The Evening Star Disaster.
The Evening Star Disaster.


Further Details of the Great Ca-

Statement of William H. Harris, a

[From the New York Times, 15th inst.]

    Mr. W. H. Harris, a merchant residing in Williamsburgh, was a passenger on board the Evening Star. Mr. Harris is not engaged in business in Williamsburgh, but is in the habit of taking goods of various kinds to New-Orleans for speculative purposes. Mr. Harris had goods to a considerable amount on board the Evening Star. He has made frequent ocean voyages, and was one of those who remained calm and collected throughout the trying scenes which surrounded him, and rendered most welcome assistance to Capt. Knapp and the officers of the ship. The following is the statement of Mr. Harris, as made to our reporter yesterday:


    The mail steamship Evening Star, Capt. Knapp, sailed from New-York Sept. 29, at 3 o'clock P. M. On the morning of the 2d of October it began to blow pretty hard, and continued to increase gradually until the morning of the 3d, when it blew a perfect hurricane. At this time we were 180 miles east of Tybee Islands. After weathering the storm for fourteen hours she foundered at daylight on the morning of the 3d, with 275 souls on board, only sixteen of whom were saved. I will endeavor to relate the details of the calamity as far as I can of my own knowledge. About 5 o'clock on the morning of the 2d it began to blow very hard. I stood in the doorway of what was called the "social hall," which is a little saloon at the head of the stairway leading to the main saloon. This saloon was filled with ladies at this time. At six o'clock the vessel commenced to ship such heavy seas that the floor of the hall was covered with water, and made it very disagreeable for the ladies to remain there. I went down into the dining-room and laid down, but I found that the water had come in through the deck and wet all the cushions. She was then leaking over all the deck. At 11:30 o'clock all hands were called on deck to bale water out of the engine-room, the seas having washed down over the vessel and into the room. A party of men went forward and succeeded in getting the water all out of there. A break was then discovered in the pantry or steward's room, and all hands went to baling there. At the same time she broke away her bulwarks on her starboard side. The damage here was speedily repaired, in a manner sufficiently strong to keep out the water for the time. At twelve o'clock the vessel became unmanageable, from losing the use of the rudder. At two o'clock we commenced cutting a hole in the deck for the purpose of baling the water out of the hold. We took out sufficient freight to enable us to look in, but found but a few inches of water. However, by the time we were ready to bale it had gained considerably in depth. We all set to work baling, and worked as long as we could, the women laboring as hard as the men. They would pass the empty buckets, while the men carried the full ones. They worked quietly in all that terrible storm without a murmur. We had some trouble with the Frenchmen of the Opera Troupe, in consequence of their not being able to understand English. However, they did their best, and worked willingly when they understood what to do. At two o'clock the men were all tired out with hard work, and, as the water continued to gain upon us, we gave up all as lost. The water at this time was six feet deep in the hold, and the ship was rolling about in the tempest like a log, the waves breaking over her in quick succession. However, all was done that could be done, and as darkness came on, most of the passengers went below. At five o'clock next morning I went on deck, and the sight that there met my gaze can never be erased from my memory. At daylight on looking around, I found the ship, sure enough, a total wreck, and the sight one to make the stoutest heart quail. The whole of the paddle boxes had been carried away, nothing but the fans being left. The pilot-house was gone, and the guards also. The sea was running mountains high, the spray blowing about like rain, and the wind rushing through the rigging and about the dismantled ship. The hurricane was now at its height. I forgot to mention that the engine stopped working at 2 o'clock in the morning in consequence of the breaking of the steampipe, and the fires being put out. The donkey engine was therefore also useless. At daylight the Captain told the women that nothing more could be done, and that if any of them wanted to get into the boats they could do so. He then went away, and I did not see him again. Mr. Allen, the purser, then came with the ladies out of the cabin. All those who could get life-preservers had them, and they were very few. He placed them in a boat, but she no sooner touched the water than she capsized, and all were washed away. The ship all this time was filling fast; I stood by some hatches, intending to hold on to them along with several women, when we shipped a heavy sea forward of the wheelhouse on the starboard side and went down. In an instant the sea swept me clear of the deck, and carried me down some twenty-five feet I thought. When I came to the surface I found myself in the midst of the wreck of the vessel, surrounded by floating spars and drift wood. Men and women were floating all about, clinging to anything they could lay hold of. All shouts for aid were drowned by the fury of the hurricane. I secured a piece of the wreck with which to support myself, but I had to abandon this owing to the danger I was in of being struck by pieces