200 Plus

Deadly Two Weeks Off LBI

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Apr 10, 2019

In 1885 at the dedication of the section of the Manahawkin Baptist Church’s cemetery set aside for unidentified victims of shipwrecks, William A. Crane, the former town coroner, gave an interview where he told of a two-week period in 1864 when seven ships wrecked near Surf City during a series of violent storms.

There was no bridge to LBI in 1864, and the nearest telegraph was located in the Ocean County seat, in Toms River. At the time the life-saving stations were manned by volunteers, and since many men were away fighting in the Civil War, the number of those available to serve was limited. The confusion of the situation can be seen in the April 7 edition of the Ocean Emblem.

“The brig George, of New Haven, Ct., with a cargo of sugar and molasses from the West Indies, came ashore on the night of the 29th (Wednesday last) opposite the Great Swamp, Long Beach, about 8 miles below Barnegat Inlet. A bark, (the name we have not learned) came ashore at the same time just below the swamp. Several schooners are reported ashore at or near Barnegat Inlet.

“The marine reporter of the Tribune states that there is a ship and brig ashore ten miles south of the Inlet. These are probably the ones reported above. He also reports four wrecks within short distance of each other, and says that two brigs came ashore March 30th.

“We shall endeavor to visit the scenes of disaster as soon as the storm abates, and give full reports of the damage.”

Reports began to arrive from the scene addressed to the insurance company, the Board of Underwriters.

“BR BRIG HUNTER – Long Beach, opposite Manahawkin, March 31, 1864 – The Br brig Hunter, Capt. Bell, loaded with sugar and molasses, from Sagua a la Gande, 11th inst. for NYork, came on shore on the 29th inst. All hands saved. The captain reports he took the gale on the 23d. and lost rudder head which compelled him to on shore. The captain and crew have lost all their clothes and ships papers, with the exception of one bill of lading and one invoice which came on shore. This vessel is owned by him and others of Prince Edward’s Island. She lays well up on the beach, and will be a total loss. The keel had gone out of her when I left the beach.

“BRIG GEORGE – Barnegat, N.J. March 31 – The brig George, Capt. Perkins, of and for New Haven from St Croix, with rum, molasses and sugar, is on shore nine miles south of the inlet. She is high up on the beach, and remains tight. I will render all assistance until I hear from you. I have anchors and cables: one set here can lay them as soon as the weather permits. There is also another brig on shore about 5 miles south of this.”

From Tuckerton an observer wrote, “… the Hunter, a new brig loaded with sugar and molasses, the bark Lizzie Bliss – a fine vessel, just returning from a cruise to the East Indies, London and the West Indies, and freighted with sugar – the ship Sultana, an English vessel from Dublin, carrying coal, and the brig George of which the cargo is the only one there was the least hope of saving, and the renewed storm of to-day almost insures her destruction.”

One of the shipwrecks attracted much more attention than the others because it had on board a world-famous traveling circus. The New York Clipper of April 4 reported, “Spaulding & Rogers Ocean Circus, which has been absent from here about two years, visiting South America, Cuba, etc. was to have sailed from Nassau, N.P., in the brig Hannah, on the 23d ult., bound for New York. Up to this writing, April 4th, the vessel has not reached here. Mr. Van Ordan, agent of the concern, returned home a week or two since. … The celebrated performing horse ‘Hiram’ is one of the prominent attractions of the Ocean Circus.”

The New York Herald filled in some details.

“They have voyaged over sixteen thousand miles, without the slightest disaster (excepting the loss of two of their number by yellow fever in Santiago de Cuba), and have been received with unexampled favor by royalty, nobility and democracy in the various capitals in their route, reaping a pecuniary harvest unprecedented in circus annals: left solid memories of their sojourn in Rio Janeiro, Buenos Ayres, Montevideo, Hahia, Parnambuco, Porto Rico and Cuba, in the shape of over twenty-thousand dollars in charitable benefits and donations, and were on their way home to visit their friends and relatives, while refitting for another similar cruise to Constantinople and the ports of the Mediterranean.”

The Clipper article continued, “… about three o’clock in the morning, April 2, some ten miles south of Barnegat, N.J. the vessel first struck on the outer bar, but, being light, worked over, broadside on, towards the main shore. At daylight the position of the vessel and the chances of escape were at once seen, and preparations were immediately made to get the company ashore, which was successfully accomplished without loss of life. All the horses, excepting two, were also safely landed, but the canvas, seats and all the fixtures, dresses, etc., belonging to the concern, were lost. The members of the company lost nearly everything.”

The Tuckerton correspondent was actually there.

“The circus company present a sorrowful and woeful spectacle on the beach, – their vessel completely in fragments – spars, rigging, deck and cargo scattered in all directions; fifteen horses formed a portion of her freight and were saved. One a beautiful little young pony being hurt when thrown into the sea, is now peacefully sojourning in a tent erected on the beach for his accommodation.

“Saddles, bridles, sheet music, musical instruments, gay but soaked and dilapidated garments, packages of theatre and circus tickets. Tent rigging, inebriated actors etc., are plentifully ‘lying about loose,’ and present very much the appearance of a ‘family that had seen better days.’”

While the Tuckerton reporter wrote of inebriated circus folk, the clipper, instead of thanking the locals for saving those on board, wrote, “Mrs. Worland was a heavy sufferer, losing her trunks and all they contained. Kate Ormand also suffered in the same way. A couple of trunks belonging to these ladies were brought to shore but the ‘Barnegat Pirates’ gutted them of their contents before they could be secured. C.J. Rogers, manager of the concern, labored hard to save the property of the company after he had seen the members safely landed, but his efforts were fruitless, the water filling the lower part of the vessel, where the trunks, etc., were placed. The Hannah, which safely carried the company to various ports in South America, to Cuba, etc., was finally stranded when but a short sail from New York, and in a little while after the people had left her she went to pieces and became a total loss.”

The Tuckerton eyewitness continued his tour of the beach.

“The Lizzie Bliss is an unusually fine, well-furnished brig, and is capsized, her unfurled sails buffeted by the waves and flying in the storm. The boxes and barrels which formed her cargo are lying about in all directions, and taken with Uncle Sam’s life-saving apparatus, which is still standing on the beach near her, makes the scene in her immediate neighborhood one of wild and strange desolation, especially as not twenty yards from her lies the wreck of the British ship ‘Sultana,’ to whose spars is still attached the life-car hawser used in rescuing the crew. Half a mile above lies the ‘George,’ which, since she struck, has moved down the beach a mile, and although exposed to two severe storms was yesterday uninjured. To-days storm, however, has very likely settled her destiny. Altogether the three miles of coast in the vicinity of the ‘Mansion of Health’ presents about as sorry a scene as we have witnessed in many a day.”

From all the accounts mentioned, it would appear that no human lives were lost and the local volunteers had used the government-supplied equipment with skill and efficiency. No charges were ever brought against any “Barnegat Pirates.” It is interesting to note that Crane, in his interview, didn’t give details on any of these wrecks, just the one that stranded last, the bark Amelia.

Next Week: Crane’s story.


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