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Loss Of The United States Steamer Arctic


The French merchant screw steamer Vesta had been in collision with the Arctic paddle steamer, at the Virgin Rocks, during a dense fog ; the Arctic went down in a very short time ; out of 400 parsons on board, only 45 were known to have been saved.


(From the St. John's Public Ledger, 3rd October, [1854])

The French merchant screw-steamer Vesta, from St. Peter's, bound for Granville, arrived here on Saturday morning last, with loss of foretopmast, and bows completely shattered to pieces, having been in collision with the Collins paddle steamer Arctic, from Liverpool, for New York, about 54 miles south-east of Cape Race.

It appears that the Vesta left St. Peter's on Tuesday last, and on the following day, at noon, in the neighbourhood of the Virgin Rocks in an exceedingly dense fog, steaming eight knots, came into collision with a large steamer, which was recognised as the Arctic, of New York, whose speed is stated to have not been less than twelve knots. The Vesta appeared to be sinking, but immediately rose again; but no hope was entertained of her ultimate safety, the passengers and crew looking upon the Arctic as their only chance of saying their lives. One man was killed, and others severely wounded. Two boats were put over the side, the first of which was sunk, and the second was immediately boarded by two of the crew and several of the passengers, who, not heeding the order of the captain to return on board, abandoned the vessel. The fog continuing very thick, they lost sight of the Arctic altogether, still hoping, however, that she would not desert them. A cry of distress was now heard, which was attributed to some men of the Vesta, who, it appears, had jumped overboard to get on board the Arctic. Providentially the bulkhead in the forecastle was not started, which the captain (Duchesne) noticed as affording a chance of safety. He immediately, with the utmost promptitude, gave orders for lightening the vessel by the head, which was as readily obeyed by throwing overboard all the fish, cargo; luggage of the passengers, &c., which was in the fore part of the vessel, and which raised her bows considerably. This elevation, with the firmness of the bulkhead, contributed much to stop the heavy rush of water. About one hundred and fifty mattresses, palliasses and other effects of the crew and passengers were now placed abaft the safety partition, over which were thrown sails, backed by boards and planks, the

whole being secured by cables well and firmly wrapped round all.

The foremast, which had received some damage, was cut away, and contributed considerably to raise the head still more. This occupied two days. They then ran under small steam for the nearest port (St. John's), which they entered on Saturday lastmost providentially before the rising of a severe gale which blew on that day. Upon mustering the hands, thirteen were missed. The Vesta had onboard 147 passengers and a crew of fifty men.

The conduct of Captain Duchesne is much applauded, and the condition of the vessel, as she now appears, elicits the admiration of all who visit her. Indeed, nothing but the most indomitable energy, unwavering perseverance, and superior seamanship could have succeeded in bringing the vessel into port. The unfortunate men have been taken into the hospitable keeping of M. Toissaint (through whose kindness we have been enabled to gather the foregoing account), who spares no pains to provide for their comfort.

Nothing further was known of the Arctic until the evening of Saturday, when news reached town that she had suffered considerably from the shock, and had been abandoned by the passengers and crew. On Sunday some of those who had taken to the boats arrived here from Renews. From one of the passengers we have gathered the following information respecting the collision :

It seems that on Wednesday last, about noon, as the passengers were at lunch in the cabin, a violent shock was felt, and upon rushing on deck, a steamer was very indistinctly seen, through a dense fog, broad off the starboard bow, which turns out to be the Vesta, above mentioned. At first no danger was apprehended on board the Arctic, and the chief officer was sent with a boat to the rescue of the crew of the Vesta. It was soon discovered, how ever, that there was little hope of saving the Arctic, and the wife, daughter, and son of Mr. E. K. Collins, with several ladies, were put on board a boat, in the act of lowering which one of the tackles gave way, and all, except one lady, who clung to a sailor, holding fast to the boat, were precipitated into the sea, and lost.

Another party of ladies and a few gentlemen were put on board another boat, with some provisions, but, not having been manned by sailors, there is little chance of their speedily reaching the land. The ship could not be stopped to lower the boats, the pumps being attached to the engine for the purpose of keeping the vessel clear of the water which was rushing furiously into her from an injury done on the fore side of the starboard wheel. She was then headed for Cape Race, but after having gone some fifteen miles, the water had so far gained as to extinguish the fires, and the wheels consequently ceased to work, at which time the boats saved left the ship. Captain Luce had no hope of saving the vessel or his own life, and on some one wishing to take his little son into the boat, he declined. A large boat, capable of containing fifty persons, was on deck, but there not being sufficient hands on board and being very heavy to launch, it is supposed she would be filled with persons, in the hope that she might float off when the ship sunk. It is conjectured that three life-boats are yet floating, which would be likely to live out the gale of Saturday.