of the flying wreck, which were being hurled about in all directions by the wind and the waves. I then got hold of a piece of the fragments of the saloon, upon which I pulled myself, but was thrown off again and again by the violence of the waves, in each new effort to regain my position, lacerating my hands and limbs on the nails and splinters in the pieces of wreck. In this way I clung to life for two or three hours. While drifting about in this way I could see the whole of the wreck as it lay before me. I saw the hurricane deck, two hundred feet long, crowded with human beings, herded together. Some of these were standing, and some sitting, all helpless and despairing. I now drifted near a life-boat, keel up, for which I abandoned my piece of wreck and swam. Others were clinging to it, whom I assisted to right it. When I succeeded in getting in with the others I recognized the Purser, Mr. Allen. There were now ten or us, but after this we were frequently upset, each time losing one or more of our number, again adding to them by picking up others. Helpless to manage the boat, which was filled with water and drifting at the mercy of the sea, we passed and repassed the wreck during the day. Towards evening we lost sight of it. We had now been sitting in the water all day long, and when night came on we began to feel the want of food and water, but we had neither. Just after dark I picked up a turnip, of which we each took a bite, and this was all we ate during the day. We were now so dry that some drank sea water, which made them very flighty, while others drank their own urine, which answered better. The morning of the fourth was very fine, so we determined to get the water out of our boat. At daylight we came up to one of the wrecked, who was floating on a piece of the cabin, and had an oar with which to guide his craft. We got alongside and put some of the men on it, after which we upset our boat, thus getting the water out of it. We then got in again, and felt comparatively comfortable, but still suffering for the want of food and water. We then rigged two masts out of pieces of the wreck, and made sails out of the covering of the life-preservers. We then headed east north-east. At eight o'clock we fell in with the third mate, with nine men in another life-boat, who gave each of us a handful of crackers; but, unfortunately, our throats were so parched with the long thirst, and by drinking sea water, we were unable to swallow this food. The two boats then parted company, we taking a more northerly direction than the other. At five o'clock, on the 5th, we fell in with the Norwegian bark Fleetwing, from Balize, Honduras, for Liverpool, who took us on board. Here we remained thirty-three hours. On the 6th spoke schooner J. Waring, Capt. Frank Smith, from New-York for Apalachicola, Florida. This vessel having suffered in the gale and got crippled, she put into Savannah for repairs, While we were on board the Waring the captain and crew did all in their power to relieve our wants, even at their own discomfort. While we were floating in the life-boat, a young woman, about eighteen years of age, caught hold with us and clung on for several hours. She held on while we were capsized three times, but kept growing weaker. At last we were turned over again, and she was lost. We all got very much exhausted, and could scarcely hold on to the boat. Mr. Allen became very weak, and would have been lost but for assistance given him. We were all bruised more or less, and the salt water made our wounds very painful.
    Capt. Knapp did his duty faithfully and manfully throughout, doing all in his power to save his ship, and when he found there was no hope, contributed much to preserving order among the passengers and crew. He floated for some time, but while clinging to one of the lifeboats he was struck on the head by a piece of timber and killed. On our arrival at Savannah, the Purser, Mr. Allen, did everything that was in his power to make us comfortable. We had lost everything, and even the clothes we had on were ruined by our long exposure in the water. New suits were given us, and passage to New York secured for us on the propeller Virgo. On board this latter vessel we received every attention from the officers. We were all very much sunburned while in the open boat, and during our passage home the skin has peeled off our faces and hands. I am still lame and sore, but will be all right in a few days. One of the passengers on board the Evening Star, was Capt. Joseph P. Robinson, of Boston, a brave and gallant man. He was one of the coolest men on board the wreck, and labored manfully to save the ship and to calm the fears of the women and frightened men. He struggled hard for his life, but was struck by a piece of the floating wreck and went down. The women on board the ship behaved nobly during the terrible scenes of the tempest, yielding a ready compliance to all orders given them. There were about forty prostitutes on board the ship, but they had behaved with great propriety from the first. There were but two or three exceptions to this, and they were not particularly bad. Most of the women had been obliged to remain in their rooms or in the saloons, previous to the storm, owing to the rough weather. Many of them were sea-sick, as were many of the men. One of the prostitutes who was the proprietress of an elegant house of ill-fame in New-Orleans, had a beautiful pair of ponies on board and a fine new carriage. They were all anxious to work when danger appeared, and some of them did good service.

