Wreck of a Whaling Ship

11 27 Wednesday

The Wreck of the "Joseph Starbuck," an excerpt from Arthur H. Gardner's "Wrecks Around Nantucket."

Sunday, November 27, 1842

The ship Joseph Starbuck left Nantucket's port with a favorable breeze, in tow of the steamer Telegraph, for Edgartown, where she was to load and proceed on a whaling voyage. There were on board, in addition to the full complement of hands belonging to her, a number of ladies, who were intending to accompany their friends to Edgartown, before taking final leave of them.

The wind soon came out ahead and blew so strongly that the steamer could no longer make any headway. The towlines were then loosened, and the ship came to anchor within about a mile of the Tuckernuck Shoal lightboat, while the steamer returned to the wharf. In the afternoon the wind increased to a gale, and the ship, being light, rode so violently that one chain cable after another parted, and she drove furiously from her moorings in an easterly direction. To prevent her going to sea in her then unprepared condition, the mizzenmast was cut away, the foresail set, and every effort made to return to port; but so tremendously was the gale blowing from the north west that the attempt failed, and the ship drifted toward the eastern extremity of the Bar until midnight, when she struck and rolled over in the trough of the sea, the waves breaking over her frightfully and sending volumes of spray far above the masthead.

In this predicament, she was discovered from town at daybreak the next morning, on her beam ends, her single sail still offering a mark for the hurricane, and her hulk, with its living freight, lifting and falling with crushing force. Of course it was immediately resolved in town to put forth every possible effort to save the lives of those on board, and before 9 o'clock the steamer Massachusetts, manned by a party of volunteers, was on her way to their relief. To many it seemed a hopeless adventure; the wreck lay about four miles from town and two miles from the nearest strand, while the sea up on the farther edge of the Bar where she lay and the vast extent of shoals near by, ran almost mountains high, now rising into columns of angry foam, and anon leaving the subjacent ground nearly bare of water.

Nevertheless, the steamer plunged through the accumulated perils before her, and in half an hour was made fast to the lee side of the ill-fated vessel by a warp necessarily of considerable length. Her paddles were kept backing sufficiently to keep the line taut, and the people on board the ship, to the number of thirty-five, were taken off by means of a single whale boat, which passed to and fro no less than five times, transferred to the steamer, and returned to their friends in town, who had suffered the most intense anxiety. So excessively cold was the weather that the decks and rigging of the ship were coated with ice.

The Joseph Starbuck was a beautiful and highly valued ship. She was built at Brant Point in 1828 of live oak, and was copper fastened, and had made but one voyage and had now been fitted out for a second in the most liberal manner. The vessel alone was insured for $24,000. The ship eventually went to pieces, nothing of any material value being saved.

Gardner, Arthur H. (1915). Wrecks Around Nantucket. Nantucket: The Inquirer and Mirror Press.