Wreck of the emigrant ship CONSTELLATION

Liverpool Mercury 1913

The end of the Constellation

Graphic account of the end of the famous old ship as witnessed by the Captain of the Lady Havelock.

About the middle of February, 1869, the wooden ship, LADY HAVELOCK, of Liverpool, under my command and owned by Messers Francis CARVILL and Sons of Water St, sailed from Savannah Georgia for Liverpool with a full cargo of pitchpine logs, of which two tiers of the longest and heaviest were stowed as deckload. We carried also 150 bales of cotton in the cabin and deckhouse.

After a few days of light weather, the wind came out squally and stronger from the south and gradually developed into a gale, in which we made fine running.

As the wind increased it hauled to the westward, with a falling of the barometer, and a tremendous sea, meanwhile getting up, and I realised the fact that we were scudding on the right-hand, semi-circle of a severe cyclone, travelling in a north-easterly direction to the Gulf Stream.

The nights were very dark, and at times a weird spectacle was presented when every royal masthead and yardarm were illuminated by the uncanny glare of, “composants,” showing clearly against the black vaults of heaven and over the whitened waste of torn billows beneath the wind, meanwhile roaring through the rigging as if ten thousand demons yelled together.

Well it was I had a good crew, for the LADY HAVELOCK, never a tight ship, now required both pumps kept going constantly, which, with things up aloft and in deck going adrift, needed all hands most of the time.

Pitchpine is so heavy and put the ship so deep that the huge combers rolled on board over each side, filling the decks, smashing all our boats, but one, and rendering the men's quarters uninhabitable, so that I had to bring them all to the cabin. Very little cooking was possible, on the 4th day, the wind having hauled almost north, causing us to be running entirely off our course, and fearing lest the terrible logs on deck would break loose and smash up the ship, I hove her to on the starboardtack under a lower maintopsail, one foretopmast staysail, paying out a sea anchor made of three royal yards fast to our tailrope.

Hardly was this done when an enormous sea struck the already battered ship, and shifted the ponderous deck load sufficiently to throw her over nearly on her beam ends, and opening the lee waterway seam, while tearing away the whole lee side of the bulwarks. She then righted to a permanent list of about 20 degrees to port, and terror seized the crew when, HIGGINS, the carpenter, reported [foolishly in their hearing] over 8ft of water in the hold, causing them to drop the pumps and swarm on the poop, where I sat on the wet sloping deck clinging to a rope behind the weather cloth in the mizzen rigging.

Gathering them around me I explained how it was too dangerous to attempt shifting back the deck load, in such a sea, and as to the water below, it had got in while the waterway seam had been temporary open, but was now closed up again, and appealed to them as British Seamen to, “never give up the ship.” Then leading the way myself the brave men followed, and the familiar clank of the pumps soon mingled with the scream of the hurricane. But not for long, as presently the carpenter sounded, and in trying to whisper to me was overheard. “Ten feet,” was the report and again the men gave up. We could see dark as it was that the battered hull was settling down, and a new terror arose, when one of the men cried out, “The logs are afloat in the hold and will soon knock the ends out of her! we’re gone boys!”

Once again all hands crowded on the poop, and after a tremendous squall had passed over I was able to address them. “Now lads,” I said, “You must not give way to despair. The ship is our only salvation, we have no boats, and if we had they could not live in such a sea. The water in the hold has now come so high that its pressure within is very nearly equal to that from outside, and the pumps can therefore throw out the difference. Moreover the hold is full of cargo, and the water it contains, is only that held between the little places between the logs" etc.

With arguments of this description and seeing that every man on board, myself included, took his share in pumping, my gallant crew continued their arduous task for three wearisome days and nights further, until the cyclone had passed, when the sun came out, and observations placed the ship just 100miles north of the Bermuda Islands, for which me made sail, still with list and pumping, and were mighty glad to get into smooth water at Murray’s Anchorage, St Georges, on March 3rd, where we slept without rocking.

Near us we found lying that celebrated old packet ship the CONSTELLATION of New York, Captain EVES, who had not long before taken command from the well known Capt MULLINER who had sailed her for many years. She was from Liverpool to New York with cargo, no passengers, and had put into Bermuda on February 8th or 10th, leaking very badly and with the loss of bulwarks etc, having met with bad weather on the passage.

She laid to a single anchor 200yds from us. We had both down.

On March 7th, another heavy gale visited the islands and when at its height, the sea broke out over the coral reef, protecting the west coast of St George’s causing the two ships to ride heavily. When it came on, Captain EVES, and I went on shore on business, and were unable to board our ships, and had no content ourselves while watching them from the cliffs.

Suddenly the CONSTELLATION took a mighty plunge and immediately began to drift astern! Her chain had parted, and the second anchor was let go too late to bring her up. In a few minutes the massive hull, which had conveyed many thousands of passengers across the Atlantic, was gored by the cruel rocks of that fantastically worn coast, where she soon broke in two amidships, but not before all hands had safely reached land.

This crew, as was generally the case in American ships of the period, were a bad lot, and the Bermuda police, as well as the peaceable inhabitants and Captain EVES himself, were mighty glad when the Steam Packet took them to New York.

I discharged the deck load, which had been the prime cause of our trouble, and sold it to the Naval Dockyard for use about the huge floating dock, then building on the Thames for that purpose.

The night previous to my sailing I was entertained at supper by other Captains, Capt EVES was one of the party and partook freely of some tinned lobster, which must have been bad, as he had to leave early, and when I was going at 5am, was very much worse.

On arrival at Liverpool, I heard that he had died a few hours after I left. I was truly sorry as I found Capt EVES a fine fellow.


Copyright 2002 / To date