Thursday, December 16, 2010


Victoria, November 1872.

The Victoria was a brig that "departed New York for England the moment the Mary Celeste got under way" and "vanished completely with all hands." (Nash, p. 336.)

Kusche investigated three of Nash's alleged Triangle victims, the Lotta, the Viego, and the Miramon, and in none of the cases found evidence that the ship in question even had the good grace to exist in the first place, let alone vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. With a track record like this, I doubt there's much to this case.

I'll have to research this one in more detail when I get around to it, which won't be easy, as Nash gives a bibliography, but no inline citations. It should also be noted that Nash's book is subtitled as an anecdotal history of missing persons, so even Nash himself doesn't claim all his stories are demonstrably true. If the Victoria ever existed, I note as in all such cases that any number of things could have happened to a nineteenth-century sailing ship crossing the Atlantic without radio, without anybody ever hearing about it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

City of Boston

City of Boston, January 28, 1870.

The City of Boston, built by Todd and McGregor [sic] in 1864, was an iron vessel with strong engines. For safety, she was ship-rigged as well. In those days, canvas was carried both to steady the ship and to be used in an emergency if the engines broke down. The Boston was 332 feet long. She had a beam of 39 feet, and a tonnage of 2,278, and was propelled by two engines. Repairs had been made after her last trip to New York. At that time the damaged propeller was changed for another with a new type of flange. There were several engineers who claimed that if the Boston ran into a bad storm with the new two-flanged propeller, she would be in danger. But the vessel received the highest ratings from Lloyd's of London, and few paid attention to the warnings of the maritime engineers.

In the winter of 1870, the Boston was given the stamp of approval and left New York under the command of Captain J. J. Halcrow. She stopped at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on January 28. After she sailed from that port with 199 persons aboard, the Boston was never heard from again.

Icebergs were considered, and, in view of what happened to the Titanic years later, they may indeed have caused the loss of the Boston. January, however, is not a month of extreme danger from icebergs on the North Atlantic. Stories that she was overmasted were dismissed as ridiculous, and a statement that she had probably turned turtle was also considered highly improbable. The two-flanged propeller came in for discussion, but since there was no gale or storm at the time, this was considered unlikely.

The fate of the Boston is still a mystery, and her name must be added to the long list of ships which have sailed into the unknown from the great seaport of New York. (Snow, Mysteries and Adventures Along the Atlantic Coast, pp. 270.)

No gale or storm? Not so fast, bucko.

From The New York Times:

February 22, 1870, p. 8.

Captain Brooks, of the City of Brooklyn, which arrived here on Sunday evening, reports strong easterly gales during the whole voyage, and the officers of ships which arrived yesterday report heavy ice fields on the course the City of Boston must have taken. The propeller attached to the vessel is a new two-flange one, fitted during her last visit to this port, her original three-flange propeller having been broken during her last voyage from Liverpool. Captain Brooks is of opinion that the strength of the new propeller would not be sufficient to enable her to make headway against the adverse winds which she must have encountered, and therefore, that the worst to be feared is that she has been driven out of her course; but he and other Captains recently arrived express confident opinions that she will ultimately reach Liverpool safely.

February 23, 1870, p. 4.

All the great transatlantic lines have their own tracks as distinctly charted down and separated as if they were rival railways. The Inman track, after leaving Cape Race, curves considerably towards the north, and runs in higher latitude than any other of the main sea-tracks, except that of the Glasgow steamers.

The season is somewhat early for icebergs, but the abnormal tropical blasts we have had until lately, and which have been traced on the American coast beyond the Canadas, may have begun the work of dislodging the ice masses on the southern coast of Greenland.

March 17, 1870, p. 1.

A Report of Overloading

One thing which has tended to increase the anxiety respecting the safety of the steamer — if any thing could add to the apprehensions regarding her — was the dispatch from London, printed in the Times of yesterday, to the effect that in the House of Commons, on March 15, "Sir J. Parkington said it was reported that the City of Boston left America loaded twenty inches deeper than the underwriters allowed. He gave notice that he should ask the Government to inform the House if there was any truth in this report."

