CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

Monday, November 30, 2015

IN THE MIDST OF DISASTER

 

Dardanelles campaign: V-Beach at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915. The Turkish fort on the right is Sedd-el-Bahr

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File:Escanaba-Dorchester rescue.jpgFile:Four Chaplains monument, Ann Arbor, Michigan.jpg
     
File:USAT Dorchester.jpg

The Dorchester was a 5,649 ton civilian cruise ship, 368 feet long with a 52-foot beam and a single funnel, originally built in 1926 by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, for the Merchants and Miners Line, operating ships from Baltimore to Florida, carrying both freight and passengers. It was the third of four liners being built for the Line. The ship was converted for military service in World War II as a troop transport, and renamed United States Army Transport (USAT) Dorchester.

The chaplains were honored with a commemorative stamp that was issued in 1948, and was designed by Louis Schwimmer, the head of the Art Department of the New York branch of the U.S. Post Office Department (now called the USPS). This stamp is highly unusual, because until 2011,[39] U.S. stamps were not normally issued in honor of someone other than a President of the United States until at least ten years after his or her death.

         

 

While the sea is calm, the sky is dirty with a black pall of smoke hanging over where the Lusitania was torpedoed by a U-boat in 1915.

And the shocking trail of dead bodies interspersed with survivors on wreckage from the passenger liner is clear in this stunning painting.

The artwork by William Lionel Wyllie captures the mayhem after the ship was sunk off Ireland on the way to Liverpool from New York.

And it is featured in an art collection of unseen, 'lost' or little-known paintings about life on naval and merchant ships in the world wars.

Among the works are those by well-known names including Norman Wilkinson, Eric Kennington, Edward Wadsworth and Jacob Epstein.

But previously unpublished works by naval nurse Rosemary Rutherford and Wren Gladys Reed - both trained artists - also feature.

Some 14 drawings by Reed were found in the archives of the National Maritime Museum after being forgotten about for nearly 70 years.

And last year the London museum bought 17 previously unseen paintings by Rutherford - which are in the book, Art and the War at Sea.

Christine Riding, its editor and the NMM's head of art, said: 'The naval aspect of war, especially World War One, has been largely forgotten.

'We wanted to redress that imbalance and draw the public's attention to the crucial role of the Navy and Merchant Navy in both world wars.'

'The Track of the Lusitania': The passenger liner was torpedoed by a U-boat off the Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland in May 1915

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'The Track of the Lusitania': The passenger liner was torpedoed by a U-boat off the Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland in May 1915

We shall fight them on the beaches: Landing craft approach the Normandy coast on D-Day at the start of Operation Overlord in June 1944

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We shall fight them on the beaches: Landing craft approach the Normandy coast on D-Day at the start of Operation Overlord in June 1944

At sea: A convoy of merchant ships painted with dazzle camouflage during the First World War - part of the book Art and the War at Sea

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At sea: A convoy of merchant ships painted with dazzle camouflage during the First World War - part of the book Art and the War at Sea

 

On Board a S-Class Submarine: Up the Conning Tower, 1944 Operating Theatre by Rosemary Rutherford, 1943-44

Wartime life: A 1944 work titled 'On Board a S-Class Submarine: Up the Conning Tower' (left) and another called 'Operating Theatre' (right)

Looking up: The control room of HMS Stubborn in 1943 - a submarine that operated off the Scandinavian coast and in the Pacific Far East

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Looking up: The control room of HMS Stubborn in 1943 - a submarine that operated off the Scandinavian coast and in the Pacific Far East

'Withdrawal from Dunkirk’: An oil painting from June 1940 when 366,162 men were evacuated to England under difficult conditions

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'Withdrawal from Dunkirk’: An oil painting from June 1940 when 366,162 men were evacuated to England under difficult conditions

Off she goes: HMS Revenge sails out of Portsmouth harbour with a destroyer in escort in this painting by Richard Ernst Eurich in 1942

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Off she goes: HMS Revenge sails out of Portsmouth harbour with a destroyer in escort in this painting by Richard Ernst Eurich in 1942

Supplies: This boat discharging flour in 1918 is covered in dazzle paint - developed following heavy losses sustained by merchant ships

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Supplies: This boat discharging flour in 1918 is covered in dazzle paint - developed following heavy losses sustained by merchant ships

Dardanelles campaign: V-Beach at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915. The Turkish fort on the right is Sedd-el-Bahr

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Dardanelles campaign: V-Beach at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915. The Turkish fort on the right is Sedd-el-Bahr

 

Clear Fight Deck: On Board an Aircraft Carrier, 1944 A Nurse reading, 1943-44

 

Clear the deck: Planes on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier during the Second World War (left) and a nurse reading in 1943 or 1944 (right)

Also featured: A partial view from a deck of a merchant ship in the First World War painted with dazzle camouflage, which is in the book

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Also featured: A partial view from a deck of a merchant ship in the First World War painted with dazzle camouflage, which is in the book

 

Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe (1859-1935). Sir Walter Thomas Monnington Book cover of Art and the War at Sea

Gloves in hand: John Jellicoe (left), commander of the British Grand Fleet at the start of the First World War, is featured in the book (right)

 

 

Chaos: As the ship sank, passengers and crew battled each other to fit into an overloaded lifeboat

 

Dorchester left New York on January 23, 1943, en route to Greenland, carrying the four chaplains and approximately 900 others, as part of a convoy of three ships (SG-19 convoy). Most of the military personnel were not told the ship's ultimate destination. The convoy was escorted by Coast Guard Cutters Tampa,Escanaba, and Comanche.

