Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Steamer Ariosto ~ 24 December 1899

It would seem easy to distinguish a fixed white light in Ocracoke’s 65-foot-tall lighthouse from a flashing white light in Cape Hatteras’ 198-foot-tall lighthouse. But under duress during storm conditions, navigators sometimes made costly errors. 

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Services for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1900:

Stranded about 2 miles SW. of station at 3.50 a.m., during thick weather. Station crew hastened to the scene with beach apparatus, and at 9 a.m. succeeded, after several trials, in establishing communication with the wreck. The greater part of the steamer’s crew shoved off in one of her boats and attempted to lie under her lee to await daylight, but the boat swamped and nearly all of them perished. Three were hailed out of the surf alive by the life savers, and the 6 persons who remained on the wreck were safely landed in the beeches buoy. The crew from Durants Station assisted the Ocracoke crew at this wreck. Seven dead bodies which washed ashore were given Christian burial. Thirty lives were lost in this disaster, and the steamer became a total loss. 

Newspaper Articles:
New York Times, December 25, 1899
Feilding Star, Vol. XXI, Iss. 151, December 28, 1899

Investigative Report:
Wreck Report for Ariosto ~ Formal investigation held into the circumstances attending the stranding and total loss of the Ariosto.

Wreck of British Steamship Ariosto

The most calamitous, because entirely needless, loss of life during the entire year, or indeed for many recent years in the history of the Service, occurred on December 24, 1899, at the wreck of the British steamship Ariosto on the coast of North Carolina about 2 miles to the southward of the Ocracoke Life-Saving Station. Of 30 persons on board the vessel, 21 perished, while there was in the conditions not the slightest necessity that a single one should have been lost.
     The Ariosto was a schooner-rigged steel vessel of 2,265 tons, laden with a very valuable cargo of wheat, cotton, lumber, and cotton-seed meal, carrying 30 men, including officers, and commanded by Captain R.R. Baines. When lost she was bound from Galveston, TX, to Hamburg, Germany, via Norfolk, VA, the object of the call at Norfolk being to refill the coal bunkers.
     During the evening of Saturday, December 23, the weather was clear overhead, but hazy around the horizon, and a smart wind was blowing from the southwest, driving before it a very rough sea. At midnight the weather was thick all around, and heavy showers of rain passed over from time to time, while the sea was constantly making. About 3.45 o’clock (Sunday morning) Captain Baines, who was then lying down in the chart room, heard the telegraph bell ring, and instantly sprang up to inquire the reason, when he was met at his door by the second mate, who had come to request his presence on deck. Proceeding at once to the bridge, the captain saw that his ship was entirely surrounded by “white water.” He says he did not know precisely what part of the coast he was on, but that since he could see no land or light he had an idea that he had struck the Diamond Shoals, off Hatteras. As a matter of fact, he was some 15 miles to the southwest. The engines were working hard astern, but were not able to stop the headway of the vessel, which took the bottom, and remained, as the master says, “bumping and thumping in such a manner that it seemed probable her masts would come down.” All hands were at once on deck, and rocket signals of distress were fired, the first having b seen sent up about 3.50 o’clock, as he thinks. “While still firing,” the captain says, “a red flash was seen in the north, which was taken to be from some source whence assistance might come.” And so in fact it was, being the red Coston signal of the life saving patrol.
     Believing his ship to be among the Diamond Shoals, the master feared she might work off into one of the numerous deep holes or channels and founder there, and besides he was seriously worried by the fact that the heavy seas on the starboard side broke away the three starboard boats, while the ship was constantly heeling over to the starboard, making the destruction of the boats on the port side likely to take place at any moment. He therefore held a consultation with the chief officer, which resulted in a determination to launch the port boats. Here was where the fatal mistake occurred. Signals indicated that assistance would be afforded from the shore had already been seen and correctly interpreted. As subsequent events proved, to a demonstration, if all had simply stood by the ship every soul would have been rescued by the life saving crews. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that Captain Baines supposed his vessel to be stranded on the Diamond Shoals, a place of extreme danger, so far from shore that he might well have doubted the ability of any boat to reach her, and of course miles beyond the range of any life saving gun or rocket. Having in view these facts, it may not be a matter of great surprise that he should deem it the part of wisdom to save his two remaining boats and man them alongside until the dawn of day should make it possible to determine his true position and the proper course of action then to be taken.
