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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 serious condition.

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 Unalaska.

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 Island.

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.

 

 



 


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