 

Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Escanaba rescues Dorchester survivors.

The ship's captain, Hans J. Danielsen, had been alerted that Coast Guard sonar had detected a submarine. Because German U-boats were monitoring sea lanes and had attacked and sunk ships earlier during the war, Captain Danielsen had the ship's crew on a state of high alert even before he received that information, ordering the men to sleep in their clothing and keep their life jackets on. "Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship's hold disregarded the order because of the engine's heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable."[9]

During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., the vessel was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off Newfoundland in the North Atlantic.

The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester's electrical system, leaving the ship dark. Panic set in among the men on board, many of them trapped below decks. The chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship, and helped guide wounded men to safety. As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out before each man had one. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.[12]

As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.

—Grady Clark, survivor[13]

According to some reports, survivors could hear different languages mixed in the prayers of the chaplains, including Jewish prayers in Hebrew and Catholic prayers in Latin.[14]

Some 230 of the 904 men aboard the ship were rescued. Life jackets offered little protection from hypothermia, which killed most men in the water. The water temperature was 34 °F (1 °C) and the air temperature was 36 °F (2 °C). By the time additional rescue ships arrived, "hundreds of dead bodies were seen floating on the water, kept up by their life jackets."

New book reveals last words of doomed HMS Bounty's arrogant captain who'd sailed INTO the path of Hurricane Sandy

  • Skipper robin Walbridge's last words are revealed in a new book The Gathering Wind out next week
  • He told his 15 crew - one of whom would die alongside him - 'learn from this'
  • The 180ft tall HMS Bounty - built for the 1962 Marlon Brando classic Mutiny on the Bounty, sank off the coast of North Carolina on October 29 last year
  • Walbridge has been painted as an arrogant man who rode his luck one too many times - and claims that the ship should never have set sail at all
  • The family of deckhand Claudene Christian, 42, who died have filed $90 million lawsuit over her death
  • But book reveals that despite withering official report into the sinking, his crew still stick by him

He was the captain who led his crew into eye of Superstorm Sandy, the biggest and most brutal hurricane in living memory.

But it was only just as the famed HMS Bounty was about to sink that Robin Walbridge finally admitted defeat, MailOnline can reveal.

In ‘The Gathering Wind’, a new book seen exclusively by MailOnline before its release next week, Walbridge called the crew of 15 below deck for one last speech in which he ordered them: 'Learn from this.'

In sharp contrast to his previous defiance, he shouted above the howling winds tearing the ship apart: ‘What went wrong? At what point did we lose control?’

Destruction: A new book has detailed the final moments of The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, which submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, North Carolina

Destruction: A new book has detailed the final moments of The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, which submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, North Carolina

Walbridge’s last, ominous words to them all were: ‘Get some rest while you can. You’re going to need it’.

The 180ft tall HMS Bounty, which was built for the 1962 Marlon Brando classic Mutiny on the Bounty, sank off the coast of North Carolina near Cape Hatteras early in the morning of Monday October 29th last year in an area known as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’.

Two of the crew on the ship died; Walbridge, 63, and deckhand Claudene Christian, 42, a former University of Southern California song girl. Fourteen others survived. Afterwards grave concerns were raised about the entire expedition, the Coast Guard began an official inquiry and Christian’s family filed a $90 million lawsuit over her death.

Walbridge has been painted as an arrogant man who rode his luck one too many times - with fatal consequences. Critics say he should never have even set sail at all.

Sandy, a ‘Frankenstorm’ made up of two storm systems, would go on to affect some 60 million Americans as it tore up the East coast and grow to 1,100 miles wide with winds up to 110mph.

The streets of Manhattan flooded and knocked out the power for half of the island, some $68 billion of damage was caused in the US and at least 286 people were killed.

Dramatic: An image taken inside the helicopter shows the moment crew members were saved from the ship

Dramatic: An image taken inside the helicopter shows the moment crew members were saved from the ship

Walbridge was aware of the warnings about Sandy because he got them on the ship’s computer - but still decided to go directly into its path.

He left New London, Connecticut on Thursday October 25th bound for St Petersburg, Florida on board the ship that he had captained for 17 years and was the love of his life.

It was a replica of the 1784 Royal Navy vessel which has also appeared in a string of Hollywood blockbusters including two Pirates of the Caribbean films.

But it was also not licensed to take the public out to sea and Walbridge had a reputation for bending the rules to keep it afloat with not enough money for extensive repairs.

Walbridge was apparently convinced that the hundreds of experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were wrong and that the storm would not continue its path up the Eastern Coast of the US.

Instead he thought that it would come out into the Atlantic Ocean and he could creep round it to the West. He was wrong.

In one of her last communications before she died, Christian texted a friend in Florida: ‘Wow! Here we go... straight into Hurricane Sandy.’

Struggle: A footage still shows one of the crew of the Bounty being rescued from a life raft by the Coast Guard after the vessel sank after the captain went against forecasters' advice and sailed into the storm

Struggle: A footage still shows one of the crew of the Bounty being rescued from a life raft by the Coast Guard after the vessel sank after the captain went against forecasters' advice and sailed into the storm

The adventure of a lifetime for some of the crew who were young and loving the romance of sailing a tall ship was about to end.