     This he asserts to have been his purpose. Accordingly the pinnace was first got out and manned by 11 men, including the chief and second mates, who were placed in charge with instructions to “get away clear” and then lie by until daylight. As soon as the pinnace cleared the ship the lifeboat was successfully put over and manned by 15 men. Twenty-six persons were not in the boats, while there still remained on the ship four others who were also to go in the lifeboat. These were Captain Baines, Third Officer Reed, Chief Engineer Warren, and Carpenter Peltonen. Fortunately for them the lifeboat got away before they could embark in it. To this providential accident, which probably then seemed to them the worst of ill luck, they owed their lives. It would appear that these entire operations were conducted with such haste that they were completed in less than 30 minutes from the moment the vessel stranded. Meantime she was entirely intact (as indeed she remained for several days) and the life savers were constantly firing signals of assurance that aid would be afforded. It would therefore hardly seem unreasonable to suppose that the officers of the Ariosto should have realized that they were on the shore and not on the Diamond Shoals. However, the boats were not afloat, and the entire crew in them, save four men. In obedience to the master’s instructions they lay to under the lee of the ship, the man at the oars backing and pulling to keep them head to the waves. It was an awful position, the sea constantly growing rougher and rougher, while the suction of the water around the bows and stern of the steamer was getting to be irresistible.
     Captain Baines thinks the pinnace held her position for at least an hour, and the lifeboat for full half that time (having been launched last), but at all events, from his place on the bridge he saw the former carried by the swift tide to the north into the breakers, and the lifeboat overwhelmed and capsized, throwing all its occupants into the sea. As a matter of fact both boats were upset, and all in them were cast adrift. Twenty-six persons were not battling for their lives in one of the worst seas with which desperate men have ever contended. And yet one of them, Seaman Elsing, a man of infinite skill in the water and of brave heart and wonderful physical power, actually swam ashore, absolutely unaided even with so much as the slightest piece of wreckage to help bear him up. Two others who left the ship in the lifeboat—C. Peterson, a fireman, and C. Saline, a seaman—were hauled back on board the steamer by means of the boat tackle which hung alongside, while Fireman Henroth and Boatswain Anderson, who embarked in the pinnace, were dragged from the surf by the life savers who were on the beach. By this time daylight was faintly showing, an keeper Howard of the Ocracoke Station, having gained some ocular information of the status of affairs, at once set the international code signal “M K” (remain by your ship).
     Knowledge of the wreck was obtained at the station in the following way: About 4 o’clock surfman Guthrie, while on south patrol, discovered, during a brief interval when the weather lighted, the masthead light of a steamer having such a bearing that he knew she must be ashore, whereupon he immediately fired a red signal and hastened as fast as he could to the station and turned out the crew. Davie Williams, the north patrolman, having also discovered the wreck, likewise returned to the station, finding his comrades already moving.
     The coast runs about northeast by southwest, and the steamer lay about 2 miles southwest of the station. An accident to one of the shafts of the beach apparatus cart caused considerable delay soon after the crew started, but as it was yet very dark, and as subsequent events clearly showed, this fact in no way adversely affected the operations. The tide making over the beach was especially deep at a point where the hurricane of August 16-18 had cut an inlet, and the keeper was obliged to secure the aid of 5 citizens of the vicinity to help his crew get the gear to the wreck, but not withstanding all the difficulties, the life savers were on the scene between 5 and 5.30 o’clock. Hardly had they arrived when they made out in the darkness which still prevailed, a shadowy figure staggering along the beach, who proved to be Seaman Elsing, above named as having swum ashore unaided. He seemed only half conscious, but was able to tell them of the capsize of the boats and to suggest that they might yet find men in the surf. None could be seen, however, and the life savers went quickly to work with preparations to set up the beach apparatus.
     On account of the surf running over the beach there was very serious difficulty in finding a place sufficiently high and solid to bury the sand anchor where it would hold and to place the Lyle gun where it would be out of the water. Both had to be frequently moved during the operations.