This statement Mr. Dale, the agent in this City, emphatically declares to be untrue. The cargo of the ship was as follows: 390 tons of beef, 200 barrels of flour, 486 bales of cotton, 12 cases of sewing-machines, 18 tons of oil-cake, 88,500 pounds of flour, 189,700 pounds of bacon, 10,376 pounds of wheat, 14 bales of varieties, 82,672 pounds of tallow, and 36 bales of hops.

The Gale She Probably Encountered

A passenger who went over in the Russia, which left here on Feb. 2, when the City of Boston had been four days out, says in a communication to the London Times: "We heard of no gales on that side at that time, and for the first two or three days of our voyage we found the sea smooth and the sailing fine — no signs whatever of previous bad weather. But afterward it became very rough. During the latter half of our passage we were beset by a most ugly tempestuous sea — such a one as, in four previous passages across the Atlantic, I had not known. The wind was ahead, and continued so up to the port of Liverpool. We were constantly shipping the most tremendous seas, and our noble vessel, strong and steady and magnificent as she is, seemed yet put to her utmost resources to hold her position: It was indeed a stormy time, and instead of making the passage in nine days, as is usual with the Russia, we were eleven. We were all grateful enough, however, to get through as we did. I have no doubt that this was the weather from which the City of Boston suffered. Indeed, we heard apprehensions expressed for her safety the first moment of our arrival at Liverpool. She probably encountered the storm several days before we did, and it may then have been even yet more violent. I cannot imagine how a vessel could make her way through such a sea without being very strong and perfect in all her parts. If there was any weak spot in her machinery it must inevitably have succumbed. If, therefore, the steering apparatus of the City of Boston was defective, as is alleged, she was no doubt disabled by this weather, and may be lost.

From Mitchell's Marine Register:

April 2, 1870.

The City of Boston, on the 29th of January was off Nova Scotia, and on that night a hurricane set in from the south-east to south-west. As already mentioned in this journal, Capt. Bulmer, of the Helene Marion, on arrival at Spithead, reported that he left New-York with the City of Boston, that his ship fell in with the hurricane, and while hove to, lost his ship's foretopmast and jibboom, although no canvas was on her at the time, and his new sails were blown away out of the gaskets. This hurricane was felt more or less severely in that part of the Atlantic for several days, so that the City of Boston could not have escaped it. In the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette of February 23 the following appeared in the maritime intelligence:

"Halifax Feb. 11. — The Master (Hackett) of the Charles Tupper schooner, arrived here, has just reported that on 31st January he saw to the southward of Sable Island a steamer, which threw up rockets three times and shifted her position round all points of the compass so that he could not make out the position; at 5 p.m. it was a lat. 43.30."

On the 11th of February the City of Boston was behind time, but the terrific weather alone was enough to account for a few days over-due. When fears began to be entertained, the paragraph just quoted was canvassed; and so confident were all parties that the steamer in distress could not have been the City of Boston, that the report was discredited. It was stated that search had been made for wreck between Sable Island and the main land, but none could be discovered. Capt. Hackett however, it will be seen, speaks of the southward, which would be to seaward of the island. Bearing in view the fact that the gale veered round to north-west, the steamer in distress would be about where the City of Boston might have been expected to be fallen in with on the 31st, particularly if the machinery broke down, and the Captain determined to put back. We have not seen any statement tending to clear up the doubts as to the steam-ship in distress seen by the Master of the Charles Tupper; and to discredit is not to disprove. The Master of this schooner, we must suppose, did not invent the tale, and his crew could confirm or contradict the report. If this steamship from which rockets were thrown up was the City of Boston, she, no doubt, foundered on the night of the 31st January; and if no tidings are heard of any of the crew, it would be owing to her boats having been destroyed by the fury of the elements previous to her sinking. This is the only incident reported in any way bearing to her loss. If we discard it, we must speculate upon other causes. The first is — was she in a seaworthy state? The ships of this line are uninsured, and have the reputation of being well found, and kept in a sound state of repair. What the waves might do during a hurricane it is beyond any human power to predict. Machinery is liable to break from excessive strains, and it is a common occurrence for the blades of screws to break off, or the shaft to meet with accident. Granted, therefore, that her hull and equipment were in an efficient state, we come to the question of her lading. The City of Boston called at Halifax after leaving New-York, and Mr. Inman's agent there wrote to say that, on steaming out of that port, she drew twenty-one feet seven inches. This, it is said, is less by seven to ten inches than she had been loaded on previous voyages; and the professional Officers of the Board of Trade have pronounced an opinion that it was quite impossible that, with the declared weights of the cargo put on board, and the great accommodations set apart for passengers, she could have been overloaded. There is, after this authoritative opinion, but one theory left to discuss. We discard altogether fire and ordinary leakage; when either of these takes place there is usually time to get boats into the water.

