It’s a Disaster! The Rollers of 1846

Posted on
View of James Town and the Harbour, Saint Helena. Taken from the Harbour Master’s Office during the Rollers of the 17th February 1846. The image was created from an eyewitness view by Frederick Rice Stack, a lieutenant with the St. Helena Regiment. (Accession# LP1200/1937.1569.01)

It’s time for me to admit something—I have a sick fascination with historical disasters—especially those related to natural phenomena. I don’t know why. I just do. Some of the prints and engravings we have in the collection are really unique so I thought I would share one of my favorites: The February 1846 “rollers” at St. Helena.  This image has fascinated me for years! The first time I saw it my immediate question was—what the hell are “rollers.” Now obviously they are waves but why did these particular waves deserve a different designation? (And no, they are not related to an earthquake or tsunami.)

The islands of Ascension and St. Helena (the island where Napoleon was exiled) in the South Atlantic are periodically plagued by waves that seem to occur for no readily apparent reason–one moment the seas are calm, little waves start rolling ashore and before long waves big enough to surf are hitting the north facing side of the island.  One source described the waves as “the rollers for which St. Helena has ever been celebrated.” Really? I find it hard to believe anybody was celebrating after looking at this image because in this instance the consequences of the “rollers” were so catastrophic the event was recorded for posterity.   Read more

Have you heard the one about a train, a schooner, and a drawbridge?

Posted on
Train Disaster 1904
Locomotive poised above the Laurel River after crashing through a drawbridge and plunged into the river, 1904, Laurel, Delaware. Photograph by Albert H. Waller.

What’s going on here? Its definitely not your typical maritime photograph.

It’s a curious story. I came across the photograph quite by accident. It was filed under Golden Gate. On the morning of June 20, 1904, the schooner Golden Gate just happened to be passing under the drawbridge at Laurel, Delaware, when this locomotive broke through and plunged 50 feet into the Laurel River.   Read more

Tragedy on the Mississippi

Posted on
The Assassination of President Lincoln, Courtesy of Library of Congress. Call No. LC-F81- 2117 [P&P]

A Somber Day

Today marks a somber day in the history of the United States of America. 155 years ago, our country suffered its, to this day unbeaten, greatest maritime disaster by loss of life. If that seems surprising to you, then you aren’t alone. It is, unfortunately, a chapter of our collective maritime heritage that has been largely forgotten. Why? Because it happened at the end of April in 1865.

If you’re familiar with the history of the American Civil War, then you no doubt know that April of 1865 was one of the most formative years of our Union. It was a month that saw union forces march into Richmond and high-profile surrenders that led to the end of the war. It was the month in which Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed by actor and confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. The day immediately before the disaster, Booth was cornered in Bowling Green, VA, and slain by Sergeant Boston Corbett of the 16th New York Cavalry.   Read more

Icebergs, Trials, and Cannonballs Make for an Adventurous Life!

Posted on
A photo of the iceberg that may have sank the Titanic.

Oftentimes when we ask a guest what ship are they most interested in learning about, their response is, “The Titanic!” It is definitely a mesmerizing and very romanticized story, but there are numerous ship tragedies with equally dramatic stories. A quick Google search turned up more than 25 ships that sank due to collisions with icebergs, and we have images of at least four additional ships in our collection. And those are just the iceberg tragedies!

One tale of a ship hitting an iceberg is particularly thrilling and made international news, which for the late 1700s is really saying something. HMS Guardian left England in September 1789 heading for Port Jackson, today known as Sydney, Australia.   Read more