     The first shot was fired at about 5.45 o’clock, but the steamer was at least 600 yards distant, and the line failed to reach her. It was therefore hauled in, and with it came a half-drowned man, who was later found to be Boatswain Andersen. He was unconscious, but was resuscitated by the surfmen, and subsequently told them that the line fell across him as he was struggling in the surf; that he had sufficient consciousness to hitch it around his arm, and was thus drawn ashore—an almost miraculous escape from death.
     About this time other persons were dimly discernible in the water making desperate efforts to reach the beach. The life saving men strenuously attempted to reach them, going into the water up to their necks, but the surf was so strong that their utmost exertions resulted in saving only one, Fireman Henroth, who was insensible when taken from the water, but happily not past resuscitation, which was finally affected.
     It was immediately after this rescue that keeper Howard set the signal for those on board the ship to remain there, and then began firing to throw a line across the vessel. While this was going on, and, owing to the great distance, the projectiles were falling short, three sailors were dragged from the surf apparently dead, but nevertheless some of the surfmen devoted themselves to every effort to effect their restoration, although without avail. Not until well-nigh 11 o’clock was it possible to put a line over the steamer. By that hour she had worked within 400 or 500 yards of the beach, and a projectile carrying a No. 4 shot line was finally landed on board. To this was attached a No 7 and to that a No. 9 line (for fear that the smaller one might give way to the intense strain of dragging the tail block and whip line through the powerful longshore current) and when the No. 9 was safe on board, the whip line was attached to it and sent out. The hawser followed, and the actual rescue then began, but the tremendous roll of the ship, which lay broadside to, threatened to part the hawser every time she rolled ashore, and the most critical attention at the relieving tackle was necessary to prevent that disaster. Besides all this the vessel was gradually edging closer in and consequently the gear frequently had to be reset. For these reasons the operations were necessarily so extremely difficult that their completion without mishap affords the best of evidence that they were judiciously and skillfully conducted. Captain Baines was the last to leave the ship, and when he put his feet upon the beach, about 2.30 p.m., a loud cheer was sent up by all the people who had by this time assembled. Every man was saved whom the life saving crews could by any possibility have rescued under the most unfortunate circumstances following the launching of the boats, and if all had remained patiently on board not one would have been lost.
     Keeper Burrus and his crew, of the Durants Life-Saving Station, located next to Ocracoke on the north, were requested by telephone to join keeper Howard’s crew after the latter had begun operations to set up the beach apparatus. They started at once, but were obliged to use the station supply boat on account of the rough sea, and to go on the inside of the beach by way of Pamlico Sound, which consumed about two hours. They made, however, the best possible time, arriving just as the shot line was fired over the vessel, and performed their share of the work.
     A number of citizens of the neighborhood voluntarily rendered extremely valuable assistance to the life saving crews, and it is a pleasure to this office to thankfully acknowledge their praiseworthy conduct, which, it is but simple justice to add, was thoroughly characteristic of the humane and courageous people who inhabit this coast. Unfortunately the names of all of them could not be obtained, but among the number were I.M. Stowe, A.J. O’Neal, B.F. Stowe, B.E. Austin, W.B. Stowe, H.B. Stowe, and C.F. Austin.
     All the testimony taken by the investigating officer demonstrates the entire efficiency of the life saving crews, and the 9 survivors of the wreck addressed to keeper Howard a letter written by Captain Baines, and signed by him with the rest, which contains the following paragraphs:

“The six men met with the most hospitable treatment from the life-saving station and other residents. The rescue was affected under very trying circumstances, and would perhaps have been almost beyond the means at Captain Howard’s disposal had they not had valuable assistance from Captain Burrus and crew from Durants Station and several of the good people from thereabouts, whose strong arms made the use of the method at his disposal a grand success.
     That such a lamentable loss of life occurred is not in any way to be attributed to the want of diligence, promptitude, or lookout of Captain Howard and staff, and we are unanimous in our conscientious declaration that their action in the matter was all that could be done, and is deserving of the highest commendation.”

Capt Ryde Rupert Baines


Ryde Rupert Baines, son of Thomas Baines and Charlotte Richbell, was born in Camberwell, England on 22 Jan 1846. In 1877 he married Mrs. Mary Elly van Troyen with whom he had four children. Capt. Baines died on 9 Feb 1912. Thanks to his great grand daughter, Teresa Collados Baines, who shared photos of the following items that were rescued from the Ariosto before it wrecked. 
The fork on right bears the initials of Capt. Baines.






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