Harrowing tale of starvation at sea

  • Friday, March 21, 2014

Photo courtesy of the GCDL. Schooner similar to the Linthicum used to haul lumber from the port of Georgetown.

My intention this week was to write a column about the first day of spring in Georgetown. While browsing the Georgetown County Digital Library, I was drawn to a front page story from The Georgetown Semi-Weekly Times published on March 20, 1895 titled “A Rough Experience at Sea.”

The article was based on a news story from the New York Herald. I found it fascinating and hope you will, too.

On Jan. 24, 1895, the schooner Linthicum left the port of Georgetown loaded with cypress lumber and headed for New York. I suppose it was a balmy day. The Georgetown Semi-Weekly Times had reported the day before, “We have been having beautiful weather lately.”

This was the Linthicum’s maiden voyage, having been launched just two weeks prior. I’m sure Captain Bannock and his crew were confident that they would reach New York in 8 to 10 days, the average time in ordinary weather.

What they encountered was far from ordinary. On their fifth day out, they battled gale force winds off Hog Island, N.C. This must have been part of the weather system that was affecting the folks back home in Georgetown.

According to the Times, the temperature on the morning of Thursday, Feb. 3 was 60 degrees. It dropped dramatically during the day. “During Thursday night the wind blew a gale, and everything froze up hard; it also sleeted and snowed; and, altogether, it was one of the most disagreeable nights we have had in many years.” The next morning, the temperature was only 12, and some said 6, degrees in Georgetown.

Meanwhile, off Hog Island, the Linthicum was blown southward. “The toppling waves sent her deckload clattering over her rail. This tore away the deckhouses and strained the decks. They flooded the cabin and deluged the hold through broken seams in the hull and deck.”

What of the shocked and disappointed crew? “The crew stood for hours at the pumps fighting the in pouring water. It was all they could do to keep it in check. The helmsman came near being swept away time and again.”

Things went from bad to worse. The winds blew the Linthicum past Cape Hatteras and towards Bermuda. “She was carried within seventy miles of the island. The captain tried for five days to put her there, to make repairs and reprovision his vessel.”

The cruel winds prevented her from reaching the island and swept her back to Hatteras. By this time, provisions were running low and the men were allowed only one biscuit and a little cornmeal a day.

Three times the Linthicum passed Hatteras and three times she was blown back again. I don’t know how long she had been out by this time, but I know it was weeks, and not days.

Provisions were finally reduced to daily rations of cornmeal mixed with slush, the same greasy compound used to lubricate the ways when the Linthicum was launched.

Finally the winds, for a fourth time, blew her past Hatteras, and this time she was not turned back. Rather than elation, certainly the crew felt only trepidation. They were exhausted and near starvation as even the cornmeal was running out.

Finally, the steamer Aeon sighted the Linthicum and responded to her distress signals by sending a boat loaded with supplies. One of the crew, mate Robinson, had lost 50 pounds. Captain Heron of the Aeon literally saved the lives of Captain Bannock and his crew.

After over 43 harrowing days at sea, the Linthicum reached New York. She continued to run goods in and out of Georgetown for many years afterwards, hopefully in much calmer seas.

To the GCDL . . . thanks for the memories.

Debby Summey may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or djsummey@gmail.com.

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