Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

The Collision of the Steamship Providence and Schooner Avis in Pelham Waters in 1889


An eyewitness to the monumental head-on collision of the 130-ton two masted schooner Avis and the 373-feet-long Fall River Line steamship Providence described the crash, succinctly, as "awful."  About 8:00 p.m. on September 26, 1889, the schooner was flying along in Long Island Sound toward New York City with a full load of buoyant lumber pilings and six crewmen including the Captain.  The steamship Providence was plowing through the waters of Long Island Sound in the opposite direction headed to Newport as quickly as its massive steam-driven paddle wheels would propel it.

The schooner Avis was being captained by R. C. Farnsworth of St. John, New Brunswick and was being piloted by Cornelius W. Lawrence of City Island who had boarded the two-masted schooner in the forenoon and was guiding the vessel to port.  The steamship Providence had nearly 300 passengers on board and was being captained by John Hammond.  The Providence was traveling at nearly double the speed of the schooner Avis.

Though accounts differ, it appears that the evening was clear and the schooner had lights lit.  City Island Pilot Lawrence saw the massive steamer nearly a mile distant with nary a thought of any danger.  The two ships closed the distance quickly and nearly passed off the shores of Hart Island in the Town of Pelham in waters between Hart Island and Sands Point, Long Island.  As the two ships were about to pass, the gigantic steamship inexplicably swung its bow and turned directly into the path of the two-masted schooner.

The force of the impact was stunning.  According to one witness, the schooner Avis was stopped dead in the water for a moment and actually bounced backward in the water off the massive steamship.  Passengers in the steamship were thrown down and heard a terrible "grinding crunching noise [that] was kept up for a minute or two."  

The schooner was devastated.  Its bowsprit, jib boom, stem, and figure head were destroyed and a "big hole was stove in her side."  All the ship's headgear was carried away and, in less than five minutes the schooner sank.  Because the ship carried a full load of buoyant lumber pilings, the ship bobbed on the waters of Long Island Sound upright with water covering its decks but masts and cabin still above the water.

The head-on crash sheared completely away five of the luxurious outside staterooms of the steamship Providence and tore off long sections of the ship's main and upper deck guards as well as a small part of the ship's hull.  In one stateroom, an "old lady" was lying in her bed at the time of the wreck.  Her entire stateroom was sheared away and the floor of the stateroom was carried completely away.  She and her bed slid off the disappearing floor and simply fell one deck below onto a pile of bags.  The lady stood up, unhurt, and began asking about the safety of her daughter who was elsewhere on the ship at the time of the crash.

Captain R. C. Farnsworth of the two-masted schooner Avis was not so lucky.  He was at the wheel of the schooner at the time of the crash with City Island Pilot Lawrence standing behind him as he manned the wheel.  The force of the crash was so great that it threw Captain Farnsworth forward into the wheel just as the spoked and sprocketed wheel was spun violently by the crash.  The sprockets on the outer rim of the spoked steering wheel acted just like a buzz-saw as Captain Farnsworth was thrown into it.  The spinning sprockets disemboweled the poor Captain and subjected his legs and groin to similarly-devastating injuries.  He was unconscious before he even fell into the arms of Pilot Lawrence.

Panic set in as steamship passengers raced for life preservers fearful that the steamship would sink as well.  Although, again, accounts differ, it seems that Captain Hammond of the steamship lowered at least two boats to offer assistance to the crew of the sunken schooner although there may have been a delay in doing so.  In the meantime, Pilot Lawrence used one of the small boats of the schooner Avis to load the unconscious Captain Farnsworth and transport him first to Hart Island where a doctor at a local juvenile institution treated him.  Pilot Lawrence then transported Captain Farnsworth onto City Island where the injured seaman was taken to the home of Pilot Lawrence for additional care.  Within a day or two local newspapers reported that Captain Farnsworth was expected to die of his injuries.

The five remaining crewmen of the sunken Avis that bobbed in the waters of the Sound refused assistance and refused to leave the sunken vessel knowing that if they did it would be seized as salvage by some passing ship.  The crew slept that night in the sails of the sunken ship as it bobbed in the waters of the Sound before it could be towed to relative safety.

