John Vonderlin: The Wreck of the Alice Buck (1)

Story by John Vonderlin

Email John: [email protected]

Hi June,
This is a story about a deadly shipwreck that happened on the Coastside in the late 1800’s, that I just learned about. While it never had the headlines that  more famous local shipwrecks like the Colombia or the New York did, the related articles in the newspapers reveal complexities that I haven’t encountered in the coverage of other shipwrecks of this era.
I came across the first mention of her demise in the October 10th, 1881, issue of the “Sacramento Daily Union,” in a tiny article headlined: “Another Corpse Washes Ashore.”  It continued, “Spanishtown October 9th—Another corpse from the wreck of the Alice Buck, mutilated beyond recognition, came ashore in the vicinity of the wreck to-day about 1 o’clock.”
I thought the name  “Alice Buck,” sounded familiar at first, but then I remembered why.  The first stretch of mountain road (Highway 84) I take leading from the flatlands to the summit of the coastal mountains that shield and isolate the Coastside, is bookended by the famous, oddly eclectic, Buck’s Restaurant, in Willowside, and the equally wellknown, iconic, Alice’s Restaurant, perched at the summit, at the corner of Skyline Boulevard and Highway 84. But my temporary confusion piqued my curiosity, and I decided to find out what events had produced one of my beachcombing fears, a corpse washed ashore and me coming across it. Here’s the first part of the story. It appeared in “The Daily Alta,”  September 28th, 1881, issue:
Wreck of the American ship  “Alice Buck ” on the California Coast—
Early yesterday a telegram was received to this city that the American ship Alice Buck, from New York for Portland with railroad iron, was ashore near Spanishtown, in Half-moon Bay, and that nine of the crew were drowned. The telegram was doubted by many, in
consequence of the vessel having been seen by the steamer Oceanic to be northward and westward ol this port, and it appeared very strange that, being bound to Portland, she would bring up at Spanishtown. In the afternoon all doubts were dispelled by a telegram received at the Merchants’ Exchange, from the agents of Goddell, Perkins and Co. that the vessel had gone ashore at midnight on Monday, and that out of her complement of 24 men, 11 were drowned. None of the bodies were reported recovered. The captain and six men were picked up by the steamer Salinas, bound down the coast, which searched and rendered all the assistance in her power. Six of the men got ashore. The vessel will be a total loss. Tbe Alice Buck left New York April 7th. and was seen by tbe Oceanic as above. She had on board a cargo of railroad iron for tbe Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company,  which is fully insured.  The ship was built at Belfast, Ma., in 1870, and was owned by J.P. White and others of that city. She was commanded by Capt. Herman,
formerly her Mate, Capt. Herriman her former Master and part owner having remained hence at Searsport this trip. The ship is reputed insured for $30,000 and $11.000 on the freight. The ship was also chartered to load wheat at Portland for Europe, at £4.”
Another part of the despatch (sic) mentioned a further telegram that detailed new rails were being shipped overland  to minimize the delay in the rail project between Portland and The Dalles, where the shipload had been intended for.
This version of the “Alice Buck” story, from the “Sacramento Daily Union,” on the same day as “The Daily Alta,” story, is much more thorough.
A Ship Totally Wrecked on the San Mateo Coast;
Graphic Description of the  Unfortunate Occurrence.
Spanishtown, September 27th.― The ship Alice Buck, six months  from New York, loaded with railroad iron for Oregon, struck on the rocks at Haven’s Beach at midnight Monday and went to pieces. The crew consisted of  twenty- four persons. Nine men, with the Captain, were drowned, and one boy, aged 13, was also lost. Their bodies have not been recovered as yet. Steamer Salinas rendered aid to the distressed. (Spanishtown is in San Mateo county, situated at the south end of  Half moon Bay. The Alice Buck was commanded by Captain Henninger and was laden with railroad iron for the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, and consigned to Allen & Lewis, Portland. She had a registered tonnage of 1,425 tons.)
[SECOND DISPATCH.]  Spanishtown, (Half moon Bay,) September 27th.― The ship Alice Buck, about six months out from New York, loaded with railroad iron, struck on Horace Rock, two miles below here, at ten minutes past 12 o’clock – this morning, and is now a total wreck, strewn in fragments along the shore for a distance of a mile, and ten of the twenty-four men on board are drowned. The following is:
Told by a survivor: The ship had been leaking for two days, and the Captain signaled for a tug, evidently intending to put in at San Francisco for repairs, although  bound for Portland with railroad iron for the North Pacific Railroad. On Monday we spoke (sic) the steamer Oceanic, from whom we got the course to San Francisco. At 1 o’clock Monday afternoon Captain Herman Henningser thought he was southwest of the Farallones about fifty miles, and steered northeast. Shortly after midnight the sky became clear and starry, with a pretty good sea running. We struck with terrible force and an awful crash on the rocks, not over 1,500 feet from a high bluff. The two mates and part of the crew were instantly panic-stricken and jumped from the ship into the waves. That was the last we saw of them. The Captain and the rest of us provided ourselves with life preservers, and only left the ship when there was not enough of her fast-breaking hull to stick to. Some reached the shore, assisted by people on the bluffs, and the rest were picked up by the steamer Salinas.
