the boat, covering her like a tent; this kept off a good many heavy seas, and doubtless saved us from being swamped several times during the night, but as it was we spent a miserable night.

“On Thursday morning, the 15th, the wind being favourable, the mates and crew begged the captain to put the ship about and make for the Azores. This he at last consented to do, and this day we made a run of 80 or 90 miles. At noon we were in lat. 41.33 N., long. 36.45 W. As it was blowing rather hard we lay to again during the night.

“Friday, 16th.––Made sail again this morning at dawn, but by 9 a.m. it fell nearly calm. Early this morning some of us went back to the ship, preferring anything to staying in the long boat, where we had lain four days and nights side by side, without being able to change our positions, and completely wet through. In the course of the forenoon the rest of the passengers were taken out of her, the captain still remaining, with his wife and child, the doctor, steward and stewardess and the crew of the boat. All bore their sufferings without a murmur. Between 9 and 10 a.m. the man on the lookout saw a sail; the ship was immediately put about and stood after her, but there being little wind, the second mate with five hands went off in one of the boats to try to overtake her. In about two hours we made her out a bark standing W. by N. We followed her until nearly 2 p.m. when thinking she meant to avoid us, the ship was put about again on her former course. In a few minutes we observed the bark coming round after us. The fact was she had not seen our flag of distress, which was in the main rigging, until we had turned our stern to her. She now bore down to us, while we lay to waiting her approach. She came up to us at 3 p.m., and proved to be the British bark Sarah, Capt. Cook, from London for Yarmouth, N.S., a timber vessel in ballast.

“Bark Sarah, of Yarmouth, to the Rescue” [6]

“Being informed of our situation, and as it was too rough to take off any persons that night Capt. Cook directed us to keep him company, both vessels showing lights. At dark he picked up the second mate and crew of the boat that had gone after her in the morning; also those in the long boat (who had a narrow escape while getting on board), and those in one of the quarter boats. These three boats were lost that night––the stern was dragged out of one and the others were swamped. As darkness set the wind increased to a gale, and our situation in the Caleb Grimshaw was perilous in the extreme. Every moment we expected to go down; the ship rolled in a fearful manner, dipping her studdingsail booms quite under water, while at nearly every roll the seas came in on the quarter deck and sometimes even into the wheelhouse. To add to our despair, about 3 in the morning we lost sight of the Sarah’s light, and were thus left to ourselves, without sextant, chronometers, chart, or anything else to guide us. At length morning broke, when to our great joy we discovered the Sarah five or six miles ahead of us. We carried on after her for several hours, afraid she was going to leave us, when about 2 o’clock she shortened sail and in an hour we came up with her. The sea having gone down she lowered two boats, and by dark had taken off the burning vessel 133 persons, including most of the women. It was not deemed safe to attempt the transfer of any more during thenight, so the boats were taken up and the Sarah, on which I was now a passenger, shaped her course for the island of Flores, showing a light at her mizzen crosstrees.

“On Sunday morning, the 18th, the Caleb Grimshaw was far astern of us. We kept on our course all day, and lost sight of her in the afternoon. We therefore lay to during the night, showing a lantern, and on Monday morning, the 19th, saw her about 9 miles off, on the lee bow, lying to. By 10 a.m. we were up with her, and telling her to follow us, we pursued our course. While passing her the poor creatures on board called “Water! water!” but as the sea was too high to risk a boat nothing could be done for them. She followed us pretty well under her fore and maintop sails, foresail and foretopmast staysail; the crew were too weak to make more sail on her. She seemed much shakier this morning; the masts were all loose, the mainmast especially, which shook several feet from side to side as the vessel rolled. The foretopgallantsail was blown to ribbons.

“Tuesday, 20th.––The sea was still too high to attempt rescuing the rest of the passengers; but early this morning a boat was sent on board with the second mate and seven fresh hands, who soon made sail on her, setting the mainsail, maintopgallantsail and mizzen topsail. The boat brought off the five men who had been on board the wreck. They had a sad tale to tell; on Sunday night 20 died, last night 16, and 4 more this morning. Though most of these perished from thirst, it is probable some of them had poisoned themselves, as they had broken into the doctor’s room and drank laudanum and what liquors they found there. At 11 a.m we saw the land about 40 miles off, which proved to be Flores. By 8 p.m. we were under the lee of the island, and the boats were employed all night removing the people from the burning vessel, which was safely completed by 5 on the morning of Wednesday, the 21st, when the first mate and the men who had been employed in it removed the hatches and the flames burst out. The ship burned from the stern forward, the mizzenmast falling first, and then the mainmast, which fell before the flames reached the maintopgallantsail. The last we saw of her was about 10 a.m.; she was then some two miles southwest of Flores. We made little progress this day, the wind being against us. As there were but six small casks of water on board, and provisions for one week, the people had to be put on short allowance. All that could be afforded each person was half a pint of water and half a biscuit morning and evening.

“Thursday, 22d.––Eight bodies were thrown overboard this morning––two women and six children––having died during the night. The poor people were all crowded together on the main deck, quite exposed to the weather, which fortunately was not cold, or no doubt many more would have perished in their then weak state, several not having tasted water from the Sunday night till the Wednesday morning. It fell nearly calm about noon, but in the afternoon a breeze sprang up, so favourable that we were just able to lay our course for Fayal. On the morning of Friday, the 23d, we found ourselves about 15 miles to the leeward of the island, with the wind right against us. We were all that day and night beating up to windward, when at length on Saturday, the 24th, about noon, we made the harbour of Fayal, at which time there were only two small casks of water remaining, and 2 cwt. of bread. Shortly after we dropped anchor. We were now informed that we should have to ride in quarantine for five days. The British consul immediately sent us off bread and water, while from the American, Mr. Dabney, we received a present of oranges and wine.