The Providence slowly continued on its journey to Newport where it arrived the next day, September 27, 1889, several hours late.  One account described the damage to the steamship upon its arrival in Newport:

"The steamer Providence arrived here several hours late to-day, bringing tidings of the collision with the schooner Avis.  Her starboard side is open forward of the paddle wheel for fully sixty feet.  Long sections of the main and upper deck guards are ripped off, a small section of the hull is gone and five outside staterooms destroyed.  The pilot says the schooner displayed no lights.  According to his story, the Providence came to anchor at once and sent out two small boats, in which the crew of the schooner were taken off and landed at Hart Island.  The Providence came through all right with her side open, the sea having only a slight swell and the steamer being kept well over to port."

Captain Farnsworth lingered in agony for more than two months in the home of City Island Pilot Cornelius W. Lawrence.  Captain Lawrence died there of the injuries he suffered in the September 26 wreck on December 10, 1889.


The steamship Providence was first put into service in 1867.  At that time, it had the largest steam engine of any steam vessel and was one of the Fall River Line's most luxurious steamships.  It was 373 feet long and could accommodate 840 passengers.  By 1889, the steamship already was considered jinxed.  It had been involved in a host of wrecks in Long Island Sound and previously had "run down" several sailing ships.  According to one account:

"
She is a very unfortunate boat and has caused a good deal of damage within the past year, and had no end of narrow escapes.  About twelve years ago she ran down and sunk [sic] the steam yacht Adelaide in the Sound, and shortly after that she collided with a schooner near Throgs Neck and inflicted heavy damage.  Then she crashed into the steamer Lucy B. Miller and knocked a big hole in her bow.  One of the latest adventures of the Providence was to run down Commander Elbridge T. Gerry's steam yacht Electra and knock off her stem.  Old harbor men say that the Providence is 'hoo dooed,' but she probably needs only a new captain."

Most accounts saddled Providence Captain John Hammond with responsibility for the terrible wreck off the shores of Pelham that terrible night. 



The Providence Steamship of the Fall River Line Involved In A
Collision Off the Shores of Hart Island in Pelham on September
26, 1889.  Source:  Fifty Photographic Views of the Steamers of
the Fall River Line, p. 32 (Chicago & NY, NY:  Rand, McNally &
Co. for J. J. Murphy, 1900).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

"SCARE IN THE DARK ON THE SOUND
-----
The Big Steamboat Providence in Collision in the Storm Off Gangway Buoy.
-----
THREE HUNDRED LIVES IN PERIL.
-----
Five Staterooms Gutted and the Side of the Vessel Torn Away by the Schooner Avis.
-----

Three hundred people narrowly escaped death in a collision on the Sound, on Thursday evening, between the Fall River line steamer Providence and the British schooner Avis.  The vessels crashed together off Gangway buoy shortly before eight o'clock.  It was raining and the night was very dark.  The steamer suffered extensive damage and the schooner was wrecked.

It was the merest chance that the glancing blow of the Avis did not send the big steamer to the bottom with all on board.  The Providence has run down so many craft that she was thought to be unfortunately named, but yesterday the passengers were thanking their stars that they were saved and they concluded to trust in that name yet.

It was fifteen minutes past six o'clock when the big steamer  backed out of her slip at the foot of Murray street on Thursday evening.  She started off around the Battery at a rattling rate of speed and was bound for Newport on her last trip for the season.  Nearly three hundred passengers were on board, and most of them had finished supper at ten minutes before eight o'clock, when the vessel had reached that part of Long Island [Sound] midway between Gangway Buoy and Sands Point Light, about eighteen miles from the Battery by the water route.  Many of the passengers were in their staterooms and the weather was so disagreeable that nobody ventured outside.

A TERRIFIC CRASH.

Without a second's warning the passengers were startled by a terrific crash, and the grinding crunching noise was kept up for a minute or two.  The shock was so great that people were thrown off their feet, and the utmost confusion followed.

After the first rush for the life preservers the frightened passengers ventured out to the rail to ascertain the cause of all the disturbance.  The Providence had come into collision with a little sailing vessel that was plain to be seen and both were badly damaged.  It was the little schooner Avis.  Captain Farnsworth, bound from St. John, New Brunswick, to New York, and heavily loaded with piles.  The vessels were going in opposite directions when they met.  If the schooner had bee a larger boat the beautiful steamer Providence would most likely have been sent to the bottom of the Sound.  The Avis struck the Providence head on, just forward of the starboard paddle box, tearing away sixty feet of the main deck guards.  A big hole was made in her hull, forty feet of the upper deck guards ripped out and five staterooms destroyed.  The crushing of the light joiner work and the heavy planking made a noise which struck terror to all who heard it.

AN OLD LADY'S ESCAPE.

