Lighthouse History – 25 (1906-01-23)

Lighthouse History – 25 (1906-01-23)

The following extracts taken from early Victoria, British Columbia (BC) newspapers are credited to Leona Taylor for her excellent work in indexing the papers. Full information can be found here: “Index of Historical Victoria Newspapers“, 2007-09.


(see the beginning of this tragedy in Lighthouse History – 24 . . .)


The Lost: A W Wollstein, 24, Oxford, New Zealand; John Rogers, 50, Liverpool; H G Ray, 20, Newport, Monmouth; Evan Jones, 45, Carnarvon; Martin Pedersen, 27, Norway; J Poda, 24, Denmark; P Sorrensen, 20, Denmark. 
The survivors: Captain Davidson; 2nd Officer, W E Edwards; A Ericsen, carpenter; Duncan MacFarlane, steward; John Youngson, cabin boy; Alex Ferson, W Oag, J Robinson, apprentices; George Pine, Edward Hay, Jack O’Flaherty, Paul Handloss, A Gustavson, P Johnson, George Hamilton, AB’s J Dennis, Ordinary Seaman. 
Captain Davidson and 16 other survivors of the wrecked British ship King David, which dragged her anchor and drifted broadside on Bajo Reef, where 2 knuckles of rock penetrated her plates and held her fast while the roiling seas listed her to starboard and rolled her so that the rocks churned the bottom out of her, arrived in Victoria on Sun, having been rescued by the Canadian Pacific Railway Queen City, Captain Townsend, after spending nearly 5 weeks on the shingle beach, sheltering in an abandoned Indian fishing camp, with big driftwood fires burning nightly, vainly seeking to attract attention. 
Ignorant that within 3 leagues was a settlement of Nootka, with its store and adequate succor, betrayed by out-of-date charts and inadequate sailing directions – a seemingly common failing in merchant ships trading to this coast – the chief officer and 6 seamen who volunteered to make the dangerous journey for assistance to Cape Beale, 100 miles away, left to meet their death in a howling gale, and had not Captain Townsend sighted the ship with her shattered topsails flying like ragged pennants in the wind, sufficient distress signals for any seaman, when her steered toward Nootka on Jan 14, another boats crew would also have been endangered, perhaps lost. When the rescuing Steamer arrived, another boats crew was preparing to make the perilous journey by open boat to Cape Beale. And, had these seamen but known, there was succor at Nootka, 8 miles distant, a lighthouse, telegraph station and settlement at Clayoquot, and many settlements intervening between them and far away Cape Beale. 
King David left Salinas Cruz in ballast on Oct 1 and had usual weather to the latitude of Cape Flattery, where thick weather was encountered. Captain Davidson made the land about Dec 7, sighting what he took to be Cape Beale light, but what he now believes was the newly erected lighthouse at Lennard I, at the mouth of Clayoquot Sound, of which he knew nothing. The vessel drifted northward – there is a strong northerly set off the Vancouver Island coast in winter – and on Dec 10 the lookout man sang out at 9pm “Breakers on the lee bow”. The threatened danger was cleared, and shortly afterward the lookout man shouted of other dangers. More breakers were heard and seen. Soundings were made, showing 8 fathoms, and the anchor was cleared away. The ship brought up in 8 fathoms. There she lay at anchor for 3 days. 
On Dec 13 a NE wind blew from moderate to fresh, the weather cleared up and the land was seen. It was also noticed in what a dangerous position the vessel lay in the event of heavy wind from another direction. The land was not made out distinctly, but hazily in the mist along shore. Captain Davidson then got his crew busy, starting to lift the anchor and intending to work the ship out of the dangerous position under her topsails. The anchor dragged on the rocks, the ship meanwhile drifting nearer to Bajo Reef. Suddenly she struck heavily by the starboard quarter and was soon fast. Two big knuckles of rock – one well forward, another on the starboard quarter – penetrated the plates and held her fast. As the seas struck her – she was standing with her head almost straight to sea – she keeled over to starboard and remained with a list, though she rolled with the movement of the sea.
Vain efforts were made to slip the cable, but it was soon evident nothing could be done. A heavy swell was rolling in and beating over the deck, the spray and spume going well up over the topmasts. The vessel then began to make water. The ballast began to ooze and the crew lowered away the boats on the leeside. That evening all hands left the vessel except the Captain and chief officer. One boat took the seamen ashore. First the apprentices and old men were sent, Captain Davidson telling them to make for the shingle beach 1 � miles away, where through the glasses some ramshackle huts – afterward found to be Indian fishing camps – had been seen. The boat made 2 or 3 trips. On her first trip she landed, among others, the old sailmaker, Donald McLeod, 64 years of age, who looked older. He landed on a slippery boulder, and as the boat pushed off to make another trip to the ship – then unseen in the night – he slipped and fell in the water. The shock of falling into the water seems to have unbalanced his mind. Although in shallow water, he shouted loudly for help, and afterward became insane. 
