1900 - STEAMER - CITY OF MONTICELLO
The usual peaceful course of events in Yarmouth was ruthlessly broken on Saturday afternoon, November 10th, by the announcement of one of the most appalling calamities that had occurred in its history. About 3.30 o'clock a telephone message was received from Capt. A. Norman Smith from Chegoggin, summoning medical assistance for stewardess Smith, of the steamer City of Monticello, coupled with the statement that this steamer had foundered in the Bay and all on board, except four, had perished. Immediately the news spread with lightning speed, passing from lip to lip, as each one told his neighbor the terrible news.
Little groups of men gathered on the streets, and when Capt Smith reached the post office an immense crowd congregated, completely blocking the street, so eager were they to hear the painful details. With great difficulty, and although suffering from his injuries and exposure, Capt. Smith related the circumstances attending the disaster. Each of his hearer's faces blanched as the terrible story was related, and many of the stoutest hearted welled up with sorrow and their eyes filled with tears from sympathy with the lost and their bereaved families.
Whilst Capt. Smith related his experience the new-comers in the crowd asked question after question about their friends on board, and as each new name was mentioned a deeper sorrow, if possible, seized the listeners. Several were unable to bear the mental strain and were obliged, although anxious to hear the minutest details of the disaster, to withdraw into some store or office where their emotions might have free scope. During the captain's recital of the story he was repeatedly interrupted by numerous friends calling to express their gratitude that he had been spared to tell the terrible details. Capt. Smith's statement was as follows:
We left St. John at 11.15 o'clock on Friday morning, November 9th, and had a fair run to Petite Passage. The sun here shone out brightly and there were indications of a northwest wind. Capt. Harding and I both coincided in this opinion. Capt. Harding decided to keep on. We got as far as Cape St. Mary's, when the wind began to blow very strong, which continued to increase to a gale. We kept on our course as near as possible, and made fairly good weather.
On Saturday morning at daylight Cape Forchu bore due east, about four miles distant. Capt. Harding decided to try to run for Yarmouth, but on account of a heavy list, owing to the quantity of water in the hold, was unable to get the ship's head before the wind. The jib was set, but without effect. The water finally put out the fires and the engines stopped. The steamer then lay in the trough of the sea, unmanageable. She then began to settle very fast, being at an angle of 45 degrees, with starboard paddle out of water.
The captain had previously ordered the boats cleared and made ready for launching. The first boat was lowered and in it were: Miss Elsie MacDonald and a colored girl, and stewardess Kate Smith, (the only females on board); second officer Murphy, third officer Flemmings, quarter master Wilson Cook and myself, seven in number. The second boat; was launched about the same time. Some men got in her. She seemed to settle at once as if boarded by a sea. Some one in our boat cried out: "Those poor fellows are drowning!" when Murphy burst out crying, being unable to assist them. I never saw a man more worked up over his companions' safety and at the same time cool and collected regarding his duties at the helm of the boat.
Within five minutes of our putting off from the Monticello she turned completely over and disappeared beneath the waves. Our only safety depended upon our keeping our boat, before the sea, and how faithfully poor Murphy attended to this difficult task. It appeared as if his hands would collapse from the strain with which he grasped the tiller. When a short distance from the shore we tried to run the boat into a small beach between the rocks. I saw a tremendous comber coining after us and I shouted to all to hold on for their lives. I grasped both arms around the forward thwart with both hands locked by the fingers and waited for the result. In an instant the boat was lifted like an eggshell to the angle of 45 degrees, my grasp on the boat was broken, and I found myself thrown violently to the earth and grass on the beach. Sticking my fingers as deeply as I could in the bank I awaited the undertow. I was carried back some distance, but on the next wave secured a strong hold and then crawled out of danger. I observed Miss Smith and Mr. Flemmings crawling up the beach, and afterwards was joined by Mr. Cook. I saw nothing of Mr. Murphy and the two girls after the comber struck us. They uttered no shout, and I do not know how they met their death. It seemed hard that after displaying so much courage and fortitude they should be lost when safety was so near.
We walked up to Capt. Vickery's house, where we found the family at dinner. They at once showed us every kindness, and after a hasty lunch Capt. Vickery drove me to town. During all the trying ordeal on board the steamer there was not the slightest confusion, but on the contrary everything was done in the most orderly manner. Capt. Harding might have jumped into our boat, but paid no attention to it, keeping himself busy attending to the launching of the other boats, and serving lifebelts to the passengers. I sang out to young Olive to jump in the boat, and he could easily have done so. He had been most attentive to the three ladies, assisting them in getting ready and in jumping into the boat. Indeed the last thing he did was to throw Miss MacDonald's hand bag in the boat just as we were carried away from the ship.' There can be no blame attached to Capt. Harding. No more capable officer could be found. He was simply caught under conditions which looked favorable, but which turned out entirely different. I think it impossible that either of the men in the second boat could have survived long, as she appeared to sink almost immediately.