Waves up to 30ft high - the size of two story houses - crashed over the vessel, sending deck hand Adam Prokosh, 27, flying between decks, dislocating his shoulder and breaking several ribs.

One wave propelled Walbridge into a table, leaving him badly hurt and lying on the floor in pain.

The wind ripped down several sails and at 6.30pm on Sunday October 28th the second generator failed meaning that they were unable to pump out the bilge water that swamped the lower decks in a matter of hours, meaning they were were adrift and taking on water in the middle of the storm.

The crew had already alerted the coast guard which sent a plane sent from North Carolina to track them down but the winds were so severe it would be sent up two hundred feet in a second, then go back down again a second later.

In 'The Gathering Wind' author Gregory A. Freeman writes that as it became apparent that the end was nigh, Walbridge called the crew to the navigation shack and ‘looked over them silently’.

Destroyed: An image taken in July 2010 shows the tall ship HMS Bounty sailing on Lake Erie off Cleveland

Destroyed: An image taken in July 2010 shows the tall ship HMS Bounty sailing on Lake Erie off Cleveland

He told them: ‘Water bottles. Don’t forget to take your own water bottle with you….make sure there’s an EPIRB (emergency beacon) activated in each life raft….stay together’.

The book reads: ‘But then Walbridge got to what was really on his mind. He must have understood that his decision to set sail from New London was a mistake.

‘And Walbridge always taught his crew to learn from their mistakes. This was to be his last teachable moment for the crew of the Bounty.

‘He said: ‘I’d like everyone to brainstorm where we went wrong’. ‘How did we get here,’ Walbridge asked loudly, looking around the nav shack, still in command of his ship. ‘What went wrong? At what point did we lose control?’

‘There was only silence as Walbridge looked around the room. His crew watched him intently, but some had trouble meeting his gaze. They knew what Walbridge was saying to them.

'Learn from this,' Walbridge said more quietly.'

The book says that Walbridge looked weary in a way that they had never seen before. Walbridge then told them his final words as their captain: ‘Get some rest while you can. You’re going to need it in a couple of hours.’

'Arrogant': The late Captain Robin Walbridge, pictured working on the Bounty in 2011, 'recklessly ignored Sandy's size, scope and intensity', according to a lawsuit brought by the family of a victim.

'Arrogant': The late Captain Robin Walbridge, pictured working on the Bounty in 2011, 'recklessly ignored Sandy's size, scope and intensity', according to a lawsuit brought by the family of a victim.

Before the storm: Bosun Laura Groves and Chris Malloon work on the rigging in 2010 as the Bounty sailed between New Brunswick and Maine for a haul out. Two crew members died in the storm but 14 survived

Before the storm: Bosun Laura Groves and Chris Malloon work on the rigging in 2010 as the Bounty sailed between New Brunswick and Maine for a haul out. Two crew members died in the storm but 14 survived

The crew radioed the C-130 coast guard plane circling over head at 4.45am on Sunday October 25th to say the Bounty was capsizing.

Everyone got into a ‘Gumby’ suit, which is a large inflatable survival suit - then all hell broke loose when the Bounty suddenly turned on its side, sending everyone into the water.

New details: The final terrifying moments are detailed in the new book, out next week

New details: The final terrifying moments are detailed in the new book, out next week

The book recounts how the masts and rigging kept rising up in the water and crashing down on the sailors, hitting first mate John Svendsen and breaking his arm and cutting his face.

Every time the rest of the crew tried to swim away - which took a superhuman effort in their bulky Gumby suits - another rope would tangle onto them and try to suck them under.

Their suits were so heavy and their hands were so bulky inside them that it took 45 minutes to get the first person in the life raft by grabbing a rope to pull themselves up with their teeth.

Somehow 14 of the 16 on board made it to life rafts or clung on to wooden that was floating in the debris until the coastguard helicopter picked them all up.

Christian’s body was later found floating by another coastguard helicopter team.

Walbridge was never seen again, but soon after the recriminations began.

In February the Coast Guard held a week-long hearing in Portsmouth, Virginia into what happened. Its official report is due next year.

What came out left Christian’s family appalled.

Walbridge was apparently so keen to get to Florida on time because he had scheduled a meeting with a nonprofit organization dedicated to Down syndrome research, which might have helped bring in some money for the ship too.

The suggestion was that he and the ship’s owner, New York businessman Robert Hanse, were worried that if they missed the meeting the agreement would fall apart.

Team: Captain Walbridge (right) is pictured with the other Bounty crew working. Despite his apparently rash - and ultimately deadly - decisions, the crew has refused to say a bad word against the captain

Team: Captain Walbridge (right) is pictured working with the other Bounty crew. Despite his apparently rash - and ultimately deadly - decisions, the crew has refused to say a bad word against the captain

During the hearing it also emerged that, whilst in dry dock before the trip, Walbridge refused to approve the removal of rotten wood on the boat because it would have cost a lot of money.

An unfortunate interview he gave emerged in which he bragged ‘we chase hurricanes’ and said that they gave the ship a ‘good ride’.

Walbridge also did not tell his crew the full extent of Sandy’s strength and when senior members raised concerns he told them not to worry.