RESPONSE TO CRIES FOR HELP. A rancher named A.C. Markman, whose place was near the  bluffs below which the wreck occurred, while milking cows this morning, heard wild cries beyond the bluff. He ran to the edge of the bluff, and was horrified to see in the surf several bodies, some lifeless and others calling wildly for help, and beyond them a dismantled wreck.  He had no means at hand to  render assistance, so mounting a horse, he rode as fast as possible to Spanishtown and gave the alarm to the citizens, and then rode on to Amesport Landing. three miles  north of here, where the Pacific coast steamship Salinas, was loading with grain. Captain Smith, of the Salinas, immediately steamed out for the scene of the wreck, and Justice Pringle, James Wiley and other citizens drove from here to the bluff.
The people on the bluff, which is about 100 feet high, lowered ropes, by means of which six lives were saved. The first line lowered was not heavy enough to raise a man with, but was caught and held in the teeth of one sailor, who held on desperately until a stronger line was secured.  One sailor was seen battling in the surf amidst drifting debris, attempting to save a boy, George Parker, but a heavy wave threw a piece  of timber . against  the boy and knocked him from the sailor’s arms. The boy was not seen again. ; : Another sailor managed to reach the narrow slip of beach at the foot of the cliff, and after recovering breath struck out into the waves again and brought safely to land another shipmate. He again bravely struck out, and succeeded in rescuing another sinking sailor, but a third attempt proved fatal to the gallant fellow, for he sank beneath the water, and was seen no more.
While these efforts were being made from shore, the Salinas approached and assisted in the work of saving the sailors. A boat was lowered, and after desperate and dangerous work seven men were picked up out of the water and taken to the steamer Salinas. Seeing no further opportunity of rendering assistance, the steamer started back  for Amesport Landing. George Wymans, on the lookout from the bluff, discovered another man showing faint signs of life in the debris near  the wreck. Wymans took off his coat and waved it over his head as a signal to the steamer. The signal was fortunately seen, and the steamer put back towards tho spot indicated by Wymans. A boat was again lowered and the man, who proved to be Captain Henningser, was picked up and taken aboard. He had been in the water nine hours, supported by two life-preservers, and in addition to being, very much exhausted, had received severe contusions from floating pieces of .the wreck. The steamer then returned to Amesport Landing, to which place the sailors rescued on the beach were also taken. .After being supplied with clothes by citizens, the steamer finished  loading, and about 4 o’clock this afternoon, with all of the rescued men on board, left for San Francisco
A great many people left here this afternoon for the bluff above the wreck, and attempted to bring ashore the bodies which could be seen dashed about with the broken timbers in the surf. The receding tide took the bodies out of reach of the rude appliances the men had to work with, and only one body, washed ashore some distance below the wreck about sundown, has yet been recovered. The search will be continued in the morning.
The following were lost : Wm. Barry West, mate ; D. Crocker, second mate ; George Parker, a boy of 11; David Black, Cbarles Reader, Patrick Welsh and John Mouriss, seamen, and two Chinamen― cook and steward.
When the  sun set this evening; only a ragged line of ribs could be seen above the water. The hull, which is held down by the iron cargo, is breaking up. The rocky
character of the shore line, and the high sea running when the ship struck, combined, actually ground and splintered everything above the water line, so that nothing of the ship . larger than a barrel is adrift.  Among the recovered articles was a trunk full of costly female wearirg apparel, some of which was  marked  Mrs. A. C. Dunbar. One of the sailors said the trunk  was in charge of the lost boy. Justice Pringle brought the recovered body to Spanishtown, and it now lies in the Morgue. A belt with a knife attached and boots were the only articles on the body, and none of these gave any clue to his identity.
One of the rescued sailors― Sidney Smith― who kept the ship’s log, is reported as having said  that in his opinion the Capt and mates ran the vessel ashore, knowing she was in  an  unsafe condition and would go to  pieces. The two mates were the first to leave the ship.
‘The Alice Buck was owned by R. W. Buck, Presideat of the American Seamen’s Friend Society of New York.
PORTLAND, September  27th,― The Alice Buck had 1,682 tons of rail for the O. R. & N. Company, to be laid on the line from this city to The Dalles, now being graded. The loss will cause some delay, in finishing the road, but the company has already ordered an  equal amount from New York, which will be shipped overland at once. The vesssel was chartered  by  G. W. McNear, The ship, and cargo were both insured.
End of Part 1  Enjoy. John. I’m glad nothing bad happened when your tire blew. People drive Highway 1 on the south coast like it is a freeway. A lot of them are seasoned coastal commuters to Santa Cruz or wherever, who trade safety for timeliness, and scare me with their speed and foolhardiness as far as passing in bad circumstances.The