" The purser, Mr. Geib, it appears, chartered a small craft at Renews to visit the scene of the disaster, and ascertain, if possible, whether there are any more boats out ; so that we may shortly learn of the safety or otherwise of other parties.

" The Arctic had on board 400 persons, about 185 of whom were first-class passengers, 75 second-class, and 130 crew. The general impression of those saved is that the steamer soon went down.

" The following letter from the purser of the Arctic to the American Consul here was published in the Newfoundlander of yesterday, together with some other particulars which have been embodied in the above statement :

"' Ferryland, September 29.

"' Dear Sir,-Enclosed I send you an important telegraphic communication for Messrs. E. K. Collins and Co., New York, informing them of the loss of the steamer Arctic, which I will thank you to have forwarded to Halifax, for transmission by the earliest opportunity from St. John's. I am now on my way to your place with fourteen passengers and thirty-one of the crew of the ill-fated steamer, who were saved in two small boats belonging to the ship, after spending two days and two nights on the deep

"' We arrived at four o'clock this morning, at a place called Broad Cove, and are waiting for a fair wind to take us to St. John's.

"' John Geib, Purser, steamer Arctic.

"' Mr. W. H. Newman, American Consul.'

" On Wednesday, the 27th instant, at 12 o'clock (noon) the Arctic came into collision with a screw steamer (name unknown) in a dense fog, 55 miles south-east of Cape Race. In an hour and a half from the time of collision the engines of the Arctic ceased working, on account of the fires being extinguished, and the passengers and crew took to the boats, as far as able. The number of persons that arrived here is safety in two boats, one of which I had charge of, was 45 - 14 passengers and 31 crew. A number of persons were lost by the swamping of one of the boats, in which it is painful for me to say were the wife, son, and daughter, of Mr. E. K. Collins. We landed at a place called Renews, in Newfoundland, and are now on our way to St. John's distant about fifty miles, whence I send this communication by express to the American Consul to forward to Halifax. I have chartered a schooner, which sailed this morning with a fair wind, under command of Mr. Bashlam ; the second officer, which will probably arrive at the scene of the disaster at twelve o'clock to-night (29th) in search of the other boats out.

Annexed I send a list of the passengers and crew saved in the two boats with me.

"' JOHN L. GEIB, Purser.

" Messrs. E. K. Collins and Company, New York.'

" Passengers saved.-

Messrs. C. De Paissiur,
W. A. Young,
W. W. Gilbert,
J. Bogart,
E. F. Mitchell,
E. M. Tuss,
W. Rathbone,
J. Hennessy,
H. Moore,
De Meyer, W. Gihon, jun.,

J. M'Math,

George Dobbs,

and the servant of the Duke de Grammont.

" Crew saved.

Mr. Geib, purser ;
Mr. Bashlam, second officer ;
Mark Graham, fourth officer ;
and 28 seamen.

" We are glad to be enabled to state that every exertion is being made to procure vessels to be despatched in search of the Arctic or her boat, by the American Consul and passengers, who have succeeded in obtaining the brig Ann Eliza, belonging to Messrs. Warren Brothers, which sailed last evening, and will cruise three days in the vicinity of the catastrophe, free of charge The Right Rev. Dr. Field promptly offered the use of his yacht, the Hawk, for the same service, which will be despatched as soon as a master and crew can be had for her. The Telegraph Company's Steamer Victoria, would, in all probability, be also sent off this morning and the mail steamer, immediately upon her arrival, will also be dispatched for the same purpose. The steamer Cleopatra, now in port had not been forgotten, but we believe she cannot possibly be had. No expense has been spared in the search, and the exertions of Mr. Newman, the American Consul, are worthy of all praise. We sincerely trust their endeavours will be well rewarded."

We are sorry to find from subsequent reports in the Times of the 18th October, [1854] that many small vessels which were immediately undertaken in search of the steamer or of any of her boats, had returned from unsuccessful cruises, and that very little hope is entertained for the safety of any, except those enumerated in the letters of the purser.

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