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The Commonwealth


April 11, 1921

Vessel Catches Fire - 12 of Crew Missing

Capt. Enos Nickerson of sch. Isabel Parker rescued Capt. Frank Watts and eight of his crew when the Commonwealth, blazing from stem to stern, sank in a stormy seas, leaving the crew to pick their way in the small double dories through a storm-swept ocean, bitter winds shrieking out of the northwest, which benumbed them.  When the men had been put aboard the Parker, nine were accounted for, and 12 others were missing.

The rescued were: Capt. Frank Watts, Boston; Tony Foster, cook, Gloucester; Fred Wilson, East Boston; James O'Brien, Lynn; Hiram Fender, Malden; Joseph Cusick, Gloucester; _____ Hines, Somerville; and Joseph Abbott, Everett. Missing are:

Bert Moulton, Newfoundland
Richard Harding, Everett
Lindley I. McComiskey, Gloucester
Henry Lee, Newfoundland
J. Meuse, Argyle, N. S.
Edward Mason, Everett
James Leary, Newfoundland
Sumner Corkum, Gloucester
Leo Powers, Newfoundland
William Enos, Newfoundland
Dennis Surette, Yarmouth
Thomas Christopher, Newfoundland

Last Friday morning, with her crew asleep in the berths except the two watches on deck, a blast shook the craft from stem to stern.  In the darkness of the early morning, the men rushed to the deck, in time to hastily launch dories from both nests, 12 of the men leaping into three of the dories, and pulling away.  It is this fleet of dories that is missing today, despite the fact that Capt. Nickerson cruised around the place for hours trying to locate them.

The story of the explosion and its attending results, is told by Fred Wilson, who, suffering from exposure due to being in the icy water for a half hour, is a patient at the Shelburne hospital. Wilson says that the Commonwealth sailed form Boston April 5.  She had been fishing for one day, and had caught 4500 pounds of fish when the storm of Friday morning broke.  The schooner was then hove to under trysail and jumbo.  With the exception of the man at the wheel and the engineer, all the crew were snug in their bunks.

Wilson was aroused by someone shouting down the foc'sle hatch that the ship was on fire.  By the time they had tumbled out and climbed on deck the after portion of the schooner was a mass of flames.  All the information they could get from the engineer who had been severely burned, was that there had been an explosion in the engine room.

Part of the crew immediately took to the dories, despite the raging seas, but the captain and seven men decided to stand by the ship, as the lesser of two dangers.   They chopped holes in the deck, to let the water in on the fire.  The seas put the fire out, but poured so heavily into the holds that the schooner began to settle, leaving them no alternative but to take to the remaining dories.

Ten minutes after the last dory got away from the ship she sank.  In the meantime, the dory containing Wilson and his mate had capsized and they had climbed onto the bottom of it and were in danger of being swept to their death when the schooner Isabel Parker hove in sight.  This was at daybreak Friday.

At the risk of their lives, three of the Parker's crew manned a dory and although, according to Wilson it seemed impossible that any small boat could live in such seas, they managed to haul the two out of the water and row them to the safety and warmth of the Parker's foc'sle.

Capt. Enos Nickerson of the Isabel Parker then learning form Wilson and his dory mate of the disaster that had overtaken the Commonwealth , began to search for the others.   About 10 o'clock in the morning two dories containing Capt. Watts and five others who had remained on board the Commonwealth until she began to sink were sighted.

Of the twelve who lad left the ship when the fire broke out there was not sign.   Capt. Nickerson continued his search all Friday, though the storm increased in violence during the day and that night.  He kept a watch the whole night through, and continued his search Saturday, with the weather still very severe although clear.

The wind was from the north-north-west, and if the dories drifted with it they would be driven to sea.  Realizing the futility of further search, he headed his vessel early this morning toward Shelburne to land this survivors, and arrived off Sandy Point at 7:30 last night.

The Commonwealth was built at Essex in 1913.  She was 103 feet depth of hold, net tonnage 93, gross tonnage 141.  She was equipped with two 50-horsepower automatic engines.  Capt. Watts was her first skipper.   She was reputed one of the staunchest vessels out of Boston..   She was Boston owned.

The local members of the crew were Joseph Cusick, Sumner O. Corkum, and Lindley I. McComiskey.  Richard Harding and Tony Foster formerly lived in this city.


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