The Drumalis, fitted out in Marseilles, France, for three years’ voyaging and carrying a load of chalk from England to New York, went ashore on the Cape Ledges on Sunday morning in August 1901. I have been told that the Drumalis was the first iron-hulled ship to be wrecked in this vicinity, but have no way of checking that.

The cabin boy of the wrecked ship was a French lad named Maurice Hagar; he was taken into the home Maurice Nickerson of Clark’s Harbor; stayed and married in the town one of several citizens who belonged to other lands and, after shipwreck, found new homes along this shore.

The Wreckwood Chair by Evelyn Richardson

Available for purchase at the Cape Sable Historical Society


May 1847

Ship Anglo Saxon, 900 tons, Gordon master, from Boston to Liverpool, G.B., was wrecked at Duck Island, near Shag Harbor, on the night of 8th May. All on board saved and a portion of the cargo. Vessel only eight months old and one of the finest packet ships ever launched at Boston. She had sixty passengers.” (Gilbert Nickerson said that among them were members of a theatrical company.)

She had been ordered by Enoch Train and Company for their White Star line for its trans-Atlantic passenger service between Boston and Liverpool. She was a pioneer in the service, possessed good, steerage accommodations (with well-ventilated quarters, containing 96 berths), and was highly decorated to attract passengers.

All the ship’s beauty and careful workmanship were to be destroyed, eight months later, on the desolate shores of a tiny islet (now only a reef) off our shores. Fishermen say that a few years ago a piece of heavy oak wreckage, part of the Anglo Saxon, could still be seen at low water in Duck Island Cove, and that Shag Harbor men raised a portion of plank from it and brought it home.

For years after the wreck an occasional gold coin could be retrieved at the spring low tides. Fishermen used to scoop up a bucket of sand and water at the tide and, if they were lucky, find a gold piece amongst it. About seventy years ago, two Cape Island boys visited Duck Island with their fisherman father. At low water they went to the tide line to skip rocks, and in one spot they found several scattered pebbles, small and round and flat, ideal “scalers”. When the father summoned them, one boy dropped a couple of stones into his pocket. And later learned that the flat stones he had skipped out to sea were tarnished and corroded coins from Anglo Saxon, uncovered by some freak of tide and storm.

The Wreckwood Chair by Evelyn Richardson

Available for purchase at the Cape Sable Historical Society


When lost she was loaded with fine old-county manufactured goods (silks, gloves, etc.) for the Christmas.

The Ottawa, Dixon master, left Halifax at 1 p.m., on October 31, 1891 and fought a sou’west gale and heavy head winds all the way down the coast. The night came on dark with drizzling rain but Seal Island light was in sight for an hour before the ship struck Blonde Rock at 5 a.m. Sunday. The tide was almost low and with the flood came increasing seas which swung the ship around, so that her listing starboard was broadside to them. Each sea then swept her fore and aft. The rock had pierced her engine compartment and she filled with the rising tide, but her bow remained above water. The port lifeboat was launched with four men, and the stewardess, Mrs. Annie Lindsay (the only woman on board). But a sea parted the painter and another soon broke over the boat, turning it bottom up. One man climbed on to the keel; the mate joined him and they clung there while the boat was carried by the tide and seas to-wards Seal Island- 5 miles or so away. As it went through the surf near shore the boat was righted and the two men climbed inside. They found the other two men still alive (since air enough had remained under the boat to keep them from suffocating) but the stewardess had died from cold and exhaustion. Fishermen on Seal Island watched the boat drifting nearer and nearer shore and finally saw it washed into the breakers; after much difficulty and danger, they succeeded in bringing it to land.

The port jolly boat fared better; the pilot and four men in her reached Seal Island safely. Those left on the steamer poured oil over the seas and then launched a third boat. The Captain was the last to leave the ship and he hung perilously over the side for ten minutes before the others could work the boat back in near enough for him to jump. These men, too, reached Seal Island, but only after seven hours’ rowing which left them drenched and exhausted. The remains of the stewardess were buried on the island. The steamer became a complete wreck. In the Seal Island home of Mrs. Hamilton, daughter of the lightkeeper at that time, I saw the heavy table from the captain’s mess, but there seems to be comparatively few “wracking yarns” concerning the Ottawa.

The Wreckwood Chair by Evelyn Richardson

Available for purchase at the Cape Sable Historical Society


Lost on the Cape ledges February 1860

Under command of Captain Jones she was bound for Portland from Liverpool and Queenstown with a valuable cargo of dry goods, 45 cabins and 80 steerage passengers, and a crew of 80. All 205 on board perished. From the time the steamer left Queenstown on February 9, nothing certain is known of her passage until eleven days later, when she ended her life on Cape Sable. Though this southernmost point of Nova Scotia lay directly in the main shipping lanes and had, from the first trans-Atlantic voyages, been dreaded because of its strong currents, frequent fogs and treacherous shoals, yet at that time it was without a lighthouse, or a warning signal of any kind.

