WRECKED BETWEEN WESTHAMPTON & QUOGUE
Sea disasters along Long Islandís coastline became well known by the telling and retelling of these events. Such was the case of the coal schooner AUGUSTUS HUNT. On January 22, 1904 the four masted schooner AUGUSTUS HUNT out of Norfolk, Virginia with 1750 tons of bituminous coal aboard for Boston, plowed hard into the bar about one and a half miles west of the Quogue Life Saving station opposite the half way house. There was a moderate gale blowing, a heavy sea and thick fog.
The mate had reported a light ahead shortly before strand-ing. It was taken to be another ship. The moment the ship hit, seas instantly swept her deck from stern to stem breaking half way up the spars. All took to the rigging immediately. The light they had seen was the Ponquogue light house at Hampton Bays. The fog was so thick that the sailors could not see land and the lifesavers could not see the ship! The time of the stranding was 11:45 p.m. At midnight Surfman Levi Crasper left the Quogue station for the west patrol. About half an hour later he thought he could discern a dark spot in the fog offshore. He watched for a while and seeing nothing he continued along the beach until he met Surfman Herman Bishop from the Potunk (Westhampton) station. Together they went back to the spot. After watching closely they both concluded that there was a vessel on the bar. Crasper burnt his Coston flare, which according to the survivors they saw briefly, but they had no way of signaling back. Both surfmen dashed back to their respective stations to report the event. By 2 a.m. the crews from Quogue and Potunk were on scene. The fog had lifted enough that a ship was barely discernible. They set to work digging through the frozen sand to set the sand anchor and set up the breeches buoy apparatus. The Lyle gun was fired at the vague target in the fog. No one took up the line on the ship's end so every time they got a break in the fog another line was fired.
Keeper Charles A. Carter and his crew from Tiana station arrived at 3 a.m., having been alerted by telephone. Keeper Charles Hermann, who was in charge decided to try the boat in spite of the fact that everyone was of the opinion that it couldn't be done. By this time there were numbers of local people on the beach, many of them knowledgeable surf boatmen. There was white water as far as they could see in the direction of the wreck. After thirty minutes of trying to launch, the effort was abandoned.
At nine a.m. there was a break in the fog and the outline of the schooner could be seen for a few minutes. The surfboat was again launched, but hadnít made it more than 20 feet when it turned over spilling the men into the icy water. Both men and boat came rolling in on the breakers.
For a mile along the shore the beach and the surf were filled with wreckage from the doomed ship. Between six and seven in the morning the cries of the men could be heard weakly. About this time a loud crash was heard above the noise of the surf. The survivors later stated three of the masts came down. About ten minutes later the forth mast crashed into the sea ending the lives of seven of the sailors. The remaining three had taken refuge on the jib boom. As the boom began to break, the three crawled back to the forecastle and two of them jumped off on to some floating wreckage near the remains of the ship. The third man just disappeared. He either drowned or was killed in the seething mass of wreckage. His shipmates did not witness his demise.
Second mate George Eberts and seaman Carl Sommers were the two still alive. They had jumped to a large piece of the deck, which was still fast to the remains of the vessel and was smashing into the vessel with every wave. It finally broke loose and started to float towards shore. As it got to within 200 yards of shore the two could be seen clinging to some upright pieces about 30 feet apart. This was the first time the lifesavers got a good look at their desperate situation, the fog being so thick that they never actually saw the ship according to Halsey in a letter written many years later.
The surfmen again fired their Lyle gun and managed to get a line across the floating piece of wreckage. The second shot was close enough to one man that he was able to pull it toward him-self with his foot. He quickly made it fast to the wreckage, which was continually awash. As soon as the surfmen on shore pulled the line taut, the seaman threw one arm over the line and with it tucked into his armpit started to make his way toward shore and safety over the top of the floating debris. He made his way about 10 yards toward shore when a large wave dislodged him from the line. At this
moment, Surfman William Halsey, Jr. tied a heaving line around his waist, rushed into the breakers and clambered on to the floating wreckage. He was in immediate danger of being crushed, but managed to work his way to the exhausted man and drag him toward the beach where a human chain of lifesavers grabbed them both and pulled them ashore. Eberts was quickly placed in a bystanderís wagon and taken to the station for first aid.
As the surfmen were about to shoot another line closer to the second man, he managed to crawl over to the side where the line was without being washed overboard. He began his perilous trip over the wreckage on the line with surf breaking over him. He soon stopped moving as the icy water started to take its toll, and his arms would no longer function. At this moment Surfman Frank Warner jumped into the water and proceeded toward the helpless man. He was able to drag the man back to the surf line where Winfield Jessup, a local citizen and Keeper Gildersleeve waded in and dragged both men to safety. Gildersleeve, was knocked down by the waves in the process.
Witnesses stated that the flesh of the rescued man, Carl Sommers, had started to turn blue. He was quickly placed in the wagon of under the care of another local citizen, Mr. Erastus F. Post and was taken to Dr. Brundage of Westhampton Beach for medical treatment. A total of two lives were saved and eight were lost in this wreck.
After the weather improved the coroner, Dr. John Nugent and his associate Mr. George Winters arrived to take charge of the remains. They were standing on a heavy piece of wreckage at low tide that had a body caught under it. The coroner directed Surfman Halsey to take an ax and cut the leg off so they could remove the body. This was done and the body was removed in a piece of canvas not much bigger than a bath towel. "I do not believe there a bone left unbroken in the body," stated Mr. Win-ters.
Lt. DeOtte of the US Revenue Marine soon arrived to conduct an inquiry into the eight deaths as was customary.
The scene of the wreck was visited daily by a large number of sightseers, all of whom carried away a piece of the wreckage for a souvenir.
The wheel from the Augustus Hunt was at the Yardarm Club at Westhampton Beach in 1950. The anchor was at the gateway of a Mr. Taylor of Quogue, according to Mr. Winters, in a letter to Harry B. Squires years later.
Captain Robert Blair, the real Captain had been sick so the first mate sailed as acting Captain of ďJumboĒ as the HUNT was known. Acting as agent for the Company, he arrived and sold most of the wreckage for $15 to Silas Tuttle.
The survivors said that no soundings were taken and the last known position was at the Light Ship at Five Fathom bank off of South Jersey, which helps explain how the ship plowed directly into the beach.
On June 4, 1904 at an annual dinner and meeting of the Long Island Surfmen at Roe's Hotel in Patchogue, both Halsey and Warner were presented with the Service's highest honor, the gold lifesaving medal along with Raynor and Latham of the Blue Point station for their similier rescue a month later from the wreck of the BENJAMIN C. CROMWELL. at Bellport. Halsey's gold medal was still in the possession of the family in 1996.
William Fanning Halsey, Jr. retired July 1, 1931 as a War-rant Boatswain (L) USCG after being in charge of the Quogue sta-tion for many years. He had joined in 1901. He worked summers at the bathing beach next door to the station and had won medals in swimming contests.
By 1930 Frank Warner had become a Warrant Boatswain and was in charge of the Ditch Plains Coast Guard Station four miles west of Montauk. Four days worth of fog that November resulted in three ships on the rocks near the station, a collier, a steam trawler and a rum runner! With small boat and breeches buoy all crews were rescued and 1100 cases of liquor was confiscated. This time there were photographers and movies cameramen to record the events. Frank Daniel Warner retired in 1934.
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