The only theory, therefore, that we can revert to as a last resort, is that of a collision with ice in heavy weather. Larger quantities of drift ice and bergs have been encountered in the Atlantic this season than for many years past, and the ice has got detached, and thus fetched away to the southward and westward much earlier than usual. The steamship Aleppo, which arrived at Boston on the 20th February from Liverpool, reported that "on the 15th she passed south of some immense fields extending about 100 miles east and west; her position at noon that day was, by dead reckoning, latitude 48°, longitude 46°." The City of Baltimore, (steam-ship) from New-York on Feb. 19, "passed several small icebergs on Feb. 23, in lat. 44 N., lon. 49 W. and subsequently spoke the Euxene (ship), bound east, lat. 51 N. lon. 14 W." There were a few arrivals, also, of sailing ships, during February, which brought still earlier intelligence of the disruption of ice from the Polar regions. The America (steam-ship), which arrived at New-York on the 13th March, reported passing, in lat. 40.05 N., lon. 48 W., two immense icebergs; and the Nebraska (steam-ship) which reached New-York about the same time, reported heavy ice in lat. 44 N., lon. 48 W. The master of the Etna (steam-ship) on his last voyage, also reported that a considerable amount of field ice was seen. We could extend this list to the reports of between seventy and eighty vessels arriving in Europe or America during the past two months. The New York steamship had much difficulty in working out of the mass of ice, and for security the steamers are ordered to be kept to the southward of their tracks. There is no great stretch of the imagination required to conceive that the City of Boston may have received such injury from the ice as to cause her to founder rapidly. She was certainly one of the first vessels this season to cross when the ice appeared, and may have been caught in a dangerous position for ships and boats. As to the ship being in such a high latitude as to be out of the drift or eastward recurvation of the Gulf Stream and where she would find but little if any current to carry her toward Ireland or the Azores, we give no credence to it. If the City of Boston did not go down in the hurricane of the 31st of January, or founder from contact with ice, she would have been heard of before this; and her passengers and crew are, we fear, beyond human aid.

August 26, 1870, p. 2.

Philip H. Warner, a machinist, who was in the habit of visiting the steamers almost every time she came to Halifax, went on board to see the Chief Engineer the day before she sailed. He went into the engine-room with that officer. He saw that her shaft had been heated, and had some conversation in regard to that fact. As the statements made to him by the Chief Engineer were admitted by the Judge subject to the objection of the plaintiff's counsel, we quote that portion of the evidence:

"The Chief Engineer said the main shaft had heated, and that it was not running true, the same as it had done with the three-winged fan, and that he had to drive the engine faster and the shafting faster, which was the cause of the heating; he said the steamer had been over-driven in her last trip from New-York to Halifax, and still she was not doing the same amount of work she had been doing; and he never approved of a two-winged fan, and never ran a boat with one all the time he had been an engineer; he helped to put on the two-winged fan in New-York; he told me the two-winged fan would heat her, and be likely to set her on fire; he was not very willing to go home in her with the two-winged fan."

So the City of Boston may or may not have been overloaded. She may or may not have hit an iceberg. There's even an outside chance she was dynamited for the insurance money.

But what we know is that her three-winged screw had been replaced with a two-winged screw, which was less effective. Thus, engine and shaft had to be driven faster, overheating the shaft.

The storm the City of Boston must have encountered was so severe that there would be no margin of error and all parts of the ship would have been subjected to extreme stress. If the report of overheating is true, the shaft broke, disabling the ship in one of the worst storms imaginable, so that she was sure to sink, or the overheated shaft set her on fire.

What's more, while the City of Boston is sometimes listed as lost in the Bermuda Triangle, she was definitely lost outside the Triangle. The icy seas off Halifax surely do not belong to the Bermuda Triangle.