Third officer Flemmings said that about 10 o'clock on Friday night a sea boarded the Monticello on the starboard bow, which stove in the forward saloon and did other slight damage, which was temporarily repaired with boat awnings. When off Cape St. Mary's, about, five or six miles from shore, the steamer began to make water slightly. The pumps were set to work, and the steamer did not ship another sea. The pumps kept the vessel free until 8 the next morning. I had no idea of danger until an hour later, when the leak increased rapidly. We then began to throw the cargo overboard through the port gangways, and put out a drag to put the steamer before the sea.
About 11 o'clock the steamer was unmanageable, her position being then about four miles west of Chegoggin Point. The engines stopped about 11.30. Capt. Harding, in his quiet manner, ordered the boats put over. Wilson Cook and myself jumped in first. We then got the ladies on board, each in turn jumping from the rail of the steamer as the boat swung in with the sea. Cook caught them and I kept the boat from being smashed against the steamer. As soon as Mr. Murphy got in the boat it became unhooked from the davits and we were obliged to pull away from the steamer. The second boat filled as soon as launched. I saw two or three men in the water having lifebelts on. We saw the starboard quarter boat over the side before we lost sight of the ship.
We had not been in the boat more than five minutes before the Monticello turned completely over, broke in two and disappeared beneath the waves, with some men hanging on to the starboard quarter rail. The steamer broke in two, and the last seen of her was her rudder sticking up. This statement was corroborated by quarter master Cook, who added that the forward part sank bow first, and the after portion stern first. I saw four or five persons standing aft on the ship as she went down. I saw the second boat fill alongside the ship, some inside and some outside holding on. I think there were about seven in her and they did not get the forward davit tackle clear before the ship went down. I think about fifteen persons got into the third boat. They had oars out and were lying beside the ship.
Miss Smith said: Elsie MacDonald was in her stateroom and stayed there until I told her to get up, as we had to take to the boats and she had better dress. The Lawrence girl came on deck with Miss MacDonald. In the morning Mr. Eldridge sat down by me and said his people didn't know he was on board. I never realized we were in danger until we took to the boat. When Mr. Eldridge was speaking to me he seemed to be nervous and agitated a little, and he asked me if I was frightened. I told him " No, I was not the least bit afraid, and for him not to get frightened, as that was the worst thing he could do." He said: "All I can say is that God will take care of us." He then went away, was gone a little while and came back again and asked me if I thought he had better put on a lifebelt, and I told him yes, if he thought best. Then he did so and went away. Purser Hilton said he was feeling nervous and a little dizzy.
Shortly afterwards I was told to get ready. The girls had been called before the boats were got ready and were in the saloon with me. They did not seem to be afraid. There was no excitement with any one. We had to take chances and jump into the boat from the rail. When we left the steamer the mate's boat was in the water and I saw persons in her, the boat being about full. The other boat was in the water, and some men in her. She was still hanging to the davit hooks. In about five minutes the steamer rolled over and went down and both the boats went with her. I heard some one in our boat say "She's broken in two." We heard a crash. I saw Capt. Harding standing on the rail of the steamer as she went down, and Beecher Hopkins, Levi Nickerson, Walton Cunningham, Austin Wickens, Fred VanEmburg and Wynne VanEmburg standing beside him. When the ship broke in two I heard a terrible scream, which I will never forget as long as I live. I am positive both boats went down with the steamer and that neither of them got away.
There were 8 passengers on board: Alfred E. S. Eldridge, 38 years of age, Yarmouth, leaving a widow and two children; Miss Elsie MacDonald, 16 years of age, daughter of Alexander MacDonald, tailor, Yarmouth; Rupert E. Olive, purser of steamer Prince Edward, 26 years of age, who left a widow in St. John, N. B., to whom he had been married but a short time; J. C. Fripp, traveler for D.. McGee Sons, St. John, N. B.; O. W. Coleman, of Moncton, N. B., traveler for Levy Bros Co., Hamilton, Ontario; John Richmond, traveler for Migner and Boucher, Quebec; Capt. A. Norman Smith, master of steamer Pharsalia, of Yarmouth, and Ida May Lawrence (colored), daughter of William Lawrence, Yarmouth.