No other tall ships were out of port during Sandy, and hardly any other vessels were even with more modern hulls made of steel.

Hanse refused to testify at the coast guard hearing and took the Fifth meaning nobody will ever know the full truth.

So Christian’s family’s lawsuit against him, Walbridge, the Bounty operating company and the crew alleging that the ship ended up in ‘the greatest mismatch between a vessel and a peril of the sea that would ever occur or could be imagined’.

The lawsuit states: ‘Captain Walbridge, who was focused on the rewards lying in St Petersburg, recklessly ignored Sandy's size, scope and intensity.

Crew: Chief mate John Svendsen at the helm of the Bounty in 2010. He was second in command on the Bounty and known for his calm authority

Crew: Chief mate John Svendsen at the helm of the Bounty in 2010. He was second in command on the Bounty and known for his calm authority

Working together: Third mate Dan Cleveland doing some maintenance on the rigging of the Bounty in 2011

Working together: Third mate Dan Cleveland doing some maintenance on the rigging of the Bounty in 2011

‘He also grossly overestimated, to the point of recklessness, Bounty's seaworthiness and overestimated his professional seamanship and weather forecasting abilities to the point of arrogant hubris’.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that he put them in grave danger for no reason, Walbridge’s crew still somehow stood by him.

It is one of the most puzzling episodes of the whole tragedy, not least as they were being paid
just $100 a week for working 18-hour days.

Under questioning at the hearing Jess Hewitt, a 25-year-old qualified captain and crew member, refused to put the knife into Walbridge.

And when told by a lawyer for Christian’s family that nobody would say a bad word against him, her response was: ‘That’s awesome’.

Third mate Dan Cleveland, 25, was even more forthright in his defence of Walbridge.

‘The Gathering Wind’ reads: ‘If Walbridge were alive today and proposed sailing into another hurricane or storm, Cleveland would go with him because the outcome of the Bounty's last voyage was not inevitable.

Tragedy: As well as the captain, a woman died and other crew members suffered broken bones and injuries

Tragedy: As well as the captain, a woman died and other crew members suffered broken bones and injuries

‘The loss of the ship and two lives was the result of series of problems, he says, and that the sequence of events does not have to repeat itself. If just a few things had turned out differently, the Bounty would have made it through Hurricane Sandy, he insists.'

Speaking to MailOnline, Freeman said that in his assessment Walbridge did make a 'serious and tragic mistake'.

He thought that in time the crew will eventually 'come to the realization that Walbridge made tragic errors’, but that the camaraderie was so strong the couldn’t see it yet.

He said: 'It's hard to call for a mutiny because it's such a powerful word but in retrospect, I think the crew should have more forcefully told the captain that this was a bad idea, yes'.

Freeman, who has previously written a narrative non-fiction book about WWII soldiers, added that in those final moments Walbridge ‘realized that he had made this error’.

He said: 'I don't see him as the villain. Everyone agrees that he had an admirable career
on the sea until that point and he was considered a very fine captain'.

 


With a cargo of immigrants bound for a new life in America, the William Brown was a ship full of hope. It had set off from Liverpool five weeks earlier, on March 13, 1841, and was nearing the end of its voyage to Philadelphia.

A ship of 559 tonnes, it carried salt, coal and china, along with 65 passengers, mostly Irish and  Scottish families, as well as husbands and  wives joining spouses who had already made the journey from the old world to the land of opportunity.

There was thick fog as the ship entered the icefield west of Nova Scotia on the night of April 19. But rather than slowing down as other ships nearby were prudently doing, the better to avoid icebergs that might suddenly loom out of the darkness, the American captain, 48-year-old George Harris, kept the William Brown sailing at a brisk ten knots.

Harris was an experienced sailor, but he was under pressure from the ship’s owners to complete the voyage quickly because the vessel was about to be sold.

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Chaos: As the ship sank, passengers and crew battled each other to fit into an overloaded lifeboat

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Chaos: As the ship sank, passengers and crew battled each other to fit into an overloaded lifeboat

At 8.45pm, as the sailors on watch peered through the hazy darkness while the passengers relaxed below deck, there was a jolt and an ominous noise. The ship had scraped along a flat ice floe. But if the crew felt relief at getting away lightly, it was short-lived.

Fifteen minutes later, there was a horrifying jolt and thunderous noise as the ship collided head-on with a massive iceberg. The iron bows crumpled, a gaping hole appeared in one side and water began pouring into the ship.

The impact was enough to knock Mary Carr, the only passenger not in bed, off her feet. Below deck, 12-year-old Owen Carr, travelling from  Co. Tyrone with his large family, was thrown from his bunk. Another passenger, 19-year-old Bridget McGee, rushed on deck, fearing that ‘the ship had broken in two’.

She was not far wrong. The iceberg had catastrophically damaged the William Brown. Captain Harris surveyed the damage and ordered his crew to lower the lifeboats.

Shipwrecks were horribly frequent occurrences in the 19th century. Too many ships were poorly maintained or, like the William Brown, had too few lifeboats.

But what set this shipwreck apart from other disasters was the truly horrifying sequence of events that followed. They led to a sensational court case that captivated newspaper readers on both sides of the Atlantic and raised the ultimate moral conundrum: is it ever acceptable for one man to kill another to save his own skin?