White haired Captain John Hammond, of the Providence, was on hand in a moment to save his steamer if possible, and the hurrying to and fro of crew and passengers almost started a panic.  The anchor was let go and the boats lowered in case of need.  Then attention was turned toward the big hole in the steamer's side.  The five staterooms carried away were numbered 138 to 142 inclusive and were on the extreme outward row furthest forward.  Everything about them was crushed into kindling wood, and right here occurred a very narrow escape.  It was a curious incident.  An old lady living in Newport was occupying No. 142, and at the moment of the collision she was reclining on the bed.  When the bowsprit of the schooner swept along the steamer's quarter with such furious impacts the entire floor of the stateroom was torn away as if cut with a great knife.  This occurred as quick as a flash, and the old lady, still lying on her bed, was suddenly dropped to the deck below and landed on a pile of meal bags, unimpaired and apparently not in the least frightened.  She looked about in a wondering manner and rubbed her eyes.  While everybody about her was scrambling for life preservers and catching for breath in their terror she calmly picked herself up and quietly inquired how to get up stairs again.

Chief Engineer Saulspaugh sprang to her assistance, and even then she seemed to be only concerned for the safety of her daughter in another part of the boat.

CAPTAIN FARNSWORTH HURT.

The Avis was lying off Sand's Point Light, half full of water and almost a total wreck, when I visited the scene last night.  The first mate said the schooner had both lights burning and the night was fairly clear, with the wind northwest by north and light when the steamer was seen approaching.  The course of the Providence was laid to pass under the schooner's stern, but for some reason or other the steamer's course was suddenly altered to go across the sailing vessel's bow.  They came together with great force, and the schooner's bows were stove in and the bowsprit, flying jibbon [sic], head gear, and in fact everything forward, carried away.  The shock of the collision broke the rim of the wheel and sent it flying out of the hands of Captain Farnsworth, who was steering at the time.  The recoil of the spokes struck the Captain and inflicted a very ugly wound in the thigh.

The entire blame for the accident is laid to Captain Hammond, of the Providence, while the steamer's people claim that the schooner had no lights out.

The boats of the Providence came alongside and assistance was offered to the schooner's crew, but declined.  Pilot Lawrence took off the wounded captain to Hart's Island, where Dr. Smith attended to his injuries.  Captain Farnsworth was afterward conveyed to the Lawrence residence at City Island.  The crew of the Avis knew that she would not sink with her load of lumber, and so they stuck to the vessel all night, perched on top of the house.  Everything was submerged below.

RECORD OF DISASTERS.

After a delay of an hour the Providence was got under way and proceeded to Newport, where she was laid up for the season, and the Old Colony put in her place in the schedule.  She is a very unfortunate boat and has caused a good deal of damage within the past year, and had no end of narrow escapes.  About twelve years ago she ran down and sunk [sic] the steam yacht Adelaide in the Sound, and shortly after that she collided with a schooner near Throgs Neck and inflicted heavy damage.  Then she crashed into the steamer Lucy B. Miller and knocked a big hole in her bow.  One of the latest adventures of the Providence was to run down Commander Elbridge T. Gerry's steam yacht Electra and knock off her stem.

Old harbor men say that the Providence is 'hoo dooed,' but she probably needs only a new captain."

Source:  SCARE IN THE DARK ON THE SOUND -- The Big Steamboat Providence in Collision in the Storm Off Gangway Buoy-- THREE HUNDRED LIVES IN PERIL-- Five Staterooms Gutted and the Side of the Vessel Torn Away by the Schooner Avis, N.Y. Herald, Sep. 28, 1889, p. 3, col. 3.  

"WHICH BOAT WAS AT FAULT!
-----
THE PROVIDENCE AND A SCHOONER CRASH TOGETHER IN THE SOUND.
-----
The Schooner's Captain Thrown Upon the Wheel and Disembowelled -- Not Expected to Live -- The Floor of a Stateroom on the Steamer Ripped Out and an Old Lady Falls to the Lower Deck Unhurt.

Another collision in the Sound has been added to the record of such disasters.  The Fall River line steamer Providence, which seems to be peculiarly unfortunate in this respect, was in collision with the British schooner Avis while the former was on her way to Newport at full speed Thursday night.  The captain of the Avis, R. C. Farnsworth, of St. John, N. B., one of the oldest and best-known seamen sailing into this port, was at the wheel of his vessel when the accident occurred, and received injuries which may cause his death.  Strangely enough, the collision occurred at a time when the atmosphere was unusually clear, and ship lights were visible long distance away.