The crew, including the captain, numbered 32. They were: Capt. Thomas M. Harding master, 42 years of age, Yarmouth, left a widow and one daughter; first officer Harvey D. Newell, 44 years of age, of Newelton, Cape Island, left a widow and four children; second officer Nehemiah Murphy, 46 years of age, Yarmouth, left a widow, one son and one daughter; third officer James E. Flemmings, 44 years of age, of Pennant, Halifax, lived at Clyde; quarter master Swen Johannsen, of Sweden, 30 years of age, left a widow and two children, living at Arcadia; quarter master Wilson Cook, of Lockeport, 29 years of age, took the place of Elisha Cook for this voyage; Stanley Ringer, 20 years of age, of Lockeport, seaman; John J. Whitmore, of Lockeport, 20 years of age, seaman; Harry Copeland, about 18 years of age, son of Thomas Copeland, of Lockeport; Robert Nickerson, 48 years of age, of Yarmouth, left a widow and four children; W. H. Dunn, 23 years of age, of Weymouth, seaman, unmarried; David Benham, 20 years of age, of Lockeport, seaman, who joined the steamer for this trip only; Everett B. M. Hilton, son of Capt. Benjamin Hilton, of Yarmouth, 39 years of age, purser, unmarried; Nathan C. Hopkins, 45 years of age, of Yarmouth, left a widow and three daughters. He joined the Monticello at Barrington on her upward trip, relieving his brother Ashton, the regular steward, for this trip only.
Beecher Hopkins, 23 years of age, of Barrington, waiter; Miss Katharine Smith, stewardess, 30 years of age, of Cape Island; Levi Nickerson, 21 years of age, of Shag Harbor, waiter; Austin Wickens, 15 years of age, of Cape Island, pantryman; Wynne L. VanEmburg, 19 years of age, of Pubnico, first cook; Fred VanEmburg, 17 years of age, second cook, of Pubnico, who took his father's place for this trip only; Walton Cunningham, 14 years of age, Cape Island, sailors' mess; Charles Greig, 50 years of age, Halifax, chief engineer, left a widow and eight children; Herbert K. Poole, 29 years of age, of Yarmouth, second engineer, left a widow and one child; Robert Doucette, 32 years of age, of Yarmouth, oiler, left a widow and six children; Win slow Ringer, 25 years of age, of Lockeport, oiler, brother of Stanley (above), left a widow and one child; James Cole, 31 years of age, of Yarmouth, fireman, left a widow and four children; Samuel Gloster, 40 years of age, of Liverpool, N. S., fireman, left a widow and five children; Samuel Surette, seaman, of Yarmouth, left a widow and four children; John Burke, 31 years of age, of St. John, N. B., fireman, unmarried; Thomas Johnson, 20 years of age, of McLennan's Brook, Pictou, seaman; Isaac Wilson, 30 years of age, of Barrington, baggage master (brother of Mr. Freeland C. Wilson, of the Grand Hotel), left a widow and one child; George Meuse, 24 years of age, of Yarmouth, left a widow and four children. These make a total of 36 persons who perished, leaving 15 widows and 49 fatherless children.
Early on Sunday morning word was received in town that a large number of bodies had come on shore with wreckage at Chebogue Point, and soon over 500 persons had congregated on these shores. The bodies found in this vicinity were those of: First officer Newell, chief steward Hopkins, second engineer Poole, Rupert E. Olive, A. E.S. Eldridge, J. C. Fripp, O. W. Coleman, David Benham, E. B. M. Hilton, Isaac Wilson, Austin Wickens, Robert Nickerson, Swen Johannsen, Levi Nickerson, John J. Whitmore, Thomas Johnson, John Richmond, Wynne L. VanEmburg, chief engineer Greig, Walton Cunningham, Harry Copeland and Stanley Ringer. The bodies of the three who were drowned by the wreck of the boat at Chegoggin were also recovered. The mail bag came ashore near Pinkney's Point. It contained about 150 letters, all water soaked, but which were carefully dried by postmaster Hood and delivered to the proper parties.
The City of Monticello belonged to the Yarmouth Steamship Co. She was an iron paddle steamer, with a wooden superstructure. She was built by Harlan and Hollingsworth, Delaware, and was first called the City of Norfolk. She was purchased by the Bay of Fundy Steamship Co., was rebuilt in 1889 and her name changed. She ran between St. John and Digby for several years and was a fast sailer. She was 232 feet long, 32 feet wide and 10.9 feet deep, registering 478 tons. She had four bulkheads and a vertical beam engine. She was insured for $25,000.
Click on one of the below thumbnails to see an expanded image of the 'City of Monticello'.
The above images are provided courtesy of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives.
From: City of Monticello
J. Murray Lawson (compiler) YARMOUTH REMINISCENCES (aka YARMOUTH PAST AND PRESENT). Yarmouth, 1902. Chapter, DISASTERS TO YARMOUTH SHIPPING. pp 191 to 198.