Juddering: There was a horrifying jolt and thunderous noise as the ship collided head-on with a massive iceberg. The iron bows crumpled, a gaping hole appeared in one side and water began pouring in (file photo)

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Juddering: There was a horrifying jolt and thunderous noise as the ship collided head-on with a massive iceberg. The iron bows crumpled, a gaping hole appeared in one side and water began pouring in (file photo)

The terrible tale of the William Brown is featured in a fascinating new book about how people have reacted when they found themselves struggling to survive in remote, dangerous environments with limited supplies.

It prompts us all to ask what would we do in such circumstances. Would we do anything to save our fellow humans or would we be willing to sacrifice their lives to save ourselves? For the passengers and crew of the William Brown, these hypothetical questions became a dreadful reality.

After Captain Harris had given the order to his crew to abandon ship, they busied themselves launching the two boats on deck, one a longboat, about 20ft to 24ft in length, which had only oars and no rudder, the other a ‘jollyboat’, rounder and smaller, but more seaworthy.

Several frightened passengers had, like Bridget McGee, come on deck to ask what had happened. Instead of telling them the truth, Captain Harris and his crew assured them all was well.

Usurped: By the time the terrified passengers were on deck, most of the 16 crew were already in the two lifeboats

 

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Usurped: By the time the terrified passengers were on deck, most of the 16 crew were already in the two lifeboats

Mollified, they returned below deck. But when a male passenger, James Black, discovered the truth, he shouted down the hatches that the ship was sinking, and panic broke out.

By the time the terrified passengers had grabbed coats, roused their sleep-fuddled children and clambered up the hatchways, they found most of the 16 crew were already in the two lifeboats.

It was abundantly clear that there was not enough space in the boats for all 65 passengers. When one asked Captain Harris what they should do, he replied that they would have to do the best they could. He seemed to feel no responsibility for his guests.

The jollyboat had already launched, with eight sailors and just one female passenger, while the longboat was rapidly filling up. Panicking hordes rushed towards it, but in the stampede, those who were encumbered by young children or were simply too slow were left on deck. Young Owen Carr was pushed into the freezing ocean by another passenger, Julie McCadden. Bridget McGee and 17-year-old Biddy Nugent, who was on her way to join her father in Philadelphia, managed to scramble into the longboat, but a Swedish sailor on board, 26-year-old Alexander Holmes, ordered them out.

However, they refused and remained in the boat as it was lowered into the sea. The sailors, worried that the longboat was overcrowded, were picking on  young women, who had no man to protect them, and trying to evict them.

Another teenager, 19-year-old Sarah Carr, had raced below deck to grab some warm clothing: ‘When  I returned, the longboat was  in the water alongside the vessel. I jumped.’

She landed on a sailor, Charles Smith, who ordered her to return to the sinking vessel, but she stayed put. The longboat was pushed away from the ship, but remained attached by ropes.

A Scottish woman, Margaret Edgar, had managed to get three of her daughters into the longboat, but the fourth, Isabella, had fallen on the slippery deck and failed to get in.

Hearing her child’s pitiful cries for help among the screams of the other 31 passengers still on the sinking ship, Mrs Edgar cried out: ‘Someone! Save my daughter for pity’s sake.’

Pitiful: Stricken passengers and crew crammed into a lifeboat, but they were far too many (file image)

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Pitiful: Stricken passengers and crew crammed into a lifeboat, but they were far too many (file image)

Swede Alexander Holmes, moved by a mother’s tears, ordered the crew to manoeuvre the boat back  to the William Brown. He bravely climbed up a rope onto the deck of the ailing ship and found Isabella among the petrified huddle of passengers.

Hoisting her onto his shoulders, Holmes was about to carry her back down the rope when he was accosted by a doctor’s wife from Ireland, travelling with her three young children.

Realising that the ship was about to go down, the woman offered Holmes ‘as much money as he could earn in a month’ if he would save her life, even though this would mean him abandoning Isabella.

Incredibly, she was willing to leave her three children to drown in order to save herself, but Holmes refused, saying: ‘Money is not the object. It is lives I wish to save.’

The Swede then carried Isabella back down the rope to the long-boat before giving some of his warm clothing to a shivering Julie McCadden.

The two boats pulled further from the sinking ship. Several of their occupants had left relatives behind on the ship and they heard their anguished cries as they realised that they were being abandoned to their fate, the water lapping around their feet as they stood helplessly on deck. 

As light dawned, the First Mate, Francis Rhodes, put in charge of the longboat, begged the captain to take more people into the jollyboat. Though there was room, Captain Harris flatly refused

Around midnight, the pleading stopped. The freezing air was filled with ‘an eerie silence’.

A few minutes later the ship plunged below the waves, with 20 children, seven women and four men still on board.

It had taken two hours from the ship striking the iceberg to its sinking. In that time it might have been possible to improvise a raft and save more souls, but the captain never attempted this.

The two boats were alone in the vast Atlantic, 250 miles from the Newfoundland coast.

It was obvious that the prospects of those in the jollyboat were infinitely better than those in the overcrowded longboat, carrying 32 passengers and nine crew. At the bottom of the boat was a plug, which somehow became dislodged in the night, causing water to flow in until it was ankle deep.