The time of the crash was 8 o'clock at night.  The place was off Schuyler's Light, about twenty-five miles from New York.  A stiff breeze was blowing and the Avis, a two-masted schooner of 130 tons burden, laden with spilings [sic], and bound for New York from St. John, was beating her way across the Sound.  All day she had made but little headway owing to light winds, but soon after dusk the breeze freshened, and under full sail she sped along at a rate of seven or eight miles an hour.  Pilot Cornelius W. Lawrence, of City Island, had boarded her during the forenoon and was guiding her into port.  The Providence was ploughing her way through the Sound in the opposite direction at a speed about double that of the schooner.

The Avis crashed head on into the starboard side of the steamer, tearing off long sections of her main and upper deck guards, with a small part of her hull, and taking out five of the outside staterooms.  The schooner did not fare so well.  Her bowsprit, jibboom, stem and figure-head were broken and all her headgear was carried away.  A big hole was stove in her side, and in less than five minutes the cabin was full of water and she had sunk until her deck was flush with the water.  The nature of her cargo alone prevented her from going almost instantly to the bottom.

Her crew of six, including the captain, were all on deck at the time.  They had seen the Providence over a mile away, they say, and until within two hundred yards of her had no thoughts that a collision was possible.  Capt. Farnsworth and Pilot Lawrence had both been at the wheel for an hour or more, but when the crash came the latter was standing on the quarter a few feet behind the captain.  Farnsworth had his wheel turned hard to starboard, and the shock of the impact hurled him violently against it, relaxing his grasp.  The pressure of the water sent the wheel whirling around like a buzz saw.  The spokes tore open the lower portion of the skipper's abdomen, lacerating it in a horrible manner, and he fell back unconscious into the arms of the pilot, who carried him towards the cabin, but as that place was rapidly filling with water, Lawrence conveyed him as quickly as possible into one of the small boats, which, manned by the crew, was headed for the pilot's home at City Island seven miles away, and thither the injured man was taken.

The crew of the Avis declare that they had rowed back to their submerged vessel from Pilot Lawrence's home, a pull of fourteen miles, before any offer of assistance came from the Providence.  They remained over night on the Avis, sleeping in the sails.

Dr. Bening, of City Island, attended Capt. Farnsworth and said last night that his condition was critical.  Peritonitis is almost sure to set in, in which case chances for recovery are slight indeed.  He is fifty-three years old, was a part owner in the Avis and has a wife and children at St. John.

Pilot Lawrence, who is an old and grizzled mariner, told his story of the collision to a WORLD reporter last night.

'I saw the Providence,' said he, 'when she was a full mile off.  I could see both her lights, which showed she was coming head on.  When she got within 200 yards of us I could still see both her lights.  I thought that her pilot would surely port his wheel and go astern, but instead of that he starboarded her and tried to cross our bow.  If he had given me the signal -- one whistle for port and two for starboard -- even then I could have harded up and kept her off.  But she never made us a sign, and we couldn't get out of the way to save our lives.  I tried it, by letting go the main sheet, but it was no use.

'The crash was awful.  Our boat was bounced back in the opposite direction from which she was going like a rocket.  Our lights were all up and burning.  I am positive of this, for I saw the mate haul them down after the collision.  The minute it happened I set to work to lower all the sails, for we otherwise would have capsized at once.  I have been a pilot on these waters for eighteen years and this is my first accident.'

A WORLD reporter was rowed out to the scene of the collision yesterday afternoon.  The Avis was lying not far from the Gangway Buoy, almost entirely under water.  Mate George Neaves and four seamen were still aboard to prevent the appropriation of the vessel for salvage.  Neaves corroborated the pilot's statement that lights were properly displayed.  The schooner is owned by R. C. Elkins of New York.  Arrangements have been made for towing her to this city today.

The disaster recalls the collision of two weeks ago between the steamer Old Colony, of the same line, and the schooner Wildfire.  A fatality seems to hang over the steamers of this line for running down vessels.  The Wildfire had her stern shaved right off and was otherwise damaged.  A suit is now pending against the Company for damages.  Commodore Gerry's superb steam yacht Electra is also a victim of one of the Fall River boats.  She was nearly sunk about a month ago, and Mr. Gerry and the Fall River line are now trying to see who was responsible for the disaster.  Last summer the steam yacht Adelaide was sunk off Whitestone by the Providence.  The Providence is commanded by Capt. Hammond.  He is one of the oldest captains on the Sound and is considered a very careful navigator.

