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The Caldwell H.Colt

 

Thursday, March 9, 1922

Many Former Gloucester Fishermen Lost Their Lives
Tragic Fate of Seven of Crew of Pensacola Sch. Caldwell Colt
Men Die of Starvation

The recent arrival of the Morgan line steamship El Oriente at Galveston, Texas, revealed the tragic experience of the fishermen who were members of the ill-fated sch. Caldwell Colt, out of Pensacola Florida, which was wrecked on a reef during a gale on February 13 near Tortugas light.  Only two men survived, Capt. L. A. Smith, master, who was brought to Galveston by the Morgan liner, and Frank Brooks, who was picked up by a British tramp steamer and taken to New Orleans.  Both men were in a bad condition but are expected to recover.

Many of the men were old-time Gloucester fishermen, Capt. Smith is a native of Digby, N. S., formerly lived at East Gloucester and sailed skipper form here for many years.  The victims of the disaster who formerly went from this port were:

Jeremiah Clark, cook, of Newfoundland
William Fudge, 72, of New Brunswick
Andrew Gannon, 63, Pembroke, Me
Matthew O'Brien, 58, of Newfoundland
Joseph Meuse, 40, of Yarmouth.

The fishermen dropped off and died one by one after days of exposure and starvation,being tossed about on a part of the wrecked schooner's deck.  Capt. Smith, Joseph Meuse and Frances Labrata were on the wreckage when sighted by the El Oriente.  Labrata dropped  from exhaustion and rolled overboard before the rescue was made and Meuse died shortly before and was buried at se.  Brooks had previously floated off on the booby hatch.  A Pensacola dispatch of recent date has the following to say:

Secretary John Holm, of the Fishermen's Union, said today that he had for the past few days heard nothing of the two fishermen, Captain Smith , and E. E. Brooks who were saved from the wreck of the Warren Company's fishing smack, Caldwell Colt, but that funds had been forwarded to each man.  The condition of both the fishermen is said to be improving, Captain Smith is in the hospital at Galveston, and Brooks was last reported in a hospital at New Orleans.  Both are being well cared for and will come to Pensacola at the first opportunity after being discharged from the hospital.

Captain Smith made a detailed statement to Capt. Delahanty of the Southern Pacific liner El Oriente, after he had gained enough strength to talk.  Capt. Delahanty said of the rescue:

Upon approaching the raft, I could see one man in a sitting position on a hatch combing, waving a remnant of an American flag.  That was Capt. Smith.   Another man was lying stretched out on deck at his feet, with a rope about his waist, evidently dead.  That bit of flag was the only thing they had with which to signal their distress to passing ships.  I believe this was the most desolate sight I ever saw in all my years on the water.

Capt. Smith of Pensacola, after recovering strength, made the following detailed statement:

The Caldwell H. Colt of Pensacola on February 8 left that port on a fishing trip, under generally fair weather conditions.  Monday found them off Tortugas.  A northerly wind had been blowing for some time, and was turning into a gale.  I decided to seek shelter from the gale under the lee of Tortugas.   We struck the reef about southwest from the right, about twenty feet from the western buoy, Monday night.  We were running under foresail and fore staysail at the time.  Nine men all told were aboard..  vessel started to break up immediately.   Two dories, all that were aboard, were broken up by seas and washed overboard.   The next morning abut 9 o'clock one man went down in the middle of the schooner, his name was John McGinnis, 73, and he never appeared again.  Second man to go was the cook, Jeremiah Clark, from Newfoundland.  William Fudge, 72, went next.  He belonged in Miramicht, New Brunswick.  Andrew Gannon, 63, of Pembroke, Me., was the next to go overboard.

Everything was adrift then and the vessel was breaking up rapidly.   Frank Brooks floated off on the booby hatch.  Four were left now.  We clung to wreckage two days after that, lying under Tortugas but no ships came in close enough to see us.  We were so low no one could see us, we yelled and displayed a remnant of a flag, as we were less than a mile form shore, but no one seemed to be lodged in our direction from the light.

The night you heard us, Matthew O'Brien, 58 years old, a Newfoundlander went overboard.  It was the seventh night, Sunday, that O'Brien divested himself of al clothes and went overboard.  I had dozed off a little before midnight and when I came awake O'Brien had disappeared. This now left three of us on that portion of the deck to which we were clinging.  Eight vessels passed us on the night you approached us, which was rather in the early morning.   We could see both of your side lights at times.  We also could see the lookout man on ship as she passed us. look over the side and run aft on sighting us.  Could see your lights as you were coming around.  At no time was ship over two miles form us.  Toward the break of day you must have seen us. as you were heading northwest, then changed your course and headed for us.

About 7 a.m. some twenty minutes before you came up, Frances Labrata, 25, a New Your City Italian, having a young wife and two children living in Pensacola, rolled overboard.  He was not able to stand up, and was in a delirious state.  I had tied him to the wreckage before he rolled overboard.  I had tried to explain to him that a ship was coming for us, but he simply said "What ship? I don't know any ships." and rolled overboard, although I tried to induce his to stay.   My physical condition was such at the time that, if I had been washed overboard, I would not have been able to gather any strength to grasp the wreckage again.  Joseph Meuse, the man whom you took aboard and later gave an honorable burial, had died about an hour before you picked up up.  He died before Labrata rolled overboard.  Meuse had had a strong desire to roll overboard himself, if I had not lashed him to the wreckage with what little strength I had left.  Being too far gone physically, he could not resist, but Labrata was too strong physically for me to restrain him.  Labrata rolled overboard about twenty minutes before you headed toward myself.

I can truthfully say I never saw anything look so good, as when you came up.  It was the best thing I ever saw in my life.  Meuse was dead then taken aboard.  He was from Yarmouth Nova Scotia, about 40 years old.    The wreckage was a hatch combing which I was sitting on, with no bottom to it.  Meuse was lying at my feet on the deck, dead.  At the time you passed up we all hollered for some time later.

 

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