Steward MacFarlane saw to it that the stores were landed, the boat making several trips to bring ashore bags of pilot bread, casks of salt meat and other provisions. The stores were taken into one of the cedar lodges of the Indians, and the shipwrecked men did not want for food, although they spent 33 days on the beach. When rescued they had ample for another month. They at once gathered driftwood, which was unusually plentiful on that section of the beach, and built a big fire on the shingles, as well as smaller fires in the centre of the huts, making themselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. They had their blankets and other effects, their chests and bags having been taken ashore from the wreck, and they suffered no great privations, despite their long stay on the beach. 
Captain Davidson and Chief Officer Wollstein remained on the wreck. Three days they stayed on board, while the wind split the topsails and the sea rolled the vessel until the rocks in which she lay crumbled holes into the steel plates of her hull. At half tide the sea was comparatively smooth, but with the flood tide she rolled so that the Captain thought she would roll the spars out of her. With the freshening of the wind the sea rose and waves beat with force against the port side, throwing broken waves over the tilted deck. The mizzen stay went, and on Dec 16 – 3 days after she went ashore, they left her and joined the crew on shore. 
Next day, although the crew on the beach did not know it, Queen City was running through the passage at the other side of Nootka I and left Nootka seaward at 3:35am on Dec 17, when it was too dark to see the wreck. Just before King David lay near Bajo Reef, on which she stranded nearly 6 hours later – to be exact, 9pm. But the weather was thick. It was raining heavily and nothing could be seen from the Steamer, which, after calling at Nootka, went up, as usual, at the other side of the I. Again 10 days later Queen City went past the place. She ran into Friendly Cove, from where, had the weather been clear, she would have seen the wrecked vessel on Dec 23 at 5:55pm, when it was dark and the weather was heavy and thick, with a gale blowing hard from the Southeast. On her down trip she again left Friendly Cove after dark, and it was not until the third trip that she sighted the wreck. 
Life on the beach was not so bad for the shipwrecked men as might be imagined. Of course, ignorant of the existence of any settlement, they believed they had been thrown on an uninhabited coast and that The steamers might not come for months, but life was not so hard. The Indian fishing camp gave them homes of a kind. An Indian fishing hut is similar to those ramshackle cedar lodges with a “kinet” or smoke-hole in the centre of the roof and with the sides showing chinks in places that allowed the wind to whistle through on an inclement day. Moreover, the hardpan of the beach formed the floor. But such as they were, they furnished shelter, and the men sat about the fires they built in the centre of the floor and huddled about them as did the original occupants, with the smudge of the driftwood fire filling their eyes. They made themselves as comfortable as possible, patching the huts with canvas, and waited. 
During the days there were amusements of different sorts. One couple went off with an old harpoon, after discovering a deer run – they found many deer tracks – and lay in wait, thinking that they might be able to harpoon some venison. But they didn’t. Another party went off on a trip of discovery and found 15 old skulls in an Indian house beneath a mat. Two others, Hay and Gustavsen, went off along the beach to seek assistance. They were away 3 days and when they returned said they had gone 25 miles and had not found any settlement. They evidently did not speak the truth, for if they had gone 25 miles they would have found Nootka; more, they would have gone beyond the island. These 2 men, who had taken a boat axe to cut the undergrowth, returned with a tale of an arduous trip and told of meeting an Indian, who told them no succor would come to the camp until Mar. 
Unfortunately these 2 men were believed when they brought back such a report, and no other parties went out, in which event doubtless the predicament of the shipwrecked men would have been known long before it was. Captain Davidson, when he heard the report of Hay and Gustavsen, asked for volunteers to man a boat to go to Cape Beale. He had brought his charts, sailing directions and other effects on shore, and from the charts he saw that there was a lighthouse at Cape Beale, where the shipwrecked mariners could find assistance and communicate by telegraph. So said the chart, but it made no mention of Nootka village, Clayoquot and its telegraph line and settlement, or the many other places intervening between Nootka I and Cape Beale. 
