Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bark Nuova Ottavia ~ 1 March 1876

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Services for fiscal year ending June 30, 1876:

Became a total wreck, whereby nine of her crew were lost, in attempting the rescue of whom the gallant crew of the station also perished. The details of the melancholy disaster are given in the following abstract of the report of the superintendent of the district, dated from the United States life-saving station No. 4, Jones Hill Coast of North Carolina.

Wreck of the Bark Nuova Ottavia

The record of the service for the year 1874-75 was marked with one memorable shipwreck, that of the Italian bark Giovanni; and it happens that the most signal disaster which occurred during the past year also involved the loss of an Italian bark, the Nuova Ottavia, which stranded off Currituck Beach, NC, on the night of the 1st of March last, and became a total wreck, whereby 9 of her crew were lost, in attempting the rescue of whom the gallant crew of the station also perished. The details of the melancholy disaster are given in the following abstract of the report of the superintendent of the district, dated from the United States life-saving station No. 4, Jones Hill, coast of North Carolina.
     The bark Nuova Ottavia was seen from the station house at sunset to the southward and eastward, about 5 miles distant from the shore, on the evening of March 1, the weather being cloudy and the wind from southeast, the sea rather rough and the surf rather high, heavy, and winding. Between 7 and 8 p.m., or soon after dark, she stranded on the reef with her head northwest, or before the wind, about 400 yards south of this station, having probably been run ashore either intentionally or through mistaking Currituck Beach light for the Cape Henry light, as it evidently was not from stress of weather, quite a number of her sails being left standing, not even clewed up, all night, and went over the side in this condition with the mast the next day. The keeper and crew of this station started for the bark about 7.20 p.m. in the lifeboat, passing beautifully through the breakers, and secured to her the whip line (a 2-1/2 inch manila rope) just forward of the main mast. It was then too dark for the boat to be seen on shore. About 7.30 a scream was heard on shore, and at the same time the light in the boat was suddenly lost to view, which induced the belief that at that moment the boat swamped or was capsized, which was afterward confirmed by four of the oars drifting ashore abreast of the wreck, and in a few minutes afterward the life boat itself, bottom up. Just after this the body of one of the surfmen, Malachi Brumsey, drifted on shore, some two or three hundred yards to the southward. Early the next morning, the wind blowing strong from the northeast, with a high sea, and cold, cloudy weather, the bodies of Capt. John G. Gale, keeper of the station, surfmen Lemuel Griggs, and Lewis White, and a workman from the Currituck Beach lighthouse, named George W. Wilson (who had volunteered to go in the life boat in place of surfman John G. Chappel, who was absent from the station procuring provisions) were found on the beach between the station house and a point about 1-1/2 miles south of it; making in all 10 bodies recovered, all of whom were properly cared for by Capt. Willis Partridge and two of his crew, who had come hither from station No. 5, assisted by a party from the lighthouse. The bodies of the keeper and crew of this station (No. 4) thus found were delivered to their respective families for interment, and those of the 5 Italians were buried about 300 yards north of the station. About noon of the 2d, four of the crew of the bark came ashore on pieces of the wreck, one injured in the foot from a spike or nail, two in a state of exhaustion, and one insensible, whose resuscitation was not accomplished until night. During all these events Mr. J.W. Lewis, superintendent of construction, and Mr. H.T. Halstead, clerk of the Currituck Beach lighthouse station, were constant and assiduous in their efforts to render all possible aid, and too much praise cannot be awarded them. Mr. Halstead offered to take an oar in the life boat before she left the beach, and only gave way to Mr. George W. Wilson, who was a much stronger and more athletic man, and presented himself as a volunteer just as the boat got afloat, by which heroic act he lost his life. The officers and working party of the lighthouse rendered most useful assistance, and worked night and day, and it is hoped their services will be recognized in some official manner. It seems a fatal mistake on the part of those who went in the life boat not to have worn the life belts when so much danger must have been apprehended. The promptness, however, required under the circumstances probably overshadowed every forethought of personal security, and sad and lamentable as the results were, their noble efforts to rescue the shipwrecked shed a luster on the victims and credit on humanity.
     The superintendent subsequently furnished the following additional facts obtained from the survivors of the bark:
     The boat pulled entirely around the vessel when she first went off, and finally secured a line on the lee side. Holding on this line with a considerable scope brought the boat under the bows of the bark where the sea was curling around, which partially rebounding, filled her. The line thus made fast was the whip, which with the No. 2 grapnel, one boat and one house lantern, one water and one fire bucket were lost from the boat, which afterward came on shore bottom upward. The only injury sustained was a small split in the stem and the starting of several planks. It can be repaired at a cost not to exceed $10, and in case of emergency could go to sea in her present condition. Following those casualties great excitement must have prevailed in the crowd assembled on shore, and the station house being open and unrepresented by any one understanding the discipline and use of the apparatus, the mortar was taken out and fired until the vent was completely stopped by the sand, four shot lost and about 20 fathoms of the shotline. Forty-one rockets were also set off. The keeper and surfmen who were drowned left widows and small children.
Life Car
     The first of the disasters mentioned appears to have been a case where no aid from the station could have assisted in preserving the lost life.
     In the second instance it will be observed that the disaster occurred three days after the termination of the active employment of the crew and the closing of the station for the season. T is not likely, however, that any aid could have been rendered had it been otherwise, inasmuch as the loss of life appears to have arisen from the imprudence of the crew in attempting to land in their own boat in the darkness.
     In the catastrophe of the Nuova Ottavia, the devotion to duty, the courage and gallantry of the crew of the station and the brave volunteer from the lighthouse party are unquestionably alike honorable to their memory and creditable to the service. In their unselfish ardor to extend the speediest relief to the sufferers on the stranded bark they unhappily neglected to equip themselves with the cork life belts, the wearing of which is an indispensable precaution against accidents, and the necessity of the use of which by the surfmen on every occasion of entering the surf boat the Department has assiduously endeavored to impress upon them. Had these belts been used on this occasion, the immediate landing of the boat, the escape of four of the sailors, and the drifting ashore of the bodies, indicate almost to a certainty that the crew of the station would all have been saved, and most if not all of those on board the bark. It may be doubted, too, whether the best judgment was exercised in selecting the method of attempting the rescue at that hour. The wreck lay within easy range of the shot line, and the life car might have been readily used without exposing the life of a single surfman. It is probable, however, that the surf was not running so high as to seem to render the use of the surf boat extremely hazardous, and it must be said that the boat unquestionably afforded the promptest means of succor, at a time, too, when dispatch was necessary, while the employment of the life car, though without risk, would have involved a tardier operation. The fatal accident occurred under the bows of the vessel, where the management of the boat required the highest skill. It is possible, also, that in a panic among the sailors of the vessel, who were unable to understand the directions of the captain of the boat, an indiscriminate scramble for place in the latter may have ensued, and that one part being over weighted she was upset. However this may be, the means of a safe deliverance of the victims of the wreck were at hand, and though it cannot be positively said they should have been used in preference to those employed, the loss of a gallant crew and of those they endeavored to save must cause regret that they were not.
     It is gratifying to acknowledge the receipt, through the Consul General of Italy, of the sum of $408 in gold, which, in obedience to the directions of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Marine of that nation, and of the Italian Society for Salvage, he transmitted for the benefit of the families of the unfortunate crew of the surf boat, in recognition of the gallant behavior of the latter, and requested that it be distributed, $78 to the family of the keeper, Captain Gale, and the remaining equally among the others, amounting to $55 each.

Newspaper Article:
New York Times, March 7, 1876

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