With daylight those on board must have seen the utter hopelessness of their situation, for no boat -from ship or shore- could have lived for a moment in the terrible sea, increased in fury by the flood tide running against it. As the tide rose the seas mounted in size. Combers broke high on the Cape Ledge, rushed towards the ship in a wall of foam and struck with a shock that caused her to roll heavily.

Waves were soon pouring in cataracts over the fast-settling hull. After a series of these waves had submerged the hull, the mainmast fell with its human burden, and bitter cries went up from the watchers on shore. The smokestack began to fall forward and soon sank. The mizzenmast was the last to fall; it stood for an hour, swaying side to side with every sea, which indicated that the hull, though submerged, had not yet broken up. After the mizzenmast went, the only thing marking the spot was the lading, probably of the upper deck, which covered a wide space on the water, and looked like a huge raft of new boards. When the tide turned ebb, all this wreckage went out to sea.

Meanwhile, the wreck of an unknown steamer had been sighted from Cape Island. Knots of men gathered in agonised helplessness along the beaches. The Kenney’s of Clarke’s Harbor wanted to man the lifeboats and put out, but others persuaded them of the complete uselessness and certain doom of such an attempt. There was no knowing what ship had struck; no article from her had yet been washed ashore, and there seemed little prospect of learning anything that day. Later in the afternoon, however, the wind calmed and the sea subsided wonderfully. Several small boats —the only ones available put out towards the wreck, but night was approaching and February weather is treacherous; most of them soon turned back. Those who kept on could see nothing of the ship except a small portion of her bow above the water. But a short distance away they came upon the first ghastly find- the body of a man floating in a life preserver. The face had already been torn and mangled frightfully by gulls. The only living thing to reach shore was a small dog which crawled out upon the South Side beach to die, several miles from the wreck.

The following day was exceedingly mild and craft of every description rushed to the scene of the wreck. Through the clear water a full view could be had of the ruins of what was lately a splendid ship “One of the ghastliest spectacles of shipwreck and disaster that eye ever gazed upon.” to quote an eye witness. Twisted plates, broken beams, and crushed machinery lay in promiscuous heaps (reaching nearly to the surface at low tide), all wound and woven around with clothes broken loosed from their packages; and, among it all, sometimes held down by huge pieces of iron, sometimes tangled among the cloth, could be seen the corpses of the victims, often with only a hand protruding from the wreckage and swaying backward and forward with the tide. All bodies that could be recovered with the help of divers were extracted from the ruins and buried in the old churchyard at Clarke’s Harbor. Considering that 205 people perished, comparatively few bodies were found; a great many must have been swept out into deep water by the strong tides.

Touching incidents concerning the wreck of the Hungarian have become local folklore. On the beach the body of a middle-aged man (from his dress a steerage passenger) was being examined by the coroner for marks of identification. In the pocket of the coarse woollen coat, and carefully wrapped in a handkerchief, was a religious tract, such as were usually distributed among sailors and immigrants before they left ports. The dead man had doubtless been reading this little book on the day preceding the wreck, which had been Sunday. It began by reminding the reader of the uncertainty of life and that, although at the moment he might fancy himself secure, before another day should pass he might be “cast a lifeless corpse on some foreign strand with none but strangers to perform for him the last sad rites.”

The most widely remembered tale concerns a young lady who was returning to her home in the States from a European trip taken to restore her health. Before starting home she had written friends, “There are roses in my cheeks once more.” Her diary was found afloat. The last entry was, “The ship has struck, we shall be lost. Lizzie dies tonight.”

The Wreckwood Chair by Evelyn Richardson

May be purchased at the Cape Sable Historical Society


The Moravian was the second Allen line steamer to be wrecked on this coast. Bound from Portland, Maine, to Liverpool, England, under command of Captain Archer R.N.R., she piled up on Flat Mud Island on the morning of December 31, 1881. The crew and all 35 passengers were saved and taken to Yarmouth by the tug Freddie V. A ship of 3300 tons gross, built in Greenock seventeen years be-fore, she was valued at $400,000 and her cargo at $250,000. (Eighteen months later her hull sold to Matheson of Halifax for $4000.)

The Moravian was known locally as “the great cheese wrack”, and she might well be so known for she carried 701,241 pounds of that dairy product along with quantities of lard, fresh quarters of beef, sacks of peas and flour, barrelled pork, apples, canned meat, mutton, hops and wheat, with smaller quantities of leather and machinery. Timothy Smith of Cape Island remembers a huge cheese from the Moravian which was kept for a long time in the unfinished upstairs “Chamber” of his boyhood home. Whenever any member of the family felt the desire for cheese they stepped upstairs and helped themselves.

