The lost story of the William & Mary happened after the long 18th century, the usual focus for this blog, but stories from the sea have something timeless about them so it is fitting that this tale of wretched rogues and angelic wreckers has found a home here. There are sharks and whales swimming out there as you read this piece which were alive while two hundred would-be emigrants fought for their lives in the Bahamas in 1853, and sadly the sea is just as deadly as it’s ever been for the unlucky and unwise.
The English, Irish, Scottish and Dutch emigrants were so hopeful as they boarded the ship in Liverpool, England, looking forward to new lives in America where some planned to settle a town in Wisconsin and others were meeting family members already established in the comparatively enormous country. They were the first passengers to travel on this ship and, it turned out, the last. After a horrendous journey with no ship surgeon, precious few provisions doled out by a violent crew, and a prescription of bacon from the captain for passengers dying of fever, the emigrants were relieved to reach the Bahamas as they knew the American port of New Orleans would soon be in sight. Unfortunately, the arrogant and inexperienced captain would take them no further.
|Map of route through Bahamas - Lotgevallen van den heer O.H.Bonnema, 1853, used with kind permission of Collectie Tresoar.|
One evening, having already narrowly missed a collision with an island, the ship was holed twice and began to sink. Captain Stinson threatened the passengers with his own desertion, told them the water in the hold was twice as deep as it really was, hid the distress flag, and eventually managed to sneak off with many of his crew (and the remaining provisions) in a lifeboat. Several of the passengers swam after them only to be murdered with a hatchet when they reached the fleeing sailors, and the cowardly captain stood with his hat held high and called over to the screaming families, “Friends, may you fare well”.
|William and Mary - Lotgevallen van den heer O.H.Bonnema, 1853, used with kind permission of Collectie Tresoar.|
He reported the ship as lost before his eyes and everyone aboard was presumed drowned. Journalists suspected something was up and pressed for answers only to find the captain had disappeared, as had his crew. Some weeks later the truth emerged and his disappearance made more sense. The people he left to drown had instead kept the pumps going for two days and nights until an exceptionally brave local wrecker and his crew came to the rescue.
To find out more, read “The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson” (Pen & Sword, 2016).
About the Author
Gill Hoffs is the author of “Wild: a collection” (Pure Slush, 2012) and two shipwreck books, “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’” (Pen & Sword, 2014, 2015) and the recently released “The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson” (Pen & Sword, 2016). She lives in Warrington, England, with Coraline Cat. If anyone has any information regarding these shipwrecks and the people involved, they can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on twitter @GillHoffs.