Holmes made a new plug with some wood, but water still seeped in and had to be bailed out constantly with buckets.

As light dawned, the First Mate, Francis Rhodes, put in charge of the longboat, begged the captain to take more people into the jollyboat. Though there was room, Captain Harris flatly refused.

Rhodes then told his captain that the longboat was unmanageable and that unless some of the passengers were transferred, ‘we will have to draw lots’.

‘I know what you mean,’ the Captain replied. ‘Don’t speak of that now. Let it be the last resort.’

The meaning behind that exchange would become grimly apparent within hours.

Having given Rhodes a compass and chart, Harris sailed off in the  jollyboat, with his crew and one  passenger, heading for Newfoundland, leaving the sail-less, rudder-less longboat alone. Abandoned by his captain, Rhodes seemed to lose hope.

That first day the passengers bailed as the crew rowed. As night fell and rain pelted down on the shivering passengers, Rhodes — fearing that waves would swamp the heavily laden boat — cried out in despair: ‘This won’t do. Help me, God. Men, go to work.’

What followed next was like something out of a horror movie.

Icy grave: What followed next was like something from a horror film, with many thrown overboard

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Icy grave: What followed next was like something from a horror film, with many thrown overboard

Julie McCadden heard the crew tell Owen Riley, a young man who was migrating to Philadelphia to join his wife, to stand up.

They grabbed hold of him. Realising what was coming, Riley begged Margaret Edgar — a favourite of the crew — to help him.

Then Alexander Holmes came towards him. Riley must have thought that Holmes, who was well-liked by crew and passengers, was going to save him.

He was wrong. Holmes seized Riley and pitched him overboard into the icy water, still clawing frantically at Holmes’s sleeve and tearing it in the process.

No one knows how long it took Riley to die: perhaps as much as an hour, perhaps only ten minutes.

The other passengers fell into a  state of terror. They easily outnumbered the crew.

Had they collectively defied them, they could have halted the murderous spree that was unfolding. But, immobile with fear, they sat mute, trying to hide their faces with clothing to somehow make themselves invisible.

It was futile. The next victim, Scot James Todd, was pitched overboard without protest. Sarah Carr described the next killing.

Shipwrecks were all too common in the 1800s - this one happened in the Arctic's Northwest Passage in 1853

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Shipwrecks were all too common in the 1800s - this one happened in the Arctic's Northwest Passage in 1853

‘When they got hold of James MacAvoy, he asked them to give him five minutes to pray.

‘Some of them refused him, but Murray [the ship’s cook] said he should have it. He then said a prayer and they threw him out.’

Bridget McGee’s uncle, George Duffy, was flung, begging for his life, into the water.

The longboat was 38 stone lighter. If it had been in danger of sinking, it  certainly wasn’t then, as the prosecutors argued at the subsequent trial.

But the sailors, seemingly driven by a murderous lust, carried on killing. They seized Frank Askins, travelling with his two sisters, Ellen and Mary. He pleaded desperately: ‘I have five sovereigns and I’ll give it for my life till morning, and when morning comes if God does not help us we will cast lots and I’ll go out like a man if it is my turn.’

Mary cried that if they threw her brother over, they should throw her over after him. The sailors, unmoved, hurled all three to their deaths.

Still the murders continued. Only two men were spared, at Holmes’s insistence, because they had their wives with them.

When dawn came, the crew discovered two men hiding in the stern. They were dragged out, numb with terror. One, Charles Conlin, a friend of Holmes, pleaded not to be thrown over.

Drama: The case with strange premonitions of the Titanic disaster (pictured), which would follow more than 60 years later, filled newspapers and astounded readers on both sides of the Atlantic

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Drama: The case with strange premonitions of the Titanic disaster (pictured), which would follow more than 60 years later, filled newspapers and astounded readers on both sides of the Atlantic

But Holmes replied: ‘Yes Charley, you must go.’ His was the 16th death.

Only half an hour later, the survivors caught sight of a ship. They were spotted and hauled on board. Several days later, Captain Harris’s jollyboat was also rescued. They were all taken to France, where the rescuing ships were headed.

The French authorities showed no interest in prosecuting the crew, who scattered. But when the passengers reached America and recounted their horrific tale, the authorities, under pressure from the Irish expat community, had to act.

Alexander Holmes was the only sailor who could be found, so he was put on trial for murder, reduced to ‘manslaughter on the high seas’.

The case captivated the public in Britain and America. Would the crew have tried harder to save the passengers had they been wealthy, rather than mostly poor immigrants?

How could Holmes, who had risked his life to save young Isabella Edgar, have turned within hours into the ruthless murderer of so many?

Why did the slaughter continue for so long? And — the most terrible question of all — were the sailors justified in taking lives to save their own?

Holmes’s defence lawyer argued that it was better to save a few lives rather than let everyone perish.

The prosecution countered that the killings were neither necessary — the longboat would have stayed afloat anyway — nor just: ‘The law regards the life of one man as good and valuable as that of any other.’

Holmes was found guilty but given only a six-month sentence. No other members of the crew were tried for their role in the murderous affair, not even Captain Harris, who abandoned 31 helpless passengers, including 20 children, to an appalling death.

 

       

Their journeys would end in tragic circumstances, crushed up against the rocks with the precious cargo lost and some of the crew members dead.