Eight men stepped out as volunteers, and the lifeboat was made ready to go. George Pine and Jack O’Flaherty also volunteered, but 6 were thought sufficient, and they returned with the other survivors. The lifeboat was provisioned and Chief Officer Wollstein was told by Captain Davidson to follow the shore. 
On Dec 21 the boat was launched and the members of the crew took their places. The other seamen shook hands with their comrades and shoved them off, watching the boat until it was rowed around Hesquiat Point and disappeared. It was never heard of afterwards. On Dec 23, 2 days after it left, the heaviest gale of the season blew from the Southeast and continued for 5 days. It was in this gale that Pass of Melfort was wrecked at Amphitrite Point. Queen City went into Nootka during this gale, and both her officers and the survivors of King David are of opinion the boat was swamped and all hands drowned. 
During the stay on the beach the smoke of a passing Steamer was seen on Jan 1, but too far away for the men to hope of attracting her attention, though they hurriedly built up their fire, throwing kerosene on it. 
The unfortunate sailmaker who had become demented was not troublesome, had a good appetite and seemed to mope about despondently until one night when he tried to jump into the fire on the beach. One of the seamen fortunately restrained him or he might have been burnt to death. After that he was watched, lest he work himself harm, and at times was tied down in a hut. 
As the days passed the men began to worry, thinking themselves on an uninhabited and seldom visited shore, and preparations were being made to launch the other lifeboat, when to their great joy a Steamer was seen nearing the point of the island. Excited, they ran the boats down the shingle, having much difficulty in launching the lifeboat. But the smaller boat was put into the water and Captain Davidson and some of his crew put off to the Steamer, which proved to be Queen City. 
When nearing Nootka, approaching Friendly Cove, Captain Townsend had sighted the wreck, with her tattered sails and signal flags showing her name. She did not seem to him to be ashore; rather, a vessel in a dangerous position and much in need of the assistance of a Steamer. Coming near he saw that the vessel was ashore and a wreck. Then white-painted boats, so different to the burn black canoes of the Indians, were seen on the beach; then the smoke of the camp of the shipwrecked men. Later the boat was seen approaching and the Steamer bore down towards it. When the predicament of the shipwrecked men was made known, a supply of fresh food was given them and arrangements were at once made by Captain Townsend to call on the way back from Quatsino to pick up the crew. With this understanding the boat returned to the camp and Queen City continued her voyage. 
On the following day, Dec 15, when the Steamer was bound to the westward, the glass fell and threatening weather commenced, with the result that Captain Townsend put about and decided to pick up the crew of King David at once. They still had plenty of food and were not in immediate want, but it was thought better to take all on board Queen City and allow them to make the voyage to Quatsino and back. The shipwrecked mariners and their effects, bags, chests, everything they had saved from the vessel, as well as one of the ships boats, was taken on board in a nasty sea, with a fresh Southeast wind blowing, and an effort was made to tow the lifeboat, but it was wrecked in consequence. The entire company were given their meals in the saloon of The Steamer and ate heartily, the steward says. Rooms were given as many as possible and all were made comfortable. 
Captain Davidson and his officers, in recounting their experiences on Queen City, spoke in terms of extreme gratitude to Captain Townsend and his officers, who they said had done all possible for them and they wished to return to them their most heartfelt thanks. 
Donald McLeod, the sailmaker, became worse on board Queen City, though the others soon improved. The unfortunate man died when the vessel lay at the post office at Quatsino. The remains were taken ashore in one of Queen Citys boats for burial. 
On arrival at Victoria Captain Davidson and the officers went to the Dominion Hotel, while the crew were taken in charge by Mr Sims of the Esquimalt sailors boarding house. Mr Laird, shipping master, met the men and did all possible for them. 
Captain Davidson does not think there is any possibility of saving the wreck. There is about 8 of rise and fall in the tide where she is, and when he left the vessel her hull had been badly broken by rolling on the reef. Her rudder is gone. The sea rolled over the deck, and he thinks the spars will have fallen by this time. The seas pound the vessel heavily, and she must break up with the succeeding gales. There is a donkey engine and other movable things which might possibly be saved, as well as her running gear, by a salvage Steamer, but he doubts if the work could be done profitably, considering the position in which the vessel lies. [Colonist, 1906-01-23]

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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