The Wreck of the James Allen
By R. N. De Armond
The whaling bark James Allen lumbered and rolled and
pitched in the following sea as a moderate southeast gale pushed her steadily if
not too swiftly northwestward toward the Aleutians. She was twenty-six
days out of San Francisco on this 10th day of May, 1894, and heading for the
whaling grounds off Point Barrow, in the Arctic.
Built at Bath, Maine, and hailing from New Bedford, the James
Allen measured 348 tons gross, with a length of 116 feet and beam of
twenty-seven feet and a few inches. She had the short masts and heavy
rigging of the typical whaler, together with the try-pots, the slim whale-boats
and the smoke-blackened spars and sails of her kind.
She had sailed from San Francisco on April 14, with a crew of
fifty men, and set a course for Amukta Pass, the "Seventy-two Pass" of the
whalers, so called because the 172nd meridian passes through it. Once she
passed through this thirty-five-mile gap in the island chain, she would have
clear sailing up to the edge of the ice pack.
The days had lengthened rapidly as the bark crossed parallel
after parallel, but she had run into rain and sleet as she approached the
Aleutians, cutting visibility at times to less than a mile. No sights had
been obtained for five days when Captain Arthur Huntley left the deck late in
the evening of May 10, but he was confident of his dead reckoning and gave
orders to hold her northwest by west under all plain sail to the main
topgallants until morning.
When eight bells struck and the mid-watch came on deck, they
found the bark slogging onward, with visibility cut at times to a quarter-mile
by a driving rain. Two men were required at the wheel to keep her even
near the course as the huge seas threw her stern from side to side.
Third mate Joseph Duarte, in charge of the watch, was uneasy.
The Allen had come almost a thousand miles on dead reckoning and was
nearing the Aleutians. Duarte had sailed to the Arctic before and had seen
the jagged reefs, the unsuspected rocks and the strong tides of the island
chain. Had he his way, the Allen would have hove to until morning.
He doubled the lookout at the bows and himself climbed into the weather rigging
to peer through the driving rain squalls. The combing seas hissed
viciously as they rushed past the tossing vessel. Overhead, the stumpy
topgallant masts described erratic circles and the rigging creaked and groaned
and rattled. From below decks came the hollow thudding of casks that had
not been securely stowed.
It was 1:20 in the morning when Duarte made out a dark mass
almost dead ahead, with continuous white line at its base. He ordered the
helm to port to bring the bark by the wind on the starboard tack, and set a hand
to call the captain.
Captain Huntley, when he reached the deck, scoffed at the idea
of danger. The land was Seguam Island, he said, and they were almost
exactly where they belonged in the Seventy-two Pass. He ordered the helm
put up and the yards braced around again.
The orders had hardly been given when the little bark struck
heavily on Aglidak Island reefs, off the east end of Amlia Island. She
hung and pounded for a few moments, with the surf forming about her, then a huge
sea threw her on over the reef and she dropped into smoother water beyond.
She began to fill at once, and her deck became a scene of wild
confusion as her fifty men rushed to cut the lashings of the whaleboats and get
them over the side. The boats were not provisioned and there was no time
to gather food or personal belongings, and many men left the bark half-clothed.
Five boats were launched, but one was smashed to splinters
against the side of the rapidly sinking bark. Several men were lost and
the rest were taken aboard the remaining four boats. Twenty minutes after
she struck the reef, the James Allen went down and the boats pulled away
for the land, which could be seen faintly to leeward.
Joseph Duarte got away in the No. 1 boat, and with him went
Charles C. McIntyre, fourth mate; John Roach, boat steerer; Joseph Gonzales,
boat steerer; Peter T. Peterson, seaman; Max Gohre, seaman; Thomas Gordge, cook,
and Frederick Hill, landsman, nine men all told. They headed to follow the
second mate's boat, which steered for Sequam Island, but soon found that their
boat had partly stove in on the port side in launching, and had to put about.
After sailing for about five hours, they found a landing place
on Amlia Island, beached the whaleboat and threw themselves on the sand in
exhaustion. They later pulled the boat beyond the reach of the sea and
camped there for seven days, using the overturned boat for shelter and
subsisting on roots and a few mussels.
When a week had passed they again launched the boat, went
through the narrow pass at the west end of the island, and camped for another
three days on the north side of the Amlia. They then crossed to Seguam
Island, intending to head for Unalaska, but found a party of five Aleut hunters
who furnished them with sea lion meat. The Aleuts took them to the
settlement of Nazan on Atka Island, where they were cared for by the agent of
the Alaska Commercial Company, Mr. Schizonkoff. Several of the men had
suffered frostbite on hands and feet and all were anemic, but none was in
The mate, Thomas Yellot; the second mate, William H. Allen, and
nine other men got away in boat No. 2 after the mate's boat had been smashed to
bits. This was the only boat to get away from the Allen with a
complete outfit of oars, spars, sails, compass and chart, and they headed for
Seguam Island first, then for Unalaska. They were sighted several times
during the following days by the captain's boat and were last seen on May 25,
off the north shore of Amlia Island. They were then heading northeast
under sail, but were never heard from again.
The captain's boat and boat No. 3 left the sinking whaler with
27 men aboard, including Captain Huntley. At daylight on May 11 they
landed on the north side of Amlia Island and remained there until May 16.