Three vessels went from Shag Harbor to this wreck. My grandfather, Ephraim Larkin, was captain and part owner of one. Grandfather saved a special cheese for himself and hid it in his berth, but when he went for it someone had stolen it and substituted the Ship’s Bible of the Moravian! Afterwards he always took this Bible to sea with him and kept it beside his bed during his last illness.

Times had been hard and the wreck of the Moravian must have seemed like a dispensation of Providence, especially since no one was lost. The clustering boats reaped a rich harvest from the helpless steamer and the waters about her.

The Wreckwood Chair by Evelyn Richardson

May be purchased at the Cape Sable Historical Society


On September 16, 1898, the Express, Yarmouth bound, had called at Barrington Passage, and was feeling her way up the coast through a dense fog. There was no wind nor sea—no “rote” to guide or warn her—and the ebb was running strong; the captain thought he had cleared Bon Portage and pulled his ship in, too soon.

At 12:30 that day the Bon Portage keeper, Mr. Leslie Hopkins, and his family were at dinner in the lighthouse. Through the fog they heard a rending crash—the story has it they heard the smashing of dishes in the dining saloon— and rushed outdoors. The steel bow of a large steamer loomed through the fog above the ledges of the seaward point—practically in their front yard!

The ebb had still an hour and a half to run and as the steamer settled, two large rocks penetrated the engine room floor; then, as the flood tide made, the fires were extinguished and the ship filled to her upper deck. With land under the ship’s bow, there could have been no cause for fear among the fifty passengers, and there was no confusion on board.

Mrs. James Kenney of Barrington was on the Express bound for a visit in Saint John. She told how, since the steamer was practically high and dry at low water, the ladies were carried ashore singly in “chairs” formed by two crewmen clasping hands about wrists. One spinster primly rebelled against this mode of transportation (it must have been far from a dignified one, as the men slid and lurched through puddles, then up over weeded rocks and down).

She decided she would tuck up her skirts and make her own way ashore. Often it is the ridiculous aspects of a situation that the memory retains. In later years, Mrs. Kenney had many a laugh at the recalled pictures presented by the independent and scrambling lady, as she strove to reconcile her many flowing skirts and sense of propriety with the slippery boulders and seaweed hidden pools.

At the lighthouse the passengers were welcomed hospitably. The kitchen then was a small cramped room (how well I know its short comings!) but what happy excitement and bustle it must have held as supper-time drew near and the keeper’s wife, aided by housewifely passengers (Mrs. Kenney among them) donned aprons and made biscuits and cranberry sauce to “stay the stomachs” of the castaways.

In the meantime four men passengers had hired a fishing dory to take them to the mainland. No doubt they sent word to the owners of the Express for by 3:30 that afternoon the Yarmouth steamer La Tour was on the scene and she was soon joined by the Wanda. The work of transferring freight and baggage to the smaller steamers by row-boat began at once. Foster Nichols of Shag Harbour remembers ferrying to the Wanda a doryload of kitchen sinks—not the porcelain or enamel ones of today, but sinks of teakwood or Spanish cedar. He rowed through water thickly strewn with peanuts, oranges and bobbing bottles of limejuice.

The Wreckwood Chair by Evelyn Richardson

May be purchased at the Cape Sable Historical Society


The Aberdeen was a Canadian Government Steamer built in 1894, and used to supply light stations and to attend buoys along the Bay of Fundy shores. She stranded in a dense fog off Limbs Limb Ledge on the south west coast of Seal Island on October 13th, 1923, when on a voyage from St. John to Cape Island Light Station. Her master, Capt. Loran Kenney of Shag Harbour, had been in command for many years and he put out into the fog against his better judgement. The Aberdeen was carrying the new light apparatus for Cape Sable and much metal in her deckload may have affected her compass. The 45 members of her crew and her three passengers took to the ship’s boats and rowed safely to Seal Island. She began to make water immediately upon striking, but did not at once break up. It proved impossible to refloat her and she pounded to pieces where she lay

The Wreckwood Chair by Evelyn Richardson

(May be purchased from the Cape Sable Historical Society)


These pieces recall a time when ships were sunk off our coast, not by storm or treacherous rock but by enemy fire. The three-masted wooden schooner from which they came was built near the close of the First World War, as part of the desperate effort to replenish allied shipping, depleted by submarine warfare. Victory ended the need for such carriers and paying cargoes became increasingly scarce. After a few years the vessel with the rousing, but outdated, name stranded on the outer shore of Bon Portage. The crew landed safely and found their way to the lighthouse, where they were cared for by the keeper and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Greenwood.

(Stranded on Bon Portage July 3rd, 1922)

Taken from The Wreckwood Chair by Evelyn Richardson

Book available from the Cape Sable Historical Society