Thursday, March 15, 2012

Schooner Joseph H. Neff ~ 17 December 1890

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1891:


Charles Price, a seaman serving on the schooner Joseph H. Neff, died from exposure upon the wreck of that vessel off Oak Island at a point about two and a half miles west of the Oak Island Station (Sixth District) near the entrance to the Cape Fear River, North Carolina, on the morning of December 17, 1890. The Joseph H. Neff was a small coaster of about ten tons register, hailing from Wilmington, North Carolina, and had a crew of two men. She was wrecked on the way from Lockwoods Folly, a small inlet on the North Carolina coast, to Wilmington, with a cargo of naval stores. from the reports received it would appear that Price died before assistance could reach him from the life saving station. The distance from Lockwoods Inlet to the Cape Fear River bar is about ten miles.
   The schooner put to sea in the afternoon of the 16th, the wind then being from the northeast. Before she had gone far, however, the wind shifted to the southwest and blew a gale, with squally weather which made it unsafe to enter the channel during the night, and the schooner was anchored off the beach, not far from the place where she was soon afterward wrecked. It is supposed that she dragged into the breakers at about midnight, the the first seen of her by the patrol on his way west from the station was at 4 o'clock, when he observed a small, dark object out on the surf. It was so indistinct that after trying in vain to make it out he kept on to the end of his beat. On his way back, however, he found a small skiff and a number of barrels of turpentine scattered along the shore, and this convinced him, although the morning was so dark that he could see nothing, that there must be a wreck in the vicinity, and he accordingly quickened his pace to the station and gave the alarm. The men were at once turned out, and after some delay in making coffee they proceeded down the beach, and strangely enough without their boat or any of the beach apparatus; the keeper, as he came to the barrels lying in the swash of the surf, still further delaying the arrival of the party upon the scene by giving orders to the men to roll them up out of reach of the waves. Upon pushing further on a small vessel was made out on the bar some fifty or sixty yards from the beach. She appeared to be sunk to the deck, and there were two men on top of the cabin. This was as the first dawn of day, or about half past 6 o'clock. 
   Upon making this discovery the crew dragged the skiff abreast of the wreck, intending to launch it, but as it had no oars it could not be used. Keeper Savage, therefore, turned back to the station, with his crew for the surfboat, leaving one man, Surfman A.C. Burrus, on the beach to render aid in case the people attempted to land before the surf boat could arrive. While the station crew were gone the tide began rising, and at half-past 7 o'clock the schooner's windlass gave way, and, being thus released from her ground tackle, she drove in over the bar much nearer to the beach One of the crew of the schooner, the captain, was holding the apparently lifeless form of his companion to save him from being washed overboard, and Burrus at once waded out and succeeded, single-handed, in getting both ashore. In his testimony he describes it thus:
   "I waded out waist-deep when she got close enough, and told the captain, who was holding the other man to pass him to me and to get overboard himself. I got the man around the waist, while the captain took his hand, and we started ashore, but had not got far when the captain was knocked down by the sea. I hurried and got my man ashore and then went back just in time to reach the captain, who had again been knocked down by the breakers, and assisted him ashore also."
   Burrus further states that although Price showed no signs of life when brought to the beach he set himself to work at once in an effort to fetch him to. The station crew coming up shortly afterward with the surfboat and other appliances which he was thus engaged, the body was quickly stripped of its wet clothing, wrapped in warm blankets, and every possible means used to restore animation. But it was of no avail, the stiffening limbs and other unmistakable signs of death making it but too plainly apparent that the man was beyond recovery. He had doubtless died from exposure. His shipmate, the captain, expressed the belief that he had died some time before the schooner broke adrift from her anchor and came in over the bar. Nevertheless, as a last resort, the body was conveyed to Southport and medical skill summoned to supplement the efforts of the station crew, but the physician could do nothing and pronounced the man beyond human aid. The rescued captain was furnished with dry clothing from the supply placed at the station by the Women's National Relief Association, and also given shelter and sustenance for one day. The crew at the station also assisted in recovering about two-thirds of the cargo, but they were unable to do anything towards saving the schooner, which was an old craft, and became a total loss.
   In conclusion it should be stated that while there is no doubt from the captain's own statement that Surfman Burrus saved the captain's life, it  is an open question whether Price could have been brought ashore alive even if the boat has been taken to the spot in the first instance. Nevertheless, it was held when the first reports came in that the keeper was at fault in delaying his departure from the station until coffee could be served to his men, and, when this had been done, in proceeding to the locality of the wreck without his boat or any other appliance for saving life. His course in going empty-handed and thus permitting himself to lose much valuable time was determined upon. He and for this and other reasons his removal was determined upon. He was accordingly discharged and his place has been filled by the best available selection, and, it is believed, an abler and more efficient man


 One of the few instances on record of a North Carolina coast lifesaving station keeper being discharged for negligence resulted from the wreck of a schooner of only 10 tons burden, with two crewmen, carrying a cargo valued at less than $300. This was the schooner Joseph H. Neff of Wilmington en route from Lockwoods Folly to the Cape Fear River with a cargo of tar, wood and turpentine.
     She was discovered anchored and in distress just beyond the breakers 2-1/2 miles S.W. of the Oak Island Station at 4 a.m. by a surfman on patrol who hurried back to his station with the news.
     Keeper Savage, recently taken over in that capacity, decided it would be a good idea to brew up a pot of coffee before departing for the wreck—the first of several needless delays. When finally he and his crew started for the scene they went empty-handed, leaving their surfboat and beach apparatus behind, and when several barrels were found floating in the surf at the scene of the wreck, Savage ordered his men to drag them out of the water and place them above the high water mark before going to the wrecked vessel.
     When the lifesavers finally reached the wreck, two men were found hanging onto the partially submerged craft. A small skiff belonging to the Neff had drifted ashore nearby, but was without oars. Savage left one surfman on the beach while he and the remaining members of the Oak Island crew returned to the station for the surfboat. Meanwhile the Neff went to pieces in the surf, and the lone lifesaver managed to drag both men to the beach, where one was found to be dead.
     By the time Savage returned the whole business had come to an end as did his brief position as keeper.

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