The Day My Great Granny’s Ship Wrecked off the Coast of Nova Scotia

The only time a member of my family made it on the front page of the NY Times is when my great granny’s ship wrecked off the coast of Nova Scotia on July 5, 1873.  The front page story ran for several days.  Remember, ship wrecks back then were what airplane crashes are today.  This particular article is the purser’s story who said during the whole trip, they had seen “neither stars or sun” and thus had trouble getting a sense as to where they might be along the eastern coast of Canada and the United States.

Green Rock Island off the coast of Nova Scotia

It truly was a miracle that she and her two sons survived. If the ship had hit  Green Rock Island, some 200 yards away, all lives would have probably been lost. On the day of the wreck the fog was so thick, “that no object could be seen three yards ahead.” She and her two infant sons (ages 1 and 4) along with nearly 500 passengers were saved, along with their luggage. Two fisherman from shore rowed out in a leaky row boat (the picture in my mind of one guy rowing and other using a small pail to bail the water out is priceless) and guided the lifeboats ashore.  The villagers made their homes available until passengers were put on another steam ship for the States.  My granny joined her husband in Indiana (he had sailed earlier) and they made their way to the Portland, Oregon area by train.

Obviously, the Captain had gotten lost and there were a lot of questions as to why he had not used the compass…he thought he was off the coast of Cape Cod.   There were also questions about whether the ship had been over loaded with steel beams.  The outcome of the inquiry into his actions resulted in a reprimand.  It seems this sinking ship had a lot of loose ends.  Early reports of the wreck had erroneously mentioned the drowning of passengers.  My great grandfather, waiting anxiously in Indiana, had initially received a telegram to that effect.  You can imagine his relief when the truth finally came out.

Scenery on the road to site of my granny’s shipwreck along the coast of Nova Scotia.

My cousins and I made a trip to see the site of the wreck several years ago.  A retired lobster fisherman took us in his pick-up truck along a dusty road.  And I saw Green Rock Island, where if the ship had wrecked there, the story of my life would have radically changed!  Since I was adopted, I still would have been born, but my adoptive parents would have been different.

So I wonder in this time of a major, world-wide pandemic when “anything” can happen how the stories of our lives might change.  But however our stories may be altered, they remain unique to us and I hope that is something we all treasure.

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