The Wreck of the Bristol - November 21, 1836
"thus perished some 60 and 70 souls, almost within sight of the port of their destination." (Benjamin Thompson, History of Long Island)

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Sunday Morning News (The Hempstead Inquirer, Hempstead, LI November 30, 1836)

    On the 16th of October the ship Bristol, of New York, commanded by Capt. McKown, sailed from Liverpool for New York. The vessel was a new one, as we learn, this being her second voyage, and was commanded by a gentleman long, and favorably known as an able and experienced shipmaster. She had on board an assorted cargo, such as coal, railroad iron, crockery, dry goods, etc. and a large number of cabin and steerage passengers.
    After a pleasant and prosperous voyage, she arrived off the Highlands [of New Jersey] on Sunday evening last, about 8 o'clock. On making the light, captain McKown hove the vessel to, and hoisted signals for a pilot. About 1 o'clock, as it began to blow very fresh, Capt. McKown brought the ship to the wind, and stood off shore, under easy sail.
    Just before 4 o'clock, on Monday morning, she struck on Rockaway shoals, five miles west of the Pavilion the night, or rather morning, being very dark and thick. She struck so lightly that little alarm was exited on board, but in a short time the wind increased to a violent gale, and the sea made a clear breach over her. The captain and officers advised the passengers to go below, as they would have a better chance to work than if they encumbered the deck..
    In about an hour, a tremendous wave struck her. Boats, bulwarks, and everything moveable were instantly swept from the deck. The hatches, which were well secured, burst, and in a moment the vessel filled with water. Eighty-two steerage passengers were below, and save a few who chanced to be close to  the hatchways, none were preserved.   Not a sound, a moan, was heard. The work of death was instantaneous. Sixty persons were hurried, unwarned and unprepared, into eternity.
    The scene that now presented itself on deck, beggars description. Fathers rushed around, anxiously enquiring for their children wives for their husbands,  and children for their parents. Every spot that could afford shelter from the sea, was filled by some of the survivors, who lashed themselves to the sails, the  rigging, and the masts. At daylight, the crew cut away the mainmast in hopes that the ship would lie easier, or at least, hold together, until, the crew and passengers could be saved.
    The shore, which was about a quarter of a mile from the wreck, was crowded with persons, looking on, but unable to afford any assistance as the surf ran  so high. The ill fated persons on board the doomed vessel saw those who would, but could not assist them, and their feelings may be imagined, but not described. The vessel was hourly expected to go to pieces, and once that work commenced, hope was indeed gone.
    Towards moon, as the tide ebbed, the surf was lower, and a boat, manned by four gallant, hardy men, reached the wreck. This boat made two trips, and  succeeded in bringing safely to land all the females and children that were alive. Before the boat could go the third time, the surf again rose, and further  assistance must be delayed until midnight.
    Meanwhile the ship broke in two and the foremast went by the board. Lashed to it were the two Messrs. Carlton and Mr. Burtsall, cabin passengers. Mr. Burtsall alone was preserved, as in falling he caught hold of one of the bobstays, and reached the bowsprit. Soon after the mizzen mast went. But before it did go, those who were lashed to it, and in the mizzen top, had time to leave it, and lash themselves to the taffrail.
    When the boat first came off to the relief of the unfortunates, the females were taken off. At second trip, Mr. Donnelly and his family, who had been in the  mizzen top with Capt. McKown, got into the boat, leaving Capt. McKown and a servant maid still in the top. Before the boat pushed off Mr. Donnelly  declared he would not go ashore in that boat, but that the servant maid should take his place. Capt. McKown urged himself very strongly to save himself  then, if possible; but he refused, and returned to the top, with the captain. The servant went ashore in his stead.
    The females were landed in safety, and Capt. McKown with Mr. Donnelly, remained on the top. While there, Capt. McKown, conversing upon the  melancholy disaster, remarked, that he feared he was undone forever and would never be able to obtain command of another vessel. Mr. Donnelly  endeavored to cheer him up, and told him that so much confidence had he in his conduct and capability, that if he could not procure a vessel, he would give  him one himself.
    Soon after this, as Capt. McKown had reason to fear that the mizzen mast would go, he proposed descending, and lashing themselves to the taffrail, to which Mr. Donnelly consented. Capt. McKown went first, and having procured one end of the running rigging, lashed himself securely to the taffrail. Mr.  Donnelly followed, and Capt. McKown threw him the end of a rope, but it fell short. Mr. Donnelly attempted to reach it, and while in the act of so doing, a  tremendous wave struck the vessel, and washed him overboard. He was drowned, and fell a victim to his own philanthropy.
    All on shore thought that the vessel must have gone to pieces; but as faint moans and cries of distress were occasionally heard, amid the howlings of the storm, a boat put off at midnight, and reached the vessel with difficulty. All who were alive on board, were put into her, and she reached the shore in safety. In three or four trips, all the living had been rescued from the watery grave.
    Capt. McKown was the last person to leave the wreck. He had been repeatedly urged by the boatmen to save himself, but resolutely refused, until all under  his care were safe. He has saved nothing; not even the ship's papers. All his own clothing is lost, and he came ashore in his vest and pantaloons. He was so much bruised and injured by the washing of the waves, that he is obliged to be taken to the wreckmaster's house. A distance of seven miles from the wreck,  where he now lies, seriously ill