“Next day, Sunday, was employed in getting provisions and water on board, and taking off 100 persons to the lazaretto, and the ship was brought a little further into the harbour in the course of the day. This evening a small bark, the Clara C. Bell, sailed for New York. Her captain offered to take eight cabin passengers, but only two were allowed to go. Capt. Hoxie went himself, taking his wife and child, steward and stewardess, and first and second mates. An elderly lady, a cabin passenger, entreated to be allowed to go, but was refused.

“On Monday, the 26th, nearly 100 more were taken to the lazaretto; and owing to the repeated complaints of Capt. Cook about the state the people were in, lying exposed on the decks, we were informed that our quarantine would be over next morning. It having come on to blow fresh from the southwest, an additional anchor and chain cable were brought from the shore, which were let go in the afternoon. The wind still increasing we let go another anchor, but at dark the gale blowing still harder we began to drag all three anchors. At 10 p.m. we parted our best chain cable, and during the next hour and a half dragged our others about 500 yards. Our danger was now imminent, as the breakers could be seen almost under the stern, and we were drifting right on a frightful lee shore. We thought it hard to perish thus, having escaped destruction so lately, to be sacrificed to those absurd quarantine laws; and harder still that Capt. Cook should die a victim to his humanity in saving our lives. Just after he had come down to tell the ladies to get up and dress themselves, and when a few minutes more would have seen us on the rocks, the wind suddenly chopped round to the west and the vessel was saved. It was found next morning, on weighing anchor for the purpose of getting the vessel to safer moorings further in the harbour, that both flukes of one of the two remaining anchors were broken.

“On Tuesday, the 27th, the remainder of the passengers were taken ashore, where we experienced every kindness and attention from the consuls. Nothing could equal the kindness of Mr. Dabney, in particular.

“Thus, after more than two weeks of suffering and privation, and at the risk of starvation, and as it afterwards proved, of shipwreck to himself and crew, the lives of 356 human beings were saved by means of Capt. Cook’s noble and praiseworthy conduct. Ninety-two were missing when all were again got on board of the Sarah, eight died on the way to Fayal and one after we came to anchor. Of the 92 about 30 went off on the raft after the accident, 40 perished from want of water and food, about 12 were drowned from the swamping of the quarter boat and the remainder were probably smothered in their berths. All the cabin passengers were saved. The doctor reported four second cabin passengers among the lost. I regret that I do not know their names, nor those of any of the missing. I believe nothing was saved by anyone. Everything went down with the vessel––all the passengers’ property, with a cargo valued at $500,000.

“To the chief mate, Mr. Hoxie, a young man only 22 years of age, all praise is due for, under Providence, it was mainly owing to his unwearied exertions that the vessel was kept afloat and our lives preserved until we fell in with the Sarah. This fearless young man remained on board as long as he could be of any service, and this at the risk of his life, which was attempted several times. Most of the crew, too, behaved well throughout, and I am sorry that I do not know the names of some to whose exertions I was a witness.” [1]

As for the story’s hero:

“In 1864, Captain Cook was master and part owner of a small barque of 280 tons, built at Clementsport, and named for his eldest daughter Louisa. On June 21, 1871, the Louisa Cook sailed from Shields for Philadelphia with a general cargo. It was her last voyage. On September 2nd, she was spoken in lat. 42, long. 65, and was not again heard of. Her epitaph is a laconic entry in Murray Lawson’s tragic list of the six hundred Yarmouth County vessels lost between 1777 and 1875.” [5, p. 281]

References and Notes

    [1] “Destruction by Fire at Sea of Ship Caleb Grimshaw. Bark Sarah, of Yarmouth, N.S., Rescues 356 Persons from Death!,” The Yarmouth Herald, Tuesday, 27 April 1897, p. 1, col. 3–5 and Tuesday, 4 May 1897, p. 1, col. 3–5.

    [2] Ship Caleb Grimshaw, a framed oil painting by Samuel W. Walters, 31 5/8 x 43 5/8 x 2 3/4 in., at Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea. See also The Caleb Grimshaw, Immigrant Ship.

    [3] Detail of a large boxed tintype behind glass, PH–51–Cook, Capt. David–(Dag. 39), at the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives (YCMA).

    [4] Photograph (PH–12–Cook–1, YCMA) of an award (“the freedom of the city”) presented to Captain David Cook by the Mayor and Common Council of New York on 5 January 1850.

    [5] “The Sarah Stands By,” pp. 239–282 in Archibald MacMechan, Old Province Tales. McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1929. 345 pp.

    [6] “Bark Sarah, of Yarmouth, to the Rescue,” from a sketch by Chas. G. Pollard, The Yarmouth Herald, Tuesday, 27 April 1897, p. 1, col. 3–5.

    [7] I thank archivist Lisette Gaudet, of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives, for providing access to photographs and archival material concerning the destruction of the ship Caleb Grimshaw. All photographs labeled Yarmouth County Museum and Archives (YCMA) are copyrighted. Please contact the Archives if you would like to acquire a photo.

(Posted) Saturday, March 1, 2014

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Webpage posted August 2014.