They lived on roots, mussels, and seaweed, the numerous sea birds being too wild
to catch. On the 16th they left the island and headed for Unalaska, 270
miles to the eastward.
The following day they passed Amutka Island during a gale, which
lasted for two days. The boats were overloaded and made bad weather of it,
and the men suffered from cold and hunger as they battled onward against the
sea. On the evening of May 19 they were near the Islands of the Four
Mountains, but the sea continued rough and they could not find a landing place.
They tied up in a kelp patch and remained there that night. Patrick
Connoly died during the night and his body was thrown overboard.
They started eastward again the following morning, with the
captain's boat towing the other. The wind continued fresh from the
southwest and the seas were mountainous. About three o'clock in the
afternoon the No. 3 boat capsized and William Fitzgerald, James White, E. Lay
and F. Murphy were drowned.
The capsized boat could not be righted and had to be abandoned.
The remaining men were all taken into the captain's boat, and she was down to
her gunwales, with twenty-two men aboard her. They made for Unimak Island,
about eight miles away, and landed there that evening. The following day
Sam Masterman, William Dory and Harry Taylor died of exposure.
They found an abandoned Aleut sea-otter camp on the island and
moved into a barabara. Fish hooks were made from the bale of an old kettle
found in the barabara, and lines were made of rope yarns. They lived on
fish and roots, and managed to start a fire for heat and cooking.
On the morning of May 23 Captain Huntley and a boat's crew of
seven men started for Unalaska, leaving the rest in camp. They were forced
back by another gale, despite several attempts to weather the storm. They
stayed at the camp then until June 5, when the weather moderated, the captain
and six men making the attempt this time.
They arrived at Unalaska on June 12, a month and a day after the
wreck, after rowing the 120 miles from the camp on Unimak Island. They had
no sails, except one made from a couple of old bed-quilts, which they used at
times with poor success.
The U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear, Captain Michael A. Healy,
was at anchor at Unalaska, taking coal from the Iroquois. When the
whaleboat with her weary crew was sighted in the offing, a steam launch was sent
to tow her in. Captain Huntley and his six men were found exhausted from
exposure and lack of food, and their hands and feet were covered with salt
sores. They were immediately taken aboard the Bear and given food
and medical care.
The Bear's boilers had been blown down for clearing, and
her machinery disconnected for repairs, but four hours after the arrival of the
whaleboat she got under way for the camp on Unimak Island. Captain Huntley
and his men were taken along to pick out the landmarks.
A gale blew up from the southwest and it was not until the
mornig of June 14 that they reached the camp site. The scene there is
described by Captain Healy in his report to the Secretary of the Treasury:
"We ran in as close to the beach as was possible, and about 10
o'clock a.m. two boats were sent in to bring off the men. They were found
in a terrible condition. One man, Gideon, had died June 7, and the rest
were in a starving condition. Mussels were scarce, and the birds wild, so
the men said. They had given up all hope of ever being rescued, and were
completely demoralized. The body of the man who had died June 7 they had
eaten entirely. They had even dug up the body of one of those who had died
two weeks previously, and had partly consumed it. The trunk lay just
outside the barabara, with arms and leg cut off, and portions of the meat were
in the pot outside the door.
"As has been said before, they were completely demoralized.
No attempt had been made to hunt or to attract attention from seaward. Not
even a mark had been set up on the bluff behind them. They had not even
ambition left to go down to the beach to gather driftwood to keep their fire
going; but had begun to tear down the barabara over their heads. When
found they lay around the fire in the hut doing nothing, looking at each other,
with the blood of their late shipmates on their hands and faces, and human bones
strewn about them on the floor. Not until the boats had landed and the
door of the house been forced open did they know that help was at hand. No
such thing as a watch had been kept. They were filthy and covered with
sores and vermin, and the stench about the place was unbearable.
"They were got on board as soon as possible, and food and drink
given them. What medical aid was necessary was given them, and they were
furnished with clean, dry clothing, their own being in such condition as to
render it necessary that it be thrown overboard as soon as possible. We
started back for Unalaska as soon as the boats were hoisted and arrived on the
morning of June 15."
Vessels of the Bering Sea Patrol fleet were immediately sent in
search of the missing boats. The U.S.S. Petrel met the steamer
Dora of the Alaska Commercial Co., coming from Nazan with Joseph Duarte and
his eight men. They were transferred to the Petrel and taken to
The Albatross, Bear and Mohican searched for the
second mate's boat, but found not a trace of it. Beside the men with
Duarte, whose names have been given, those rescued were Thomas Westaway, boat
steerer; P.O. Tooksen, carpenter, and Harry Johnson, Oskar Hansen, Frank Perra
and Charles Luis, all seamen, who reached Unalaska with Captain Huntley, Daniel
Logan, Frank King, John Dietrich, William Andrews, James Allen, John Ricker, D.
Petersen, Joe Milani and Frank Burton, picked up by the Bear at Unimak
Thee of the survivors found employment at Unalaska, one went
north with the Bear to join the whaling fleet, and the rest were sent
back to San Francisco on the steamer Crescent City. Of the fifty
men who had sailed on the James Allen, only half had lived to reach
Unalaska and safety.
Source: De Armond, R. N., "The Wreck of
the James Allen." Alaska Life: The Territorial Magazine. Juneau, Alaska:
Alaska Life Publishing Co., December, 1945.