 The Hempstead Inquirer,  Hempstead, LI November 30, 1836

Wreck of the Bristol

    Unluckily for us, our paper went to press last week before we had heard a syllable in relation to the dreadful loss of human life by the wreck of the Bristol.  Had we received information in time, we should have proceeded to the spot in order to have collected all correct particulars. Numerous accounts both true and untrue, respecting the wreck have been in circulation during the past week. It is one of the most dreadful disasters in the annals of shipwreck that have ever happened.
    We observe from numerous accounts, pretty much all the blame is attributed to the indifference manifested by the New York pilots. They are undoubtedly at fault, but we understand from an individual who has conversed with some of the crew of the ill-fated vessel, that on Monday morning, after being  unable to procure a pilot, the captain gave orders to the officer on watch to stand off shore, and to remain on a certain tack two hours.
    It seems the officer must have slept on his watch, as, when the ship struck the bar off Rockaway, they had been four hours on the same tack. The captain came ashore in his vest and pantaloons, which shows that he must have retired to his berth.
    We have been assured by one who is experienced in matters relating to the ocean that, when near port, and especially in the critical time, it is not customary for the captain of a vessel to be off his vigilance. It, therefore, seems that if the officers had been properly on the alert, notwithstanding the negligence of the pilots, the Bristol would have been saved, and the consequent destruction of human life avoided.
    The number of bodies that have been already floated ashore is variously stated. Some of the papers have made it out as many as sixty, but it must be an exaggeration, not more than twenty at the most.
    Too much condemnation cannot be bestowed upon the conduct of certain lawless individuals who have visited the wreck for purposes of plunder, perhaps murder, as represented in some of the New York papers, though we believe the accounts are distorted.  That men so utterly nefarious should exist in a country boasting of the elevated state of society as this, is most disgraceful. It is the heart-felt desire of every one who possess the least moral  capacity, that these wretches may be apprehended and visited with severe and condign punishment.
    On Thursday last, the United States Marshall, of New York, dispatched a number of deputies to the scene of the wreck, for the purpose of preserving such property as might float ashore. Three miscreants, caught in the act of plunder, were arrested and taken to the city.  They were examined before the proper authorities on Monday last. We are happy to state that ample means for the apprehension of those worse than pirates have been instituted; and that all who have been engaged in such lawless scenes are likely to be arrested and punished accordingly. We since understand thirteen individuals have been  arrested, and are now in custody.



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