In Part 1, Captain McVey of the steamer Larchmont gave his account of the event of the collision of his vessel with the schooner Harry P. Knowlton. But, the other survivors of the steamer Larchmont told different stories. In the New York Times issue on February 13, 1907, the same issue that reported on the Captain’s version of events, survivor Oliver Janvier told his story. The steamboat’s captain, crew, and passengers told their versions of what happened on the tragic night in 1907; however the Captain of the Schooner Harry P Knowlton seemed to tell a little different story!
After the collision, Oliver Janvier, 21-years old, of 343 Montgomery Ave, Providence (RI), came ashore with nine (9) dead men in a small boat. The newspaper stated he was more dead than alive when he landed, waist deep in the surf near the Sandy Point Light. The men that rescued Oliver applied oils and other remedies to relieve his suffering. His feet, hands, face, and ears were badly frozen”.
“I was going to New York,” Oliver stated, “to get a job. On the boat I met an Indian named Henry Rock, who is a member of Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show.” Pawnee Bill (1860 –1942) was born Gordon William Lillie, specialized in producing Wild West shows with vaudeville performers depicting a romantic version of the west. Henry, the performer mentioned to Oliver that he was traveling to Jersey City to see his wife.
The survivor Oliver heard the steamer and schooner collide. “When I got into the saloon deck I found that it was filled with steam,” He continued, “… women were... rushing about, shouting and screaming and fighting each other, and begging God to save them. They all seemed to be rushing to the rail, where the officers of the boat were calmly directing the work of getting them into the life boats”. Oliver also told how Henry, the Indian might have died.
Oliver might have embellished a little, “I found a boat with a canvas cover over it, and had a hard time getting the cover off. It didn’t take long to get the boat into the water after that, and people began to pile in. I saw men push women out of the way in an effort to get into the boat”.
Finally, Oliver mentioned with eight men, the boat was rowed away from the Larchmont. Soon two other men joined the group. After that a woman floated by and said “For god’s sake, save me.” The group did not help her! The men in the lifeboat soon began to die! The surf men, who rescued Oliver, found his companions in the boat “all incrusted with spray and resembled cakes of ice more than human bodies”.
The schooner Elsie from Block Island rescued Samuel Lacombe, Sadie Gallop, and David Fox, Harry Feidman and his wife. All were alive and found floating on some portion of the deck two miles to the east of Sandy Point. Lacombe hands and legs were badly frozen. “It is thought that both of his legs will have to be amputated.”
The Suffolk County News (Sayville NY) on February 15, 1907 reported that survivor Frederick Hiergsell, of Richmond Hill (NY) believed, “…Captain McVey seemed to have no thought except for his own safety”. His statement was not confirmed by any other survivors!
The Joy Line president Frank Dunbaugh issued a statement in defense of his officers and crew. He said, “…the ship’s officers were not only not responsible for the collision, but that considering the terrible conditions that prevailed immediately after the accident, the company’s men did everything possible to save lives”. He believed, “The schooner was responsible for the collision”.
Another article written special for The New York Times on February 13, 1907 reported, “At 4 o’clock this afternoon the Scott Wrecking Company’s superintendent was in communication by telephone with Capt. David Hunt, who command the company’s tugboat Harriet.” At the request of the Joy Line officials, the tugboat was sent to Block Island with a diver, and given instructions to assist the survivors, as well as survey the wreckage. Captain Hunt reported, “… there was not a flagstaff, smokestack, or anything whatever that marked the marine grave of the Larchmont”. After his investigation, the Captain concluded the Larchmont must have sunk midway between “Block Island and Watch Hill in eighteen or twenty fathoms”.
The vessel Argo, one of the largest boats owned by the Thames Towboat Company passed some wreckage floating in the Block Island Sound that Capt. Pettigrew was certain came up from the sunken Joy liner. The Thames Towboat Company was incorporated in 1865 at Norwich (CT); later moved in 1879 to New London (CT). It engaged in business on the Long Island Sound and other New York waters.
The Argo’s commander shares the belief of Captain Hunt of the tug Harriet, as to the location of the Larchmont’s position on the bottom of Block Island sound, midway from Watch Hill and Block Island.
The schooner Harry Knowlton was built of wood at Tottenville, Staten Island (NY) in 1890. The schooner had a gross tonnage of 317, was 228 feet in length, 35 feet 5 inches beam, 11 feet 1 inch depth, and carried a crew of six (6). She was registered at the port of Eastport (ME), a small city of islands in Washington County, Maine. She was owned by George B. Dunn of Houlton (ME), a lumberman and farmer. The schooner was engaged in coastal trade, and at the time of the incident Captain Frances “Frank” Thomas Haley was master.
The Providence Journal newspaper on February 13, 1907, along with Captain Haley’s photograph mentioned the Captain was 58 years old, living in Everett, MA with his wife and 15 children. He had been at sea for 46 years, 35 as master of two and three-mast schooners, and captain of the Knowlton for 3 years.
Before the tragic event, the schooner Knowlton had sailed from Perth Amboy (NJ) on Feb. 8, 1907. She was loaded with a freight of 453 tons of coal with a crew of 7 including the captain.
The article continued, “The force of the collision and the ferocious seas caused the two ships to separate almost immediately. Frank T. Haley, the captain of the Harry Knowlton, seeing that his ship’s bow was badly damaged, signaled the Larchmont to come back to rescue them, but the steamer quickly vanished from view, presumably continuing on its way”.
Attempting to beach the schooner, Captain Haley set course for the Rhode Island shore. The schooner was taking on water, so the captain ordered his crew to abandon ship. Captain Haley with his crew left their vessel rowing to the life-saving station at Weekapaug (RI).
“Several had frozen feet and hands and three (3) were unconscious when the small boat was cast far upon the shore by a huge roller.”
The captain and crew of the schooner believed the steamer Larchmont tried to cross the bows of their ship, which had the right of way. This was clearly an error of judgment on the part of the men at the Larchmont’s wheel.
The Board of Inspectors, Department of Commerce and Labor Steamboat Inspection Service Office located in New London stated in a letter their decision on April 20, 1907. “While we cannot commend or mention with approbation the judgment displayed by him (Captain McVey) in his efforts to save the lives of his passengers and crew, evidence is wanting insofar as to warrant our charging him with incompetency or misconduct.”
The decision continued, ”We find, from the time that schooner Harry Knowlton and steamer Larchmont approached each other in such way as to involve risk of collision, that schooner Harry Knowlton was navigated in full compliance with the provisions of article 21,
Sandi Brewster-walker is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute. She has served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at USDA. Winner of the Press Club of Long Island’s 2017 Media Award – 3rd Place for Narrative: Column. Readers can reach her in c/o the LI.Indiginous.firstname.lastname@example.org.