But, no matter the treacherous conditions, every time a ship ran aground off the coast of Cornwall, members of the Gibson family would be there to take photos of the vessel's demise.

These ghostly images of shipwrecks were first taken 150 years ago when John Gibson bought his first camera and have now been put together in a collection which is expected to be sold for between £100,000 and £150,000 at an auction next month.

History: The Minnehaha was shipwrecked in 1874 with some of the crew, who did not make it into the rock, drowned as a result

History: The Minnehaha was shipwrecked in 1874 as it travelled from Peru to Dublin, it was carrying guano to be used as fertiliser and struck Peninnis Head rocks when the captain lost his way. The ship sank so quickly that some men were drowned in their berths, ten died in total including the captain.

Taken by four generations of the family of photographers over a period of 130 years, the 1000 negatives record the wrecks of more than 200 ships and the fate of their passengers, crew and cargo as they travelled from across the world through the notoriously treacherous seas around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

At the very forefront of early photojournalism, John Gibson and his descendants were determined to be first on the scene when these shipwrecks struck. Each and every wreck had its own story to tell with unfolding drama, heroics, tragedies and triumphs to be photographed and recorded - the news of which the Gibsons would disseminate to the British mainland and beyond.

The original handwritten eye-witness accounts as recorded by Alexander and Herbert Gibson in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will be sold alongside the collection of images.

Dark: The Hansy, from Norway was shipwrecked in 1911. All of the passengers were saved

Dark: The Norwegian sailing ship the Hansy,was wrecked in November 1911 on the eastern side of the Lizard in Cornwall. Three men were rescued by lifeboat and all of the rest of the passengers managed to escape up onto the rocks.

Bad weather: The Bay of Panama was wrecked under Nare Head, near St Keverne, Cornwall during a blizzard in 1898

Bad weather: The Bay of Panama was wrecked under Nare Head, near St Keverne, Cornwall during a huge blizzard in March 1898. At the time it was wrecked it was carrying a cargo of Jute, used to make hessian cloth, from Calcutta in India, 18 of those on board died but 19 were rescued.

 

Founder: John Gibson bought his first camera 150 years ago Protege: Herbert Gibson was taken on by his father as an apprentice and went on to run the business

 

 

Founder and apprentice: John Gibson (right) started the business after buying his first camera and took on his son Herbert (right) as an apprentice in 1865

The Gibson family passion for photography was passed down through an astonishing four generations from John Gibson, who purchased his first camera 150 years ago.

Born in 1827, and a seaman by trade, it is not known how or where John Gibson acquired his first camera at time when photography was typically reserved for the wealthiest in society.

However by 1860 he had established himself as a professional photographer in a studio in Penzance.

Returning to the Scillies in 1865, he  employed his two sons Alexander and Herbert as apprentices in the business, forging a personal and professional unity which would be passed down through all the generations which followed.

Inseparable from his brother until the end, it is said that Alexander almost threw himself into Herbert’s grave at his funeral in 1937.

The family’s famous shipwreck photography began in 1869, on the historic occasion of the arrival of the first Telegraph on the Isles of Scilly.

At a time when it could take a week for word to reach the mainland from the islands, the Telegraph transformed the pace at which news could travel.

At the forefront of early photojournalism, John became the islands’ local news correspondent, and Alexander the telegraphist - and it is little surprise that the shipwrecks were often major news.

On the occasion of the wreck of the 3500-ton German steamer, Schiller in 1876 when over 300 people died, the two worked together for days - John preparing newspaper reports, and Alexander transmitting them across the world, until he collapsed with exhaustion.

Although they often worked in the harshest conditions, travelling with hand carts to reach the shipwrecks - scrambling over treacherous coastline with a portable dark room, carrying glass plates and heavy equipment - they produced some of the most arresting and emotive photographic works of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Crash: The Seine ran ashore in Perran Bay, Perranporth, Cornwall on December 28, 1900.

Crash: The French ship, the Seine was on her way to Falmouth with a cargo of nitrate when she ran into a gale off Scilly on Decermber 28, 1900. She ran ashore in Perran Bay, Perranporth, Cornwall, but thankfully all crew members were rescued with Captain Guimper reported as the last man to leave the ship before she was broken up in the next flood tide.

Crash: This image shows the merchant vessel, The Cita, running aground of the coast of the Isle of Scilly in 1997

Crash: The German owned 300ft merchant vessel the Cita, sunk after it pierced its hull and ran aground in gale-force winds en route from Southampton to Belfast in March 1997. The mainly Polish crew of the stricken vessel were rescued a few hours after the incident by the RNLI and the wreck remained on the rock ledge for several days before slipping off into deeper water.

Generations: When Herbert Gibson died,  the business changed hands to his son James (left) who had assisted him for ten years. Frank (right) left the Isle of Scilly after a family argument and went to learn about new technology which helped advance the business when he returned in 1957

Storm: A French trawler called the Jeanne Gougy pictured being engulfed by waves at Land's End in 1962

Storm: A French trawler called the Jeanne Gougy pictured being engulfed by waves at Land's End in 1962. It was on its way to fishing grounds on the southern Irish coast from Dieppe in France when it went aground on the north side of Lands End in the early hours of November 3rd. Twelve men including the skipper were lost, swept away by massive waved before they could be rescued.