NEWPORT, Sept. 27. -- The steamer Providence arrived here several hours late to-day, bringing tidings of the collision with the schooner Avis.  Her starboard side is open forward of the paddle wheel for fully sixty feet.  Long sections of the main and upper deck guards are ripped off, a small section of the hull is gone and five outside staterooms destroyed.  The pilot says the schooner displayed no lights.  According to his story, the Providence came to anchor at once and sent out two small boats, in which the crew of the schooner were taken off and landed at Hart Island. 

The Providence came through all right with her side open, the sea having only a slight swell and the steamer being kept well over to port.  The passengers on the starboard side were somewhat frightened, but some on the port side did not know of the collision till morning.  One state-room had its floor ripped out and an old lady who occupied the room fell through on her bed to the deck below, landing on some bags uninjured.  The damage to the steamer is being repaired, but will not be hastened, as the Providence was to come of the line to-morrow and can be replaced by the Old Colony without delay to travel."

Source:  WHICH BOAT WAS AT FAULT! -- THE PROVIDENCE AND A SCHOONER CRASH TOGETHER IN THE SOUND -- The Schooner's Captain Thrown Upon the Wheel and Disembowelled -- Not Expected to Live -- The Floor of a Stateroom on the Steamer Ripped Out and an Old Lady Falls to the Lower Deck Unhurt, The World [NY, NY], Sep. 28, 1889, Vol. XXX, No. 10,266, p. 1, col. 1


"COLLISION ON THE SOUND.-----
THE PROVIDENCE OF THE FALL RIVER LINE SINKS THE SCHOONER AVIS.

The steamer Providence of the Fall River line collided with the two-masted schooner Avis of St. John, N. B., off Sands Point on the Sound late Thursday evening.  Fortunately none of her passengers received any worse injuries than a few bruises.  Those on board the schooner were not so fortunate.  Its commander, Captain R. C. Farnsworth, was badly injured about the groin and legs, and it is feared that he will die.  His crew escaped with a few bruises.

Pilot C. W. Lawrence, who was in charge of the schooner when the collision occurred, told the story of the accident to a PRESS reporter last night.  He said it was shortly before 8 o'clock when he first saw the steamer.  The schooner was then off Sands Point and was beating up toward this city.  The steamer made no signals, but when within a short distance changed her course and steamed directly across the schooner's bow.  The next instant the bowsprit of the schooner caught the steamer just forward of the wheelhouse on the starboard side and ripped open her side for a distance of sixty feet, exposing all the staterooms on that side to view.

The force of the collision stove in the schooner's bow below the water line and carried away her bowsprit.  Captain Farnsworth, who was at the wheel, was thrown forward, and as he fell back the flying wheel struck his body and knocked him down.  Then the schooner began filling, and five minutes later had sunk to her deck.  Her cargo of lumber kept her afloat.  Boats were sent from the steamer, but the crew of the schooner, which consisted of five men besides the Captain, refused to leave her, and the Providence proceeded on her way.  Captain Farnsworth was conveyed to the home of Pilot Lawrence at City Island, and placed under the care of a physician.

A lady passenger on the Providence whose stateroom was ripped open by the collision, dropped through on her bed to the deck below, but was fortunately not injured.  There were many other escapes of passengers.  The Providence arrived at Newport yesterday, several hours behind time.  The schooner will be towed to this city and placed upon a dry dock."

Source:  COLLISION ON THE SOUND-- THE PROVIDENCE OF THE FALL RIVER LINE SINKS THE SCHOONER AVIS, The Press [NY, NY], Sep. 28, 1889, Vol. II, No. 668, p. 1, col. 4.  

"HIS INJURIES PROVED FATAL. -- Captain S. F. Farnsworth, of the schooner Avis, who was injured in the collision of his vessel with the steamer Providence, on Sept. 26, died on Tuesday, at City Island, where he had been taken after the accident.  He lived at St. John, N. B."

Source:  HIS INJURIES PROVED FATAL, The Yonkers Statesman, Dec. 12, 1889, Vol. VII, No. 1,868, p. 4, col. 3

"CITY JOTTINGS. . . .

Captain S. T. Farnsworth, of St. John, N. B., who was injured in the collision between the steamers Providence and Avis on September 26, died yesterday at City Island. . . . ."

Source:  CITY JOTTINGSN.Y. Herald, Dec. 11, 1889, p. 5, col. 4.  

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home