[From the New York Tribune.]

    The statement made by the officers of the steamship Evening Star, are not satisfactory. They do not directly inform us of the cause of her loss, and, indeed, if we accept all the statements as to her strength and good management, there would be no cause whatever. The wonder would be how such a ship could possibly founder in any storm, much less in a hurricane which a life-boat could survive, and an open sea in which survivors saved themselves by clinging to pieces of the wreck. Perhaps, if we examine these statements, the cause of the terrible disaster will be found in the facts which are omitted.
    The engines of the Evening Star were not built for her, and were no doubt excellent; but the question is not in regard to their excellence as machinery, but their fitness for an ocean vessel. We have already declared our belief that the upright engines were the original cause of the ship's foundering, but there is additional evidence to show that the vessel itself was poorly constructed. The purser, E. S. Allen, says that the engines worked admirably up to 5 a. m. Wednesday, October 3, about an hour before the ship went down, yet at the same time admits that at 2 o'clock, or four hours previous, the steamer was lying in the trough of the sea. For all practical purposes, we should judge from this, the engine might as well have been working on shore. The purser and chief engineer have nothing to say of any disaster to the steamer until about four hours before she foundered; and we should infer from their statements that the Evening Star was in excellent order till within from four to ten hours of sinking, and that in that period her bulwarks were driven in, her paddle-boxes and hurricane deck swept away, her rudder chains broken, her seams opened, her engine-room flooded, her donkey engine broken, and the ship left a rolling log in the trough of the sea. But, if we look at the statements of two of the passengers saved, the trouble seems to have begun earlier. At eleven in the morning on the 3d instant, according to Mr. Harris, the engine-room was flooded and all hands called upon to bail out the water; at the same time a leak was discovered, and the bulwarks stove in on the starboard quarter; at twelve o'clock the rudder chains were broken, and the vessel became totally unmanageable and at one o'clock a hole was cut in the deck to throw out the freight and get at the leak. The storm begun, according to the statement of the purser on the evening of the 2d; on the morning of the 2d, according to Mr. Harris, the cabin and the engine-room were filled with water. Mr. Allen, purser, says that the freight was removed in order to bail the water, which had been taken in by breaches of the sea over the deck. Mr. Harris declares that this was done to get at the leak. The ship had behaved so well the whole night, says the purser, that up to about an hour before she sank he did not think the danger imminent. Mr. Harris says that all night long she lay at the mercy of the waves. At two o'clock, four hours before she foundered, all work was abandoned, and the ship given up for lost.
    These discrepancies we have noted by a brief comparison of the statements made, and there are others equally apparent. We do not think the steamer was of exceptional weakness; on the contrary, we fear there are many others equally unfit to contend with the furious storms which prevail at this season on our coast. The eulogies which she has received are not justified by the facts which accompany them, and the public will not be satisfied with the assurance that no vessel could have done better. Over 200 lives were lost in the Evening Star, but two women were saved, and of the dozen or so survivors the large proportion were of the crew. There is enough in all this to make further investigation imperative.


Unknown, "The Evening Star Disaster," Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, Thursday, 18 October, 1866, Page 0_2.

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