Rex Cowan, a shipwreck hunter and author said: 'This is the greatest archive of the drama and mechanics of shipwreck we will ever see - a thousand images stretching over 130 years, of such power, insight and nostalgia that even the most passive observer cannot fail to feel the excitement or pathos of the events they depict.'

Spy author John Le Carre said of the collection: 'We are standing in an Aladdin’s cave where the Gibson treasure is stored, and Frank is its keeper.

'It is half shed, half amateur laboratory, a litter of cluttered shelves, ancient equipment, boxes, printer’s blocks and books.

Precious cargo: The Glenbervie, which was carrying a consignment of pianos and high quality spirits crashed into rocks Lowland Point near Coverack, Cornwall, in January 1902 after losing her way in bad weather.

Precious cargo: The Glenbervie, which was carrying a consignment of pianos and high quality spirits crashed into rocks Lowland Point near Coverack, Cornwall, in January 1902 after losing her way in bad weather. The British owned barque was laden with 600 barrels of whisky, 400 barrels of brandy and barrels of rum. All 16 crewmen were saved by lifeboat.

'Many hundreds of plates and thousands of photographs are still waiting an inventory. Most have never seen the light of day. Any agent, publisher or accountant would go into free fall at the very sight of them.'

And fellow author John Fowles said: 'Other men have taken fine shipwreck photographs, but nowhere else in the world can one family have produced such a consistently high and poetic standard of work.'

The archive will be sold as a single lot in Sotheby’s Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History sale.

Lost: The Mildred was traveling from Newport to London when it got stuck in dense fog and hit rocks at Gurnards Head at midnight on the 6th April 1912.

Lost: The Mildred was traveling from Newport to London when it got stuck in dense fog and hit rocks at Gurnards Head at midnight on the 6th April 1912. Captain Larcombe and his crew of two Irishmen, one Welshman and a Mexican rowed into St. Ives as their ship was destroyed by the waves.

Crowded: The Dutch ship Voorspoed pictured surrounded by horses used to help take away the cargo. All of those on board died in the 1901 incident

Crowded: The Dutch cargo ship Voorspoed pictured surrounded by horses used to help take away the cargo after it was wrecked at Perran Bay, Cornwall in March 1901. All of those on board died in the incident as the ship travelled from to Newfoundland, Canada to Perranporth, Cornwall.

Saved: British ship, the City of Cardiff was en route from Le Havre, France, to Wales in 1912 when it was wrecked in Mill Bay near Land's End. All of the crew were rescued

Saved: British ship, the City of Cardiff was en route from Le Havre, France, to Wales in 1912 when it was wrecked in Mill Bay near Land's End. All of the crew were rescued

Stuck: The City of Cardiff trapped on rocks in 1912 with steam still coming out of the chimney

Stuck: The steamer City of Cardiff pictured trapped on rocks with steam still coming out of the chimney, it was washed ashore by a strong gale in March 1912 at Nanjizel. The Captain, his wife and son, and the crew were all rescued but the vessel was left a total wreck.

Sinking: A British built iron sailing barque, The Cromdale, ran into Lizard Point, the most southerly point of British mainland, in thick fog.

Sinking: A British built iron sailing barque, The Cromdale, ran into Lizard Point, the most southerly point of British mainland, in thick fog. The three-masted ship was on a voyage from Taltal, Chile to Fowey, Cornwall with a cargo of nitrates. There were no casualties but within a week the ship had been broken up completely by the sea.

THE FAMILY OF EXPERIENCED PHOTOGRAPHERS

Apprentice: Alexander Gibson was invited by his father John into the business in 1865

Apprentice: Alexander Gibson was invited by his father John into the business in 1865

The Gibson family originated from the Isleof Scilly and have 300 years of family history.

John Gibson acquired his first camera whilst abroad around 150 years ago when photography was still mainly reserved for the wealthiest members of society.

He had to go to sea from a young age to supplement the income from a small shop on St Mary’s run by his widowed mother.

Making ends meet on St Mary’s was a constant struggle and he learned to use the camera and set up a photography studio in Penzance.
Around 1866 he returned to St Mary’s with his family and he was assisted in his photography by his sons Alexander and Herbert in the studio shed in the back garden of their home.

Both Herbert and Alexander learned the art of photography at their father’s knee and Alexander was to become one of the most remarkable characters in Scilly.

He had a passion for archaeology, architecture and folk history. He took endless pictures of ruins, prehistoric remains, and artifacts not just in Scilly but all over Cornwall.

Herbert by contrast was a quiet man, a competent photographer and a sound businessman. There can be no doubt that without his steadying influence, the business aspect of their photography might not have survived Alexander’s more flamboyant approach.

Frank spent some time working for photographers in Cornwall learning about new technology.

But Frank returned to Scilly in 1957 and worked in partnership with his father for two years.

After this time it was apparent that they could not work together and James retired to Cornwall and sold the business to Frank. Under Frank’s stewardship the business expanded. He produced postcards and sold souvenirs to supplement the photography, and opened another shop. Scilly is always in the news and there is always demand for pictures by the press.

James Gibson  was, in fact, the most qualified of all the photographers. He was an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and won various medals and awards through his lifetime. He was an adventurous photojournalist as well as a jobbing photographer.

Today, the family runs a souvenir shop which sells books and postcards and they are currently digitising 150 years of photographs.

 

 

 

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